Category Archives: Miscellaneous Bible Questions

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is Hyssop? What Was Hyssop Used for in the Bible?

 

Since people in the biblical era did not have access to the products we do today, they often relied on naturally occurring resources such as plants, animal byproducts, and minerals for cleaning, cooking, food, medicine, and more. Hyssop, an herb in the mint family with cleansing, medicinal, and flavoring properties, was prolific in the Middle East and was used in a variety of ways.

The Bible mentions hyssop several times, mostly in the Old Testament. In Leviticus, God commanded His people to use hyssop in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses. In one example, God tells the priests to use hyssop together with cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and the blood of a clean bird to sprinkle a person recently healed from a skin disease (likely leprosy). This act would ceremonially cleanse the formerly diseased person and allow him to reenter the camp (Leviticus 14:1–7). The same method was used to purify a house that had previously contained mold (Leviticus 14:33–53).

Hyssop is also used symbolically in the Bible. When the Israelites marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood in order for the angel of death to pass over them, God instructed them to use a bunch of hyssop as a “paintbrush” (Exodus 12:22). This was probably because hyssop was sturdy and could withstand the brushing, but it also likely signified that God was marking His people as “pure” and not targets of the judgment God was about to deal out to the Egyptians.

David also mentions hyssop in Psalm 51:7: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” David does not refer to physical cleansing—rather, he is asking God to cleanse him spiritually as he confesses his sin.

Hyssop also appears at Jesus’ crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine vinegar on a sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop (John 19:28–30). This was, in fact, Jesus’ last act before He declared His work on earth finished and gave up His spirit. While the hyssop stalk may have been used for purely practical purposes (i.e., it was long enough to reach to Jesus’ mouth as He hung on the cross), it is interesting that that particular plant was chosen. It is possible that God meant this as a picture of purification, as Jesus bought our forgiveness with His sacrifice. Just as in the Old Testament blood and hyssop purified a defiled person, so Jesus’ shed blood purifies us from the defilement of our sin.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Is ‘Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Workshop’ a Biblical Statement?

 

Though the statement is not found verbatim in the Bible, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has its roots in Scripture. The apostle Paul notes that those who waste their time in idleness or in a non-productive manner are easily led into sin: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). By not using their time productively, these people were tempted to meddle in other people’s business and stand in the way of their progress. “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:13). These idlers and busybodies were wasting time that could have been used to help others. In essence, their lack of activity was leading them into sin.

Idleness is not the same as rest. The Bible advises people to rest, and taking breaks from work is good. By “idle” we mean “lazy” or “doing nothing when you should be doing something.” Idleness often stems from not having a specific goal or purpose in mind. With no goal, one can be easily distracted. The book of Proverbs warns us that sloppy or careless work is akin to malicious destruction: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).

We live in a sinful world, and a person who doesn’t have something particular to do will invariably be tempted to do something sinful. If we have nothing to do, the devil is all too eager to find things to occupy our time.

Paul and his fellow missionaries set an example of diligence for the church. “You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you.… On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8). Idleness was not a part of Paul’s lifestyle, and we can’t afford to countenance it in our lives, either.

Yes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The Lord knew that He needed to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), and so should we. Jesus told us to pray for “workers” to be sent into the harvest field, not idlers (Luke 10:2). There is work to be done for the Kingdom, and we must not be distracted by the things of the world.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Are the Biblical Qualifications for Apostleship?

 

An apostle (“one sent on a mission”) is one whom God has sent on an errand or with a message. An apostle is accountable to his Sender and carries the authority of his Sender.

Jesus Christ Himself wears Apostle as one of His descriptive titles (Hebrews 3:1). He was sent to earth by the Heavenly Father with God’s authoritative message, which He faithfully delivered (John 17:1–5).

While Jesus was here on earth, He personally selected from His many followers twelve men and gave them special responsibility to receive and spread His message after He returned to heaven (John 17:6–20; Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14–15; Mark 6:40). These chosen and sent ones were His apostles. During the time Jesus was training them, He did not explain the criteria that He used to choose them. It would be interesting to study the common traits of those twelve men and what might have been Jesus’ qualifications.

One of the twelve was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to His enemies. In agony of conscience, Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Thus, when Jesus returned to heaven, He left behind only eleven apostles.

Some days later, the remaining apostles were praying with Jesus’ mother, His brothers, and other believers. The group totaled about 120 (Acts 1:12–26). Simon Peter addressed the group and told them that Psalm 69:25 predicted Judas’ desertion and Psalm 109:8 predicted that the defector’s place among the apostles should be filled.

Peter proposed choosing a new apostle and set the qualifications. Anyone under consideration needed to have been with Jesus during the whole three years that Jesus was among them. That is, he needed to be an eye-witness of Jesus’ baptism when the Heavenly Father validated Jesus’ person and work. He needed to have heard Jesus’ life-changing teachings and been present to see His healings and other miracles. He needed to have witnessed Jesus sacrifice Himself on the cross and to have seen Jesus walk, talk, and eat among the disciples again after His resurrection. These were the pivotal facts of Jesus’ life, the heart of the message they were to teach, and personal witnesses were required to verify the truth of the good news.

The prayer group nominated two who met these qualifications, Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Then the disciples asked God to guide them to know which one was to fill the post. Using a method of determining God’s will that was common at that time, they cast lots, thus giving God freedom to make His choice clear. The lot fell to Matthias, and he became the twelfth apostle.

On repeated occasions, these men gave witness of their personal observations of Jesus, using such words as, “We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10:39–40).

Months later, Saul, one of the Pharisees, was trying to stamp out the new “cult” of Christianity by killing and jailing some of Jesus’ followers. While Saul was on one of his deadly errands to Damascus, the living Jesus personally appeared to him. This undeniable encounter with the resurrected Lord revolutionized Saul’s life. In a vision to another believer in Damascus, Jesus said that He had chosen Saul “as My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15; cf. 22:14–15). Following his conversion, Paul spent some time in Arabia, where he was taught by Christ (Galatians 1:12–17). The other apostles recognized that Jesus Himself had appointed their former enemy to be one of them. As Saul went into Gentile territories, he changed his name to the Greek “Paul,” and Jesus sent many messages through him to His churches and to unbelievers. It was this apostle, Paul, who wrote over half of the books of the New Testament.

In two of his Epistles, Paul identifies the office of apostle as the first that Jesus appointed to serve His churches (1 Corinthians 12:27–30; Ephesians 4:11). Clearly, the work of the apostle was to lay the foundation of the Church in a sense secondary only to that of Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:19–20), thus requiring eye-witness authority behind their preaching. After the apostles laid the foundation, the Church could be built.

While Paul never claimed to be included among the original twelve, he, the others, and all believers have recognized that Jesus appointed him as His special apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 26:16–18). There are others in the early church referred to as “apostles” (Acts 14:4, 14; Romans 16:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), but only in the sense that they were appointed, authorized, and sent by churches on special errands. These individuals bore the title in a limited sense and did not possess all the qualifications of apostleship that the original twelve and Paul did.

