The Falling Away Must Come (2:1-3) INTRODUCTION 1. Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians have much to say about the coming of Christ... a. Every chapter in 1st Thessalonians makes some reference to His return b. We have seen Paul refer to that great day coming in 2Th 1:7-10 2. It appears that misconceptions existed in the church at Thessalonica... a. At least some were being told that the day of Christ had come b. Paul writes to reassure them such was not the case - 2Th 1:1-2 3. Paul explains that before the Lord returns, two events must take place... a. The "falling away" will come first - 2Th 2:3 b. The "man of sin" will be revealed - 2Th 2:3 [In this study, I would like for us to focus our attention on the "falling away" as described in the Bible, as fulfilled in history, and its implication for us today. Let's start with the fact...] I. A FALLING AWAY WOULD COME A. PAUL WARNED THE EPHESIAN ELDERS... 1. It would occur after Paul's departure (death?) - Ac 20:29a 2. It would be affected by forces outside and within the church - Ac 20:29b-30 B. PAUL WARNED THE EVANGELIST TIMOTHY... 1. In latter times some would depart from the faith - 1Ti 4:1-2 2. Examples of the doctrines taught by the apostates are given - 1Ti 4:3 C. PETER WARNED THE CHRISTIANS IN ASIA MINOR... 1. There will be false teachers - 2Pe 2:1 2. Many would follow their destructive ways - 2Pe 2:2 [The Scriptures are clear that a "falling away" or "apostasy" would occur. Did it happen? Unfortunately, it did...] II. A FALLING AWAY DID COME A. IT BEGAN IN THE FIRST CENTURY... 1. John described it in his epistle a. Telling of "antichrists" who had gone out from them - 1Jn 2:18-19 b. Warning of "false prophets" who were already in the world - 1Jn 4:1-3 -- Who were teaching false doctrines about the nature of Christ 2. Jude described it in his epistle a. Certain men had crept in unnoticed - Jude 4a b. Ungodly men who turn the grace of God into lewdness - Jude 4b -- Who were denying the authority of Jesus Christ B. IT CONTINUED IN THE SUCCEEDING CENTURIES... 1. One of the first changes involved local church organization a. From self-governing congregations with a plurality of bishops (elders) over each congregation - cf. Ac 14:23; 20:17,28; Tit 1:5-9; 1Pe 5:1-2 b. To a distinction between bishops and elders in which individual bishops had oversight of geographical areas and multiple churches (ca. 150 A.D.) 2. Other changes were slowly introduced, as traditions of men took precedence over the Word of God a. Clergy-Laity distinction, borrowed from the OT Jewish priesthood concept b. Religious holidays, such as Easter; then later, Christmas (3rd, 4th century) c. Pouring, then sprinkling, in place of immersion for baptism (251 A.D.) d. Church councils, meetings in which doctrinal matters were decided (325 A.D.) e. Creeds, statements of beliefs developed by church councils f. Instrumental music (first used in the 5th century) -- Other doctrines developed along the way, such as original sin, infant baptism, penance, millenialism, veneration of Mary C. IT REMAINS IN THE PRESENT CENTURY... 1. Appeals to "reformation" did not work a. Despite efforts of Luther, Calvin, etc., to reform the Roman Catholic church b. Their followers simply created a myriad of denominations, keeping some of the human traditions, and adding new ones of their own 2. Appeals to new "revelation" have not worked a. Several have appealed to "modern-day" revelation, believing it to be the solution to the religious confusion b. Such efforts have only added to the confusion, with such religions as Mormons, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many Pentecostal churches 3. The only solution that has a hope of working is "restoration" a. Like Ezra and Nehemiah did when they restored the Jewish worship after the Babylonian exile - cf. Neh 8:1-18 b. Like John the Baptist did when he prepared the people for the coming of the Lord - cf. Lk 1:13-17 c. I.e., restoring the hearts of the people back to the Word of God 1) Taking heed to the Word of God is the only way to prevent apostasy - cf. He 2:1-4; Ac 20:32 2) Restoring ourselves back to the Word of God is the only way to return from apostasy! [A survey of church history confirms that a falling away from the New Testament pattern has occurred, exactly as foretold by the apostles. While it is always possible to be restored back to the New Testament church, we should never forget that...] III. A FALLING AWAY CAN STILL COME A. APOSTASY IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE... 1. The Scriptures are filled with warnings against falling away a. Not just of a general apostasy, such as in our text b. But of individual apostasies as well - e.g., 1Ti 1:19-20; He 6:4-6; 2Pe 2:19-22 2. Therefore we need to heed the warnings! a. To give the more earnest heed, lest we drift - He 2:1-3 b. To not develop a heart of unbelief - He 3:12 c. To not becoming hardened by sin - He 3:13 d. To hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end - He 3:14; 6:11 B. IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE... 1. With the rise of Catholicism, and the development of denominationalism 2. Previous restoration efforts have often reverted back to apostasy a. As with many in the Stone-Campbell movement b. E.g., the development of the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ denomination C. IT IS HAPPENING NOW... 1. The pull of the world continues to draw many Christians away a. Just as it did with Demas - 2Ti 4:10 b. So the love of money causes many to stray from the faith - 1Ti 6:9-10 2. The appeal of denominationalism and sectarianism continues to have their affect a. E.g., the development of the International Church of Christ b. E.g., many "mainstream" churches of Christ developing the "Church of Christ" denomination c. I also see the beginning of a "Non-Institutional Church of Christ" denomination (as reflected in the question, "Can someone help me locate an NI Church?") CONCLUSION 1. The "falling away" of which Paul wrote appears to have come... a. There has certainly been a general departure from the faith and practice of the NT b. This apostasy is clear to anyone familiar with the pattern of the NT church 2. But the danger of "falling away" is an ever present one... a. It has happened once and again, many times b. It happened to those who were once restored, it can happen to us just as easily 3. Apostasy rarely happens overnight... a. The path to departure is usually gradual, hardly noticed by those involved b. It begins with a mindset, develops through a pattern of speech c. It is encouraged by a desire to be like the world, rather than to be as God would have us To avoid apostasy, make sure our hearts have been restored to the Word of God, then give earnest heed to the Word lest we drift away!
Elders, Deacons, Timothy, and Wine
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
Paul’s instructions pertaining to the qualifications of elders and deacons have created misunderstanding regarding the use of alcoholic beverages. Elders are not to be “given to wine” (1 Timothy 3:3), while deacons are not to be “given to much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8). Translations further obscure the matter by their variety of terminology. The ASV has “no brawler” (vs. 3) and “not given to much wine” (vs. 8). The NIV has “not given to much wine” (vs. 3) and “not indulging in much wine” (vs. 8). The NASB has “not addicted to wine” (vs. 3) and “not addicted to much wine” (vs. 8). So the question is: does 1 Timothy 3:8 sanction moderate alcohol use?
The phrase in verse three consists of two Greek words (me paroinos) and, literally translated, means “not beside, by, or at wine” (Vine, 1966, p. 146; Robertson, 1934, p. 613). The phrase is enjoining abstinence, and perhaps even the act of situating oneself in the presence of people and places where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is occurring. The ASV translated the expression “brawler” to emphasize the violent behavior that proceeds from the use of alcohol. Calling for elders to be abstinent is consistent with other terms used in the same listing: nephalion (1 Timothy 3:2)—“free from intoxicants” and “abstinent in respect to wine” (Perschbacher, 1990, p. 284), and sophrona (Titus 1:8)—“of a sound mind, temperate” (Perschbacher, p. 400), “soberminded” (Moulton and Milligan, 1930, p. 622), “self-controlled” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 810). Elders must refrain from the use of intoxicants, and they must not associate with places and people who do use them.
In verse eight, the four words used to qualify deacons on this point (me oino pollo prosechontas) are literally translated “not wine much occupied with” (cf. Perschbacher, p. 352; Spain, 1970, p. 64). Does the use of the word “much” mean that deacons may imbibe a moderate amount of wine? At least three alternative interpretations are possible.
First, when Solomon said, “Do not be overly wicked” (Ecclesiastes 7:17—NKJV[“overwicked”—NIV; “overmuch wicked”—ASV]), did he mean to imply that a person can, with God’s approval, be moderately wicked? When Peter noted that pagans do not understand why Christians do not engage in the “same excess of riot” (1 Peter 4:4), did he mean moderate rioting was appropriate? In other words, language can forthrightly condemn an excessive indulgence or great amount of an action without implying that the action is permissible in a lesser amount or to a lesser degree. One cannot assume that what is unlawful in excess is lawful in smaller amounts. We can refer to a person’s frequent involvement in a certain activity (e.g., adultery) without intending to leave the impression that a more moderate participation in the action would be proper. Albert Barnes addressed this point succinctly:
It is not affirmed that it would be proper for the deacon, any more than the bishop, to indulge in the use of wine in small quantities, but it is affirmed that a man who is much given to the use of wine ought not, on any consideration, to be a deacon (1977, p. 148).
