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Setting the Record Straight: Luke’s Prologue

The past few years have been ripe with disinformation, misinformation, alternative facts, etc. Facebook has become a catalyst for spreading such, with algorithms set to pop up what suits one’s fancy. We have no certainty about what is trustworthy anymore, but truth-seekers can sift through the material—identifying both the true and false. It’s easy to use our preferred sources because they validate our preconceptions, but we should use caution because they may blind us in the process. When Luke wrote his account of the good news, he wrote against the backdrop of other circulating versions. He carefully investigated the matter, knew eyewitnesses, and drafted an orderly arrangement to straighten the record. 

Eusebius (4th-century bishop) wrote that the order of the Gospels is according to their composition. He noted that the apostle John, after obtaining copies of the Matthew, Mark, and Luke (synoptic gospels), “welcomed them … and confirmed their accuracy” (Eccl. Hist. 3.24). Eusebius identified other gospels such as the Gospel of Hebrews, Peter, Thomas, Matthias, and others (Eccl. Hist., 3.25; cf. Origen, Luke 1.1–3), but these were disputed. Luke noted that “many” had tried to write narratives (Luke 1:1), so he wrote in response to inadequate or false gospels. His own, however, was from “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2)—neither of which he was. The other accounts contributed to confusion rather than clarity. Luke wanted to give an orderly arrangement (Luke 1:3). His meaning of “orderly” differs from what we might initially think. He doesn’t give a chronological but a topical account. His arrangement differs from Matthew’s and Mark’s but contains some of the same material though placed in a different order. 

He notifies the reader that he has investigated the things about which he writes—“having had a perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3). This phrase could be translated, “Since I had carefully followed all of it from the beginning.” It’s like saying that a person had kept up with the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard debacle from when it was simply accusations. Luke followed things closely and used various sources, one of whom might have been Mary, the mother of Christ. The first two chapters are full of information that she would have known (Luke 2:19, 51). Peter (cf. Luke 6:14) and Mark might have also been a source for Luke, given the call for Mark—Peter’s companion—in 2 Timothy 4:11 and his presence in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24 with Luke.  Being a traveling companion of Paul, Luke would have no doubt received information from him. Paul quoted from Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:17–18 and referred to his gospel (Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8), which has led to the speculation that Luke wrote Paul’s gospel, though it doesn’t bear the latter’s name. Nevertheless, we mustn’t discount the work of the Holy Spirit to have provided information otherwise unknown to Luke since this Gospel gives attention to the ministry of the Spirit (Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67). 

The audience of this gospel was likely Gentile-Christian to whom Luke explains various details of Jewish customs. He also uses the Septuagint when quoting from the Old Testament. One scholar suggests that Luke was written toward the end of the first century and to the third generation of Christians—predominantly Gentile. His writing more or less explains why fewer Jews than in the first decade of Christianity believe in Jesus. Both the Christians and Jews have the same Scriptures, but many Jews rejected Jesus as the Christ. Yet, Luke aims to show continuity between the story of Israel and the church. He doesn’t see it as two separate religions but as the continuation of the one.  

Theophilus’ (“he who loves God”) identity has been widely debated as that of either a Roman official (cf. Acts 23:26; 24:3; 26:25), a financier of Luke’s work, or a wealthy Christian who housed a church. Another possibility was that Theophilus was Luke’s inspiration—not in the sense of the Holy Spirit’s inspiring one—and the mention of his name was a mere dedication of the work to Theophilus. This writing was to give him certainty of what he’d already learned. 

Some interesting facts about Luke:

  • His gospel account appears in all early lists of the New Testament canon.
  • His gospel and Acts are written in sophisticated Greek.
  • They are also written as ancient epics were (e.g., Homer, Odyssey; Virgil, Aeneid).

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Repealing Roe v. Wade

It will come as no surprise if you’re reading this, that I am pro-life. Not pro-birth, but pro-life. If you want to stop reading at this point, that’s at your discretion.

Many people are disturbed about the leaked SCOTUS opinion, and others believe they’ve won the victory of a lifetime. Both are somewhat correct but also wrong. Abortion is not being outlawed because of this repeal. Repealing Roe only returns the matter to the states rather than the federal government legislating it. True, some states will seek to outlaw it, but others will not. State legislatures will decide the matter, so you actually have a say in who you vote for in your state based on this and other issues. This isn’t a threat to democracy, it’s actually the greatest exercise of democracy. The reason some senators and congressmen are enraged is in part that the power is being taken out of their hands and placed in the state’s hands. They run on these platforms and win elections based on them. Now they have been proven insignificant, so they will try to regain their significance.