No biblical evidence exists to indicate that these thirteen apostles were replaced when they died. See Acts 12:1–2, for example. Jesus appointed the apostles to do the founding work of the Church, and foundations only need to be laid once. After the apostles’ deaths, other offices, not requiring an eye-witness relationship with Jesus, would carry on the work.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Was It Unfair for God to Allow Job to Suffer over What Was Basically an Argument between God and Satan?

 

A surface reading of the book of Job usually evokes a reaction such as “Why is God making a ‘bet’ with the devil? God is being unfair to Job!” If we are honest and not just trying to defend God, He seems at first like some kind of cosmic ogre. God not only wagered Satan over the outcome of Job’s trials, but He actually provoked the bet (Job 1–2). To make matters worse, Job never finds out why he was afflicted in the first place. This is very disturbing for those who hope to see God as just, gracious and loving and not just “playing” with us as if we were pawns on a chessboard. So, in a way, the story of Job puts God on trial. To really understand what is going on in Job, we need to evaluate how this “trial” is litigated in the book’s argument.

On the surface, when God finally “testifies” in Job 38–42, the way He “grills” Job may seem to suggest that God is “against” Job rather than “for” him. The God-speeches are notable for their deep sarcasm, as if God were simply highlighting Job’s cluelessness (Job 38–39). However, a deeper look reveals a more redemptive dynamic in this trial: first, Job’s friend Elihu actually serves under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, both as Job’s advocate before God and God’s advocate before Job (Job 32–37); second, we find that God indeed did express His love to Job, both in His speeches (Job 38–41) and in finally vindicating Job. God confirms that Job had spoken “what was right” about Him, whereas his first three friends had not (42:7).

As Job and his friends debate God’s fairness, it becomes apparent that all of them basically believe in the doctrine of “retribution theology”—every act receives just punishment or reward in this present life, so we should be able to tell who is righteous or wicked by whether they are visibly blessed or cursed on earth. This is a false doctrine, but Job thought it should be true and went on the offensive, charging God with injustice and calling for a trial (Job 29–31). Surprisingly, God condescends and agrees to be put on trial. The speeches in Job 38–41 actually consist of God’s testimony in His own defense. In the “trial” we see that Job has no legal standing to convict God. Job cannot demonstrate how God runs the universe, so he cannot present any evidence of injustice (chapters 38–39). Also, God establishes His absolute right to act as He sees fit. As proof, He points to two creatures—behemoth and leviathan—that mankind has no control over whatsoever and that answer only to God.

Even before God shows up, Elihu makes the same points and argues that God is deeply redemptive in His dealings with man in spite of man’s notorious tendency toward self-destruction (32–37). Since God validates Elihu’s points (38–41), the adversarial tone in God’s answer to Job makes even more sense: throughout Job’s dialogue with his friends (4–27) and in his formal complaint to God (29–31), Job had assumed that God was unaware of what happened to him or that He was deliberately persecuting him or that Job had inadvertently sinned and God was not willing to tell him what the problem was. Job thought he was being punished entirely out of proportion to any conceivable offense he may have committed. In fact, Job questions God incessantly throughout the dialogue. His protest climaxes in a direct indictment of God on the charge of injustice (29–31).

So what did Job “get right” (42:7)? The upshot of the trial is that Job finally sees that God’s governance of the universe is much more wonderful than he could have imagined, and he openly concedes this (42:2–5); so this is what Job spoke about God that was “right” (42:7). Now, it is absolutely crucial to note the sequence of events at this point: it is only when Job obeys God and intercedes on behalf of his three friends—who had now become his enemies—that God actually blesses Job with a twofold inheritance (42:8–17). This “reward” was not at all some kind of “consolation prize” for Job’s unfair treatment; rather, it was the inheritance God promises to all who serve faithfully as redemptive agents of the Creator (cf. Daniel 12:3). Job obeyed God and was rewarded for his obedience.

In the end, God’s wager with Satan actually achieved an incredible coup: He harnessed evil and turned it to good (cf. Genesis 50:20), and He transformed Job into the most effective servant of all, one who took on God’s own redemptive character and loved his enemies. And this, in fact, is our take-home lesson from Job.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Was It Unfair for God to Allow Job to Suffer over What Was Basically an Argument between God and Satan?

 

A surface reading of the book of Job usually evokes a reaction such as “Why is God making a ‘bet’ with the devil? God is being unfair to Job!” If we are honest and not just trying to defend God, He seems at first like some kind of cosmic ogre. God not only wagered Satan over the outcome of Job’s trials, but He actually provoked the bet (Job 1–2). To make matters worse, Job never finds out why he was afflicted in the first place. This is very disturbing for those who hope to see God as just, gracious and loving and not just “playing” with us as if we were pawns on a chessboard. So, in a way, the story of Job puts God on trial. To really understand what is going on in Job, we need to evaluate how this “trial” is litigated in the book’s argument.

On the surface, when God finally “testifies” in Job 38–42, the way He “grills” Job may seem to suggest that God is “against” Job rather than “for” him. The God-speeches are notable for their deep sarcasm, as if God were simply highlighting Job’s cluelessness (Job 38–39). However, a deeper look reveals a more redemptive dynamic in this trial: first, Job’s friend Elihu actually serves under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, both as Job’s advocate before God and God’s advocate before Job (Job 32–37); second, we find that God indeed did express His love to Job, both in His speeches (Job 38–41) and in finally vindicating Job. God confirms that Job had spoken “what was right” about Him, whereas his first three friends had not (42:7).

As Job and his friends debate God’s fairness, it becomes apparent that all of them basically believe in the doctrine of “retribution theology”—every act receives just punishment or reward in this present life, so we should be able to tell who is righteous or wicked by whether they are visibly blessed or cursed on earth. This is a false doctrine, but Job thought it should be true and went on the offensive, charging God with injustice and calling for a trial (Job 29–31). Surprisingly, God condescends and agrees to be put on trial. The speeches in Job 38–41 actually consist of God’s testimony in His own defense. In the “trial” we see that Job has no legal standing to convict God. Job cannot demonstrate how God runs the universe, so he cannot present any evidence of injustice (chapters 38–39). Also, God establishes His absolute right to act as He sees fit. As proof, He points to two creatures—behemoth and leviathan—that mankind has no control over whatsoever and that answer only to God.

Even before God shows up, Elihu makes the same points and argues that God is deeply redemptive in His dealings with man in spite of man’s notorious tendency toward self-destruction (32–37). Since God validates Elihu’s points (38–41), the adversarial tone in God’s answer to Job makes even more sense: throughout Job’s dialogue with his friends (4–27) and in his formal complaint to God (29–31), Job had assumed that God was unaware of what happened to him or that He was deliberately persecuting him or that Job had inadvertently sinned and God was not willing to tell him what the problem was. Job thought he was being punished entirely out of proportion to any conceivable offense he may have committed. In fact, Job questions God incessantly throughout the dialogue. His protest climaxes in a direct indictment of God on the charge of injustice (29–31).

So what did Job “get right” (42:7)? The upshot of the trial is that Job finally sees that God’s governance of the universe is much more wonderful than he could have imagined, and he openly concedes this (42:2–5); so this is what Job spoke about God that was “right” (42:7). Now, it is absolutely crucial to note the sequence of events at this point: it is only when Job obeys God and intercedes on behalf of his three friends—who had now become his enemies—that God actually blesses Job with a twofold inheritance (42:8–17). This “reward” was not at all some kind of “consolation prize” for Job’s unfair treatment; rather, it was the inheritance God promises to all who serve faithfully as redemptive agents of the Creator (cf. Daniel 12:3). Job obeyed God and was rewarded for his obedience.