The word in verse eight translated “given to” (KJV, NKJV, ASV), or “indulging in” (NIV), or “addicted to” (RSV), is prosecho. It is used elsewhere in 1 Timothy (1:4) and in Titus (1:14) to refer to those who “give heed to” (KJV), or “occupy themselves with” (RSV), or “pay attention to” (NASB) Jewish myths. Who would draw the conclusion that Paul intended to encourage Christians to give some attention to Jewish myths, just not too much attention?
Consequently, Paul was spotlighting an individual who is known for drinking freely of alcoholic beverages. He was saying that no such person should be put into the eldership. A parallel would be to make an observation about a person who carouses and parties every night—“do not put such a man into the eldership!” But the speaker hardly would mean that one who parties less frequently, say on weekends only, would be acceptable. Paul no more intended to suggest that leaders in the church who use small amounts of alcohol are suited to their role than Mosaic law would have permitted priests to do so (Leviticus 10:9). Barnes commented: “The way in which the apostle mentions the subject here would lead us fairly to suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense” (1977, p. 144).
A second possibility is that the terminology that Paul used was a loose form of speech (Bacchiocchi, 1989, p. 250). Both Greek and Hebrew manifest such tendencies. For example, “three days and three nights” was a loose form of speech used in antiquity to refer to two days and a portion of a third (Bullinger, 1898, pp. 845-847; Robertson, 1922, pp. 289-291). Later in the same letter, Paul instructed Timothy to “use a little wine” for his stomach and infirmities (5:23). It is not a foregone conclusion that the “wine” Paul commended to Timothy was inebriating, since evidence from antiquity exists to suggest that he was referring to the addition of grape juice to Timothy’s drinking water for medicinal purposes (see Lees, 1870, p. 374). Even if, however, Paul meant for Timothy to add fermented (i.e., intoxicating) juice to his diet, he nevertheless implied: (1) that Timothy had been abstinent up to that point; (2) that the quantity he was now to add to his diet was to be “a little”; (3) that the juice was to be diluted with water; (4) that its use was strictly medicinal in nature—not social, casual, or recreational; and (5) that it took the directive of an apostle for Timothy to introduce its use into his life and body. [Incidentally, one must not automatically assume that it was the wine that possessed medicinal properties. The wine may have simply been the antiseptic means to purify the polluted water that Timothy had been drinking by killing germs and bacterial organisms, thereby reducing their ill effect on Timothy’s fragile stomach—in which case, Paul was not commending wine; he was commending a method for cleansing contaminated water]. If Paul sanctioned the use of alcohol only on the qualifications that it was in small quantities, and that it was for medicinal purposes, why would he then turn right around and sanction deacons drinking alcohol in larger amounts—avoiding only excess?
The inconsistency of this viewpoint becomes exceedingly apparent when one compares Paul’s instructions to different Christians:
Elders (1 Timothy 3:2-3)—abstain (nephalios); don’t even be near it (me paroinon)Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8)—drink moderately (me oino pollo)Wives (1 Timothy 3:11)—abstain (nephalious)Aged men (Titus 2:2)—abstain (nephalious)Aged women (Titus 2:3)—drink moderately (me oino pollo)
In view of these inconsistencies, “much wine” must be a loose form of speech intended to express complete restraint in the use of wine.
A third possible interpretation of this verse concerns the meaning of the term “wine.” Unlike the English word (which always connotes an alcoholic beverage), the Greek word oinos is a generic term that includes all forms of the grape (cf. Lees, 1870, pp. 431ff.). The term oinos was used by the Greeks to refer to unfermentedgrape juice every bit as much as fermented juice. Consequently, the interpreter must examine the biblical context in order to determine whether fermented or unfermented liquid is intended. In light of this realization, some have suggested that Paul instructed the elders to refrain completely from alcoholic beverages, while deacons, on the other hand, were being instructed to engage in a moderate use of nonalcoholic grape juice. At least three lines of argumentation are evident for this interpretation.
