Category Archives: Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary


By love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

This we have heard: “I am a born-again Christian and I am happy that my sins are forgiven and I go to church on Sunday because I like the fellowship!”

We ask: “Do you not go to put yourself in the way of spiritual blessing?”

The answer: “No, I am saved and I do not need anything!”

We ask: “Have you offered to witness, to pray, to encourage, to assist, to participate in your church’s life and outreach?”

The answer: “No. My church seems to get along very well without my help!”

Brethren, this “nonparticipation” kind of faith is a strange parody on Bible Christianity. Men and women who say they are believers just cancel themselves out. Is it something we have learned from the sporting events?—the great majority are spectators. They come and sit!

If there is any true spiritual life within us, God will give us a gift of some kind and the humble soul will find something to do for God!

Lord, I pray for my local church today, that many “fringe” attendees will desire to participate in our church’s life and ministry.[1]

5:13 Christian liberty does not permit sin; it rather encourages loving service. Love is seen as the motive of all Christian behavior, whereas under law, the motive is fear of punishment. Findlay says: “Love’s slaves are the true freemen.”

The Christian’s freedom is in Christ Jesus (2:4), and this excludes any possible thought that it might ever mean freedom to sin. We must never turn our freedom into a base of operations for the flesh. Just as an invading army will seek to gain a beachhead and use it as a base of operations for further conquest, so the flesh will utilize a little license to expand its territory.

A proper outlet for our freedom is this: “Make it a habit to be slaves one to another.”

A. T. Pierson says:

True freedom is found only in obedience to proper restraint. A river finds liberty to flow, only between banks: without these it would only spread out into a slimy, stagnant pool. Planets, uncontrolled by law, would only bring wreck to themselves and to the universe. The same law which fences us in, fences others out; the restraints which regulate our liberty also insure and protect it. It is not control, but the right kind of control, and a cheerful obedience which make the free man.[2]

13. For you were called to freedom, brothers; only (do) not (turn) this freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.… For the meaning of freedom see on 5:1. The present passage is linked in thought especially with verse 8. When these two verses (8 and 13) are combined the meaning of for and of both passages becomes clearer: “This persuasion (is) not (derived) from him who is calling you.… For you were called to freedom, brothers; only (do) not (turn) this freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” When God applies the outward call, the gospel message, to the heart, thereby producing the effectual call, the person who experiences this basic change is introduced into the realm of freedom, the sphere of grateful and spontaneous living to the glory of his marvelous Benefactor, and is invited to roam about freely in this new country, delighting in its treasures and making full use of its opportunities. The Galatians must beware, nevertheless, that they do not accept a distorted interpretation of the concept freedom, as if it were an opportunity, that is, bridgehead, springboard, pretext, or incentive (cf. 2 Cor. 5:12; 11:12; 1 Tim. 5:14) for sinful human nature to assert itself.

Paul is not tilting at windmills when he issues this warning. Cf. Rom. 3:8; 6:1; Rasputin (cf. R. K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, New York, 1967, p. 196). Turning liberty into license is an evil ingrained in sinful human nature. It is so easy to interpret liberty as “the right to sin,” and to construe freedom as “the privilege to do whatever one’s evil heart wants to do,” instead of looking upon it as the Spirit-imparted ability and desire to do what one should do. Even today how often does it not happen that such baneful practices as attending places of worldly amusement, chain-smoking, “boozing,” desecrating the sabbath, and reading smutty novels are defended with an appeal to “Christian liberty!” The apostle’s own inspired interpretation of the meaning of true liberty is set forth both here in Galatians and in equally touching passages of his first epistle to the Corinthians: see especially 6:12; 8:9, 13; 9:12, 19, 22; 10:23, 24, 31; 11:1.

Surely no loftier description of the essence of true freedom has ever been offered than the one given in the words: but through love be serving one another. For the concept love see the explanation of verse 6, where Paul speaks about “faith working through love.” Here in verse 13 note the paradox: “freedom … serving.” A paradox, indeed, but not a self-contradiction, for such service is voluntary, from the heart. It is a service rendered in imitation of him who “took the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), and who, during the solemn night when he stepped upon the threshold of his most profound and indescribable agony, “rose from the supper, laid aside his garments, and having taken a towel, tied it around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel” (John 13:4, 5). He was the thoroughly consecrated, wise and willing servant pictured by Isaiah (42:1–9; 49:1–9a; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12), the spontaneously acting servant who resolutely fulfilled his mission, so that with reference to him Jehovah said: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” It is such service that Paul has in mind when he says: “… through love be serving one another.” And what is meant by this love by means of which one brother voluntarily serves the other? Such ingredients as deep affection, self-sacrificing tenderness, genuine sympathy, readiness to render assistance, yearning to promote the brother’s (and in a wider sense the neighbor’s) welfare, spontaneous giving and forgiving: all these enter into it. But would it not be easier to count the glistening beads in the descending chains of rain than to catalogue all the elements that enter into that mysterious force which causes many hearts to beat as one?

When Paul warns the Galatians not to turn freedom into an opportunity for the flesh but through love to be serving one another, he is placing service over against selfishness, the positive over against the negative. Paul does this frequently: see Rom. 12:21; 13:14; 1 Cor. 6:18–20; Eph. 4:28, 31, 32; 5:28, 29; 6:4; Col. 3:5–17; 1 Thess. 4:7, etc. Vice can only be conquered by virtue, which is the Spirit’s gift, man’s responsibility.[3]

To Serve Others

but through love serve one another. (5:13c)

Second, Christian freedom takes believers to an even higher level than simply opposing the flesh. Positively, Christ frees His followers through love to serve one another. His freedom is the paradoxical freedom of loving subservience.

Again Jesus is our great example. When the disciples bickered among themselves “as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest,” Jesus said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:24–27).

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” Paul said, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:5–7). When Christ incarnates Himself in believers, He endows them with the same nature of servanthood He exemplified when, as the Son of God and Son of Man, He lived on earth as the Servant of God and the Servant of man.[4]

13 Returning after the aside of 5:2–12 to the theme of freedom he began at 5:1, Paul once again ties the reality of the Galatians’ freedom in Christ to the call of God (cf. 5:1, 8). God’s redemptive purpose in Christ includes the capacity for the believer to live apart from the constraint of external compulsion with regard to moral life and relationship. The imperative for this moral life is actualized within, by means of the ministry of God’s Spirit though one’s identification with Christ. This is what Paul had in mind earlier when he instructed the Galatians to express faith through love and live in hope of righteousness through the Spirit (vv. 5–6).

Freedom that results through faith in Christ, however, must never be expressed by means of the “sinful nature” (sarx, GK 4922, “flesh”). The purpose of freedom is not self-indulgence or self-promotion, which results in strife with others (vv. 14–15). The purpose of freedom, biblically speaking, is the capacity to obey God and do his will by being empowered by God’s Spirit to serve one’s neighbor in love.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1892–1893). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Galatians (Vol. 8, pp. 210–211). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Galatians (p. 147). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 625). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


June 3 – Being Quick to Hear

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear” (James 1:19).


Being quick to hear involves a proper attitude toward God’s Word.

It has been well said that either God’s Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. Apparently some of James’s readers were allowing sin to keep them from receiving the Word as they should. God was allowing them to experience various trials so their joy and spiritual endurance would increase, but they lacked wisdom and fell into temptation and sin. James called them back to the Word and to a godly perspective on their circumstances.

James 1:19 begins with the phrase “This you know,” which refers back to verse 18. They had experienced the power of the Word in salvation, and now James wants them to allow that Word to sanctify them. For that to occur, they must be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (v. 19).

Being “quick to hear” means you don’t disregard or fight against God’s Word. Instead, when trials or difficult decisions come your way, you ask God for wisdom and receive the counsel of His Word with a willingness to obey it. You’re not like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, whom Jesus described as “foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).

You should be “quick to hear” the Word because it provides nourishment for your spiritual life and is your weapon against all spiritual adversaries. It is the means by which you are strengthened and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It delivers you from trials and temptations and engages you in communion with the living God. The Word should be your most welcome friend!

Be “quick to hear,” pursuing every opportunity to learn God’s truth. Let the testimony of the psalmist be yours: “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day . … I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word. … How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:97, 101, 103).


Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His precious Word and for the marvelous transforming work it accomplishes in you.

For Further Study: Read Psalm 19:1–14. ✧ What terms did the psalmist use to describe God’s Word? ✧ What benefits does the Word bring?[1]

  1. My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,20. for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Throughout the letter in general and here in particular, James talks directly to his readers. He tells them what to do and what not to do. Here he says, “Take note of this.” And what should they know? In typical Semitic parallelism he states the proverb:

Everyone should be

quick to listen

slow to speak

slow to become angry.

Speakers who have the talent to express themselves fluently and eloquently are much in demand. They receive recognition, admiration, and acclaim. James, however, puts the emphasis not on speaking but on listening. That is more important than speaking.

Listening is an art that is difficult to master, for it means to take an intense interest in the person who is speaking. Listening is the art of closing one’s mouth and opening one’s ears and heart. Listening is loving the neighbor as oneself; his concerns and problems are sufficiently important to be heard.