In the end, God’s wager with Satan actually achieved an incredible coup: He harnessed evil and turned it to good (cf. Genesis 50:20), and He transformed Job into the most effective servant of all, one who took on God’s own redemptive character and loved his enemies. And this, in fact, is our take-home lesson from Job.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Is S. Michael Houdmann?

 

S. Michael Houdmann is the Founder, President, and CEO of Got Questions Ministries, the parent ministry for GotQuestions.org. We rarely receive questions about S. Michael Houdmann, and that is a good thing. He does not want GotQuestions.org to be about him. He does not want people to accept or reject the answers given at GotQuestions.org because of name recognition. Rather, his hope is that people will accept or reject GotQuestions.org answers because they have read them, compared them with the Word of God, and prayed about them—and determined them to be true and biblical.

The following are the questions S. Michael Houdmann is most frequently asked.

What gave you the idea to start GotQuestions.org?

Ultimately, it was God’s idea. I had graduated from Bible College and Seminary and did not feel a clear calling from God into any of the traditional forms of ministry. So, my wife and I began praying, asking to give me a ministry that was a unique fit for me. We can’t remember whether God first gave the idea to me or my wife, but we felt the Lord leading us to create a Christian website where people could come and ask any question they have about the Bible. That was the beginning of GotQuestions.org.

When did you start GotQuestions.org?

God first gave us the idea in December of 2001. We tried a few other options before finally deciding to purchase the GotQuestions.org domain name in February of 2002.

What were things like in the beginning?

I would describe the beginning as “in way over our heads.” In the very beginning, I had no idea GotQuestions.org would ever be anything more than a hobby. I thought it would be something I did in addition to whatever other full-time ministry God called me to. God obviously had much bigger plans in mind for GotQuestions.org than I did.

What do you like best about being the CEO of GotQuestions.org?

I thank God every day that I get to serve Him doing something I absolutely love and enjoy. If I were to write a job description of my dream ministry, it would describe precisely what I am doing, except for perhaps less administrative work. I have always loved technology. I have always been able to express myself better in writing than in speaking. So, a ministry that allows me to write, edit, develop, research, and publish content is a perfect fit for me.

What do you like least about being the CEO of GotQuestions.org?

The Haters. There are some incredibly rude and demeaning people out there who will say nasty and hateful things about us. As much as I know such things are to be expected (Matthew 10:22; John 15:18), it still hurts sometimes. Whenever I am having a particularly tough day, a visit to our testimonials page always lifts my spirits—http://www.gotquestions.org/testimonials.html.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I came to faith in Christ in my late teens. An uncle who was a pastor came and visited our family for a week or so. While he was staying with us, he shared the Gospel with me and patiently answered all of the questions I asked him. While I am not 100% certain I came to faith in Christ at that time, he definitely planted seeds in my life. Several months later, after I had begun attending the youth group of a nearby church, the youth pastor clearly explained the Gospel. That night, I got down on my knees and received Jesus Christ as my Savior, by grace alone, through faith alone. From that moment I knew I had definitely received Jesus Christ as my Savior.

What is your education?

I received a Bachelors of Arts in Biblical Studies from Calvary Bible College and a Masters of Arts in Christian Theology from Calvary Theological Seminary. During college and seminary, I did not feel a clear calling from God into any of the traditional forms of ministry. So, the degree programs I chose were somewhat general. Looking back, they were the perfect programs to prepare me for answering questions at GotQuestions.org. They provided me with a strong foundation in understanding the Bible and Christian theology, and in knowing how to teach it to others.

Is the GotQuestions.org logo, the head-scratch guy, you?

No, it is not, But I get asked this question often enough that, on the next redesign of the site, we might just use the back of my head instead.

How can we pray for you?

What a great question! Thank you! Please pray that I would always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Pray that God would always give me the wisdom and discernment I need. Pray that I would be a good steward of the ministry He has entrusted to me. Pray that I would remain humble and would always give God the glory for what He accomplishes through GotQuestions.org.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Definition of a Theocracy?

 

A theocracy is a form of government that is led by God or by a person or persons who claim to rule by divine authority. The word theocracy is a compound word using theos (Greek for “God”) and -cracy (“rule, strength or government”). The nation of Israel was to have been a theocracy, but they rejected God’s rule over them, and God gave them human kings instead (1 Samuel 8:4–9). God selected Saul to be the first king of Israel, and he was replaced by David. David ruled by divine authority and, in spite of his failure and sin, was accepted by God. David was promised that God would set up his “Seed” after him and that David’s house would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:12–16). The Seed (or Son) of David refers to the Messiah, who is the LORD Jesus Christ (Mark 10:47).

We have seen the rise and fall of several so-called theocracies throughout history. One example is the Holy Roman Empire, which comprised German-speaking peoples and Northern Italy during the Middle Ages. The Holy Roman Empire began in AD 800 with the papal crowning of Charlemagne as emperor. The rulers of the Holy Roman Empire saw themselves as overseeing a theocracy in that the power of the government was melded to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

There will not be a true theocracy upon the earth until the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ. During the Millennium, the Son of David will rule from Jerusalem in a just and righteous way (Psalm 72:1–11; Isaiah 11; Revelation 20:4–6). At that time, “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Were the Assyrians in the Bible?

 

The Assyrians were the inhabitants of a country that became a mighty empire dominating the biblical Middle East from the ninth to the seventh century BC. They conquered an area that comprises what is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In the seventh century BC, Assyria occupied and controlled the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The capital of Assyria was Nineveh, one of the greatest cities of ancient times. Excavations in Mesopotamia have confirmed the Bible’s description that it took three days’ journey to go around this city (Jonah 3:3). The Assyrians were a fierce and cruel nation who showed little mercy to those they conquered (2 Kings 19:17).

The Assyrians were a thorn in the side of Israel. Beginning in 733 BC under King Tilgath-pileser, Assyria took the Northern Kingdom’s land and carried the inhabitants into exile (2 Kings 15:29). Later, beginning in 721 BC, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser besieged Israel’s capital, Samaria, and it fell three years later (2 Kings 18:9–12). This event fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that God would use Assyria as the “rod of His anger” (Isaiah 10:5–19); that is, the Assyrian Empire was implementing God’s judgment against the idolatrous Israelites. The sovereign God takes full credit as the source of Assyria’s authority (compare Isaiah 7:18; 8:7; 9:11; and Daniel 4:17). Secular history records that in 703 BC Assyria under King Sennacherib suppressed a major Chaldean challenge.

Given the Assyrian threat against Israel, it is understandable that the prophet Jonah did not want to travel to Nineveh (Jonah 1:1–3). When he eventually arrived in the Assyrian capital, Jonah preached God’s impending judgment. After hearing Jonah’s message, the king of Assyria and the entire city of Nineveh repented, and God turned His anger away for a time (Jonah 3:10). The grace of God was extended even to the Assyrians.