First, in the Old Testament, the generic Hebrew term that is equivalent to oinos is yayin. Some passages praise the ingestion of yayin (Song of Solomon 5:1; Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7), while others condemn it (Proverbs 20:1; 31:4). The only plausible explanation is that the former is a reference to grape juice, while the latter is a reference to grape juice that has been transformed into an alcoholic beverage.
Second, only in Timothy and Titus is the word “much” used—as if the secret to pleasing God lies in the quantity of liquid ingested. If fermented juice were intended, the same distinction surely would have been made in the Old Testament. No such distinction is made. But if nonalcoholic grape juice is intended in Timothy and Titus, the intent of the qualification shifts from the level of intoxication to the matter of liquid gluttony. In that case, Paul intended to require moderation in the intake of nonalcoholic liquids.
Third, biblical warnings against the excessive intake of food and liquid are legion (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:20; 1 Corinthians 11:21-22; Titus 1:12). Solomon even applied the principle to honey (Proverbs 25:27). To understand Paul to be enjoining moderate use of a good gift from God (i.e., grape juice) is consistent with the context that is riddled with references to self-control, temperance, and moderation (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:2,11). It also fits the social conditions extant in Greco-Roman culture in which intemperance was rampant.
In addition to the above considerations, one must keep in mind that even if it could be proved that God sanctioned moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages in the Bible, it does not follow that God sanctions drinking modern “wine,” since the wine referred to in the Bible was unlike the wine of our day. Wine in antiquity was far less potent. One would have had to ingest large quantities in order to receive even minimal alcoholic content. The ancients typically had to add drugs to their drinks to increase their intoxicating potency. In light of all these considerations, the view that maintains that deacons may drink moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages is precarious, dangerous, and biblically unsubstantiated.
Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Bacchiocchi, Samuele (1989), Wine in the Bible (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives).
Barnes, Albert (1977 reprint), Notes on the New Testament: Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Lees, Frederic R. (1870), The Temperance Bible-Commentary (New York: Weed, Parsons, and Co.).
Moulton, James and George Milligan (1930), Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-literary Sources (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982 reprint).
Perschbacher, Wesley J., ed. (1990), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Robertson, A.T. (1922), A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Row).
Robertson, A.T. (1934), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman).
Spain, Carl (1970), The Letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Vine, W.E. (1966 reprint), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
Egyptian Magicians, Snakes, and Rods
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Most everyone who has ever read the biblical account of the ten plagues in Egypt cannot help but remember the scene in which Moses and Aaron threw down their rod that became a snake, and Pharoah’s magicians imitated the feat. The biblical account states:
And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments (Exodus 7:10-11).
In regard to this account, many have wondered how the magicians of Egyptian could have possessed the miraculous power to imitate the sign that God had given to Moses and Aaron. Did the magicians truly possess supernatural powers by which they could convince Pharaoh, or could there be some other explanations for the events that transpired with the rods? In regard to these questions, the biblical text does not definitively offer any conclusive answers. There are, however, other clues that seem to indicate that the Egyptian magicians used sleight-of-hand trickery devoid of supernatural ability.
Egyptians have long used the snake in their religious and ceremonial rituals. Many murals, ancient Egyptian paintings and carvings, and written texts portray this animal in connection with ancient Egyptian snake charmers, magicians, and even Pharaohs. In fact, many of the golden burial casts used to intern the ancient Egyptian kings have a sculpture of a snake coming from the forehead of the regal personality. Furthermore, the snake is commonly associated with certain gods of ancient Egypt. In regard to this affinity for the serpentine, the ancient Egyptians often used snakes in charming ceremonies and other practices. Due to this close association with the creature, they would certainly have become quite skilled at capturing, handling, and displaying snakes.
In their celebrated commentary series on the Old Testament, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment on the incident between Moses and Aaron and the Egyptian magicians:
The magicians of Egypt in modern times have long been celebrated adepts in charming serpents; and particularly by pressing the nape of the neck they throw them into a kind of catalepsy, which renders them stiff and immoveable, thus seeming to change them into a rod. They conceal the serpent about their person, and by acts of legerdemain produce it from their dress, stiff and straight as a rod. Just the same trick was played off by their ancient predecessors.... [A]nd so it appears they succeeded by their “enchantments” in practicing an illusion on the senses (2002, 1:295, Exodus 7:11-14).
