"THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS" Coming Boldly To The Throne Of Grace (4:14-16) INTRODUCTION 1. In our study thus far we seen the concern of the author of "The Book Of Hebrews"... a. That Jewish Christians remain steadfast and firm in their faith b. That they not make the same mistake of departing from the living God, as did many of their ancestors 2. His "modus operandi" (method of operation) has been two-fold... a. Illustrate the superiority of Jesus (e.g., to prophets, to angels, to Moses) b. Exhort them to faithfulness in light of these comparisons 3. In two exhortations we have seen thus far, to remain faithful we must... a. "...give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard" - cf. He 2:1-4 b. "...exhort one another daily..." - cf. He 3:12-14 4. To put it another way, to remain faithful we must be diligent... a. In our study of the Word of God b. In exhorting one another daily -- Other things are also necessary, and in our text we read of another - cf. He 4:14-16 5. The main thought in this passage is that we should "come boldly to the throne of grace" a. But what does that mean? b. And why should we be diligent to do this? [These are the questions we shall address in this lesson, and so we begin by considering...] I. WHAT IT MEANS TO "COME BOLDLY TO THE THRONE OF GRACE" A. THE "THRONE OF GRACE"... 1. This is simply another way to say the "throne of God" a. Other passages emphasize that "God's throne" is one of righteousness, justice, mercy and truth - cf. Ps 89:14 b. I.e., God is known for, and is the source of, these things 2. He 4:16 emphasizes that "God's throne" is one of MERCY a. "the throne of GRACE" b. I.e., where kindness, mercy, and benevolence may be found B. THE EXPRESSION "LET US COME" ("DRAW NEAR" ASV)... 1. This is a priestly expression, used in the OT of priests in their approach to God a. E.g., Lev 21:17-21 b. It denotes approaching God for worship and prayer 2. It's use here suggests that the priestly privilege of access to God is now extended to all Christians! a. As we saw in Leviticus, only certain individuals had this privilege b. But now, in Christ we can ALL "draw near" to God in worship and prayer! C. THIS WE CAN DO "BOLDLY"... 1. This word means "with confidence" (Gr., parresia, meaning "full story") 2. In ancient Greece... a. It was used to describe the right of a citizen to speak his mind on any subject in the town assembly (Lightfoot) b. Only "full citizens" had this right, slaves did not 3. As used here in Hebrews, it stands for our freedom to approach God... a. Without hesitation or inhibition b. Made possible by the blood of Jesus - cf. He 10:19-22 [And so this passage speaks of the wonderful privilege Christians have through prayer to approach our gracious God, with full confidence that He hears our prayers! It is important to utilize this privilege, and in our text we find several REASONS for doing so...] II. WHY WE OUGHT TO "COME BOLDLY TO THE THRONE OF GRACE" A. BECAUSE WE HAVE YET TO ENTER "THE REST THAT REMAINS"... 1. As seen earlier in this chapter, there is still a promised "rest" for the people of God a. We need to "fear" lest we come short of it - He 4:1 b. We need to be "diligent" - He 4:11 2. This being true, we need all the "mercy" and "grace" we can find! B. BECAUSE OF THE "HIGH PRIEST" THAT WE HAVE... 1. In Jesus we have a "great" High Priest - He 4:14 a. One who has "passed through the heavens" - cf. He 9:24; 7:26-27 b. Having ascended to the right hand of God, He has become "higher than the heavens"! 2. In Jesus we have a "sympathetic" High Priest - He 4:15 a. The word "sympathy" literally means "to suffer with" 1) The Greek word suggests an intensity that is lost in the English word "sympathy" (Lightfoot) 2) Westcott describes it as "the feeling of one who enters into the suffering and makes it his own." b. Jesus' sympathy is due to being "tempted as we are, yet without sin." 1) This qualifies Him to be a "merciful and faithful" High Priest - He 2:17 2) One who is "able to aid those who are tempted" - He 2:18 3. With such a High Priest interceding for us, shall we not take advantage of Him while we can? - cf. He 7:24-25 a. Especially since He is able "save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him" b. And since He "always lives to make to make intercession for them" -- Does this not encourage us to "come boldly to the throne of grace"? C. BECAUSE OF THE "MERCY" AND "GRACE" THAT AWAITS... 1. Christians continue to need two things throughout their lives: a. "mercy" 1) I.e., forgiveness for our sins 2) For we do sin; to deny that is to call God a liar - cf. 1Jn 1:8,10 b. "grace to help in time of need" 1) I.e., God's favor to help us in time of need 2) E.g., His providential protection (cf. 1Co 10:13) and divine strength (cf. Ro 8:13; Php 4:13) 2. The Christian finds these things in answer to PRAYER! a. By confessing our sins to God in prayer, there is mercy - cf. 1Jn 1:9 b. By praying for strength from God's indwelling Spirit, there is grace to help in time of need - cf. Ep 3:16,20; 6:10-13 CONCLUSION 1. Brethren, when we are diligent to "come boldly to the throne of grace", what do we find? a. A "graceful God" and a "sympathetic High Priest"! b. Mercy, and grace to help us in time of need! 2. The means by which we "draw near" is prayer, and so, to... a. Diligent study of the Word of God - cf. He 2:1-4 b. Diligent exhortation of our brethren on a daily basis - cf. He 3:12-14 -- We must add diligent prayer if we are to going to find the mercy and grace necessary to "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end" 3. Brethren... a. Do we appreciate the "great" and "sympathetic" High Priest that we have in Jesus? b. Are we utilizing the opportunities we have to "come boldly to the throne of grace"? -- May this passage remind us never to take the privilege of prayer lightly! As for the "privilege" of prayer itself, by which we can now "draw near" to God, bear in mind that it is made possible by "a new and living way" (He 10:19-20). Only by the blood of Jesus shed in His death can we now come to God. Have you been washed in the blood of Jesus for the remission of your sins? For those seeking this wonderful blessing, give careful attention to these words by the disciple sent by Jesus to Saul of Tarsus: "'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'" - Acts 22:16
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016
When Did Job Live?