Our founders framed the nation as a federalist system, which means that an area is controlled by two levels of government. In our country, that’s the federal and state governments. The constitution enumerates the rights that the states surrender to the federal government, and any matter not addressed in the constitution is to be left to the states as per the tenth amendment. Many jurists on the left and right have believed that Roe wasn’t altogether kosher. Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg believed the decision was an overreach. The thought is that the Supreme Court should have struck down the law as unconstitutional and left it at that. Instead, the court wrote an entire opinion that became enshrined as law. There’s probably a better way to put it, but this will suffice.

Those who say they’re pro-life (myself included) should not think their job is finished. If anything, they should now, if they already haven’t, begin advocating for affordable or free contraception, healthcare, childcare, and various other programs that would deter abortion. The goal is to remove every reason a mother might think that her best option is to abort. That would go a long way towards helping the issue overall. According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are poor or low-income. Addressing this and other issues may help. Furthermore, when ACA was signed into law, a 7% decrease in abortions was reported between 2014 and 2017 because many uninsured women obtained healthcare. Pro-lifers often dismiss such things, but if we truly care, we’ll look at the data and advocate.

Those who are pro-choice should realize that for the past two years, bodily autonomy was a silly notion to some of these same people as they wanted to force everyone to wear masks and be vaccinated, even going so far as to use agencies to achieve such ends. Unelected bureaucrats in said agencies, mind you. Then there’s the discussion around the lack of a definition of what a woman is. All of a sudden, now that this issue has risen to the surface, the binary reality of the sexes has become the paradigm once more. Many things that some of these folks advocate for contradicts in some way what they stand for, and the only consistency is that they are constantly inconsistent. Black Lives Matter unless they’re in the womb. Women’s rights matter, but what about those girls in the womb?

As for myself, I was born to two teenagers. I was unplanned. I know there are more reasons for this discussion, but I’ll speak about mine. I’m glad to be alive. My parents could have decided to abort me, but they didn’t. I truly feel for those who believe this is their only option. I think we can also agree that in many circumstances a pregnancy results from irresponsibility. Data shows that less than 1% of abortions are the result of rape or incest. This is why I believe we should advocate for contraception or even abstinence. My personal belief is to exercise one’s right of choice in the bedroom, or just wait until marriage and have a plan. I shouldn’t have had to suffer because of my parents’ irresponsibility. I shouldn’t be dead because of it either.

Those of us who are pro-life (at least speaking for myself) have no interest in making decisions for women, but we want to advocate for the unborn. In cases where a mother’s health is at risk, I totally get the need to make the difficult decision. A friend of mine who lacked healthcare at the time was facing death because of a pregnancy, so an abortion, in her case, saved her life. I’ve also read about non-viable fetuses remaining in the womb to the mother’s detriment. Yes, in those cases, it isn’t abortion per se, but an evacuation of the womb. Perhaps what would help is to redefine such things in these cases. The term “abortion” is stigmatized, and there’s really more to it in some cases than just terminating life.

When a woman finds herself pregnant, child support should begin then. The father is often not factored into this discussion. He should step up and be responsible for caring for her and the unborn child. She shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of all of the responsibility. I was irresponsible as a teenager myself, and when I learned that I was going to become a father, I wanted to do everything I could for my girlfriend (now my wife of over 20 years) and unborn baby. That baby is 20 years old, and one of the most special people in my life. I am fortunate, but not everyone shares my circumstances, which is why those less fortunate need greater help.

Shalom

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A Second Chance in the Land

“Maintain justice,” God commands (Is. 56:1; cf. 61:8). Not only had idolatry been a problem for Judah, but perverted justice had too: 

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out “Violence!” And you will not save. Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

(Hab. 1:1–4)

Much of what follows is God explaining justice. The foreigner and eunuch might have otherwise believed themselves excluded (Deut. 23:1–3; cf. Lev. 21:18–20), but God welcomes them and urges the same of his people (Is. 56:3–8). The corrupt rulers of Israel have led many astray, but some have even known to follow the Lord despite the instruction of their leaders (57:1–2). God plans to refuse the idolater (57:11, 13), but if an idolater returns to God, he will accept and heal them (57:15–21). Yet, the one who perverts justice and engages in idolatry presumes that they are still favored because of their worship, but worship will not cover their sins, especially if they exploit others and the holy days (58:3–10, 13–14). This behavior landed them in exile (59:1–4, 14–15), so returning home should accompany repentance (59:20). God wanted his people to be a part of injustice’s solution (59:16).  