James cautions his readers to be fully aware of the words they speak. In effect, he echoes the saying of Jesus, “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37; consult Eccles. 5:1–2; Sir. 5:11).

When James says that we must be slow to speak, he does not advocate that we take a vow to be silent. Rather, he wants us to be wise in our speaking. Jewish proverbs prevalent in the days of James were these: “Speak little and do much”; “It is wise for learned men to be silent, and much more for fools”; “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent” (Prov. 17:28). Solomon said something similar in this proverb: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19).

Careless words often accompany an angry mood. Of course, there is a place for righteous anger, but the psalmist tells us to know the limit of righteous anger: “In your anger do not sin” (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26; and see Matt. 5:22). James pleads for restraint in respect to anger.

We have our excuses ready for being angry: too busy, too much pressure, a family trait, or even “I can’t help it.” James rules out excuses when he says, “Be … slow to become angry.” That is, we must be able to give an account of every word we speak. “A quick-tempered man displays folly” (Prov. 14:29) and anger is sin (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7). An angry man listens to the voice of the evil one and not to the voice of God.

James is direct. Says he, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Anger hinders the prayers of a believer (1 Tim. 2:8) and thus prevents him from promoting the cause of Christ. In effect, he has given “the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27). Consider Moses, who became angry with the Israelites but did not listen to the instructions God had given him. He showed disobedience and thus was not permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:10–12, 24; 27:14; Deut. 1:37; 3:26–27).

When we live the righteous life that God desires of us, we listen carefully and obediently to the Word of God. When we plan to do or say something, we ought to ask whether our actions and words promote the honor of God and advance the cause of justice and peace for our fellow man. When we permit anger to guide us, we are no longer guided by the law of God. “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins” (Prov. 29:22). Instead the believer ought to control his temper, pray for wisdom, and keep the law of God.[2]

1:19a The rest of this chapter gives practical instructions as to how we can be firstfruits of His creatures. It sets forth the practical righteousness which should characterize those who have been born again by the Word of Truth. We know that we were begotten by the word in order to manifest the truth of God. So then, let us now discharge our responsibility.

We should be swift to hear. This is an unusual command, with almost a trace of humor in it. It’s like saying, “Hurry up and hear!” It means that we should be ready to hear the word of God, as well as all godly counsel and admonition. We should be teachable by the Holy Spirit. We should be slow to speak. It is surprising how much James has to say about our speech! He cautions us to be guarded in our conversation. Even nature itself teaches us this. Epictetus noticed so long ago: “Nature has given to man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” Solomon would have agreed heartily with James. He once said, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (Prov. 13:3). He also said, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). Compulsive talkers eventually transgress.

1:19b, 20 We should be slow to wrath. A man who is quick-tempered does not produce the kind of righteousness which God expects from His children. Those who lose their temper give people a wrong impression about Christianity. It is still true that “he who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32).[3]

Belief That Behaves—Part 1
A Proper Reception of the Word

(James 1:19–21)

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (1:19–21)

Here James presents a third test of a true believer. The first was his response to trials (1:2–12). The second was his response to temptation (1:13–18). The third is his response to the truth revealed in the Word of God (1:19–27).

When the true disciple hears God’s Word, there is an affection for its truth and a desire in his heart to obey it. One of the most reliable evidences of genuine salvation is that hunger for the Word of God (cf. Ps. 42:1). In 1:19–27, James focuses on two major truths relating to that evidence. First, saving faith is marked by a proper reception of Scripture as the Word of God (vv. 19–21). Second, it is marked by a proper reaction to the Word, reflected in an obedient life. The present chapter deals with the first element; chapter 7, with the second.

Just as a newborn baby does not have to be taught to hunger for its mother’s milk, the newborn child of God does not have to be taught to hunger for God’s Word, his spiritual food and drink. That is the natural impulse of his new spiritual life, of his new creation. To use another metaphor, his spiritual dial is tuned to the frequency of Scripture.

Our Lord stated: “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). Genuine discipleship is evidenced by ongoing obedience to Scripture.

Jesus warned, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you” (Mark 4:24; cf. Luke 8:18). Jesus’ true disciples are to pay keen attention to the content of what they hear and read, measuring every idea, every principle, and every standard against the infallible and sovereign authority of God’s Word. Believers are not, however, left only to the limits of their own diligence and understanding but are enabled by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit to accurately interpret what they hear in light of the Word. “To you,” the Lord assures us, “it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. … Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matt. 13:11, 16; cf. 19:11). Paul also assures us that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. … He who is spiritual appraises all things” (1 Cor. 2:12, 15; cf. vv. 9–10). When our faith is real, we are connected to the living God, from whom flows into us the supernatural life and power that makes us responsive and receptive to His Word.

The psalmist declared, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. … With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. … I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:1, 10, 14). True believers love God’s Word, and their highest joy is to understand and keep it and thereby please their Lord.

Jesus also said:

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:21–24; cf. 15:7; 17:6, 17)

The person who is truly related to Christ through saving faith responds gladly to His Word. Conversely, the person who has no interest in hearing, much less obeying, God’s Word gives evidence that he does not belong to Him.

“If you abide in Me,” Jesus promised, “and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:7). In his first letter, John writes, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10; cf. 2:24; 3 John 11).

Just as it is the inner desire of the believer to know and obey God’s Word, it is the natural desire of the unbeliever to disregard and disobey it. Although unbelievers sometimes refer to certain passages of Scripture to support their own beliefs, standards, and objectives, they do not cherish it and submit to it as God’s authoritative Word. At best, it is simply one resource among many others they may or may not agree with but will use to their advantage when it appears noble or seems helpful. Because of Scripture’s deep and convicting truths, they naturally rebel against it, since it exposes their sinfulness, lostness, and condemnation under God. “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so [unbelievers typically] oppose the truth, [because they are] men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8). They are like Alexander the coppersmith, who vigorously opposed Paul’s teaching in Ephesus (see 2 Tim. 4:14–15). Like the various bad soils in Jesus’ parable—those on the roadside, on rocky places, and among thorns (Matt. 13:18–23)—unbelievers ultimately reject the gospel along with the rest of God’s Word. They reject His truth with their minds and with their hearts. Consequently, “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statutes” (Ps. 119:155).

The Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah did so because they refused to believe the inspired Scriptures they had been divinely given. Jesus made it unmistakably clear to them that

the Father who sent Me, He has borne witness of Me. [But] you have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. (John 5:37–40)

A short while later, He said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:45). Still later, Jesus excoriated His enemies, telling them unambiguously: “You seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. … Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. … He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:37, 43, 47; cf. 10:26–27). Belief in God’s Word and belief in Jesus Christ are inseparable. To believe in one is to believe in the other; and to disbelieve one is to disbelieve the other.

So the believing mind and heart receives and submits to God’s truth. It is not that believers can merely sit back and passively understand, appreciate, and apply His truth without sincere determination and effort. Just as the Lord did not save us apart from our initial trust in Him, neither does He bless our lives as believers and give us spiritual growth apart from our continuing trust in Him. And just as the Word was the power of our new birth, so is it the power of our new life. Consequently, James reveals three attitudes that are necessary for believers to rightly receive God’s Word: willingness to receive it with submission (James 1:19–20), with purity (v. 21a), and with humility (v. 21b).

Willingness to Receive the Word with Submission

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (1:19–20)

This you know refers back to the truths just expressed: first, the general truth of the power of the Word in regenerating believers in the early church and making them entirely new creations; and, second, the subsidiary and marvelous truth that those believers became, in fact, “the first fruits among His creatures” (v. 18). From the apostle’s teaching as well as from their own experience, they knew what it was to be transformed by the incorruptible seed of the Word and given eternal life in the very family of God as His own child (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23–25).

At this point, James makes a clear transition in emphasis. Because we have experienced the transforming power of God and have been made new creatures, we are to continually submit to His Word, allowing it to continue its divine work in and through our lives. In James 1:18, Scripture is called “the word of truth”; in verse 21, “the word implanted”; in verse 22, simply “the word”; in verse 23, figuratively, as “a mirror”; and in verse 25, “the perfect law, the law of liberty.”

Scripture not only is given to bring men to salvation but also is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). By the continual, faithful hearing of the life-giving and life-sustaining Word, our divinely indwelt hearts are stimulated to obey the Word with willing submission to its teachings and truths. We exult with David that “the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:7–8). “I have inherited Your testimonies forever,” another psalmist writes, “for they are the joy of my heart” (Ps. 119:111).

By addressing his readers as my beloved brethren James clearly indicates his deep compassion and concern for them. Like every wise Christian teacher, he is not simply trying to convince their minds in a purely intellectual way but also is trying to reach their hearts. His affection for them is equally as strong as his obligation to them. Few things can make a teacher’s work more effective than a genuine love for those being taught. Love can break down barriers—intellectual as well as spiritual ones—that no amount of fact and reason may do. And no matter how well the mind may understand and acknowledge a truth, it will be of little spiritual benefit to the believer or to the kingdom if the heart is not inclined to personally embrace and submit to it.