In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, in 701 BC, the Assyrians under Sennacherib took 46 of Judah’s fortified cities (Isaiah 36:1). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem—the Assyrian king engraved upon his stele that he had the king of Judah caught like a caged bird in his own country.

However, even though Sennacherib’s army occupied Judah up to the very doorstep of Jerusalem, and even though Sennacherib’s emissary Rabshakeh boasted against God and Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:4–21), Assyria was rebuffed. Hezekiah prayed, and God promised that the Assyrians would never set foot inside the city (Isaiah 37:33). God slew 185,000 Assyrian forces in one night (Isaiah 37:36), and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was slain by his own sons as he worshiped his god Nisroch (Isaiah 37:38).

In 612 BC, Nineveh was besieged by an alliance of the Medes, Babylonians and Scythians, and the city was so completely destroyed that even its location was forgotten until British archeologist Sir Austen Layard began uncovering it in the nineteenth century. Thus, as the Babylonian Empire ascended, Assyria dropped off the pages of history.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel?

 

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel comprises one of the larger sections of Genesis and includes much information relevant to the history of the Jewish people. Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, fled to his mother’s brother Laban. At the time, Jacob feared his twin brother, Esau, would kill him (Genesis 27:41–46).

Laban offered Jacob a place to stay. Jacob soon fell in love with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, and agreed to work for Laban seven years in exchange for marriage to her (Genesis 29:16–20).

Laban agreed, but after seven years, he deceived Jacob and gave Rachel’s older sister, Leah, to him as a wife instead. Jacob protested, but Laban argued that it wasn’t the custom to give the younger daughter in marriage first. Laban then said Jacob could have Rachel in exchange for another seven years of work (Genesis 29:21–30). In an ironic twist, the deceiver Jacob had been deceived and had two wives in exchange for fourteen years of work.

Jacob showed favoritism to Rachael and loved her more than Leah. God compensated for the lack of love Leah received by enabling her to have children and closing Rachel’s womb for a time (Genesis 29:31). There developed an intense rivalry between the two wives. In fact, at one time the wives bartered over the right to sleep with Jacob. Genesis 30:16 says, “When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night.” In the end, Jacob fathered twelve sons and some daughters. Leah bore him six sons; Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, bore him two; Rachel bore him two; and Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, bore him another two (Genesis 35:23–29).

After twenty years with Laban, Jacob, now very wealthy, moved his family back to his father’s land. As they were leaving Laban’s house, Rachel stole her father’s teraphim (Genesis 31). Jacob knew that he would have to face Esau again. He still feared Esau’s anger, and he sent gifts to satisfy him before he arrived. The night before Jacob crossed the Jordan, he “wrestled with God” and was given the name Israel, confirming that he was the one who would receive the promises granted to Abraham.

Rachel died giving birth to her second child, Benjamin. Even Benjamin’s name, meaning “son of my right hand,” indicates the importance Jacob placed on his youngest son because of his love for Rachel. Rachel “was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19–20). Leah was buried in the same tomb as Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 49:30–32). Jacob and his son Joseph would also later be buried in this tomb (Genesis 50).

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is filled with much difficulty, yet God used these people greatly to impact history. Their twelve sons were the leaders of the twelve tribes that became the nation of Israel. Through their family, Jesus Christ would be born from the tribe of Judah to offer salvation to all (John 3:16; Luke 2:10).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Was Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple? How Many Temples Were There?

 

The crowning achievement of King Solomon’s reign was the erection of a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem. His father, King David, had wanted to build a great Temple for God a generation earlier, as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments. However, God had forbidden him from doing so. “You will not build a house for My name for you are a man of battles and have shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David (2 Chronicles 3:1). This new, stationary Temple would replace the portable tabernacle constructed during the wilderness wandering.

If Solomon reigned from 970 to 930 BC, then he began building the temple in 966 BC. A very interesting fact concerning the building of the temple was there was no noise of the construction. The material was prepared before it was brought to the building site. The house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built (1 Kings 6:7). The Bible’s description of Solomon’s Temple suggests that the inside ceiling was 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet high. The highest point on the Temple that King Solomon built was actually 120 cubits tall (about 20 stories or about 207 feet). 1 Kings 6:1–38 and chapters 7–8 describe the construction and dedication of the Temple under Solomon.

Until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BC, sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service there. Seventy years later, a second Temple was completed on the same site, and sacrifices again resumed. The book of Ezra chronicles the building of the second Temple. During the first century, Herod greatly enlarged and expanded this Temple, which became known as Herod’s Temple. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, during the siege of Jerusalem. Only a small portion of it remains to this day, known as “The Wailing Wall.”[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Is Sleep Paralysis the Result of Spiritual Attack?

 

Sleep paralysis can be a very scary thing. In it, you know you’re asleep, you try to wake up, but you can’t. It’s often accompanied by an irrational feeling of utter terror, and sometimes images of figures in black cloaks. Many cultures have developed supernatural explanations for sleep paralysis. In China, it’s called mèng yǎn, “ghost pressing on body.” In some Muslim countries, it’s associated with an evil djinn. In Africa, it’s called “the witch riding your back.”

However, there is an entirely physiological explanation for the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. As we fall asleep, our minds may enter a hypnagogic state. It’s what happens when the sleeper’s still-aware mind is faced with dream images. As some people wake up, they experience a hypnopompic state, which is the dreaming mind faced with stimuli from the real world. In both cases, the dreams can seem very real, taking on a vivid hallucinatory feeling. Often these images are of black smudges, which the confused mind interprets as human figures, sometimes called “shadow people.” The hallucinations can also take the form of sounds like a loud bang or a child’s cry. These episodes frequently begin with a falling feeling followed by a “hypnic jerk” where the body’s muscles violently contract.

One of the scarier experiences with sleep paralysis is the inclusion of lucid dreaming and false awakening. The sleeper recognizes they’re asleep and tries to wake up. They open their eyes in relief, but soon realize they’re still asleep. This can go on for some time, sometimes resulting in an actual awareness of their real surroundings—the pressure of the covers, the light of the room beyond their eyelids—but still the inability to fully waken. That awareness can slip away again, returning the sleeper to the hallucinations.

Muscle paralysis in sleep is a necessary thing. People who act out their dreams on a regular basis are prone to accidental injury—even jumping out of windows. Knowing that you’re asleep and paralyzed, however, can be frightening. You tell yourself to open your eyes, just to get caught in another false awakening. One theory is that sleep paralysis affects the larger parts of the body more completely. You can try to wake up by wiggling your toes or fingers. It’s also possible to pray in your sleep. This will often give comfort that lets you fall back into unconsciousness. You may be able to avoid sleep paralysis by getting sufficient rest and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

In probably the vast majority of cases, sleep paralysis is just a quirk in a person’s REM cycle, not a spiritual attack. At the same time, there is no denying that demons can and do attack us. It seems plausible, then, that demons can and do attack us while we sleep. In the Gospels, several instances of demonic attack involved clear physical symptoms. So, it is possible that a demonic attack could result in symptoms resembling sleep paralysis. Whatever the case, we have a God who watches over us, whether we are awake or asleep (1 John 4:4).

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Are the Christian Themes in “The Lord of the Rings”?