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
When Did Job Live?
Neither the book of Job nor any other book of the Bible indicates forthrightly when God’s servant Job lived upon the Earth. Furthermore, no biblical genealogies with chronological information, such as that found in Genesis 5 and 11, help in approximating the century in which Job lived. Nevertheless, various clues within the book of Job seem to indicate Job lived sometime after the Flood, but long before the time of Moses.
First, Job’s postdiluvian status seems apparent from a question Eliphaz raised in his final speech. While accusing Job of wickedness, Eliphaz asked: “Will you keep to the old way which wicked menhave trod, who were cut down before their time, whose foundations were swept away by a flood?” (Job 22:16, emp. added). As Wayne Jackson noted: “That this is a reference to the Flood of Noah’s day is almost universally conceded by scholars” (1983, p. 58).
Second, that Job was a patriarch who lived prior to the time of Moses, and probably closer to the time of Abraham, seems evident from the following facts:
- Like other patriarchs of old (Genesis 8:20; 12:7-8; 31:54), Job, as the head of his family, offered up sacrifices to God (Job 1:5; cf. 42:8). In the book of Job, there is no mention of the Levitical priesthood, the tabernacle, the temple, the Law of Moses, etc.
- Unlike Israelite law, where the family inheritance was passed on to daughters only in the absence of sons (Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1-13), Job gave his daughters “an inheritance among their brothers” (Job 42:15).
- Job’s material wealth was measured, not in money, but in the amount of livestock he owned (Job 1:3; 42:12), which is more characteristic of patriarchal times.
- Finally, that Job lived long before the time of Moses seems evident by the fact that the longevity of his life is more comparable to the long lives of the patriarchs who lived around 2200 B.C. The book of Job reveals that Job lived long enough to marry, become “the greatest of all the men of the east” (1:3), and then witness his first 10 children reach at least the age of accountability (1:5), and probably much greater ages (cf. 1:13,18). Then, after suffering greatly, losing all of his children and his material wealth, God blessed Job with 10 more children and twice as much wealth (42:10-13). The book of Job then concludes: “After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days” (42:10-17, emp. added). Thus, it would appear that Job lived well into his 200s or beyond. Interestingly, the Septuagint testifies that Job died at the age of 240—an age more comparable to the ancestors of Abraham (e.g., Serug, Abraham’s great-grandfather lived to be 230—Genesis 11:22-23).
Jackson, Wayne (1983), The Book of Job (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications).
When Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Did Jesus cleanse the temple on the day of His triumphal entry?
Many Bible students are aware that the apostle John placed Jesus’ cleansing of the temple near the beginning of His ministry, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke positioned the occasion during the final week of the Savior’s life (see Lyons, 2004). The question regarding whether Jesus cleansed the temple on the first day He entered Jerusalem (during the week of His crucifixion) or on a subsequent day, however, is rarely pondered. Why did Mark place the cleansing of the temple on the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry, while Matthew seems to indicate the cleansing took place on the very day Jesus’ entered Jerusalem?
Following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Matthew noted: “And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’ So the multitudes said, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee’” (21:10-11). “Then,” Matthew wrote, “Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple...” (21:12, emp. added). Notice that Matthew does not say exactly when Jesus cleansed the temple, only that the event happened “then” (Greek kai, most often translated simply “and”—cf. KJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, etc.). All one can know from Matthew’s account (as well as Luke’s [19:45]) is that (1) Jesus entered Jerusalem, and (2) at some later time, He cleansed the temple.