In the second half of verse 19, James gives three important commands for the believer who is willing to receive God’s Word with submissiveness. All three are deceptively simple. First, we must be quick to hear, that is, be a careful listener, making sure that we pay attention in order to get the message right. “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise,” the writer of Proverbs observes; “when he closes his lips, he is counted prudent” (Prov. 17:28). In another place he asks rhetorically, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 29:20). In any field of knowledge we learn by listening, not by speaking (cf. Ps. 119:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).

James’s appeal is for believers to seize every opportunity to increase their exposure to Scripture, to take advantage of every privileged occasion to read God’s Word or to hear it faithfully preached or taught. The sincere, eager desire for such learning is one of the surest marks of a true child of God. When he is specially blessed, he turns to the Word to find passages of thanksgiving and praise. When he is troubled, he searches for words of comfort, encouragement, and strength. In times of confusion, he searches for words of wisdom and guidance. When he is tempted, he searches out God’s standards of purity and righteousness for power to resist. The Word is the source of deliverance from temptations and trials. It becomes the most welcome friend, not only because of what it delivers us from but also because of what it delivers us to—glorious, intimate, and loving communion with our heavenly Lord.

Periodically, every Christian should do a personal inventory regarding his hunger and thirst for God’s Word. He should ask himself with determined honesty, “Is my real delight, like the psalmist’s, truly in the law of the Lord; and do I meditate on it day and night?” (cf. Ps. 1:2); and, “If we miss reading Scripture before the day begins, do we notice a difference in the day and in ourselves?” Can we sing with Charles Wesley,

When quiet in my room I sit,

Thy book be my companion still;

My joy Thy sayings to repeat,

Talk o’er the records of Thy will,

And search the oracles divine

Till every heartfelt word is mine.

  1. A. Motyer has perceptively written,

We might wonder why the ever-practical James does not proceed to outline schemes of daily Bible reading or the like, for surely these are the ways in which we offer a willing ear to the voice of God. But he does not help us in this way. Rather, he goes deeper, for there is little point in schemes and times if we have not got an attentive spirit. It is possible to be unfailingly regular in Bible reading, but to achieve no more than to have moved the book-mark forward: this is reading unrelated to an attentive spirit. The word is read but not heard. On the other hand, if we can develop an attentive spirit, this will spur us to create those conditions—a proper method in Bible-reading, a discipline of time, and so on—by which the spirit will find itself satisfied in hearing the Word of God. (J. A. Motyer, The Message of James [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1985], 64–65)

The true believer will be marked by such an attentive spirit, which will find a way to be in Scripture regularly, not for the purpose of filling an allotted devotional time but to grow in the knowledge, understanding, and love of the truth—and through and above that, to grow in the knowledge, understanding, and love of the Lord Himself. He will be eager to attend Bible preaching and study, so that his heart and mind can again be exposed to God’s truth. He will be eager on the Lord’s Day to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ and to worship Him.

Second, the believer who willingly receives the Word with submission must be slow to speak. That characteristic is a companion of the first. You cannot listen carefully while you are talking, or even while you are thinking about what to say. Many discussions are fruitless for the simple reason that all parties are paying more attention to what they want to say than to what others are saying.

In this context, therefore, it seems that slow to speak includes the idea of being careful not to be thinking about one’s own thoughts and ideas while someone else is trying to express God’s. We cannot really hear God’s Word when our minds are on our own thoughts. We need to keep silent inside as well as outside.

The primary idea here, however, is that, when the appropriate time to speak does come, what is said should be carefully thought out. When we speak for the Lord, we should have the gravest concern that what we say not only is true but is spoken in a way that both edifies those who hear and honors the Lord in whose behalf we speak. We should pursue every opportunity to read the Word ourselves, to hear it preached and taught, and to discuss it with other believers who love, honor, and seek to obey it. At the same time, we should be cautious, patient, and careful when we have opportunity to preach, teach, or explain it to others. It is doubtless for that reason that James later warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

After many years of preaching and teaching the Word, I must confess that, although the exercise of preaching is the manifestation of my spiritual gift and certainly brings rich satisfaction, I cannot honestly say that I relish preaching and teaching or bask in the light of it. I do not rush into the pulpit with any sort of personal exhilaration or joy. There is always a certain reluctance in my heart, not a reluctance to fulfill my calling but a reluctance based on the great weight of responsibility to handle accurately and proclaim the truth of God (2 Tim. 2:15).

According to one of his biographers, when the great Scottish Reformer and theologian John Knox was first called to preach, “He burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behavior from that day until the day he was compelled to present himself to the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the trouble of his heart” (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 50).

When a famous Roman orator was asked by a young man to teach him the art of public speaking, the young man continued an incessant flow of meaningless talk that allowed the great teacher no opportunity to interject a word. When they finally reached the point of discussing a fee, the orator said, “Young man, to instruct you in oratory, I will have to charge you a double fee.” When asked why, he explained, “Because I will have to teach you two skills: the first, how to hold your tongue; the second, how to use it.”

It is tragic when new converts, especially celebrities, are immediately encouraged to begin speaking publicly, not simply to give testimony to their salvation, but to begin giving advice and counsel about other aspects of Christian doctrine and practice for which they are not biblically or experientially prepared. Not only does it tend to foster pride and false confidence in the new convert but almost inevitably offers shallow, and often erroneous and spiritually dangerous, ideas to those who hear them. Well aware of that danger, Paul warned Timothy that an overseer, or elder, should not be “a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Later in that letter he adds, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others” (5:22; cf. Ezek. 3:17–18; Acts 20:26–28; Heb. 13:17).

Judging from James 1:26 and 3:1, some believers in the churches to whom James wrote were accustomed to saying and teaching whatever happened to come into their minds, without giving it careful thought or checking it against Scripture. Many of the would-be teachers were perhaps sincere but poorly taught and unprepared. Some were proud and arrogant (see 4:6) and enjoyed hearing their own voices and being considered teachers and leaders. Some, being discontent, were given to criticizing and wrangling with each other (see 3:14; 4:1–2, 11; 5:9). And, although James does not mention the problem specifically, it would seem certain that there were also unbelieving false teachers who were deceptively undermining the doctrine and faith of church members, causing great confusion and damage.

The man of God whom God has anointed to preach and teach His Word is compelled to do that with both willingness and joy. But he also is to do it with a sense of awe, always making sure—by careful and patient study, preparation, and prayer—that he says nothing in God’s name that does not accurately reflect God’s Word.

Third, the believer who willingly receives the Word with submission must be slow to anger. Anger is a very natural emotion that is an all but automatic response—even for believers who are not spiritually prepared—to anything or anyone that harms or displeases them. Orgē (anger) does not refer to an explosive outburst of temper but to an inner, deep resentment that seethes and smolders, often unnoticed by others. It is therefore an anger that only the Lord and the believer know about. Therefore, it is a special danger, in that it can be privately harbored.

In this context, James seems to be speaking particularly about anger at a truth in the Word that displeases, that confronts sin or conflicts with a cherished personal belief or standard of behavior. It refers to a disposition hostile to scriptural truth when it does not correspond to one’s own convictions, manifested—even if only inwardly—against those who faithfully teach the Word.

As already noted, anger also was reflected in the general discontent and dissension within some of the congregations to whom James wrote. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” he asks. “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (4:1–2). People desired to have their own opinions confirmed, their own ways approved, their own likes and dislikes accepted by others. Self-will was supreme, personal hostility was rampant, and the spiritual damage was enormous. Instead of working together in love in each other’s behalf, they fought each other to have their own ways, regardless of the consequences to Christ’s church or to their own spiritual well-being.

But James’s emphasis here seems to be on those who hear the truth and resent its exposing their personal false ideas or ungodly lifestyles. Paul asked believers in Galatia, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). In the minds of some church members, the answer doubtless was “yes.” In reality, of course, Paul’s persistently telling them God’s truth, without compromise or omission, was the kindest and most helpful thing he could do for them. That is the kindest and most helpful thing anyone can do for someone else.

But throughout the history of the church—in fact, throughout the history of fallen mankind—even believers have resented God’s truth and the messenger who brought it. Sometimes a pastor must therefore be severe in challenging and rebuking that resentment. “Now some have become arrogant,” Paul told the church at Corinth, “as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:18–21).

In a similar but somewhat less specific way, James was trying to contain and defuse the personal resentment and hostility that plagued some, perhaps all, of the churches his letter would eventually reach. Many of the believers in those churches would have been under his pastoral care in Jerusalem before the church there was scattered after the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 8:1; 11:19).

There is, of course, a just anger, a holy indignation against sin, Satan, and anything that dishonors the Lord or assaults His glory. Jesus was intensely angry when He saw His Father’s house, the holy temple in Jerusalem, turned into “a place of business,” and He expressed His anger twice by driving out those responsible for the desecration (John 2:14–16; cf. Matt. 21:12–13).

But mere personal anger, bitterness, and resentment can never serve the cause of Christ, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God, that is, does not accomplish what is right in God’s eyes. That is especially true when the hostility is against the truth of God’s Word, for that in reality is against God Himself.

Willingness to Receive the Word with Purity

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, (1:21a)

As will be discussed further in the next section, the main verb of this sentence is receive. And because this verb (dechomai), as well as the related participle (from apotithēmi, putting aside), are in the aorist tense, the action of the participle is understood to precede that of the main verb. In other words, putting aside [more literally, “having put aside”] all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness is a condition for receiving the word implanted. Before God’s Word can produce His righteousness in us, we must renounce and put away the sin in our lives that stands between us and that righteousness.

