Category Archives: Miscellaneous Bible Questions

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Were the Essenes? Was John the Baptist an Essene?

The Essenes were a Jewish mystical sect somewhat resembling the Pharisees. They lived lives of ritual purity and separation. They originated about 100 B.C., and disappeared from history after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Essenes are not directly mentioned in Scripture, although some believe they may be referred to in Matthew 19:11, 12 and in Colossians 2:8, 18, and 23. Interest in the Essenes was renewed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were likely recorded and stored by the Essenes.

It has been popular among some scholars to claim that John the Baptist was an Essene. There are some similarities between John and the Essenes: 1. John was in the desert (Luke 1:80). The Essenes were in the desert. 2. Both John and the Essenes used Isaiah 40:3 to describe themselves as the voice in the wilderness. 3. The baptism (or washing) practiced by John and the Essenes required a change of heart. At the same time, there are significant differences between John the Baptist and the Essenes: 1. The Essenes hid themselves away from society in the wilderness. John was a very public figure. 2. John had a much more strict diet (Luke 7:33) than did the Essenes. 3. John preached Jesus as the Messiah. The Essenes did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, but they thought that the Teacher of Righteousness would himself be an Essene. 4. There was a strong organization among the Essenes that was missing among John the Baptist’s disciples. So, was John the Baptist an Essene? While it is possible, it cannot be explicitly proven either biblically or historically.

The Essenes as a sect of Judaism do not exist today. However, there are fringe groups that call themselves Essenes. One such group is the Essene Church of Christ, which declares itself to be “the authorized custodians and chief disseminators of the true teachings of Lord Christ and Lady Christ.” They share similarities with all cults and false religions: their “holy book” is something other than the Bible; they rely heavily on mysticism and occult revelation; they believe they and they alone possess truth; they deny the Trinity; and they deny biblical doctrines including original sin, heaven, hell, and salvation through Christ. As purveyors of false doctrine, modern “Essenes” are to be avoided.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Why Did God Send an Evil Spirit to Torment King Saul?

“Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14). This is also mentioned in 1 Samuel 16:15–16, 23, 18:10, and 19:9. God sent a demon “evil spirit” to torment Saul. Saul had directly disobeyed God on two occasions (1 Samuel 13:1–14; 15:1–35). Therefore, God removed His Spirit from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to torment him. Likely, Satan and the demons had always wanted to attack Saul, God was now simply giving them permission to do so.

This leads to a related question—does God send evil spirits to torment people today? There are examples of individuals in the New Testament being turned over to Satan or demons for punishment. God allowed Ananias and Sapphira to be filled with the spirit of Satan as a warning and example to the early church (Acts 5:1–11). A man in the Corinthian church was committing incest and adultery, and God commanded the leaders to “hand him over to Satan” to destroy his sinful nature and save his soul (1 Corinthians 5:1–5). Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tried and tested by the devil (Matthew 4:1–11). God also allowed a messenger of Satan to torment the Apostle Paul in order to teach him to rely on God’s grace and power and not become conceited because of the tremendous abundance of spiritual truth he was given (2 Corinthians 12:7).

If God does allow evil spirits to torment people today, He does so with the goal of our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Even though the demons are evil, they are still under God’s sovereign control. Just as in Job’s case, Satan and his minions can do only what God allows them to do (Job 1:12; 2:6). They never act independently of God’s sovereign and perfect will and purpose. If believers suspect they are being tormented by demonic forces, the first response is to repent of any known sin. Then we should ask for wisdom to understand what we are to learn from the situation. Then we are to submit to whatever God has allowed in our lives, trusting that it will result in the building up of our faith and the glory of God.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Significance of Unleavened Bread?

The Bible tells us that the Israelites were to eat only unleavened bread every year during Passover as a commemoration of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage. Since the children of Israel left Egypt hastily, they did not have time for the bread to rise, so it was made on that very first Passover without leaven, also known as yeast. In describing this bread and why it was eaten, the Bible informs us of the following: “Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt” (Deuteronomy 16:3). Further commands regarding the eating of unleavened bread are found in Exodus 12:8; 29:2; and Numbers 9:11. To this day, in Jewish homes, the Passover celebration includes unleavened bread.