 

“The Lord of the Rings” series is extremely popular, well-written, and fascinating to millions of readers. With the creation of the movies, the series has reached millions more worldwide. Because the author, J.R.R. Tolkien, professed to be a Christian, many assume “The Lord of the Rings” is Christian-themed or is in some way an allegorical presentation of Christianity.

Typically, when a book or movie is said to contain Christian themes, it centers on a hero who imitates Christ in some behavior or decision. For example, Christ’s death provided atonement for sin, and in this way He redeemed men to Himself. Therefore, a hero in a book or movie who provides atonement for others through self-sacrifice is said to be a “Christ-type” hero. A good example of this would be in the book “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. One character goes to death in the place of another and delivers the famous line “Tis a far, far better thing I do than ever I have done before.” In this hero, Dickens is pointing out a Christian theme—that to be like Christ is the best thing a human can achieve.

Many stories contain Christian ideals or morals, but because many morality tales can be compared to other “moral” religions, a story that is said to be specifically “Christian-themed” must center on a Christ-type hero. Christianity is the only religion that proclaims man to be entirely lost without God’s intervention, and no other religion contains a god who sacrifices his own life for men to redeem them from their lost state. These truths are specific to Christianity.

Now, back to Lord of the Rings. Is there a Christ-type hero in Lord of the Rings? If there is a hero who comes close, it is Samwise. He is indeed a very inspiring character. His selflessness, his devotion to his master, and his strength in resisting evil are all qualities that are seen in true, mature believers in Christ. So, Sam portrays a true Christian. But he is not a Christ-type hero. In the end, he cannot save Frodo from himself. There is a vague sense of Providence that seems to guide Frodo, and an “evil power” that is present. The elves present an atmosphere of spirituality, and Tolkien creates a sort of religion or religious system with the “gods” of Middle Earth, such as Elbereth, Gilthoniel, etc., whom the characters pray to and draw on for strength. All of these things are simply a literary device Tolkien uses to draw the reader in and make Middle Earth seem a real and believable place.

But the Christ-type hero is not present in Lord of the Rings. Even the wizard Gandalf is a guide and teacher, but his character is presented more along the lines of a guru than a Savior. Some might look to Gandalf’s “fall” in the mountains of Moria and consequent glorified return as pointing to Christ’s resurrection, and it is possible that Tolkien had the resurrection in mind while writing that part of the story. The difference between Christ’s resurrection and Gandalf’s is that Gandalf is not in control of what happens to him. The reader gets the impression that Gandalf is almost as surprised to be back in Middle Earth (and not dead) as the other characters are surprised to see him there. Also, his death and return do not affect the salvation of anybody else. In the end, he is always a helper, not a savior. Many religions, especially Eastern Mysticism, contain this sort of “spirit-guide” or guru who “strays out of thought and time.” Therefore, Gandalf is not a specifically Christian character in any sense.

Tolkien’s association with the Catholic Church is most likely the source of his desire to include religion in his fantasy world and to make his good characters exhibit Christian morals and ideals. It is also important to remember that Catholicism tends to lean too heavily on the character and righteousness of men as an important element of their salvation. In that way, Tolkien’s story reflects his beliefs, and it could be said that Lord of the Rings supports Catholic themes rather than Christian themes: man’s responsibility or duty, the importance of resisting temptation (the ring), the presence of a variety of heavenly intercessors between creature and Creator, etc.

But there is one specifically Christian element that does not appear, and that is the redemption of evil men. According to the Bible, evil lives in the heart of man, but God redeems us, through Christ, from certain consumption by our evil nature (Romans 3:9–12, 5:7–9, 7:21–25; Ephesians 1:7). According to these verses, if Tolkien’s intent was to accurately and biblically reflect Christianity in Lord of the Rings, he would have included a Christ-type hero who brings about the salvation (or turning from the evil side to the good side) of some of the evil characters. But this never occurs in Lord of the Rings. Sauron, Saruman, the Orcs, Wormtongue—none are redeemed or changed. None. Good characters remain good; evil characters remain evil. But this is not the case in real life. All humans are evil, according to Romans 3:9–12. All are in need of redemption. The only picture of a kind of redemption occurs in Theoden’s hall, but it is not truly a redemption because Theoden is simply a good king imprisoned by an evil spell cast by Saruman, not an evil king that repents and changes his ways.

Even more ominously un-Christian is the fate of Frodo. He fails in his quest and proves himself stained by evil, yet conspicuously absent is his absolution. No hobbit, man, or elf gives him relief from his obvious suffering in the years after his failure. He declines in health and eventually is taken away with the elves, but is never offered forgiveness or true restoration. If Lord of the Rings was Christian-themed, Frodo would have returned to the Shire, having found peace through forgiveness, and the lifting of his burden from a compassionate Christ-type hero. But instead, he carries his own burden of guilt and sadness and separation from the “good” people, until he is taken over the sea. And even then, we are not assured that he is truly forgiven and forgetful of his sins. This is very different from the Bible’s description of heaven as a place where every tear is wiped away (Revelation 7:17b). Redemption and the changed life it imparts is the essence of Christianity and, as such, it cannot truly be said that Lord of the Rings is a Christian-themed series.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Was Philo of Alexandria?

 

Philo of Alexandria, sometimes known as Philo Judaeus, was a first century philosopher who was born sometime between 15–30 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. A member of the Jewish Diaspora, he was raised with a Jewish and Greek education, giving him an impressive status in a non-Jewish city like Egypt. Biblical tradition has it that Philo’s nephew Marcus married Bernice, daughter of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30).

In his work The Contemplative Life, Philo mentions being involved with a monastic Jewish sect at Lake Mareotis. In the second fragment of On Providence, Philo comments that he was at the ‘city of Syria, on the sea shore, Ascalon by name … I was there, at the time when I was on my journey towards the temple of my native land for the purpose of offering up prayers and sacrifices therein’. This occurred before another important episode in Philo’s life, encountering Roman emperor Caligula (sometimes known just as Gaius) in 39 AD (Against Flaccus and The Embassy to Gaius). This was because he was chosen by a Jewish embassy to front the emperor in the wake of Caligula’s introduction of his statues in Jewish synagogues.

In Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (18.8.1), the well known Jewish historian notes that “Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Gaius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Gaius’s words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself”. Later rumors have Philo meeting the apostle Peter (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Book II, Chapter XVII), while Christian commentators such as Jerome, Cassiodorus and Isidore of Seville believed that the mysterious author of the apocryphal The Wisdom of Solomon may have been Philo, but this theory is little more than speculation. Despite their being much information on his life, there appears to be no information on his death (which tradition suggests was 50 AD), so one can only speculate a natural death or death by the hands of Rome.