Paul uses the same figure several times in his letters. He admonishes believers at Ephesus: “In reference to your former manner of life, you [must] lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22–24). To Christians in Colossae, he says, “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col. 3:8–10). The writer of Hebrews declares, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Similarly, Peter writes, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:1–2).

Filthiness translates rhuparia, which refers to any sort of moral defilement or impurity. It is closely related to a term used of wax in the ear, which impairs hearing, and is therefore especially appropriate in this context. Moral filthiness is a serious barrier to our clearly hearing and comprehending the Word of God.

Wickedness is from kakia, which denotes moral evil and corruption in general, especially in regard to intent. It pertains to sin that is deliberate and determined. It may reside in the heart for a long time before being expressed outwardly, and may, in fact, never be expressed outwardly. It therefore includes the many “hidden” sins that only the Lord and the individual are aware of.

Although perisseia can carry the idea of remains, or surplus, in this context it seems better rendered as the “abundance,” “excess,” or “prevalence” of wickedness. The idea is that of confessing, repenting of, and eliminating every vestige and semblance of evil that corrupts our lives, reduces our hunger for the Word, and clouds our understanding of it. When that is done, we can indeed receive “the word of God, … not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in [us] who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Willingness to Receive the Word in Humility

in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (1:21b)

Finally, James declares that true believers willingly receive God’s Word in humility. Humility translates prautēs, which is often rendered as “meekness” or “gentleness.” The adjective form is most commonly rendered “meek” or “gentle,” as in the third Beatitude (Matt. 5:5). But humility seems most appropriate here, because the idea is clearly that of selfless receptiveness, of putting self, as well as sins, aside. The noted Greek scholar W. E. Vine describes prautēs as “an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly toward God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words [New York: Revell, 1940], 3:55).

Among other things, humility includes the very important quality of teachableness, which obviously is of utmost importance in regard to hearing and understanding God’s Word. The faithful Christian is to receive the word implanted with a submissive, gentle, and teachable spirit, cleansed of pride, resentment, anger, and every form of moral corruption.

Implanted is from emphutos, which has the literal meaning of planting a seed in the ground. Here it is used metaphorically of God’s Word being implanted and taking root in the heart of a believer (the “good soil” of Matt. 13:8, 23) at the time of salvation. With the Holy Spirit to interpret and empower, it becomes a vital element in the new spiritual life of the child of God, for “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is the gospel in its fullness and “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

Yet, despite its already being within us, we must continually receive it, in the sense of allowing it to direct and control our lives. It was in this way that the noble-minded Jews of Berea “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [preached by Paul and Silas] were so” (Acts 17:11).

Able to save your souls first refers back to our initial salvation, in which the Word brought the truth of the gospel to an unsaved heart, showing us the way of salvation and saving us from the penalty of sin (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23). It is also able to save by being a constant resource of God’s truth that the Holy Spirit uses to guard believers’ souls from being snatched out of God’s family by protecting us from the power and dominion of sin. Finally, it is able to lead us to ultimate and complete salvation, when we are glorified with Christ in heaven, forever separated from the presence of sin. It is that comprehensive truth that Paul declares in assuring us that “now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11). It is the divine power behind the truth of Scripture that is able to initiate salvation, keep it alive and growing, and finally bring it to final glory, complete and perfect. We have been saved (justified) through the power of the Word of God; we are kept saved (sanctified) through the power of the Word; and we will be ultimately, completely, and eternally saved (glorified) through the power of the Word. [4]

19a The first part of v. 19 presents us with several difficulties. For instance, the form of iste can be understood either as an imperative (“know this”) or an indicative (“you know this”). The NIV takes the former position (“My dear brothers, take note of this”) and the NASB the latter (“This you know, my beloved brethren”). Since in the vast majority of the cases in James where the author addresses his readers as “brothers” the imperative form is used (e.g., 1:2, 16; 2:1, 5; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 9–10, 12), the NIV probably has it right in this case (Martin, 38, 41; Nystrom, 89; contra Johnson, 198–99). Also, there is a question whether this exhortation sums up what goes before (vv. 16–18; so Martin, 38, 41; Johnson, 198–99) or introduces what follows (vv. 19b–21; so Dibelius, 109; Nystrom, 89). The position taken in this commentary is that the exhortation forms a parallel conclusion with 16a, the conclusion of the previous unit, and should be translated “remember this, my dear brothers,” or, with the NIV, “take note of this.”


17 These words have caused a great deal of discussion and have a number of variants in the earliest manuscripts. For the discussion, see Davids, 87–88.

19a Some ancient manuscripts have the word ὥστε, hōste (“so that,” or “therefore”), which is much smoother than ἴστε, iste (“you know”). Most commentators understand the latter to be the correct reading. In textual criticism the more difficult reading is seen as more likely, since an ancient scribe would have been more likely to “smooth out” a reading than make it more difficult.

  1. Righteous Living through the Word (1:19b–21)


19b The triple exhortation “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” is proverbial in nature. The virtue of being a ready listener who knows how to control the tongue, and the corresponding moral danger of being a hothead, hasty talker, are widespread in both Hellenistic and Jewish literature. Davids, 92, suggests that pas anthrōpos (GK 476), translated as “everyone” by the NIV, points to a Jewish background, and passages such as Proverbs 13:3 immediately come to mind: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (see also Pr 15:1; 29:20; Ecc 7:9). Yet this triple challenge also brings to the surface James’s deep concern over the divisiveness among the people he addresses. Time and again James deals with the proper use of the tongue in the community, which is a hallmark of one walking according to God’s way of wisdom (e.g., 2:12; 3:1–12; 4:1–3, 11–12; 5:9).

20 James then offers a basis for the exhortation: “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (NASB). Passionate outbursts of anger do not “achieve” or “bring about” or “carry out” God’s righteousness. The verb has to do with work or effort of some kind. However, what does he mean when he speaks of “the righteousness of God,” for at least four interpretations are possible. The phrase could refer to God’s character as righteous, his justification, his eschatological justice (cf. 5:7), or his standard of right living (Laws, 81; Davids, 93). Of these the final option is to be preferred, since it is only in living according to God’s standard that human beings can “accomplish” or “work” his righteousness (Moo, 84). Consequently, the idea here is that when we allow anger to control us, spewing out poisonous emotional garbage onto our fellow believers, this falls far short of what God has designed for our relationships in the community of faith.

21 The “Therefore” (dio) at the beginning of v. 21 is very strong and shows that what this author is about to say is inferred from the previous statement. James is saying, “Based on this need to live up to God’s standard by being self-controlled in our interactions with one another, here’s what you need to do,” and he follows first with what needs to be put aside and then with what needs to be embraced. The word translated “get rid of” (NIV) is, in reality, a participle, which the NASB translates more accurately with “putting aside.” This term was used at times in the ancient world to refer to taking off clothes, but it occurs in the NT in a figurative sense of “laying aside” something spiritually bad, such as lying (Eph 4:25), malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander (1 Pe 2:1), or anything that would hold us back from following Christ fully (Heb 12:1). Accordingly, “moral filth” (rhyparia, GK 4864) translates the figurative sense of a term that literally refers to dirt or filth. In its figurative uses it can connote bad behavior, moral uncleanness, greed, or sordid attitudes or actions. The “evil that is so prevalent,” which is also to be laid aside, Laws, 81, translates pointedly with “the great mass of malice” and refers to the malicious and vulgar wagging of the tongue with which the author is concerned (3:1–12; cf. 1 Pe 2:1; Davids, 94). These community-corroding attitudes and actions must be done away with, for they are out of line with God’s righteous standard and, therefore, inappropriate for his community.

On the other hand, we are to replace these filthy rags of wickedness with something: “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” The term rendered “humbly” connotes a posture of gentleness or meekness, as opposed to an aggressive haughtiness that forces its opinion and desires on others. Given the context and James’s emphasis on community dynamics, the term as used here might carry the nuanced sense of courtesy or being considerate of others. In its one other use in the book, the word is contrasted with envy and selfishness, which bring about evil and disorder (3:13). Thus in James’s putting forth of this concept, it has to do with living life well relationally in the community of faith, which is a manifestation of God’s wisdom.

It is not surprising that James integrates humility with receptiveness to God’s word. In v. 18, James has already pointed out that we were “birthed” by the word of truth. He now challenges us to an attitude of ready openness to the “word planted in you.” The term rendered “planted in you” is an adjective modifying “word” (logos, GK 3364) and can also carry the idea of “inborn,” which fits with the imagery of v. 18. The word God used to give us birth is now a part of who we are as people (cf. Jer 31:31–34). Although Davids, 95, asserts that “inborn” is unrelated to receiving, the same could be said of something already “implanted.” What James has in mind here is a heart that the dictates of God’s wise word may influence. This word “can save,” alluding to the future aspect of our salvation. The word is able to bring us all the way to the consummation of our salvation at the end of the age.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 167). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 56–57). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2222–2223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 65–77). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 224–226). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13

It is really a blessed thing in our Christian fellowship and in our congregations that God never asks whether it is a big church or a little church!