According to the Hebrew lexicon, the term “unleavened bread” is derived from the word matzoh, which means “bread or cake without leaven.” The lexicon also states that matzoh is in turn derived from a word which means “to drain out or suck.” In referring to this second Hebrew word, the lexicon states, “In the sense of greedily devouring for sweetness.” So it is quite possible that unleavened bread, while it may have been heavy and flat, may also have been sweet to the taste.

In the Bible, leaven is almost always symbolic of sin. Like leaven which permeates the whole lump of dough, sin will spread in a person, a church or a nation, eventually overwhelming and bringing its participants into its bondage and eventually to death. Romans 6:23 tell us that “the wages of sin is death,” which is God’s judgment for sin, and this is the reason that Christ died—to provide a way out of this judgment for sin if man will repent of his sins, accept Christ as his Passover sacrifice, and have his heart changed so that he can conform his life to what God commands.

Whenever a little bit of sin in a person or a church is permitted, overlooked, and compromised, it works much like leaven in bread. It will eventually leaven the whole lump, affecting the whole church or the whole world (Galatians 5:9). This permitted sin will lead to other sins and will eventually draw a person or church completely outside of the will and favor of our Father, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Did the Israelites in the book of Exodus cross the Red Sea or the Reed Sea?

The Hebrew word translated “red” in some 23 Old Testament verses dealing with the Exodus is the Hebrew word suph whose root is thought to be of Egyptian origin and meant a reed, especially the papyrus. So while it is true that the Hebrew words yam suph can be translated “Sea of Reeds” or “Reed Sea” the question that must be asked is which is the best translation of the passage to correctly convey the meaning of the Hebrew passages? Also we must take into consideration whether these passages most commonly translated “Red Sea” are in fact referring to what today is known as the Red Sea or are they, as some liberal scholars try to assert, really referring to a marshy area by the Rea Sea or possibly some smaller, shallower lake nearby. This is crucial because if it was not the Red Sea, this would have allowed the Israelites to cross without God’s miraculous intervention of parting the Sea, while stopping the heavier Egyptian chariots causing them to become stuck. This is really the crux of the debate: did God miraculously intervene, as the Bible says He did, or was the crossing by the Israelites simply a natural event?

When we look at the many different passages in the Scripture where the term yam suph or Red Sea is used, it becomes very clear that it is correctly translated as the Red Sea and is indeed referring to the large body of water commonly called the Red Sea or Gulf of Suez. The only way that one could look at these verses and believe they are speaking of some shallow lake or marshy area is if one has a preconceived bias towards that translation, ignoring not only the historical evidence but most importantly the scriptural context. The Scriptures give us a pretty clear understanding that the body of water the Israelites crossed was a large and deep body of water, and the only one in that area fitting that description is the Red Sea.

One evidence that Red Sea is the correct translation and the correct body of water is found in the Greek Septuagint from 200 B.C. This is the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible known and the words yam suph are consistently translated with the Greek words eruthros thalassa or Red Sea (see also Acts 7:36; Hebrews 11:29). Therefore the historical evidence is that these words in the Bible do refer to the actual Red Sea and not some lesser body of water. Further evidence comes from the context of the passages themselves. First, the sea had to be deep enough to drown the Egyptian army and destroy their chariots. Those liberal scholars who want to say this is referring to some shallow, marshy area have to throw out the context of the passages or believe that a whole Egyptian army can be drowned in a couple of feet of water. Also, in 1 Kings 9:26 we see King Solomon building a fleet of ships on the shore of the Rea Sea in the land of Edom, hardly practical if the body of water known as the Red Sea is merely a marshy area or small shallow lake. Clearly, the body of water yam suph refers to can be none other than the Red Sea.

The context of the passages and the way the words yam suph have been translated throughout history make it clear that the Israelites did indeed cross the Red Sea, a 1,350 mile long body of water extending from the Indian Ocean. In some places, the Red Sea is more than 7,200 feet deep and more than 100 miles wide. While the Israelites would have crossed the Red Sea in what is now known as the Gulf of Suez, this is the large body of water God supernaturally parted, and He used it to destroy the Egyptian army and allow the Israelites to pass safely through, just as the Scriptures describe.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Did Constantine change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?