The idea that a skilled magician could use a snake in such a way is no novel concept in the world of magic tricks. Walter Gibson, in his book Secrets of Magic, states that there is a certain type of snake that can be made motionless by applying pressure just below its head. Gibson also notes that the particular species of snake suitable for this stunt happens to be the naja haje (or haja), otherwise known as the Egyptian Cobra (as cited in “Case Studies,” n.d.). Along similar lines, Rod Robison, a comedy magician from Tucson, wrote: “Turning a rod into a snake, for instance, is easily accomplished by the same method modern day magicians turn a cane into a flower or handkerchief. I’ve seen the ‘cane to snake’ performed by magician Allan Rassco. Believe me, it’s impressive” (1999).
In truth, there is nothing inherent in the biblical text that would suggest that these magicians possessed any supernatural powers. Sleight-of-hand trickery can easily account for the “powers” possessed by the Egyptian magicians. While the magicians could at least make it look like they possessed amazing abilities, they could not withstand the power of the Almighty God. Their feeble attempts to mimic the miracle performed by Moses and Aaron was thwarted when God manifested His power by causing the rod of Moses and Aaron to consume all the other rods of the magicians (Exodus 7:12).
“Case Studies” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.autobahn.mb.ca/~ggilbey/para7.html.
Jamieson, Robert, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown (2002 reprint), A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Robison, Rod (1999), “But I Saw Him Levitate!”, [On-line], URL: http://www.dtl.org/article/robison/levitate.htm.
Dying Before Baptism?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
The New Testament clearly states that water baptism is necessary for salvation (see Lyons and Butt, 2004). But one of the most frequently used arguments against the necessity of baptism for salvation is the idea that “God would not do that.” The question is asked, “What if a sincere believing person is on his way to be baptized and dies right before he gets to the water? Are you telling me that God would send that person to hell just because he did not make it to the water?” At first glance, this argument may seem legitimate. Upon further investigation, however, it is easy to see that it is simply a play on emotions, and in no way disproves the necessity of baptism for salvation.
The “God-would-not-do-that” argument can be used against almost any commandment in the Bible. For instance, the Bible repeatedly says that a person must believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 10:11; John 8:24; et al.). Suppose, then, that a Christian had just begun to tell the story of Jesus to an older gentleman, when suddenly that gentleman has a massive heart attack and dies without getting to hear the rest of the story, and thus did not have the opportunity to believe. Should we, therefore, do away with the biblical command to believe in Jesus Christ, simply because a theoretical scenario can be concocted in which a potential convert dies moments before his compliance? To ask is to answer. Nor, with a wave of the hand, can we do away with the biblical command to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
Consider also the fact that the Bible plainly states that God wants all people to be saved. In 2 Peter 3:9, the inspired apostle wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was instructed by God to convey this message to the Israelites on God’s behalf: “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ezekiel 33:11). The apostle Paul told the young preacher Timothy that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Therefore, if a person truly and honestly wants to become a Christian by being baptized for the forgiveness of his sins as God commanded, then God (Who wants all to be saved and is watchful of each individual human) certainly would provide an opportunity for that person to obey His commandment to be baptized. If no sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s knowledge (Matthew 10:29), and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), then we can be sure that His providential care will ensure that each person is given a fair opportunity to respond to His commands.
Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2004), “Taking Possession of What God Gives: A Case Study in Salvation,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2546.
Does The Word "Perfect" Really Mean "Perfect”?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
Nailing down accurate definitions to words remains one of the major problems in communicating any message to another person. It has been said that, in an argument, the person or party who defines the terms always wins. When it comes to the Bible, and claims of its alleged errancy, skeptics often employ the tactic of assigning certain meanings to the biblical language that the original words do not necessarily have. In many instances, the skeptic will take words, and impose upon them a twenty-first-century meaning that was not intended in the original text. Then they will demand an answer to this “obvious contradiction.”
To illustrate, consider Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist. He claims that a biblical contradiction exists between Romans 3:23 and Job 1:1 (1992, p. 171). He argues that Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NKJV). But in Job 1:1, the man from Uz named Job was described as a man who “was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and turned away from evil.” Forcing the word “perfect” in Job 1:1 to mean what most twenty-first-century Americans take it to mean, Barker insists that a person cannot be “perfect” (defining the word as sinless, morally without error) and at the same time be sinful.