A young pastor, when introduced to a well-known church leader, said, “You do not know me. I am the pastor of a little rural church.”

I think it was a wise reply that came from the churchman: “Young man, there are no little churches; all churches are the same size in God’s sight!”

But whether large or small, it must be an assembly of believers brought together through the name of Jesus to worship in God’s Presence—and with the right to receive all that God bestows.

With these roots we should ask ourselves if we are truly interested in spiritual attainment as were the New Testament believers. We must confess that the spiritual temperature among us may often be lower than in the early church. But we hold to the message that those who truly honor the Presence of the Savior are included in this relationship that goes back to the New Testament and to the apostles!

Lord, even small churches can be a large beacon in their communities through prayer and service. Glorify Yourself today through the good works of Your universal Church.[1]

  1. For indeed by one Spirit all of us were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

This text presents a number of difficulties that stem from the expressions by one Spirit, baptized, into one body, and all were made to drink. The combination of these terms is unique. What did Paul have in mind when he wrote that all of us are baptized by one Spirit? And what is the significance of making everyone to drink of one Spirit? We comment on the italicized terms but admit that problems remain.

By one Spirit. The Greek text has the preposition en that can be translated either “by” or “in.” Most translators have adopted the reading by to reveal means or agency. They think that this interpretation is the better of the two, for it avoids the awkwardness of having two quite similar prepositional phrases in the same clause: “in one Spirit … into one body.” I prefer the translation by.

Conversely, other translators believe that the Greek preposition en denotes sphere or place and thus translate it “in.” They point out that in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is never described as the baptizer. Rather, the Spirit is the sphere into which the baptismal candidate enters. The Gospels declare that Jesus baptizes his followers with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8).

Baptized. When Paul writes, “all of us were baptized,” is he referring to a literal or a figurative baptism? If taken literally, Paul is talking about water baptism. However, the verb to baptize often conveys a metaphorical sense. For instance, Jesus asks James and John whether they are able to be baptized with a baptism similar to his own (Mark 10:38). Jesus is alluding not to his baptism in the Jordan but to his death on the cross (see also Luke 12:50; Acts 1:5; and 1 Cor. 10:2). It is preferable to state that Paul has in mind a figurative use of baptism.

Paul writes, “all of us were baptized,” and “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” These words extend to a circle that is far broader than the Corinthian community and includes all believers. This means that all true believers in Jesus Christ have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. The text teaches that regenerated Christians are incorporated into one body by the Holy Spirit but it says nothing about a subsequent baptism of the Spirit.

Some scholars interpret the text as a reference to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But this is difficult to maintain. First, in the present context Paul gives no indication of introducing a discussion on the sacraments. Next, the text simply does not allude to water baptism. Third, the assertion that the verb to make to drink refers to the drinking of the Communion cup cannot be sustained. And last, the Greek verb tense calls for a single occurrence of drinking, which is incongruent with the repeated observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The flow of this verse intimates that to be baptized means to become a living member of the church upon conversion. When spiritual regeneration takes place in individuals, they enter the body of Christ, that is, the church. Not the external observance of water baptism but the internal transformation by the Holy Spirit brings people into a living relationship with Christ.

Into one body. Here Paul stresses the unity of the church in its diverse forms. He notes the racial, cultural, and social differences that existed in the Corinthian church: there were Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. Regardless of their status and position in life, these people came together to worship God in one church. If the church should practice discrimination, it would be in direct conflict with the law of love. All people who are spiritually renewed in Christ are equal to one another.

The preposition into denotes movement from the outside to the inside. Persons who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit leave the world when they become living members of the church. “For Paul to become a Christian and to become a member of the Body of Christ are synonymous.”

All were made to drink. In verse 13, the adjective all appears twice not to indicate two distinct stages of the Christian experience but to reinforce the new status. In fact, the verse itself “rules out any interpretation of baptism which requires it to be complemented by a later rite for the impartation of the Spirit. For this reason, Paul once more writes the expression one Spirit and says that all believers were made to drink of this Spirit. We sense that the two verbs baptize and drink have much in common. By looking for a parallel, we see similar wording in one of Paul’s epistles: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27–28).

In the Corinthian and Galatian passages, Paul stresses the unity in Christ Jesus regardless of racial, cultural, social, and sexual differences. He states that all were baptized by one Spirit into Christ. And he adds that the believers have been made to drink of the Spirit (v. 13) and have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Just as Christians are clothed with Christ, so they are saturated with the Holy Spirit. The Greek verb potizoō can mean either “I give to drink” (Matt. 25:35) or “I irrigate” (1 Cor. 3:6–8). The second meaning is appropriate, for Jesus also connects the Holy Spirit to the concept living water flowing from the believer (John 4:10; 7:38–39). When this spiritual saturation occurs, the individual believer enjoys a bountiful harvest, namely, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).[2]

12:13 Paul goes on to explain how we became members of the Body of Christ. By (or in) one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The more literal translation here is “in one Spirit.” This may mean that the Spirit is the element in which we were baptized, just as water is the element in which we are immersed in believer’s baptism. Or it may mean that the Spirit is the Agent who does the baptizing, thus by one Spirit. This is the more probable and understandable meaning.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost. The church was born at that time. We partake of the benefits of that baptism when we are born again. We become members of the Body of Christ.

Several important points should be noted here: First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is that divine operation which places believers in the Body of Christ. It is not the same as water baptism. This is clear from Matthew 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 1:5. It is not a work of grace subsequent to salvation whereby believers become more spiritual. All the Corinthians had been baptized in the Spirit, yet Paul rebukes them for being carnal—not spiritual (3:1). It is not true that speaking in tongues is the invariable sign of being baptized by the Spirit. All the Corinthians had been baptized, but not all spoke in tongues (12:30). There are crisis experiences of the Holy Spirit when a believer surrenders to the Spirit’s control and is then empowered from on high. But such an experience is not the same as the baptism of the Spirit, and should not be confused with it.

The verse goes on to say that believers have all been made to drink into one Spirit. This means that they partake of the Spirit of God in the sense that they receive Him as an indwelling Person and receive the benefits of His ministry in their lives.[3]

Baptized by One Spirit

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (12:13)

In this verse Paul presents two important truths about Christ’s Body: its formation and its filling.

The Forming of the Body

The church is formed as believers are baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The Holy Spirit is the agent of baptism but Christ is the baptizer. At Jesus’ own baptism John the Baptist tells us that it is Jesus Christ, “He who is coming after me [and] is mightier than I,” who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). As explained in the following verse, the baptism of fire is the judgment of hell, the burning of “the chaff with unquenchable fire.” As Savior, Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit; as Judge, He baptizes with fire. All believers receive baptism with the Holy Spirit; all unbelievers will receive baptism with fire. Therefore every living soul will be baptized by Christ.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that Paul is not speaking here of water baptism. Water baptism is an outward, physical ordinance believers submit to themselves and which is performed by other believers, in obedience to Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19; cf. Acts 2:38). Water baptism plays no part in conversion, but is a testimony to the church and to the world of conversion that has already taken place inwardly Spirit baptism, on the other hand, is entirely the work of God and is virtually synonymous with salvation. The term baptizō (“to baptize”) is used in the New Testament to refer to figurative immersion in trouble (Matt. 20:22–23, KJV) or to spiritual immersion (Rom. 6:3–5) in Christ’s death and resurrection. As one can be immersed in water, so a believer is immersed spiritually into the Body of Christ.

It should also be noted that the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not a correct translation of any passage in the New Testament, including this one. En heni pneumati (by one Spirit) can mean “by or with one Spirit.” Because believers are baptized by Christ, it is therefore best to translate this phrase as “with one Spirit.” It is not the Holy Spirit’s baptism but Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit that gives us new life and places us into the Body when we trust in Christ.

It is not possible to be a Christian and not be baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. Nor is it possible to have more than one baptism with the Spirit. There is only one Spirit baptism, the baptism of Christ with the Spirit that all believers receive when they are born again. By this the Son places all believers into the sphere of the Spirit’s power and Person, into a new environment, a new atmosphere, a new relationship with others, and a new union with Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2, where Paul shows how the nation of Israel left Pharaoh and Egypt to become immersed and identified with a new leader, Moses, and a new land, Canaan).

The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost also reveals that this baptism was by Jesus Christ (Acts 2:32–33), in fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prediction (Matt. 3:11; etc.) and of Jesus’ own promise (John 7:37–39; 15:7–15; Acts 1:5). We are not told exactly how this is done, any more than we are told exactly how God can give a person a new heart and new life. Those are mysteries beyond our comprehension. But there is no mystery as to the divine roles in salvation. The Father sent the Son and the Son sends the Spirit. The Son is the divine Savior, and the Holy Spirit is the divine Comforter, Helper, and Advocate. The Son is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the agent of baptism.

Paul’s central point in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is that baptism with the one Spirit makes the church one Body. If there were more than one Spirit baptism, there would be more than one church, and Paul’s whole point here would be destroyed. He is using the doctrine of baptism with the Spirit to show the unity of all believers in the Body. Many erring teachers today have used a wrong interpretation of the baptism with the Spirit to divide off from the Body an imagined spiritual elite who have what the rest do not. That idea violates the whole teaching here.