It is during Philo’s earlier years that his interest and knowledge of Stoic and Platonic thought grew and began to construct, what he declared, a clearer understanding of the Septuagint (being the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). Philo believed it was a history of his people and God that demanded the reader to perform an allegorical interpretation. Philosophy was an important aspect of Philo’s train of thought, becoming a tool from which he used to establish a clearer interpretation of the theology that both he and his ancestors had been apart of for several centuries. During an allegorical reading of the Septuagint, Philo’s fundamental interpretation was that Hebraic Scriptures and Greek philosophy were not only compatible, but revealed the superiority of Jewish ethics. For Philo did not believe that all the stories in the Septuagint were literally real, but were constructed in the same manner as Greek texts such as The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Since Philo wrote several books, we can formulate several major doctrines that emerge from the body of his work. One would be the doctrine of Moses, in which it is evident that Philo regards Moses as not only a real historical figure who authored the first five books of the Old Testament, but a heavenly figure because of his role in distributing the law to the Jewish people directly from God. Philo wrote a considerable amount on Moses and interpreted him as the ultimate philosopher from which all philosophy, in particular Greek, originated from. Another would be the doctrine of Creation, in which Philo enforces biblical creationism in a Greek context. Philo planted the seeds of what would later evolve into the concept of creation ex nihilo, a concept implicitly stated in Hebrews 11:3. Then there was the doctrine would be that of the logos.

In reading the way God dictates in Genesis 1 (in particular saying ‘us’ in Genesis 1:26) and foreshadowing John 1 in which the ‘Word’ (the Greek translation being logos), Philo is adamant that creation was created by logos, which while apart of God’s being, is individualistic. Although his celebrated idea of logos was not entirely new, Philo personified the term. Philo believed that logos made God known, as cited in Questions in Exodus 25.22. The doctrine of man is also evident. Philo was not adverse to dualism and that man’s material and immaterial nature was conclusive (as also believed by Plato) and that through God this union will be both peaceful and was intentional. This also enforces the conclusion that, as the serpent in Eden corrupted the physical, mankind’s focus should be on the spiritual (and intellectual) relationship with God.

It is somewhat difficult to assess Philo’s importance in a contemporary context as today, few mainstream Christians have heard of him let alone his writings. Perhaps the greatest contribution to Christian theology Philo made, in addition to being such a prominent Jewish biblical scholar with the emerging West, is that he was one of the first to initiate a strong allegorical reading of Scripture. While not all scripture is to be read in this manner, there is clear allegory in many books from the Old and New Testament (from Daniel to Revelation) and Philo was one of the first to emphasize this approach and to be weary of reading everything literally. This technique of exegesis was unique for its time and could be declared one of the first Bible commentators ever in history. In fact, his allegorical approach to Scripture later influenced Christian theologians such as Clement, Origen and Didymus the Blind. His allegorical readings of the Old Testament set the stage for future theologians to consider non-literal readings of the texts and while Christianity today may dispute some of Philo’s interpretations, his approach did highlight the implicit nature of the biblical texts and helped pioneer biblical criticism.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Was/Is the Tabernacle of David?

 

The Hebrew word translated “tabernacle” is ohel which means “a tent (as clearly conspicuous from a distance): a covering, (dwelling) (place), home, tabernacle, tent.” There are three main references to the Tabernacle (or Tent) of David: Isaiah 16:5, Amos 9:11, and Acts 15:16, in which the apostle James repeats the passage from Amos. The reference in Isaiah 16:5 is not really about the tabernacle of David itself, but rather to the One from the line of David who would someday sit on the throne and rule over all. This is referring to Jesus.

That leaves two references to the tabernacle of David. In Acts 15:16, while speaking to the Jews, James uses Amos 9:11 to give credence to the recent conversion of the Gentiles in the early church. Many Jews were objecting to this because there was uncertainty as to how the Gentiles were to now keep the Law of Moses. The essential argument from Peter’s earlier experience with Cornelius, a Gentile, was that God was also calling Gentiles to Himself. The apostles were not to put on them a burden that no one could ever keep (i.e. the Law of Moses).

From James’ words alone it is clear that God’s promise through the prophet Amos—that He would “build again the tabernacle of David”—was related to what He was just then beginning to do, namely, visiting the Gentiles to take out from among them a people for His Name. After rehearsing what Simon Peter had just told them—that God had chosen that apostle as the instrument whereby He, for the first time, opened the way of salvation to the Gentiles—James plainly declared that this (God’s visitation of the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name) agreed with the words of the prophets (in general), and those of Amos in particular. The “tabernacle” referred to here, then, is the house of God open to all, both Jew and Gentile, who seek Him in order to worship in truth.

Amos 9:11 says: “In that day will I raise up again the tabernacle of David, that is fallen.” There seems to be reference here to a restoration of the Jewish nation to spiritual life in the end time. There might also exist, during that end time, or into the 1,000 year reign of Christ, a tabernacle like the one during David’s day. During David’s time the tabernacle (or tent) housed the Ark of the Covenant and was a precursor to the temple that Solomon would build. It was a rectangular house of worship, made with elaborate design. Its presence and functionality, with priests, was a sign of God’s favor and presence. When Israel fell away from following the commandments of the Old Covenant, the temple was desecrated and needed to eventually be rebuilt, as described in the book of Ezra.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Golden Rule?

 

The “Golden Rule” is the name given by Bible translators to a principle Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount. That is to say, the actual words “golden rule” are not found in Scripture, just as the words “sermon on the mount” are also not found. These titles were later added by Bible translation teams when describing different passages of Scripture in order to make Bible study a little easier. The phrase “Golden Rule” began to be ascribed to this passage of Scripture during the 16–17th centuries, as it was already a popular saying at that time. This is important to note because when talking about the Golden Rule, Christians sometimes unknowingly and incorrectly ascribe it to Jesus’ actual words.

What we call the Golden Rule refers to Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus knew the human heart and its selfishness. In fact, in the preceding verse, He describes human beings as “you who are evil.” This is important to grasp because, as He continues to say in v. 16, human beings still know how to give good gifts to their children even though they are evil and selfish by nature. This verse leads into the Golden Rule which says to actively pursue and treat others as we would like to be treated in all things.

The English Standard Version translates it well: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” By ending the “rule” with the “Law and the Prophets,” Jesus has condensed the entire Old Testament into this principle. This was something the Jews of Jesus’ day would have known by their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, as Moses wrote: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). Again, we see even here the implication that people are naturally self-lovers due to sin (Jeremiah 17:19), so it gave the audience a place to start in how they should treat others: how they want to be treated.

As good as the Golden Rule is in its command to treat others, it also reminds us how selfish we really are! Jesus’ audience could relate to this command (as the Jews of Moses’ day could) because people universally demand respect, love, and appreciation whether they deserve it or not. Jesus knew this and used it to show how His people should treat others: how they themselves wanted to be loved, respected, and appreciated. This rule to treat others with such high regard is also the second in the greatest of commandments, followed only by the command to love God Himself (Matthew 22:39).

What is interesting to note about this tenet of the Christian Scriptures is that no other mainline religious or philosophical system is its equal. The biblical Golden Rule is not the “ethic of reciprocity” that is so commonly espoused by non-Christian moralists. Frequently, liberal critics, and/or secular humanists attempt to explain the golden rule as a common ethic shared by all religions. This is not the case. When Jesus gave this command in Matthew 7:12, it was radically different from all other forms of it—except for the Jewish Torah—used up to that time or since. The difference is subtle, but very important. The biblical Golden Rule is a positive command to show active love, as opposed its negative, passive counterparts. A quick survey of Eastern religions and philosophies will expose this common inversion, some of which have been described as the “silver rule” due to its inverted command:

•     Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” Analects 15:23.

•     Hindusim: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” Mahabharata 5:1517.