Granted, if the word translated “perfect” in Job 1:1 means “absolute sinlessness,” then Barker has a solid point. But a brief study of the original word quickly shows that the Hebrew and Greek words that frequently are translated “perfect” in our English Bibles do not always mean sinlessness. In their monumental work, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris, Archer, and Waltke addressed specifically the word used in Job 1:1. The Hebrew word tōm, translated in Job 1:1 as perfect, has a number of different usages. The word, or one of its derivatives, is used in Genesis 17:1 where God told Abraham to “be perfect.” And all Israel was instructed to “be perfect” in verses such as Deuteronomy 18:13, 2 Samuel 22:33, and Psalm 101:2,6. After listing these uses in their wordbook, the authors quote the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible as saying, “the words which are rendered in English by ‘perfect’ and ‘perfection’ denoted originally something other and less than ideal perfection” (1980, p. 974, emp. added). In another authoritative Hebrew word study, Gesenius observed that the word translated as “perfect” can mean “integrity of mind” or “innocence.” He further commented that the word is used of “simplicity of mind, which is opposed to mischief and ill design” (1979, p. 866). Obviously, then, the Hebrew word in Job 1:1 that is translated “perfect” did not mean “sinlessness,” but was used instead to describe a person who was attempting to follow God’s commandments to the best of his or her ability.
It is inexcusable for any person to demand that a contradiction exists between two Bible passages, when he or she will not even take a few minutes to look up the actual meanings of the words in question. Such poor “scholarship” is lazy at best, and dishonest at worst. Whenever a word in the Bible seems to contradict another thought listed therein, one of the most common ways to reconcile the two is to look up the definitions of the original word. If Dan Barker had done that, he would have known that we are not instructed to be “perfect”—in the sense of sinless in 2 Corinthians 13:11. Nor are we to “hate” our family in the twenty-first-century American sense of despising, loathing, and abhorring (see Butt, 2003).
Furthermore, the fact that language changes, and the meanings of words must be studied, can be seen by observing different translations. For instance, when Paul explained to the Thessalonians what is going to happen when Jesus returns, he stated that the Christians who “are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:15, KJV, emp. added). If we do not examine the meaning of this word, it seems to suggest that the Christians who are alive when Christ returns will not stop those that “are asleep.” That, however, is not what the Greek word phthano means. Other translations show that the this word, translated “prevent” in the King James Version, simply means, “precede” or “go before.”
Before any person presumes to point out an alleged discrepancy in the Bible, the very least that person could do is to study the meaning (in the original language) of the words in question. If such a study were carried out in an honest and forthright fashion, countless pages would be removed from the skeptics’ Web sites and books. Let us all, therefore, strive to be “perfect” in this area.
Barker, Dan (1992), Losing Faith In Faith—From Preacher to Atheist (Madison, WI: Freedom from Religion Foundation).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Hate Your Parents—Or Love Them?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/601
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 1979 reprint.
Harris, R. Laird, Gleason Archer Jr., and Bruce Waltke, eds. (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody).
General versus Specific Authority
The terms general and specific authority refer to a concept that applies to all of God's instructions. Whenever anything is authorized in the Bible, it usually contains some generalinstructions and some specific instructions. These terms simply refer to this distinction. Sometimes God gives very specific instructions, and sometimes He gives general instructions, leaving the details to our best judgment.
Understanding this difference is key to successfully determining authority for all things. It is the final piece to this part of our search. Once it is completed, we will be properly equipped for pouring over the pages of God's will and solving complex questions that would have otherwise remained unanswered.
Examples of General Authority
The best way to illustrate proper use of general authority is to consider some Bible examples. Perhaps the easiest example to consider would be the Lord's delivery of the Great Commission to his apostles:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen" (Matthew 28:19-20)
Jesus' commands both to "Go" and to "Teach" illustrate this principle of general authority. Both command to do something, but many of the details are left to us. For example, we are to "go", but it does not say how. Therefore, we can walk, ride a camel, fly in a plane, or sail in a boat, and all of these would be authorized. General authority includes authority for anything that falls within the general instruction. Of course, care would need to be taken to not violate another of God's commands. "Teach" also instructs what to do, but there is not specific mention of how to accomplish this. We could teach publicly in the streets, privately in the home, or in groups and classes. All of these are still teaching and, therefore, are authorized by the general instruction to teach. Moreover, no man has the authority bind one of these methods. Binding where God has not bound constitutes "adding to" His Word, which is a serious transgression, condemned by the Bible.