Mark, however, used more detailed, chronological language. On the first day, Jesus went into Jerusalem and the temple (Mark 11:1-11), then later that day He and His apostles departed for Bethany. “Now the next day, when they had come out of Bethany” (11:12, emp. added), Jesus again went into Jerusalem and into the temple. Unlike His trip to the temple the previous day, this time Jesus entered the temple “to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple” (Mark 11:15-18). Thus, Jesus actually made two trips to the temple: once on the day of His triumphal entry (Mark 11:11), then again “the next day” to cleanse the temple (Mark 11:12,15-18). In this instance, Mark’s account is more sequential, while Matthew’s is more of a summary.
Keep in mind that neither Matthew nor Mark was mistaken in his account. We often report events with the same variety. Sometimes we speak more chronologically, while at other times more generally. Consider the family that returns home to tell friends about a trip to Disney World. One family member may summarize everything they did while at Epcot, while another family member may speak more specifically about how they actually went to Epcot parts of two different days and were able to see all sorts of things. No one would be justified in alleging that either family member was mistaken. Likewise, Matthew and Mark’s accounts are complementary—not contradictory.
Lyons, Eric (2004), “Chronology and the Cleansing of the Temple,” [On-line], URL:http://apologeticspress.org/articles/528.
What will Happen when Jesus Comes Again?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
On numerous occasions throughout the last two thousand years, small groups of “faithful followers” have huddled on mountaintops or in secret rooms, waiting for the Second Coming of Christ as predicted to occur on a certain day, and at a certain time, by some religious leader. Yet, although the predictions of Christ’s return have been copious, each group of expectant “believers” has been disappointed to find that they had been misled. When will Christ return, and what will occur on this Earth when He does come back the second (and last) time?
The first question regarding the time of Christ’s Second Coming is rather easy to answer, thanks to material found within the Bible. In Matthew 24:36, after describing the signs that would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus shifted the topic to His Second Coming. In contrast to the many signs that the early Christians were told to expect prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus made it clear that there would be no signs whereby one could predict His Second Coming. He stated: “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only…. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:36,44). In another portion of Scripture, the apostle Paul told the Thessalonian brethren that the day of the Lord would come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). When will Jesus return? The simple answer to that question is—nobody on this Earth has any idea.
The next question dealing with the events that will occur at the Second Coming requires a much more extensive answer. When Christ ascended to heaven, forty days after His resurrection, He “was taken up, and a cloud received Him” out of the sight of His apostles (Acts 1:9). Immediately following His ascension, two men clothed in white apparel stood by the awe-stricken apostles and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). From that moment, the apostles waited for Christ’s Second Coming.
The Second Coming, in fact, provided one of the main themes of the apostles’ preaching. Paul, especially, emphasized this event as one that would be glorious and joyful for the faithful in Christ—both those who were living when Christ returned, and those who had died in Christ. In relating some of the events that would accompany Christ’s Second Coming, Paul wrote: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The event, as Paul described it, would be one of splendor and comfort for those faithful to Christ. Christ will not send an angel or some other dignitary to bring Christians to heaven, but He will come “Himself.” His coming will be announced with a loud shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God. According to Paul, Christ will not “sneak back” to Earth, but will be announced in a glorious fashion for all to see.
How long will it take for the faithful followers of Christ to be ushered up into heaven with their Lord? Paul answered this question in 1 Corinthians 15 in his discussion of the resurrection of the saints. He wrote: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [meaning that not all Christians will die physically before the Second Coming—KB], but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). In a single instance, as fast as an eye can blink, the resurrection of the saints will be accomplished at the Second Coming of Christ.
Other events that will accompany the Second Coming deal with the ultimate end of this physical Universe. The apostle Peter, in a discourse dealing with scoffers who attempt to deny the Second Coming of Christ, wrote:
But the day of the lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Peter’s description of the destruction of this physical Universe leaves little to the imagination: the Earth and the heavens (i.e., the totality of this physical Universe) will utterly melt with a fervent heat, and will be destroyed once and for all. There will be no reign of Christ on this Earth at His Second Coming, since Peter clearly depicts the destruction of the physical Earth. The new heaven and the new Earth for which Peter says faithful Christians yearn, are the spiritual homes promised by Jesus in John 14:1-6, and described so vividly in Revelation 21 and 22. They will not be of physical matter like the present heavens and Earth, but instead will be designed especially for the new spiritual bodies discussed by Paul. When Christ comes again, this physical Universe will be destroyed.