•     Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18

The Golden Rule as stated by Jesus is radically different in that it is an active, positive command to do good to others, as opposed to the negative, restraining commands to not hurt others. The command to love is what separates the Christian ethic from every other system’s ethic. In fact, the Bible is so radical in its command to actively love that Christians are told to love even their enemies, something unheard of in other religions (Matthew 5:43–44; cf. Exodus 23:4–5).

Obeying the Christian ethic and imperative to love others is a mark of a true Christian (John 13:35). In fact, Christians cannot even claim to love God if they don’t actively love other people as well because, “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The Golden Rule encapsulates this idea and is unique to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Day of Pentecost?

“Pentecost” is significant in both the Old and the New Testaments. Pentecost is actually the Greek name for a festival known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:9). The Greek word means “fifty” and refers to the fifty days that have elapsed since the wave offering of Passover. The Feast of Weeks celebrated the end of the grain harvest. Most interesting, however, is its use in Joel and Acts. Looking back to Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:8–32) and forward to the promise of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s last words on earth before His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:8), Pentecost signals the beginning of the church age.

The only reference to the actual events of Pentecost is Acts 2:1–3. Pentecost is reminiscent of the Last Supper; in both instances the disciples are together in a house for what proves to be an important event. At the Last Supper the disciples witness the end of the Messiah’s earthly ministry as He asks them to remember Him after His death until He returns. At Pentecost, the disciples witness the birth of the New Testament church in the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. Thus the scene of the disciples in a room at Pentecost commences with the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work in the church with the conclusion of Christ’s earthly ministry in the upper room before the crucifixion.

The description of fire and wind mentioned in the Pentecost account resounds throughout the Old and the New Testament. The wind at Pentecost was “rushing” and “mighty,” a powerful wind that nevertheless did not extinguish the tongues of fire. Scriptural references to the power of wind (always understood to be under God’s control) abound. Exodus 10:13; Psalm 18:42 and Isaiah 11:15 in the Old Testament and Matthew 14:23–32 in the New Testament are only a few examples. More significant than wind as power is wind as life in the Old Testament (Job 12:10) and as spirit in the New (John 3:8). Just as the first Adam received the breath of physical life (Genesis 2:7), so the second Adam, Jesus, brings the breath of spiritual life. The idea of spiritual life as generated by the Holy Spirit is certainly implicit in the wind at Pentecost.

Fire is often associated in the Old Testament with the presence of God (Exodus 3:2; 13:21–22; 24:17; Isaiah 10:17) and with His holiness (Psalm 97:3; Malachi 3:2). Likewise in the New Testament, fire is associated with the presence of God (Hebrews 12:29) and the purification He can bring about in human life (Revelation 3:18). God’s presence and holiness are implied in the Pentecostal tongues of fire. Indeed, fire is identified with Christ Himself (Revelation 1:14; 19:12); this association naturally underlies the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit, who would teach the disciples the things of Christ (John 16:14).

Another aspect of the Day of Pentecost is the miraculous speaking in foreign tongues which enabled people from various language groups to understand the message of the apostles. In addition is the bold and incisive preaching of Peter to a Jewish audience. The effect of the sermon was powerful, as listeners were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and instructed by Peter to “repent, and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). The narrative concludes with three thousand souls being added to the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers, apostolic signs and wonders, and a utopian community formed in which everyone’s needs were met.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: I Am in the Process of Getting a Divorce. Can I Start Dating, or Do I Have to Wait until the Divorce Is Final?

The question of dating during the divorce process is very difficult to answer for several reasons. For one thing, the concept of “dating” as we know it today is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Most marriages in Bible times were arranged, and any contact between two prospective spouses was strictly monitored. In addition, no matter what view one takes on the issue of divorce, it is important to remember Malachi 2:16: “I hate divorce, says the LORD God …” According to the Bible, marriage is a lifetime commitment. “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). No decision to divorce should be made lightly.

There are three situations in which dating during the divorce process might occur. The first is the case of a spouse who has biblical grounds for divorce. Either the innocent spouse has been abandoned by his/her spouse or else is the innocent victim in an unrepentant adulterous affair. In either case, the innocent spouse is mostly likely in a state of emotional turmoil and vulnerability. Most people going through a divorce, even when it is not their fault, and even when they have biblical reasons, are usually shattered by the circumstances and not in any frame of mind to be “dating.” Nor would they be able to make good decisions while “on the rebound.” Casual dating in this case is neither wise nor prudent. While the abandoned spouse may be lonely, making clear and godly relationship decisions in such a situation is often very difficult, if not impossible.

The second situation is that of a person who divorces his/her spouse for non-biblical reasons. A divorce in this case, in the words of God, is due to “hardness of heart” (Mark 10:1–12). A divorce, therefore, is a spiritual failure and a time when the focus should be upon the Lord and not upon seeking to replace the one being divorced. The third situation is that of a person who causes a divorce, i.e. the “guilty” party in a divorce. All of the biblical allowances for remarriage after a divorce relate to the “innocent” spouse in a divorce with biblical grounds. There is no biblical allowance for remarriage for a spouse divorced for unbiblical reasons or for a spouse who caused a divorce, whether by adultery, abandonment, and/or other possible grounds. The Bible nowhere states that the “guilty” spouse in a divorce is allowed to remarry. Therefore, in situations two and three, since the purpose of dating is to find a spouse, it would not seem that there is any biblical allowance to begin dating, ever.

Since the purpose of modern dating to find a mate or to seek companionship with the opposite sex, biblically speaking, a married man or woman is not free to engage in that process, even if there is a pending divorce. Even for the innocent victim of an unwanted divorce, until the legal or formal end to a marriage, one is still married, and forging a relationship outside of that marriage gives the wrong appearance. First Thessalonians 5:22 instructs us to “refrain from even the appearance of evil.” Therefore, the better choice is to abstain from any action that could endanger one spiritually or give the impression to others of a careless attitude toward marriage.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Was Flavius Josephus?

Since their release in the first century A.D., the writings of Flavius Josephus have become a primary source of Judeo-Christian history. According to The Life of Flavius Josephus, Josephus ‘was born to Matthias in the first year of the reign of Caius Caesar’ (1:5), being 37 A.D. At ‘fourteen years of age, [he] was commended by all for the love [he] had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to [him] together, in order to know [his] opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law’ (2:9).

Observing the Jewish sects of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, Josephus spent three years with a hermit named Banus (2:11–12) and upon returning at nineteen years age ‘began to conduct [him]self according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees’ (2:12). Traveling to Rome to defend persecuted Pharisees, he returned with an admiration for the Roman way of life. Soon after, a rebellion by Jewish forces against Rome occurred (66 A.D.), and Josephus found himself becoming a commander in Galilee in which he ‘took care to have arms provided, and the cities fortified’ (14:77). However, despite their attempts, Josephus surrendered at Jotapata which ‘was taken by force’ (65:350). When the ‘siege of Jotapata was over, and [he] was among the Romans, [he] was kept with much care, by means of the great respect that Vespasian showed [him]’ (69 A.D.) and was soon accompanied by the emperor’s son Titus, back to Jerusalem (75:414–416).