For by one Spirit we were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free. The apostle could not have stated the truth more clearly. One Spirit baptism establishes one church. There are no partial Christians, no partial members of Christ’s Body. The Lord has no halfway houses for His children, no limbo or purgatory. All of His children are born into His household and will forever remain in His household. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26–27). All believers in Jesus Christ become full members of His Body, the church, when they are saved. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6).

It is interesting that those who advocate Christians’ seeking the baptism by the Spirit in order to belong to the spiritual elite cannot seem to agree on how that is to be done. They have many ideas and many theories but no scriptural method. The reason is simple: Scripture contains no command, suggestion, or method for believers to seek or receive the baptism of the Spirit. You do not seek or ask for that which you already possess. The believers in Samaria who were converted under the ministry of Philip had to wait a short while to receive baptism with the Holy Spirit, until Peter and John came up to Samaria and laid hands on the converts (Acts 8:17). In that unique transitional situation as the church was beginning, those particular believers had to wait for the Holy Spirit, but they were not told to seek Him. The purpose for that exception was to demonstrate to the apostles, and to bring word back to the Jewish believers in general, that the same Holy Spirit baptized and filled Samaritan believers as baptized and filled Jewish believers—just as a short while later Peter and a few other Jewish Christians were sent to witness to Cornelius and his household in order to be convinced that the gospel was for all men and to see that “the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:44–45). Those special transitional events did not represent the norm, as our present text makes clear, but were given to indicate to all that the Body was one (Acts 11:15–17).

The Filling of the Body

When we were born again the Lord not only placed us into His Body, but placed the Holy Spirit in us. At salvation we are all made to drink of one Spirit. We are in the Spirit, who is in us. Just as there are no partially saved Christians there are no partially indwelt Christians. The Spirit is not parceled out to us in installments. God “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34).

Like being baptized with the Spirit, being indwelt by the Spirit is virtually synonymous with conversion. It is a separate facet of the same glorious, transforming act. “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). A person who does not have the Holy Spirit does not have eternal life, because eternal life is the life of the Spirit. Thus Peter can affirm “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3–4; cf. Col. 2:10; 1 Cor. 6:19).

Well–meaning and otherwise sound Christian leaders have caused great confusion, frustration, and disappointment in the lives of many believers by holding out the prospect of a second working of grace—which is called by many names. Time and energy that could be used in simply obeying the Lord and relying on what He has already given is spent striving for that which is possessed completely and in abundance. A person cannot enjoy what he has if he is forever seeking a nonexistent second blessing. An inadequate doctrine of salvation will always lead to an erroneous doctrine of sanctification. It is an ironic tragedy that those who seek a second blessing of grace cannot enjoy either. They do not enjoy the first blessing, although it is complete, because they are continually seeking the second, which does not exist.

The idea of the second blessing probably originated in the Middle Ages with the teaching that a person is saved when baptized, even though as an infant, and later receives the Holy Spirit at confirmation after coming of age. Sincere and otherwise biblical evangelicals modified the idea as a means for trying to enliven lifeless Christians. Because the church was lethargic, carnal, worldly, and fruitless, they sought to infuse vitality by encouraging believers to seek an additional work of God. But the problem has never been the insufficiency or incompleteness of God’s work. Christ gives no salvation but perfect salvation. And it is tragic that so many are seeking some “triumphalistic experience” of “deeper life,” some formalized key to instant spirituality, when the Lord calls for obedience and trust in what has been given in His perfect work of salvation (Heb. 10:14).

The being “filled up to all the fulness of God” of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:19 has to do with living out fully that which we already possess fully, just as does the working out of our salvation (Phil. 2:12). When we trust in Christ we are completely immersed into the Spirit and completely indwelt by Him. God has nothing more to put into us. He has put His very self into us, and that cannot be exceeded. What is lacking is our full obedience, our full trust, our full submission, not His full salvation, indwelling, or blessing.[4]

13 The sacrament that has incorporated us into Christ, i.e., into the church as his body, is the sacrament of baptism. All believers are baptized by one and the same Spirit into one body. In order to stress how wide a diversity is actually incorporated into that one body, Paul picks out two of the most obvious social distinctions in ancient society: Jews and Gentiles, and slaves and free people. If these sorts of people can all come together into one body, then anything that divides us as human beings—such as social status, economic level, ethnic distinction—should play no role in dividing us in the church.

Moreover, we have “all” (pantes, repeated from v. 12 and used twice in this verse) been given the same Spirit “to drink” (potizō, GK 4540). There is no special blessing of the Spirit that only some Christians receive; we all receive the Spirit and his blessings. The number of times Paul stresses in this section the universal gift of the Spirit to all Christians hints that some in Corinth may have claimed a “greater measure of the Spirit” than others. But according to Paul, the Spirit is a person, not a substance. We either have the Spirit or we do not, and if we have received Christ as Lord and been baptized into him, then we have been made to drink of the Spirit. Paul refers to God’s pouring out his love into our hearts by the Spirit (Ro 5:5), and Jesus refers to drinking of him as though drinking water (Jn 4:7–14; 7:37–39). This latter passage also relates our drinking of Jesus to our reception of the Holy Spirit.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 429–431). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1792). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 311–314). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 367). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 2 – Integrity Triumphs over Adversity

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.”

Daniel 1:1–2


Integrity shines brightest against the backdrop of adversity.

Our passage today tells of the tragic time in Israel’s history when God chastened her severely by allowing King Nebuchadnezzar and the wicked nation of Babylon to march against her and take her captive. God never coddles His people, nor does He wink at their sin. Israel’s chastening illustrates the principle that “judgment [begins] with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). But as severe as His discipline can be, it is always aimed at producing greater righteousness and godly integrity in His children (Heb. 12:5–11).

The Babylonian captivity set the stage for a truly uncommon display of integrity from Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. In the days ahead we will examine their character in some depth. For now, however, be encouraged that adversity of any kind—even chastening for sin—is God’s way of providing the rich soil for nourishing and strengthening the spiritual fruit of integrity. Without the adversities of Babylon, Daniel’s integrity and that of his friends would not have shone as brightly as it did and would not have had the significant impact it had on King Nebuchadnezzar and his entire kingdom.

Perhaps you are currently experiencing adversities that are especially challenging, and you may not yet understand what God is accomplishing through them. But like Daniel and his friends, you can pray for the wisdom to understand His will and the faith to trust Him through the process. And you can be assured He will never fail you.


Suggestions for Prayer: Each day your integrity is tested in many ways. Ask the Lord to help you be aware of those times and to make choices that honor Him.

For Further Study: Read 1 Kings 9:3–5. What kind of integrity did God require of Solomon? ✧ What promises did He make if Solomon obeyed?[1]

Historical Introduction (1:1–2)


1 King Jehoiakim (609–597 BC) was installed as a “puppet king” by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt after the death of King Josiah (cf. 2 Ki 23:30, 34). The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign dates Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem and Daniel’s subsequent captivity to 605 BC. This date accords with the accession-year method characteristic of the Babylonian system for computing regnal years (i.e., reckoning a king’s first full year of kingship to commence on the New Year’s Day after his accession to the throne, or 608 BC for Jehoiakim; cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 16–18). Critics point to the chronological discrepancy in the biblical reporting of the date of the event in that Jeremiah synchronizes the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign with the fourth year of King Jehoiakim’s reign (Jer 25:1, 9; cf. Porteous, 25–26). Yet if one assumes that Jeremiah is based on a nonaccession-year method of reckoning regnal years (more common to Egyptian and Syro-Palestinian practice), the difficulty fades and the dates are readily harmonized (cf. Longman and Dillard, 376–77).

Beyond this, critics dispute the historical veracity of Daniel’s report of a Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC because there is no record of such an incursion into Palestine at that time (cf. Redditt, 43). There is, however, indirect evidence for a Babylonian campaign in Palestine in 605 BC. Josephus (Ag. Ap. 1:19) cites a Babylonian priest-historian named Berossus, who recorded that Nebuchadnezzar was engaged in campaigns in Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia at the time his father died (cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 15). Further, a cuneiform tablet published in 1956 indicates that Nebuchadnezzar “conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country” shortly after the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. The geographical term “Hatti” would have included the whole of Syria and Palestine at this time period (cf. Miller, 57; see also Donald J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1961], 69).

The siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC, then, was the first of three major invasions of Palestine by Babylonians (although there is no reference to armed conflict in vv. 1–2, and the verb “besieged” [Heb. ṣwr] may suggest more threat than substance, as evidenced in Goldingay’s [3] translation “blockaded”; cf. Wood, 30, who comments that “likely only token resistance was made, with the Judeans recognizing the wisdom of peaceful capitulation”).

The second incursion occurred at the end of Jehoiakim’s reign in 598 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar was finally in a position to move against the disloyal Judean vassal (Jehoiakim had rebelled earlier against Babylonia ca. 603 BC; cf. 2 Ki 24:1–7). By the time Nebuchadnezzar reached Jerusalem, Jehoiakim had died and Jehoiachin his son was king of Judah (2 Ki 24:8). As a result of this invasion of Judah, King Jehoiachin was deposed and exiled along with ten thousand citizens of Jerusalem (including Ezekiel; 2 Ki 24:10–17; cf. Eze 1:1–2).