What will happen to those who have not been faithful to Christ during their lives on this Earth? Since there will be no physical Universe on which they can continue to live, where will they go? The Bible paints a grim picture for those who reject Christ. John, quoting the words of Christ, wrote that “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His [Jesus’—KB] voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). The apostle Paul later confirmed this statement when He wrote about the time “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
On that fateful day, all of Earth’s inhabitants—both those that have died in the past and those that are living at the time—will be led into the final Judgment in which Christ will divide the righteous from the unrighteous, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The righteous will be ushered into heaven (prepared for them by Jesus Himself), while the unrighteous will “go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). All those who have rejected God and Christ, whose names are not found written in the Book of Life, will be cast into the lake of fire with the devil, and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10-15).
Although many strange and contrived stories have been concocted regarding the Second Coming of Christ, the Bible presents a crystal clear picture of what will happen: Christ will appear to the entire world, the heavens and the Earth will be burned up, and at the final Judgment, every person who ever lived will either live eternally in heaven or hell. There will be no second chances once Christ comes back. “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of person ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11)?
What was the Sin at Babel?
|by||Kyle Butt, M.Div.|
The biblical narrative often gives little commentary on major events it records. For instance, the death of James the apostle is mentioned in a single verse in Acts 12:2. Due to this abbreviated style in certain instances, one must take a rather in-depth look into the text for answers to questions that naturally arise from a straightforward reading. One such instance involves the details surrounding the tower of Babel in Genesis.
In an amazing act of divine intervention, God confused the language of all the inhabitants. Yet, this monumental event is recorded in a mere nine verses. Such brevity quite possibly leaves the reader wondering what sin those at Babel had committed to elicit such an unprecedented and active response from the Almighty. The text of Genesis 11:1-9 that describes the event does not forthrightly declare specific sins of which the denizens of Babel were guilty. But a close look at the passage and context reveals at least two areas in which those building the tower erred.
First, after Noah and his family exited the ark, God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). After the Flood, God desired that humans spread throughout the world and “fill” it. Yet, those at the tower of Babel appear to have been in overt rebellion against this command of God. The rebels at Babel said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4, emp. added). These people obviously understood that they would (or should) be scattered over the face of the Earth, but they were attempting to fight against this directive. When God confused their languages, the text states that He also “scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8).
Second, the rebellious tower builders mentioned that they were building the tower to “make a name” for themselves. At the heart of the confusion at Babel was the sin of pride. The New Testament writer John mentioned that the sinful world consists of three primary areas of temptation: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Pride had so infested those at Babel that they were no longer seeking to glorify and honor their Creator Who was responsible for endowing them with the ingenuity to survive, build, and thrive. Instead, they sinfully heaped up recognition for themselves in an attempt to gain undue notoriety. As Burton Coffman stated: “The children of men who wrought this wickedness in God’s sight were clearly infected with the us virus, the pride, arrogance, and conceit of the people standing starkly obvious in this cryptic account of it” (1985, p. 159, italics in orig.).
Furthermore, it has been suggested that the tower of Babel was one of the first organized efforts to propagate pagan worship and idolatry (Coffman, p. 158). While such could be the case, it is not necessary to establish in order to document sins of such a grievous nature that would deserve God’s condemnation. Those at the tower of Babel were rebellious, arrogant sinners who attempted to thwart God’s design to have the Earth inhabited by men. Not only were they unsuccessful, they were also punished. Their story stands as a reminder to all who read: God demands obedience, and His ultimate will always prevail.
Coffman, Burton (1985), Commentary on Genesis (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
What was the "Firmament" of Genesis 1?
|by||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.|
Early in the book of Genesis, the text states: “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven” (1:6-8). What was the “firmament”? I have heard it said by critics of the Bible that the ancient Hebrews believed there was some kind of solid “dome” or “vault” above the sky. Does the Bible actually teach such scientifically erroneous concepts?
Several words within the Genesis creation narrative have caused considerable controversy through the years. On the one hand, unbelievers—who continually seek grist for their ever-grinding mills—have suggested that Moses’ writings are flavored with certain terms that document beyond reasonable doubt the Hebrews’ dependence upon, and belief in, “pre-scientific” (read that as “unscientific”) concepts. On the other hand, liberal theologians have argued that Moses instilled into the Genesis record ancient, mythological teachings and ideas whose presence militates against the possibility of Genesis being accepted at face value as a literal, historical account of God’s creative activity.
One such word is the “firmament” mentioned in Genesis 1:6ff. Unbelievers have seized upon this singular term in order to depict Genesis as unworthy of acceptance by modern, well-informed, “intelligent” people. For example, the late atheist Isaac Asimov frequently (and vehemently) expressed his views on the “scientific absurdity” of the Mosaic record of origins. In volume one (on the Old Testament) of his two-volume set, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, he denied that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and opted instead for the position known in theological circles as the Documentary Hypothesis (often referred to as the Graf-Wellhausen theory), which suggests that editors (called “redactors”—designated individually as J,D, E, and P) produced the Pentateuch. [For an up-to-date explanation and refutation of the various aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis, see McDowell, 1999, pp. 402-477.] Asimov wrote:
The first book was named “Genesis,” which means, literally, “coming into being.” It implies a concern with births and beginnings, which is appropriate for a book that begins with the creation of heaven and earth. By ancient tradition, the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses, the folk hero who, according to the account given in the second through fifth books, rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Modern scholars are convinced that this theory of authorship is not tenable and that the early books of the Bible are not the single work of any man. Rather, they are the combined and carefully edited version of a number of sources (1968, p. 17).