Considering all that Judah has done, chapter 60 paints a beautiful picture of God’s forgiveness and restoration. “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you down, but I have had mercy on you” (60:10). “Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age” (60:15). Isaiah saw a restored Jerusalem as a renewed Jerusalem (60:19–22), and John saw the heavenly Jerusalem as something similar yet better (Rev. 21:9–11, 22–26). 

Either the servant or the prophet announces the good news to rebuild what had been torn down (61:1–4). When Jesus read from Isaiah, he identified himself with this servant (Luke 4:16–21). Rather than rebuilding the city of Zion, he rebuilt the people of God by preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and restoring those to God who had been “exiled” from him despite being in Judea. One of my favorite passages in Isaiah is 61:10 (cf. 62:5), “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Similar imagery of Christ and his bride, the church, appears in Ephesians 5. 

In Churches of Christ, brethren have sometimes erringly taken verses and transposed them for our theology. For example, Isaiah 62:2 has often been used to describe how we came to be called “Christians,” but that wasn’t what Isaiah was speaking about. Just two verses later, the explanation of verse 2 is given, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”Also, verse 12 adds,  “They shall be called, ‘The Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD’; and you shall be called, ‘Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.’” Just because a verse might suit a preconceived belief doesn’t mean that’s the best way to use that verse. The whole of chapter 62 is to show how God will forgive and bless Judah and Jerusalem, and 63 explains why God punished them and remembered his mercy towards them (v. 11). A prayer of repentance is given in 63:15–64:12. The servants of the Lord will be blessed, but those who rebel will suffer (65:1–16). 

In Isaiah 65:17, a familiar theme arises—new heavens and new earth. This is something that both Peter (2 Peter 3:13) and John (Rev. 21:1) write about too. Isaiah’s new heaven and earth have one significant difference—death remains (65:20). It no longer exists in John’s new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:4). I don’t take Isaiah’s as an end-times (eschatological) reading because death is still present. Everything listed can be read as juxtaposed to exilic suffering, with the former things being that which is written in the preceding verses. Furthermore, the messianic promises have yet to be fulfilled, so this can’t refer to the new creation that is post-resurrection and judgment. As we read chapter 66, God’s worshippers who also engage in pagan rituals and unjust living have their offerings regarded as actual sins (66:3). The end-times new creation doesn’t need sacrifice, nor will there be unrighteousness, as depicted in verse 4 (cf. Rev. 21:8). Finally, Isaiah’s new heavens and earth will be “before” God (66:22), but God will be “in” John’s (Rev. 21:3).  

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God’s Plan of Hope

Isaiah 49–55 belongs in the greater narrative of 40–55—post-exilic material. That’s to say, the exile has occurred, and God is speaking to his people about his plans. Israel’s sins have been atoned for, and God has promised his forgiveness and hope to them. However, they’re still coming to grips with Zion’s falling. As God has previously tried to do, he continues to explain that they shouldn’t misunderstand—their sins were the cause (50:1). 

Israel, the servant of the Lord (49:3), is to be a light to the nations going forward. God’s salvation would reach the ends of the earth as they did this (49:6; cf. 42:4, 6). Isaiah wished to comfort the exiles (50:4), reminding them of how he was treated before and how God would vindicate him (50:5–11). The righteous need only to continue being faithful because God will return them to his goal of creation—Eden and the garden (51:1–3). In this case, however, the imagery is applied to a return to Jerusalem. 

Since some were living in a foreign land and under constant worry (51:13), God promised that they wouldn’t go to the grave in Babylon (51:14). For those still in Zion, they too were worried—what had happened? They felt abandoned by God, and in some respect, they were (54:7–8). Yet, a messenger comes to Zion with the news—“Your God reigns” (52:7) and that he will return to Zion (52:8). 

The suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 was Israel and is the final of several servant songs throughout Isaiah (42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11). Israel, the servant, was severely wounded, but his resurgence would astonish the nations (52:14–53:1). Israel grew from Jacob as a young nation—nothing overtly special about his appearance. Very common indeed (52:2–3). What Israel suffered through conquering and exile made it seem as if God rejected him, and his wounds were for the transgressions and iniquities of the people (53:4–5). Everyone was guilty of this sin (53:6). His suffering was God’s way of restoring all people to himself, and the servant’s grief led to his exaltation. The early church saw in this passage the suffering of Jesus (Acts 8:32–35). Did they misappropriate the passage? Certainly not. Jesus was the embodiment of Israel (Matt. 2:13–15).  