In the year 321 A.D., Constantine decreed, “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed” (Codex Justinianus lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1). Constantine seems to have made this change himself and not through the papacy, since the papacy had not really come in to being at that time. The papacy grew gradually out of the office of Bishop and for many years this was centered in Rome. In any case, it should be noted that in doing this, Constantine is not changing the Sabbath; he is merely making Sunday the official day of rest for the Roman Empire. His motivation was probably not born out of hatred for the Jews (it’s hard to say for sure why Constantine or any historical figure did what they did) but out of a desire to adopt what the Christians had practiced for nearly two and a half centuries.

It is well documented that the early church adopted Sunday as their day of worship. Acts 20:7 speaks of this, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people …” and 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” These passages indicate that Christians were probably meeting regularly on Sunday (the first day of the week). They did this most likely because Christ rose on the first day of the week. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that the death of Christ became the focal point of Christian worship services. That is not to say they thought it unimportant; but they were primarily concerned with His victory over death realized in His resurrection.

It is important to remember that corporate worship with other believers is necessary and part of obedience, but the day that your church body chooses to worship on is not really that significant. The New Testament addresses this in a couple of different passages. Colossians 2:14–17 says, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.” Also see Romans 14:5–6, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Christian dream interpretation? Are our dreams from God?

GotQuestions.org is not a Christian dream interpretation service. We do not interpret dreams. We strongly believe that a person’s dreams and the meaning of those dreams are between them and God alone. Does God still speak through dreams? God spoke to people many times throughout the Scriptures in dreams. Examples are Joseph, son of Jacob (Genesis 37:5–10); Joseph, the husband of Mary (Matthew 2:12–22); Solomon (1 Kings 3:5–15); and several others (Daniel 2:1, 7:1; Matthew 27:19). There is also a prophecy of the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28), quoted by the apostle Peter in Acts 2:17, that mentions God using dreams. So the simple answer is, yes, God can and does speak through dreams.

However, there is a difference in how we apply that truth today. We must keep in mind that the Bible is finished, having revealed everything we need to know from now until eternity. This is not to say that God does not work miracles or even speak through dreams today, but anything God says, whether it is a dream, vision, impression, or “still small voice,” will agree completely with what He has already revealed in His Word. Dreams cannot be put into a place of authority over the Scriptures.

If you have a dream and feel that perhaps God gave it to you, prayerfully examine the Word of God and make sure your dream is in agreement with Scripture. If so, prayerfully consider what God would have you do in response to your dream (James 1:5). In Scripture, whenever anyone experienced a dream from God, God always made the meaning of the dream clear, whether directly to the person, through an angel, or through a messenger (Genesis 40:5–11; Daniel 2:45, 4:19). When God speaks to us, He makes sure His message is clearly understood.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Christian archeology—why is it important?

Archaeology comes from two compounded Greek words—archae meaning “ancient,” and logos meaning “knowledge”; thus, “knowledge or study of the ancients.” An archaeologist is much more than an Indiana Jones-type individual running around the world looking for old artifacts to place in a museum. Archeology is a science that studies ancient cultures by recovering and documenting materials from the past. Christian archeology is the science of studying ancient cultures that have impacted Christianity and Judaism and the Jewish and Christian cultures themselves. Not only are Christian archaeologists trying to discover new things about the past, they are trying to validate what we already know about the past and advance our understanding of the manners and customs of the peoples of the Bible.

The biblical text and other written records are the most important pieces of information we have about the history of ancient biblical peoples. But these records alone have left many unanswered questions. That is where Christian archeologists come in. They can fill in the partial picture that the biblical narrative provides. Excavations of ancient garbage dumps and abandoned cities have provided bits and pieces that give us clues to the past. The goal of Christian archeology is to verify the essential truths of the Old and New Testaments through the physical artifacts of ancient peoples.