He repeated, and expanded, this viewpoint in his book, In the Beginning (1981, p. 5), and then commented:
First comes the creation of the firmament. The first syllable of the word “firmament” is “firm,” and that gives an accurate idea of what the writers of the P-document had in mind. The firmament is the semi-spherical arc of the sky (it looks flattened on top and rather semi-ellipsoidal, but that is an optical illusion), and it was considered a hard and firm covering of the flat earth. It was considered very much like the lid of a pot and was assumed to be of much the same material as an ordinary lid would be.... From the scientific view, however, there is no firmament; no sky to be viewed as a material dome (1981, p. 33, parenthetical comment in orig.).
Robert Schadewald, an atheistic science writer, not only accused the Bible writers of harboring an incorrect view regarding the firmament, but also of believing in a flat Earth. He phrased his arguments against the Bible as follows.
The ancient Hebrews, like their older and more powerful neighbors...were flat-earthers. The Hebrew cosmology is never actually spelled out in the Bible but, even without knowledge of the Babylonian system upon which it is patterned, it can be read between the lines of the Old Testament. The Genesis creation story itself suggests the relative size and importance of the earth and the celestial bodies by specifying their order of creation. The earth was created on the first day, and it was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). On the second day a vault—the “firmament” of the King James Bible—was created to divide the waters, some above, and some being below the vault....
Other passages complete the picture. God “sits throned on the vaulted roof of earth, whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (Isaiah 40:21-22). He also “walks to and fro on the vault of heaven” (Job 22:14), which vault is “hard as a mirror of cast metal” (Job 37:18). The roof of the sky has “windows” (Genesis 7:12) that God can open to let the waters above fall to the surface as rain. The topography...isn’t specified, but Daniel “saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bounds” (Daniel 4:10-11). Such visibility would not be possible on a spherical earth, but might be expected if the earth were flat (1983, p. 290, emp. added).
Even prominent Hollywood stars have joined the attack upon Moses and his fellow writers. Well-known comedian Steve Allen once hosted both the NBC Tonight Show and his own Steve Allen Comedy Hour. He also happens to be an accomplished composer who has written more than 4,000 songs. In other circles, however, he is equally well known as a devout humanist who is one of the Bible’s severest critics. Two of his books, Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (1990) and More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, & Morality (1993), are frontal assaults upon the Good Book. As it turns out, Mr. Allen was reared a Roman Catholic, but in his early thirties was excommunicated from that religious group because of a second marriage. He claims, though, that in his mid-twenties he began to have doubts about Catholicism/Christianity—doubts that eventually led him to flee into the waiting arms of humanism, and then to write his two scathing attacks upon the Bible.
In both of his tomes, Allen has parroted the same hackneyed charges against the Genesis record of creation as his atheistic colleagues. For example, he wrote disapprovingly of “the scientific nonsense with which the first chapters of Genesis abound—as, for example, the view that the firmament is a solid platform in space containing reservoirs of water, the valves of which open to produce rain” (1990, p. 92). He then went on to state: “There can be no serious question, surely, that the original author(s) firmly believed the view of the natural universe just as they explained it” (p. 93).
Modern-day liberalism frequently has employed this same type of argument as an indicator of the Bible writers’ alleged “unscientific view” of the Universe. In their withering critique of the biblical doctrine of origins, Creationism and Evolution, Murray and Buffaloe suggested:
When consistently applied, the literalist approach to Biblical interpretation leads to a maze of difficulties. One of the best ways to demonstrate this is to examine the “blueprint,” or “model,” of the universe that is found in Genesis 1 and throughout the Bible. This concept of how the universe is built was common to all ancient peoples and was simply taken for granted by the Hebrews, who undoubtedly adopted it from their Middle Eastern cultural environment. In fact, it was the standard way of viewing the universe in Western culture until Copernicus and Galileo challenged it in the 16th century. It is quite clearly outlined in verses 6-10 of Chapter 1....
Here we see plainly set forth the basic structure of the pre-scientific view of the universe: the earth is essentially a flat plain, partly covered by water, and over the earth is a great dome, the sky or “heavens.” The Genesis account explains that there is a vast reservoir of water collected above the dome (“firmament”), which of course is how ancient people accounted for rainfall. This picture of the universe is presupposed throughout the Bible....