God promises an eternal covenant of peace with Israel (ch. 54), and he invites them all to himself in a state of repentance (55:6–7). When Israel looks at how she’d treat others, they may think that an eye for an eye is the method for those who’ve wronged them. However, God’s ways are far different (55:8–9). Unlike a mortal man, he does not regard others as humans would. This was his promise, and because he has given his word, it would not return empty but come to pass (55:11). 

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A Conquered Judah in Babylon

Jerusalem lies in rubbles. Many inhabitants have been carted off to Babylon, especially those of the aristocratic (e.g., Daniel) and priestly (e.g., Ezekiel) lineages. The exiles weep about their homeland in a foreign land (Ps. 137). Those remaining in Jerusalem receive a word from the Lord (Is. 40:2) given 150 years earlier, looking to this very moment. Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah and was contemporary with Jeremiah, who prophesied in the decades leading up to the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon. If you were to read Scripture chronologically, you could insert Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah between chapters 39–40 of Isaiah. Yet, in Isaiah, a 150-year leap is made to those who’ve witnessed the city’s destruction. 

They’re wondering, “Now what?” The worst has happened. What they’ve dreaded has occurred. No Davidic king occupies the throne. Those who remain will suffer heavy taxation, foreign occupation, and rule. They will also live with the trauma of seeing Jerusalem fall and the changes that follow. They feel abandoned by God (40:6–8, 27), but he assures them that they are redeemed (43:1, 25; 44:22–23). God was abandoned by them first (cf. 42:24–25). What’s odd is how God’s people often feel neglected, seldom examining whether or not they had ignored him previously. Israel had continued worshipping God, which cannot be a metric (1:11–15). 

Nevertheless, the cry anticipates God’s return (40:3–5) as a tender king (40:9–11). God reassures Israel that though their present circumstances might seem contrary to the idea, they are still his people, his servant (41:8–10; 42:1–4). As God’s servant Israel needed to worship God (43:22–24) and not idols (44:9–11). Though they have suffered by other nations, whom God allowed doing so to punish their sins, those nations won’t get off easy for their wickedness (41:11–13; 43:14). 

Since God used Assyria to chastise Israel and Babylon Judah, God will use Persia to restore Judah (44:24–45:7). He had previously referred to Assyria as his ax to cull the forest of the nations and Israel. Still, the ax would break—denoting the end of Assyria, which happened at the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah had described Nebuchadnezzar as God’s servant (Jer. 25–26). Isaiah refers to Cyrus as God’s shepherd (Is. 44:28) and messiah (45:1). Judahites in Babylon don’t respond positively to a foreign king being their messiah and not a son of David (45:9–13; 46:8–13). On the one hand, they want deliverance from Babylon, but they don’t like how God will bring it.

Babylon sees herself as God (47:7–8). Israel isn’t much better because God’s faithfulness and grace do not alter Israel’s mood (48:1–15). God finally declares that they should have kept his command, and they would have enjoyed peace (48:18). Unfortunately, Israel has consistently been deaf and blind. It has led them to captivity and ruin, and persisting in it will not bring them the peace God promises. 

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Isaiah? Deutero-Isaiah? Trito-Isaiah? Who Authored Isaiah?

Few scholars hold the traditional view that Isaiah wrote the entire book. The majority acknowledges that the prophet wrote chapters 1–39, and from there, disagreement exists as to how many other authors or sections make up the book. Chapters 40–66 are often agreed to have had one or more authors. The language of chapters 40–55 reads like after the exile, and the remaining chapters read like returning from exile. These two sections are respectively referred to as Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah. Some believe there are two divisions, while others hypothesize there are more than three divisions. Indeed, authorship would not have been a concern to earlier audiences, and it’s only a topic due to a scientific method of interpreting literary texts alike—a combination of higher and lower criticism. Scripture, therefore, is reduced to academic work and not as highly esteemed as divinely inspired. 

As far back as 1100 CE, Moses ben Samuel denied Isaiah was the author of specific chapters. A few years later, Ibn Ezra (ca. 1167) questioned certain sections as being from the hand of Isaiah. Finally, in the 18th century, Johann Doerderlein suggested that Isaiah could not have foreseen the fall of Jerusalem, the 70-year captivity, the return, or the Persian king, Cyrus. Since his thesis, scholarship has advanced in supporting dual or multiple authorship. This is readily accepted in academic circles and in some churches too. 