Christian archeology did not become a scientific discipline until the 19th century. The building blocks of Christian archeology were laid by men such as Johann Jahn, Edward Robinson, and Sir Flinders Petrie. William F. Albright became the dominant figure in the 20th century. It was Albright who drew Christian archeology into the contemporary debates over the origins and reliability of the biblical narratives. It was Albright and his students who provided much of the physical evidence for the historical events described in the Bible. However, today it seems as though there are as many archeologists trying to disprove the Bible as there are those proving it to be accurate.

We do not have to go very far to find new attacks on Christianity from the secular world. An example is much of the programming on the Discovery Channel, such as “The Da Vinci Code” docudrama. Other offerings have dealt with historicity of Christ. One program, by James Cameron, argued that the tomb and burial box of Jesus had been found. From this “discovery” the conclusion was drawn that Jesus had not risen from the dead. What the program failed to say is that the box had been discovered years earlier and that it had already been proven not to be Christ’s burial box. This knowledge was achieved through the hard work of Christian archeologists.

It is archaeological evidence that provides the best possible physical information on the life and times of the ancients. When proper scientific methods are applied to the excavation of ancient sites, information emerges that gives us a greater understanding of the ancient peoples and their culture and proofs that validate the biblical text. Systematic recordings of these findings, shared with experts worldwide, can give us the most complete information on the lives of those who lived in Bible times. Christian archeology is just one of the tools scholars can use to present a more complete defense of the biblical narrative and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Often, when sharing our faith, we are asked by non-believers how we know the Bible is true. One of the answers we can give is that, through the work of Christian archeologists, many of the facts of the Bible have been validated.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Are there such things as aliens or UFOs?

First, let’s define “aliens” as “beings capable of making moral choices, having intellect, emotion, and a will.” Next, a few scientific facts:

1. Men have sent spacecraft to nearly every planet in our solar system. After observing these planets, we have ruled out all but Mars and possibly a moon of Jupiter as being able to support life.

2. In 1976, the U.S.A. sent two landers to Mars. Each had instruments that could dig into the Martian sand and analyze it for any sign of life. They found absolutely nothing. In contrast, if you analyzed soil from the most barren desert on earth or the most frozen dirt in Antarctica, you would find it teeming with micro-organisms. In 1997, the U.S.A. sent Pathfinder to the surface of Mars. This rover took more samples and conducted many more experiments. It also found absolutely no sign of life. Since that time, several more missions to Mars have been launched. The results have always been the same.

3. Astronomers are constantly finding new planets in distant solar systems. Some propose that the existence of so many planets proves that there must be life somewhere else in the universe. The fact is that none of these has ever been proved to be anything close to a life-supporting planet. The tremendous distance between Earth and these planets makes it impossible to make any judgments regarding their ability to sustain life. Knowing that Earth alone supports life in our solar system, evolutionists want very badly to find another planet in another solar system to support the notion that life must have evolved. There are many other planets out there, but we certainly do not know enough about them to verify that they could support life.

So, what does the Bible say? The earth and mankind are unique in God’s creation. Genesis 1 teaches that God created the earth before He even created the sun, the moon, or the stars. Acts 17:24, 26 states that “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands—he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Originally, mankind was without sin, and everything in the world was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). When the first man sinned (Genesis 3), the result was problems of all sorts, including sickness and death. Even though animals have no personal sin before God (they are not moral beings), they still suffer and die (Romans 8:19–22). Jesus Christ died to remove the punishment that we deserve for our sin. When He returns, He will undo the curse that has existed since Adam (Revelation 21–22). Note that Romans 8:19–22 states that all of creation eagerly waits for this time. It is important to also note that Christ came to die for mankind and that He died only once (Hebrews 7:27; 9:26–28; 10:10).

If all of creation now suffers under the curse, any life apart from the earth would also suffer. If, for the sake of argument, moral beings do exist on other planets, then they also suffer; and if not now, then someday they will surely suffer when everything passes away with a great noise and the elements melt with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10). If they had never sinned, then God would be unjust in punishing them. But if they had sinned, and Christ could die only once (which He did on earth), then they are left in their sin, which would also be contrary to the character of God (2 Peter 3:9). This leaves us with an unsolvable paradox—unless, of course, there are no moral beings outside of the earth.