The ancient Biblical picture of the world is commonly termed the “three-story” or “three-tiered” view of the universe.... According to this model, the universe consists essentially of the sky-dome or “heavens” above; the flat earth stretched out beneath; and the underworld, pictured something like underground caverns. The ancients envisioned this whole world-structure, finally, as floating in a vast ocean. An added touch was that the heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—rolled across the underside of the sky-dome, being attached to it in some fashion (1981, pp. 12-15).
What response should the Bible believer offer to such accusations? Does the Bible imbibe ancient mythological misrepresentations? Is its information on origins “unscientific”? What is the truth of the matter?
The Hebrew raqia (the “firmament” of the KJV, ASV, RSV, et al.) means an “expanse” (Davidson, 1963, p.
DCXCII; Wilson, n.d., p. 166), or “something stretched, spread or beaten out” (Maunder, 1939, p. 315; Speiser, 1964, p. 6). Keil and Delitzsch offered this definition in their monumental commentary on the Pentateuch: “to stretch, to spread out, then beat or tread out...the spreading out of air, which surrounds the earth as an atmosphere” (1980, 1:52).
In an article discussing the “firmament” of Genesis 1:6-8, Gary Workman observed that this word is an “unfortunate translation” because it “not only is inaccurate but also has fostered unjust criticism that the Bible erroneously and naively pictures the sky above the earth as a solid dome” (1991, 11:14). Strictly speaking, of course, “firmament” is not actually a translation of raqia at all, but rather, more accurately, a transliteration (i.e., the substitution of a letter in one language for the equivalent letter in another language) of an “unfortunate translation.” Allow me to explain.
The Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek produced by Jewish scholars in the third century B.C. at the behest of the powerful Egyptian pharaoh, Ptolemy Philadelphus, for inclusion in his world-famous library in Alexandria) translated raqia into the Greek as stereoma, which connotes a “solid structure” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1967, p. 774). Apparently, the translators of the Septuagint were influenced by the then-popular Egyptian view of cosmology and astronomy [they were, after all, doing their translating in Egypt for an Egyptian pharaoh] that embraced the notion of the heavens being a stone vault. Unfortunately, those Hebrew scholars therefore chose to render raqia via the Greek word stereoma—in order to suggest a firm, solid structure. The Greek connotation thus influenced Jerome to the extent that, when he produced his Latin Vulgate, he used the word firmamentum (meaning a strong or steadfast support—from which the word “firmament” is transliterated) to reflect this pagan concept (McKechinie, 1978, p. 691).
In his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , Old Testament language scholar W.E. Vine stressed:
While this English word is derived from the Latin firmamentum which signifies firmness or strengthening,...the Hebrew word, raqia, has no such meaning, but denoted the “expanse,” that which was stretched out. Certainly the sky was not regarded as a hard vault in which the heavenly orbs were fixed.... There is therefore nothing in the language of the original to suggest that the writers [of the Old Testament—BT] were influenced by the imaginative ideas of heathen nations (1981, p. 67).
Raqia denotes simply an expanse, not a solid structure (see Harris, et al., 1980, 2:2218). Furthermore, the actual substance of the expanse is not inherent in the word. For example, Numbers 16:38 juxtaposes raqia and pahim (plates), suggesting literally an “expanse of plates.” Here, “plates” specifies the actual material involved in the expansion. In Genesis, “heavens,” not solid matter, is given as the nature of the expanse (Genesis 1:8,14,15,17,20). The original context in which raqia is used does not imply any kind of solid dome above the Earth.
The Bible equates “firmament” with the “heavens” (Psalm 19:1), using even the compound “firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14,15,17). God provided the correct definition of the word on the second day of creation when He “called the firmament Heaven” (Genesis 1:8). It was described further when Isaiah said that the Lord “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). “Heavens” always is dual in the Hebrew and, in general, refers to the “heights” above the Earth. As such, there are three particular applications of the word in Scripture. There are the atmospheric heavens (Jeremiah 4:25), the sidereal heavens (outer space) where the planetary bodies reside (Isaiah 13:10), and the heaven of God’s own dwelling place (Hebrews 9:24). As the context requires, “firmament” may be used in reference to any one of these three places. Birds are said to fly in “the open firmament of heaven” (the atmospheric heavens, Genesis 1:20). The Sun, Moon, and stars are set in “the firmament of heaven” (the sidereal heavens, Genesis 1:17). And the psalmist spoke of God’s “sanctuary” as being “in the firmament” (Psalm 150:1).
R.K. Harrison, writing on the word “firmament” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, observed:
The relationship of the firmament to the concept of heaven can be clarified if the firmament is identified with the troposphere, and then by thinking of the celestial heavens either as a topographic dimension beyond the firmament itself, or as the designated abode of God (1982, 2:307).