Despite Josephus’s attempts to quell growing revolts, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Josephus returned with Titus to Rome, where he ‘had great care taken of [him] by Vespasian; for he gave [him] an apartment in his own house, which he lived in before he came to the empire. He also honored [Josephus] with the privilege of a Roman citizen, and gave [him] an annual pension; and continued to respect [him] to the end of his life’ (76:423).

The works of Josephus are few in number, but large in volume. The Wars of the Jews is the harrowing and partly eye-witness account of the wars involving the Jewish nation from the Maccabean Revolt (as told in the apocryphal 1 Maccabees) to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., through which he lived. The Antiquities of the Jews details the history of the Jewish people from the creation narrative (Genesis in the Old Testament) to the time of Josephus’s writing (New Testament and thereafter). Against Apion is an insightful apologetic of Jewish theology and thought against critics and students of Greek philosophy. He is best known however, among Christians for his referral to Jesus in The Antiquities of the Jews, one of the earliest pieces of historical evidence for Jesus outside the New Testament. Below is the paragraph from The Antiquities of the Jews (18:63–64), with what is commonly believed to be additions by a later Christian translator in brackets:

‘At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man [if indeed one ought to refer to him as a man]. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. [He was the Messiah-Christ]. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. [For on the third day he appeared to them again alive, just as the divine prophets had spoken about these and countless other marvelous things about him]. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.’

Later in The Antiquities of the Jews (20:200), Jesus is again mentioned, in passing this time, as Josephus focuses his discussion on Jesus’ half-brother James (Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19). The quote is again worth quoting in full:

“But this younger Ananus, who, as we told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent … He assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Messiah-Christ, whose name was James, and some others. When he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them over to be stoned.”

Despite the occasional bias of his historical works, Josephus is a relatively credible historian whose work provides a thorough understanding of Jewish life in the first century and the Jewish War and without such histories, our knowledge and understanding of these two areas would be far less rich.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Does the Bible Say about Pre-evangelism?

Pre-evangelism means different things to different people. Some see pre-evangelism as doing what Paul did with the philosophers at Mars Hill. He began with what they knew about an “unknown God” and argued for the existence of a personal God (Acts 17:22–34) who demands righteousness. This type of pre-evangelism seeks to meet people where they are. Others see pre-evangelism as “friendship evangelism” where the believer develops a friend relationship with an unbeliever and, by acts of kindness and living the Christian life before him, the truth of the gospel can be seen even before it is shared. Others see pre-evangelism as extensive preparation in apologetics before attempting to share the gospel with others.

Even though we can’t assume people today have heard about Christ, we have to understand that Romans 1:19–20 assures us that God created us to know about Him because He has made it evident within every human being ever born. The knowledge of God can be found by looking at creation and seeing “His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature,” as Paul states in this passage in Romans. God made us that way so that none of us can ever claim that we’ve not known about His existence. In other words, “we are without excuse.” That internal knowledge of God then leads mankind to search for Him, and we are assured that if we do that, He will be found because “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:24–28).

So the presence of a “God-shaped hole” inside us drives us to search for God, find Him, and worship Him. Only by doing so will we gain eternal life and true satisfaction, peace, joy, and contentment. Sadly, many people instead begin to worship the created, not the Creator (Romans 1:21–23). They try to replace their need for God with anything and everything else. Jesus commissioned all of His disciples, past, present, and future, to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel, the good news of His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. The reason He gave us this command is that, even though God created us all with the ability to know Him, many still reject and despise Him. To accept Christ as Savior means we must acknowledge the fact that we are sinners in need of salvation. So, to confess our sin means letting go of pride and bowing before God in a humble request for salvation. Too many people, even after hearing the message of Truth over and over, just will not do so.

To effectively reach people with the gospel requires followers of Christ not necessarily to go door to door in an evangelism outreach, although in many circumstances that is an effective tool, but rather to live out our salvation with such joy, hope, and peace that the people with whom we come into contact daily can’t help but see Christ in our lives. As 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” We followers of Jesus Christ truly are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

We have a responsibility to share the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those people within our daily sphere of influence, i.e., our neighbors, people we work with, anyone with whom we come into contact. There are no coincidences involved in the circumstances surrounding the people we meet each day, only opportunities provided by God to “let our lights so shine before men” that they may give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Establishing relationships with the people in our sphere of influence requires us to get to know them and to have a genuine interest in their lives. Conversations that consist of asking questions in order to learn more about them and then actively listening and asking follow-up questions is an excellent way to start a relationship. As we get to know people, we can then ask more personal questions along the lines of, “Do you believe in God?” or “What do you have faith in or believe in your life?” which can go a long way in helping us determine what they deem most important in life. This can help lay the groundwork as we seek to share the Good News with them.

Everyone in this life goes through trials and tribulations, and letting people around us know that, when we experience difficulties, our faith and hope rest in Christ, and we can in turn help them realize they need Him as well. Nothing speaks more powerfully to those around us than the evidence of God’s supernatural peace in our lives in the midst of turmoil.

Above all, when we have conversations with people around us each day we are to use both our own personal testimony and the Word of God as tools in our toolbox. Telling someone how we came to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and using Scripture to back it up brings the power of God to our testimony. As we know, it’s not our words but the power of the Holy Spirit that convicts the world of sin (John 16:8).

While forming relationships and finding opportunities to share Christ with those whom we come into contact with each day may not sound like a strategy, it is turning out to be one of the most effective means of evangelizing the world today. And the best part of sharing Christ in this manner is, since a relationship with that person is already in place, it positions us to disciple him once he comes to faith. Discipleship is a crucial part of our spiritual growth and helps establish and strengthen a firm foundation for our faith that will last for eternity.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Was the Significance of the Ephod?

In the Old Testament the ephod has two meanings. In one group of passages it signifies a garment; in another, very probably an image. As a garment the ephod is referred to in the priestly ordinances as a part of the official dress of the high priest. It was to be made of threads “of blue and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen” and embroidered in gold thread “with cunning work” (Exodus 28:4, 29:5, 39:2; Leviticus 8:7).

The ephod was held together by a girdle of similar workmanship sewed on to it. It had two shoulder pieces, which, as the name implies, crossed the shoulders, and were apparently fastened or sewed to the ephod in front. In dressing, the shoulder pieces were joined in the back to the two ends of the ephod. Nothing is said of the length of the garment. At the point where the shoulder pieces were joined together in the front “above the girdle,” two golden rings were sewed on, to which the breast-plate was attached.

The word “ephod” has an entirely different meaning in the second group of passages, all of which belong to the historical books. It is certain that the word cannot here mean a garment. This is evident in Judges 8:26–27, where it is recorded that Gideon took the golden earrings of the Midianites, weighing 1,700 shekels of gold, and made an “ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah,” where it was worshiped by all Israel. In Judges 17:5, Micah made an ephod and teraphim, or idol, for his sanctuary. The most natural inference from all these passages is that “ephod” here signifies an image that was set up in the sanctuary, especially since the word is cited with teraphim, which undoubtedly refers to an image (Hosea 3:4). The conclusion is that ephod, in these cases, referred to a portable idol. Some scholars have suggested that the connection between the idol and the garment is that the idol was originally clothed in a linen garment, and the term ephod gradually came to describe the idol as a whole.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.