The third Babylonian invasion of Judah was swift and decisive. Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem in 588 BC and after a lengthy siege, the city was sacked, Yahweh’s temple was plundered and destroyed, and Davidic kingship in Judah ceased (2 Ki 24:18–25:21).

Nebuchadnezzar II was the eldest son of Nabopolassar and is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient times. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 605–562 BC—an empire that stretched across the ancient Near East from Elam in the east to Egypt in the west. Miller, 56, notes that the writer of Daniel refers proleptically to Nebuchadnezzar as “king of Babylon,” since he was actually crowned king some two or three months after the siege of Jerusalem.

The city of Babylon lay on the Euphrates River, some fifty miles south of modern Baghdad in Iraq. It reached the height of its splendor as the capital of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian Empire because of the extensive building activities of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. The storied Hanging Gardens of Babylon were counted among the “wonders” of the ancient world. The prophet Jeremiah predicted the overthrow of Babylon as divine retribution for her evil deeds (Jer 25:12–14; cf. Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 13:2–22 against the city of Babylon during the Assyrian period). In the NT, Babylon symbolizes the decadence and wickedness of Rome (cf. 1 Pe 5:13; Rev 14:8).

2 From the outset of the book, the record clearly indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s success is not entirely his own doing. The Lord “delivered” (cf. NASB, “gave”) Jehoiakim into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar in that he permitted the Babylonian subjugation of Judah. (See NIDOTTE, 3:206, on the use of the Heb. verb nātan [“to give”] to connote “hand over in judgment.”) This introductory statement reveals the unifying theme for the whole book: God’s sovereign rule of human history. God’s judgment of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah was not capricious or arbitrary. The threat of divine punishment, including exile from the land of the Abrahamic promise, was embedded in the blessings and curses of the Mosaic covenant (cf. Lev 18:24–30; 26; Dt 28). Owing to God’s covenantal faithfulness, he was extremely patient and longsuffering with his people Israel, warning them through his prophets over centuries of the dire consequences of habitual covenantal disobedience (cf. Ne 9:29–32). Daniel was not oblivious to all this, as attested by his prayer for his people (Da 9:4–11).

Placing objects plundered from the temples of vanquished enemies as trophies of war in the temple(s) of the gods of the victors was common practice in the biblical world (e.g., 1 Sa 5:2). The act symbolized the supremacy of the deities of the conquering nation over the gods of the peoples and nations subjugated by the imperialist armies (cf. BBCOT, 287). The articles or vessels from the Jerusalem temple confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar are not itemized. It is possible these articles were given as tribute to Nebuchadnezzar in order to lift the siege against the city (after the earlier example of the payments made by kings Ahaz and Hezekiah to the Assyrians; cf. 2 Ki 16:8; 18:15). The temple treasury cache may have included gold and silver ceremonial cups and utensils displayed to the envoy of the Babylonian king Merodach-Baladan by King Hezekiah a century earlier (cf. 2 Ki 20:12–13). The prophet Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah’s pride and predicted his treasures would be plundered and carried off to Babylon (Isa 39:6; cf. the prohibition in Dt 17:17 against stockpiling wealth given to the Hebrew kings in anticipation of an Israelite monarchy).

Later, King Belshazzar paraded these gold and silver goblets before his nobles at a great feast, precipitating the episode of the writing on the wall and the demise of his kingship (Da 5:1–2, 25–31). Finally, some of these implements may have been part of the larger inventory of temple treasure plundered by the Babylonians that King Cyrus of Persia restored to the Hebrews and that were relocated in Judah when the exiles returned to the land under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (Ezr 1:7–11). All this serves as a reminder that everything under heaven belongs to God and that he providentially oversees what belongs to him—whether his people Israel or drinking bowls from his temple (cf. Job 41:11).

The historical setting laid out in the opening verses is also important to the theology of exile developed in the book of Daniel. It is clear from Daniel’s prayer in ch. 9 that he is aware of Jeremiah’s prophecies projecting a Babylonian exile lasting some seventy years (Da 9:2; cf. Jer 25:12; 29:10). The date formulas in books of subsequent prophets of the exile, such as Jeremiah (e.g., Jer 52:31) and Ezekiel (e.g., Eze 1:2), serve as “covenantal time-clocks” of sorts as they track the chronological progression of God’s judgment against his people for their sin of idolatry in anticipation of the restoration of Israel to the land of covenantal promise (Jer 44:3–6; cf. Lev 18:24–30). Elements of Daniel’s “theology of exile” developed in later sections of the commentary include: the value of prayer for Hebrews in the Diaspora, the role obedience and faithfulness to God play in the success of the Hebrews in the Diaspora, and insights into the nature and character of divine justice and human suffering in the light of the persecution experienced by Israel during and after the Babylonian exile.

More significant for the Hebrews was the crisis in theology created by the historical setting of the Babylonian exile. The Israelites, the people of Yahweh, lost possession of their land, had their temple razed, and had the office of kingship eradicated in one fell swoop to the marauding hordes of King Nebuchadnezzar and the gods of Babylonia. As Wallace, 31, observes, the Hebrews needed a new theology. God’s people needed a “Diaspora theology” addressing the problem of how to live as a minority group in an alien majority culture sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly; how were they to “fit in without being swallowed up?” The remainder of ch. 1 and the rest of the court stories take up the challenge of answering this very question.[2]

1:1–2 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (605 b.c.), Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took Daniel and other promising young people to Babylon to be trained in Babylonian culture and literature. This deportation was the beginning of what came to be known as the Babylonian exile, which was the result of the Lord’s judgment on his people. In Lev. 26:33, 39 the Lord threatened his people with exile if they were unfaithful to the terms of the covenant established at Mount Sinai (see also Deut. 4:27; 28:64). After a lengthy history of disobedience, this threat was carried out in several stages, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in 586 b.c. The final destruction and exile were foreshadowed by this earlier exile in which vessels of the house of God were taken into captivity along with some of his people. Daniel calls it the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim,” apparently using the Babylonian system for counting the length of a reign, while Jer. 25:1 calls it “the fourth year,” using the Jewish system. (Reigns could be counted from the beginning of the new year preceding a king’s ascension, or from the actual date of ascension, or from the beginning of the new year following his ascension; the third system was used in Babylon.)[3]

1:1 the third year The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (606 bc) does not coincide with the known siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 bc (compare v. 1 with 2 Kgs 24:10–12; 2 Chr 36:9–10)—a discrepancy that makes it difficult to determine when Daniel was taken to Babylon. The sources Daniel used to determine his dates no longer exist and vary with the sources we have today.

Various cultures reckoned the king’s first year of service from different starting points. For example, in the “accession year” system, the king’s first official regnal year would begin with the arrival of the New Year—regardless of when he actually became king. Daniel may have been utilizing the “non-accession year” system, where the king’s reign begins when he actually assumes the throne. However, Daniel most likely employed the “postdating system,” where the king’s reign begins following the completion of his first full year in office. Babylonian record-keeping typically uses this method. While knowing which dating system was in place helps harmonize certain conflicting passages (compare Dan 1:1 with Jer 25:1), this cannot reconcile time gaps greater than one year. In this passage, the main issue is when and how many times Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem.

The difficulty concerns the timing of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack(s) on Jerusalem. His final destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 586 bc. Daniel 1:1 claims that a siege occurred in 606 bc—during the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (609–597 bc). The Babylonian Chronicles—which are tablets that record the history of Babylon—report a siege that occurred during the reign of Jehoiachin in 597 bc, but this was after the death of Jehoiakim (compare 2 Kgs 24:10–17). While 2 Chr 36:5–10 records that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem twice in a brief period, other ancient documents do not mention an earlier siege. It may be that the event mentioned here was not a formal siege, or Nebuchadnezzar may have sent others to deal with Jehoiakim (compare 2 Kgs 18:13–37, where both kings are represented by others).

Daniel 1:1 Daniel (Hermeneia)

Chronology of the Monarchy BEB

Regnal Chronology


Accession Year System


Length of reign begins at New Year


Non-Accession Year System


Length of reign begins at coronation


Postdating System


Length of reign begins after first full year


Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon from 605 to 562 bc.


Known as a master builder and military architect, Nebuchadnezzar was the pride of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He ruled for 43 years (605–562 bc) and gained fame by defeating the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 bc just before ascending the throne. Historical sources emphasize his vast army and warring tendencies, portraying him as a king obsessed with conquest and power. He is portrayed similarly in Daniel but is used to make a theological point: The power of earthly rulers comes from God. Nebuchadnezzar is given power to exercise a temporary judgment on Judah. But his pride will be his downfall, and his vast kingdom will eventually belong to another foreign king.

besieged it According to the Babylonian Chronicles, Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem occurred in 597 bc.

The Babylonian Chronicles are a series of tablets discovered in the late 19th century. They present a selective series of accounts about Babylonian history covering the period from around 625–225 bc. Unlike other historical documents from the ancient Near East, these texts reflect an accurate catalog of historical events and omit the self-aggrandizing qualities often found in Egyptian texts. For example, they chronicle defeats as well as victories—a practice almost without parallel in antiquity—making them one of the earliest attempts at historiography. They assist in our understanding of the biblical record, particularly the book of Daniel, and cover some of the events leading up to (and including) Judah’s exile to Babylon.