The context of Genesis 1:6-8,14-22 makes it clear that Moses intended his readers to understand the raqia simply as the sky, atmosphere, or expanse above the Earth.
Critics who speak of “the scientific nonsense with which the first chapters of Genesis abound” (to quote Steve Allen) ignore the meaning of the word “firmament” within the context in which it is used by the writers, and instead impose a meaning on the word that is in no way implied by the context. In fact, there is evidence to this effect in their own writings. Schadewald, for example, admitted that he had to “read between the lines” to discern the particular Hebrew cosmology that he was attacking. Such an admission no doubt revealed more than he intended, as it placed him in the unenviable position of having to “write between the lines” the cosmology that he wanted to depict the Bible as reflecting. Then, he took passages that obviously were written in figurative language (such as Daniel 4:10-11, wherein the prophet “saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth...reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth’s farthest bounds”) and interpreted them in a strictly literalfashion—something no fair reviewer ever would do. Such underhanded chicanery is analogous to impeaching a man’s honesty merely because he remarks that during his lifetime he has traveled “to the four corners of the Earth.”
When Steve Allen accuses the Hebrews of propagating the idea that “the firmament is a solid platform in space,” or when Isaac Asimov accuses them of believing that the firmament was “very much like the lid of a pot and was assumed to be of much the same material as an ordinary lid would be,” it is obvious that neither critic has researched the matter adequately, or is willing to treat the text fairly. As Harrison noted in regard to the firmament:
Although in classical Greek the latter denoted something solid, or a firm structure such as a foundation, its LXX [Septuagint—BT] usage was of the open sky, or the expanse stretching above the earth. This curious divergence of meaning is matched by the difficulty in translating the original Hebrew term raqia. It is a cognate of the verb rq, to “spread out” (Ps. 136:6; Isa. 42:5; 44:24), or “beat out” (Ex. 39:3; Nu. 17:4), the former usage referring to the expanse of the heavens at creation, and the latter to the beating out of metal into thin plates or sheets (1982, 2:306).
When a word has more than one meaning (as firmament obviously does), the context in which the word is used in the passage under consideration is critical to a proper understanding of the meaning of the word. Steve Allen suggested: “There can be no serious question, surely, that the original author(s) firmly believed the view of the natural universe just as they explained it.” I could not agree more! The context in which “firmament” is employed in Genesis explains quite clearly that view, as Harrison went on to point out:
In Genesis 1:6 the firmament comprised an expanse that penetrated the mass of water vapor covering the earth and divided it into lower (or terrestrial) and upper (or atmospheric) levels. The expanse that was formed by the lifting of the water vapor constituted the atmosphere, which stretched around the earth and made possible the existence of subsequent plant and animal life. In Genesis 1:8, the expanse was given the name “heaven” (samayim), a better translation of which would be “sky” (cf. Ps. 85:11; Prov. 30:19) [1982, 2:307].
If Asimov, Schadewald, and Allen had done a bit of comparative study to see how the word was used—not only in Genesis but elsewhere throughout the Scriptures—they surely would have noticed that the context dictates the definition of the word. They also might have realized that the specific context of Genesis does not imply the definitions that are being used to make the Bible look ridiculous. Furthermore, the accusation of Murray and Buffaloe that “this concept of how the universe is built was common to all ancient peoples and was simply taken for granted by the Hebrews, who undoubtedly adopted it from their Middle Eastern cultural environment” is a mere assertion that is without any foundation in fact. William White commented on the fallacious nature of such a claim when he wrote:
Numerous authors have assumed that the use of this term indicated a specific system of cosmology involving a hollow concavity of the celestial sphere. There is no evidence for thisin the literature of the Near East or in the occurrences of this rare term (1976, 2:540, emp. added).
Harrison concluded that
...some writers have assumed the existence of a primitive cosmology in which the universe was formed as a hollow, beaten-out sphere, using the analogy of the “brassy heaven” of Homer. A concept of this kind was never part of Greek cosmology, however... (1982, 2:306).
And lastly, the suggestion that the Bible writers thought the Earth to be flat hardly deserves comment. Rather than teaching a flat Earth, those writers actually depicted our planet as a circular sphere. Isaiah said, in speaking of God, “It is He who sitteth upon the circle [Hebrew chuwg ] of the Earth” (40:22). William Wilson suggested these meanings for the word chuwg: “circle, sphere, the arch or vault of the heavens; the circle of the earth, orbis terrarum ” (n.d., p. 77). All of these renderings share a common thought—that of roundness, not flatness. The charge that the Bible gives credence to the concept of a flat Earth is baseless, and represents little more than wishful thinking on the part of the Good Book’s critics.