Now let's apply this principle towards a more difficult question, church buildings. They are nowhere mentioned in the Scripture. How do we get authority for church buildings? First, let's examine a scripture about the mission of the church:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-12)
From this passage we learn, among other things, that the church is to "equip the saints". This implies teaching, encouraging, and admonishing within the local church. But, how is this accomplished?
"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)
So, how is this "equipping of the saints accomplished? Through the "exhorting one another" that is derived from "assembling together". Moreover, this is exactly what we find in the New Testament examples. Saints gathered together to worship God and exhort one another (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7).
From these commands and examples, we have established God's general authority to "equip the saints" and a small part of this is "assembling together." The instruction is general to some extent. He does not say how, where, or the time of day. Therefore, local churches have authority to operate within the boundaries of this general instruction. If they choose to meet in people's houses, in a rented building, or in their own building, it makes no difference. All of these fall within God's generic instructions to "equip" and to "assemble". Therefore, we have general authority to build a church building and assemble within it.
Examples of Specific Authority
Actually the first example that we examined also illustrates specific authority. When the disciples were told to "go and make disciples", the exact method of "making disciples" was not left general, but rather, it was specified. They were to "baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Also, they were not allowed to teach anything they wanted. Jesus specified what they were to teach: "to observe all things that I have commanded you". So, for the same instructions, we see that while some things are left general, other things are specified. And, when something is specified, the Bible teaches that it is a sin to deviate from the specific pattern.
Now, let's use the principle of specific authority to help answer another difficult question, instrumental music. The first concept that must be recognized for this question is the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. From that study we learn, that Old Testament commands and examples are not authoritative for us today, since we are under a new and separate law. Understanding this eliminates much of the confusion, yet we must still answer if God cares about using instrumental music today.
After studying the Old and New Testaments, we can observe that God, through David, gave detailed and specific instructions about how to use instruments in Old Testament worship (ordained by King David in I Chronicles 15:16-28, see also I Chronicles 23:1-5 and II Chronicles 23:18). Yet we find no mention whatsoever of instrumental music being used in New Testament worship. In fact, we have only the following specific instructions:
"speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Ephesians 5:19"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Colossians 3:16
Both of these passages teach that we are to make music unto the Lord, but what kind? Does the Lord care? Please read the passage again. These verses specify "singing", "speaking", and "making melody in your heart." These are the "instruments" of New Testament worship. No where else will we find mention of any other type of music in the New Testament. Now, if we choose to add instruments to the worship, then we become guilty of "adding to" God's Word, which sin, the Bible strongly speaks against.
Let us be careful to stay true to our course and goal, to do God's will in God's way. This may mean tearing down the transgressing traditions of men, just as Jesus and His prophets taught. Whatever we do let us make sure that is in "the name of the Lord" and we are neither "adding to" or "taking away" from God's Word by teaching doctrines of men. Part of this requires understanding that God issues commands that are both specific and general in nature. Moreover, we must recognize the general and allow for different judgments within the authorized scope, but we must also observe the specific and and be diligent to carefully adhere to God's specific pattern. By carefully observing God's general and specific authority, we will be better equipped to properly understand and apply God's Word.
We hope that you have enjoyed examining the many scriptures that were found in each of these articles about properly interpreting the Bible. And, we hope that they will be beneficial to you and your search for truth. If you are not comfortable with some of the conclusions that are found here, or on any other portion of this website, please question anyone in our contact directory. However, if you agree with most of what's found here, then we would encourage you to continue your search by using your tools of study to establish God's pattern on how we can be saved.
Often, people have many questions concerning the proper interpretation of Scriptures. We have some additional articles devoted to answering specific objections raised in opposition to a careful study of God’s Word and obedience to Him:
- Did Jesus Disregard God's Silence?
- Did Hezekiah Disregard God's Silence?
- Binding New Testament Examples
- Index of All Related Articles
Otherwise, please proceed to a study of God's Plan for Salvation