1:2 into his hand Expresses the sovereignty of God over the nations—a theme repeated throughout the book. God can direct the destinies of foreign kingdoms and rulers, as well as His own people. Judah’s exile to Babylon is also viewed within this framework.

The setting for the book of Daniel is the deportation of Judah to Babylon, or the Babylonian exile. When Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish and subsequently became king in 605 bc, Judah fell under Babylonian control. Jehoiakim, then king of Judah, was a submissive vassal for three years, then rebelled. His rebellion brought reprisals from Nebuchadnezzar, who besieged Jerusalem in 597 bc. Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, was forced to yield after three months (see 2 Kgs 24:8, 10–12). As a result, he and many of the leading citizens of Judah were exiled to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 24:13–17). A second rebellion in 586 bc by Zedekiah brought about the full measure of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath; Jerusalem was destroyed and the remaining population was brought to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 24:18–25:21). For the theological reason behind the exile, see Dan 9:2 and note.

The court tales of Daniel and his three friends (chs. 1–6) are placed within this setting of living under Babylonian domination. They function as “hope literature,” providing a sense of encouragement that God has authority over His people’s future. They are also didactic, teaching the exiles how to live righteously among their captors. The fruit of righteousness is seen in God’s continual deliverance of those who do right. The latter half of the book—chs. 7–12—deals with a later persecution. The arguments over when the book of Daniel was written involve this change of setting halfway through the book. Traditionally, Daniel is considered the author, so the book must have been written in his lifetime (sixth century bc). The stories in chs. 1–6 relate to Daniel and his friends in sixth-century Babylon. The change in style and character of chs. 7–12—with its focus on future events, especially those of the early second century bc—have led some to conclude that the book was written after Daniel’s lifetime.

the land of Shinar The ancient Hebrew name for Babylon, used here, was “Shinar” (see Gen 11:2 and note).

he brought the utensils See 2 Chronicles 36:10. In ancient Near Eastern warfare, placing the objects of a defeated enemy in the temple of one’s god was a common practice. It represented a thanksgiving offering for victory in battle and expressed superiority over the god of the defeated enemy. Israel’s God will eventually punish Babylon for this offense.

of his gods Marduk or Bel. Rather than add further shame to the captives by destroying the vessels, Nebuchadnezzar preserves them. While Nebuchadnezzar is eventually punished for his pride, Daniel presents him here in a positive light.[4]

1:1 the third year. 605 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar defeated a coalition of Assyria and Egypt at Carchemish and initiated Babylon’s rise to international power. After the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar advanced against Jehoiakim (2 Kin. 24:1, 2; 2 Chr. 36:5–7) and took some Judeans captive, including Daniel. This was the first of three invasions of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The second was in 597 b.c. (2 Kin. 24:10–14), and the third in 586 b.c. (2 Kin. 25:1–24). In the book of Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s attack is dated to Jehoiakim’s fourth year instead of the third (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). The difference occurs because in the Babylonian chronology, which Daniel apparently used, the king’s reign was officially counted from the first day of the succeeding new year, rather than from the actual date of his accession to the throne.

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians to victory at Carchemish as crown prince and commander of the army. Shortly after this victory, he assumed the Babylonian throne when his father Nabopolassar died (626–605 b.c.). Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605–562 b.c.) is the historical context for much of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

1:2 the Lord gave … into his hand. Israel’s defeat by the Babylonians is not to be explained simply by analysis of military and political factors. God is at work in the affairs of the nations, and the message to Daniel’s original audience is that He has used the Babylonians to judge His own people for their transgressions (2 Kin. 17:15, 18–20; 21:12–15; 24:3, 4). Under the terms of the covenant made at Mount Sinai, the Lord threatened to exile His people if they were unfaithful (Lev. 26:33, 39). The length of their tenure in the land in spite of their unfaithfulness is a sign of the Lord’s mercy. Their unfaithfulness culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the majority of the remaining population by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 b.c.

the vessels of the house of God. These same temple vessels are brought out by Belshazzar for his feast in Dan. 5 and will be returned to Judah with the exiles in the time of Cyrus (Ezra 1:7).

the treasury of his god. Marduk (or Bel) is the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon (cf. Jer. 50:2).[5]

1:1–2 Man proposes, God disposes

The story of Daniel is introduced by two statements which provide both the historical and theological context for the entire narrative. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Palestine on several occasions. The siege referred to here took place in 605 bc, the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (by Babylonian reckoning. Je. 25:1, which refers to the same incident, uses Jewish reckoning, counting from the new year prior to a king’s accession.) Notice that this horizontal perspective on history is coupled with a vertical or theological one: the Lord delivered Jehoiakim. Immediately we are introduced to the underlying themes of the entire book:

Babylon versus Jerusalem, the city of this world against the city of God (Augustine), a conflict traced in Scripture to its climax in Revelation (see Rev. 14:8; 17:5; 18:2–24). Ultimately this conflict is rooted in the declaration of Gn. 3:15.

The sovereign reign of God, despite all appearances to the contrary. In the fall of Jerusalem prophecy was fulfilled (e.g. Is. 39:6–7; Je. 21:3–10; 25:1–11) and the judgments of God’s covenant (of which the prophets had warned) were inaugurated (i.e. Dt. 28:36–37, 47–49, 52, 58). The exile was a judgment on Jehoiakim’s reign (2 Ch. 36:5–7), but the rot had set in long before (2 Ki. 24:1–4). To outward appearances Nebuchadnezzar was triumphant, and God’s name shamed (the placing of the temple articles in the treasure-house of his god marking the triumph of the pagan deity Nabu over Yahweh). In reality, however, nothing is outside the divine rule (cf. Is. 45:7; Eph. 1:11b) as Nebuchadnezzar himself was eventually brought to recognize (4:35). In Daniel the experience of Joseph is repeated (Gn. 45:4–7; 50:20).[6]


Background (1:1–2). Daniel was exiled in 605 BC, the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, together with a cross section of prominent citizens and craftsmen (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). Daniel’s method of reckoning differs from that of the Palestinian system (cf. 2 Kings 23:36–24:2), as he writes “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). It appears that this manner of reckoning is based on the Babylonian system, according to which the first year began with the New Year.

The tragedy of that hour was that “the Lord delivered” (1:2) Jehoiakim, articles from the temple, and prominent citizens into captivity. This was the beginning of the exile of Judah, spoken of by Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. The people had sinned, and the Lord had to discipline his rebellious children.

This was the first exile; a second followed, during which Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin were deported (597 BC). The third exile followed the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (586 BC).[7]

1:1 Jehoiakim king of Judah reigned from 608 to 598 b.c. The third year was 605 b.c., according to the chronological system used by Daniel in which only whole years were counted. Jeremiah, on the other hand, followed a system in which any part of a year was counted as a full year. Therefore, he designated 605 b.c. as the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer. 25:1; 36:1; 46:2). Jehoiakim was an evil king who sided first with the Egyptians and then with the Babylonians until 602 b.c. when he rebelled. His independence was short-lived, however, and Jehoiakim remained under Babylonian domination until his death. The son of Nabopolassar, the founder of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire, was Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned from 605 to 562 b.c. In the summer of 605 b.c. when his father died, Nebuchadnezzar was leading the Babylonian armies. He returned to Babylon to secure the throne, but not before he besieged Jerusalem and seized loot and prisoners, including Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar greatly enlarged the empire begun by his father and revived the worship of the ancient Babylonian gods, especially Marduk.

1:2 the Lord gave: The Book of Daniel emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations. Jerusalem did not fall merely because Nebuchadnezzar was strong, but because God had judged the people of Judah for their disobedience and idolatry. some of the articles: The remainder of the articles were removed later when Jehoiakim surrendered (2 Kin. 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:18). Shinar—that is, Babylon—was located on the Euphrates River fifty miles south of present-day Baghdad in Iraq. into the treasure house: The articles taken from the house of God appear later, on the night of Belshazzar’s feast (ch. 5). Eventually they were returned to Zerubbabel who brought them back to Israel (Ezra 1:7).[8]

Background (1:1–2). Daniel was exiled in 605 b.c., the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, together with a cross-section of prominent citizens and craftsmen (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). Daniel’s method of reckoning differs from that of the Palestinian system, as he writes “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). It appears that this manner of reckoning is based on the Babylonian system, according to which the first year began with the New Year.

The tragedy of that hour was that “the Lord delivered” (1:2) Jehoiakim, articles from the temple, and prominent citizens into captivity. This was the beginning of the great exile of Judah, predicted by Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. The people had sinned and the Lord had to discipline his rebellious children.

This was the first exile; a second followed during which Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin were deported. The third exile followed the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (586 b.c.).[9]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 45–48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1586). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Da 1:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1464). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[6] Ferguson, S. B. (1994). Daniel. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 748–749). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[7] Burge, G. M., & Hill, A. E. (Eds.). (2012). The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary (p. 785). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1008). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] VanGemeren, W. A. (1995). Daniel. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, pp. 591–592). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.