Those who have set their face against God have railed against the Bible for generations. King Jehoiakim took his penknife, slashed the Old Testament Scriptures to pieces, and tossed them into a fire (Jeremiah 36:22-23). During the Middle Ages, attempts were made to keep the Bible from the man on the street. In fact, those caught translating or distributing the Scriptures often were subjected to imprisonment, torture, and even death. Centuries later, the famous French skeptic Voltaire boasted that “within fifty years, the Bible no longer will be discussed by educated people.” His braggadocio notwithstanding, the Bible still is being discussed among educated people, while the name of Voltaire languishes in relative obscurity amidst the relic heaps of the past.
In the late 1800s, American infidel Robert Ingersoll claimed regarding the Bible: “In fifteen years, I will have this book in the morgue.” But, as history records, Ingersoll died in 1899. Thus, he was the one who ended up in the morgue, while the Bible lives on in the hearts and lives of men in civilizations around the globe. Like the blacksmith’s anvil—which wears out many hammers but itself remains unaffected—the Bible wears out the skeptics’ innocuous charges, all the while remaining unscathed. John Clifford (1836-1923), a Baptist minister and social reformer, once wrote:
Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
“How many anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye;
“The anvil wears the hammers out, ye know.”
And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet though the noise of falling blows was heard
The anvil is unharmed...the hammers gone.
Jesus warned that “heaven and earth shall pass away” (Matthew 24:35), but went on to note that “my words shall not pass away.” Isaiah wrote: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (40:8). I think it is appropriate that we end this discussion with the following assessment from Kenny Barfield in his book, Why the Bible is Number 1.
Humbly, without a dissenting voice, these writers gave credit to a superior being. One of their favorite phrases was: “This is the Word of God.” They sensed a far-greater intelligence behind this universe than that of any mortal. They stood in awe before that wisdom and power. They even wrote words on their papyri and scrolls that made little earthly sense: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” It was the only answer they ever gave.
It is the thesis of this study that one must simply look at the trademark, the signature of authorship.... Unless we can devise a more suitable explanation, it seems reasonable to believe that the seemingly incongruous wisdom was placed in the Bible by an intelligence far greater than that of man. That intelligence is God’s alone (1988, pp. 184-185).
Allen, Steve (1990), Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Allen, Steve (1993), More Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion & Morality (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).
Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1967), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Asimov, Isaac (1968), Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: Volume One—The Old Testament (New York: Avon).
Asimov, Isaac (1981), In the Beginning (New York: Crown).
Barfield, Kenny (1988), Why the Bible is Number 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Davidson, B. (1963), The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (NY: Harper & Brothers).
Harris, R. Laird, Gleason Archer, Jr. and Bruce Waltke, eds. (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Harrison, R.K. (1982), “Firmament,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia , ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Keil, C.F. and Franz Delitzsch (1949), Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Maunder, E.W. (1939), “Astronomy,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
McDowell, Josh (1999), The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).
McKechinie, Jean L., ed. (1978), Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Collins World).
Murray, N. Patrick and Neal D. Buffaloe (1981), Creationism and Evolution (Little Rock, AR: The Bookmark).
Schadewald, Robert J. (1983), “The Evolution of Bible-science,” Scientists Confront Creationism, ed. Laurie R. Godfrey (New York: W.W. Norton).
Speiser, E.A. (1964),“Genesis,” The Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).
Vine, W.E. (1981), Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
White, William (1976), “Firmament,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Wilson, William (n.d.), Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, VA: MacDonald).
Workman, Gary (1991), “What is the ‘Firmament’ Spoken of in the Bible?,” The Restorer, 11:14, May/June.
Seven Things to Consider!
In my studies I have noticed that there are many different approaches to the scriptures, religion, faith, etc. People have different principles they understand to be true and thus have different foundations upon which their faith system is built.
Sometimes people claim or seem to have great knowledge about the Scriptures. They may be able to discuss all the historical data about the Christian Faith. They may have skills in the original languages, be able to divide all the words and phrases into proper formation according to proper rules.
However, I have observed also that this wonderful ability can become an obstacle to understanding the message intended by the author. There are some simple facts that are true. I believe that anyone can understand the message of the Bible and, with that understanding, have hope in facing all of life's ups and downs.
- There is a creator who is God in heaven.
- This God has three persons manifested to the creation as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- God revealed Himself through divine revelation.
- This revelation came by the Holy Spirit to mankind through the prophets who were to proclaim the word of God.
- The purpose of this revelation was to inform mankind about the wisdom of God.
- The goal of this wisdom is to generate faith, and this faith is what gives hope of eternal life.
- The message is clear, simple, understandable and yet profound. To those who will believe, it gives birth to eternal life. But, to those who will not believe….
Some questions each person must consider:
Where is the source of real truth?
What will we put our faith in?
When will we begin?