What about non-moral and non-sentient life forms on other planets? Could algae or even dogs and cats be present on an unknown planet? Presumably so, and it would not do any real harm to any biblical text. But it would certainly prove problematic when trying answer questions like “Since all of creation suffers, what purpose would God have in creating non-moral and non-sentient creatures to suffer on distant planets?”

In conclusion, the Bible gives us no reason to believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe. In fact, the Bible gives us several key reasons why there cannot be. Yes, there are many strange and unexplainable things that take place. There is no reason, though, to attribute these phenomena to aliens or UFOs. If there is a discernable cause to these supposed events, it is likely to be spiritual, and more specifically, demonic, in origin.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Are there any black people mentioned in the Bible?

The Bible does not specifically identify any person as being black-skinned. The Bible also does not specifically identify any person as being white-skinned. The vast majority of the Bible took place in the Middle East, in and around Israel. Neither “black” nor “white” people are common in these regions. The vast majority of the people in the Bible were “Semitic,” light to dark brown in complexion. Ultimately, it does not matter what skin color the people in the Bible were. Skin color is meaningless in the message of the Bible. We all need to take our eyes off of the skin and focus on the soul.

Some scholars guess that Moses’ wife Zipporah might have been black since she was a Cushite (Numbers 12:1). Cush is an ancient name for an area of Africa. Some propose that Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3) was black. Some believe that the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon (1 Kings 10:1) was black. The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:37 may have been a black man. Ethiopians are mentioned around 40 times in the Bible, and the Prophet Jeremiah asked, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin …” (Jeremiah 13:23). The “Simeon called Niger” in Acts 13:1 may have been black.

The Bible, though, does not specifically say that any of these people were black. Most Bible teachers believe that black people are descendants of Noah’s son Ham (Genesis 10:6–20), but we cannot be sure since the Bible does not specifically say. Why aren’t there more black people in the Bible? The vast majority of events in the Bible took place in the land of Israel. Although black people were common in many regions nearby Israel, Israel has never been an area where many black people have settled.[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Why is “You shall not covet” in the Ten Commandments?

The key to understanding this commandment is in the definition of the word “covet.” Two different Hebrew words are used in the passages condemning coveting (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21), and both mean to lust after or to long for with great desire. Since the commandments are given as “you shall not’s,” the desire in this case is for something that is not the property of the desirer and not rightfully his to long after. In this commandment, the Israelites are told not to lust after his neighbor’s possessions—his house, land, ox or donkey, or the people in his life—his wife or servants, both male and female. The Israelites were not to desire, long for, or set their hearts on anything that belonged to anyone else.

Whereas several of the commandments prohibit certain actions, such as murder and theft, this is one of the commandments that addresses the inner person, his heart and mind. As James 1:15 tells us, the inner person is where sin originates and in this case, covetousness is the forerunner of all manner of sin, among them theft, burglary, and embezzlement. At its root, coveting is the result of envy, a sin which, once it takes root in the heart, leads to worse sins. Jesus reiterated this very thought in the Sermon on the Mount when He said that lust in the heart is every bit as sinful as committing adultery (Matthew 5:28). Envy goes beyond casting a longing glance at the neighbor’s new car. Once dwelled upon, envy of the neighbor’s possessions can turn to feelings of resentment and hatred for the neighbor himself. That can turn into resentment against God and questioning Him: “Why can’t I have what he has, Lord? Don’t you love me enough to give me what I want?”

God’s reasons for condemning covetousness are good ones. At its very core, envy is love of self. Envious, selfish citizens are unhappy and discontented citizens. A society built of such people is a weak one because envious malcontents, as stated before, will be more likely to commit crimes against one another, further weakening the societal structure. Furthermore, the New Testament identifies covetousness as a form of idolatry, a sin which God detests (Colossians 3:5). In the end, envy and covetousness are Satan’s tools to distract us from pursuing the only thing that will ever make us happy and content—God Himself. God’s Word tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” and that we should be content with the basic necessities of life (1 Timothy 6:6–8), because true happiness is not attained by things, but by a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. By this alone do we gain that which is worthy, true, solid, satisfying, and durable—the unsearchable riches of God’s grace.[1]

 


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