From chapters thirty-nine to forty, we skip ahead about 150 years. The opening passages of chapter forty suggest Israel’s sins have been paid for and that they need to be comforted (40:1–2). When we left off in chapter thirty-nine, Hezekiah had survived the Assyrian assault and sickness that threatened to take his life. Isaiah told him that Jerusalem’s destruction would not happen in his lifetime, concluding eighth-century Isaiah. Jerusalem fell in 586 BCE, and exiles returned after 538 BCE. Isaiah 42:24–25 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem as a past event, but this isn’t altogether a reason to believe in multi-authored Isaiah. The early chapters of Isaiah speak of things as both present and past—especially the first five chapters, which are not wholly chronological. However, Isaiah 43:14 reads as if the Jews were in Babylon, and Cyrus is explicitly named in 44:28. When we arrive at Isaiah 66:20, the second temple is under construction. The language of multiple timelines is a big reason for the thesis when placed alongside the other mentioned details. Plus, after chapter thirty-nine, Isaiah isn’t mentioned again. 

The belief in multiple authors has some merit, but it denies the prophet’s ability to speak about and predict future events. The German schools of biblical studies rely heavily on this scientific method of interpretation, contributing to scholarship significantly. Still, it depends upon naturalism without leaving room for divine inspiration or the miraculous. This was, in part, a result of David Hume’s Enlightenment philosophy which grew from Newtonian reasoning. He believed that a miracle was a violation of the laws of nature, as he so wrote in Of Miracles in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, so they simply did not exist. This would remove the ability of a prophet of God to be moved by God’s Spirit to talk about future events with the voice of God, thus limiting God. Hume would write, “It is experience only, which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experiences, which assures us of the laws of nature.” Because he and most of his peers never “experienced” such a phenomenon, the divine is reduced to naturalism. Philosopher Peter Kreeft observed, “In fact, all the essential and distinctive elements of Christianity are miracles: creation, revelation (first to the Jews), the giving of law, prophecies, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Second Coming and Last Judgment.” 

The cases of multiple authors can be convincing, but I hold to the traditional view that Isaiah is the primary source of the book bearing his name (cf. John 12:37–38; Is. 53:1). The oldest extant copy of Isaiah dates to 175 BCE and is a single scroll without any notes from copyists about a shift from chapters 39–40. Archaeologists found twenty-one copies of Isaiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls and six manuscripts of commentaries on Isaiah. Isaiah has also been referenced as the only author of the book. It is the most quoted book in the New Testament, with Isaiah as only ever cited as the author and the quotes attributed to him from the various sections of texts that scholars dispute (cf. Matt. 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; et al.).  

I agree with John Oswalt, professor of Old Testament at Asbury Seminary, that the entirety of the book was assembled over the years by Isaiah’s disciples from his speeches, remarks, and other verbal communication. Isaiah, therefore, is the source of the entire book, but its compilation was likely the work of disciples. Just a few centuries before Isaiah, we read about schools of prophets (1 Sam. 10:5, 10; 19:20). In the first passage from Samuel, the Targum (Aramaic translation of the Old Testament dating to 516 BCE) uses the phrase “band of students.” In the second passage, Samuel is the leader of the band of prophets. Elijah and Elisha exhibited the disciple-teacher relationship within a prophetic background (2 Kings 2:3). Elisha served Elijah (2 Kings 3:11) and was anointed by him (1 Kings 19:16). Isaiah and his disciples and learned ones may be another example of this relationship (Is. 8:16; 50:4). Given the notion of destruction and exile in the earlier chapters of Isaiah, it makes sense that he would have spoken to future generations. Later, his disciples may have redacted portions of his speeches and writings to fit the times, which scribes often did (compare Gen. 14:14 to Judg. 18:12). We also can’t discount the usage of dictation to scribes, which biblical authors often employed (cf. Jer. 36:4; Rom. 16:22), when accounting for variations in syntax. 

The matter isn’t a hill to die on but another perspective to the recently formed (18th century) and common thesis. Some might contend that the evidence of Cyrus’ name is compelling, but the name may have been inserted by later scribes based on the description provided. The same may be said of other portions that lead readers to conclude multiple authors regarding Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah. Scribes could have changed the language to show the fulfillment of specific prophecies. We don’t know. The only copies we have are from the second century BCE and later, and a study published in 2021 concluded that two scribes wrote the Great Isaiah Scroll. The final form of Isaiah may have emerged in the post-exilic period. Still, it doesn’t mean another version may have predated what we have that’s original to the eighth-century prophet. 

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King Hezekiah’s Reign

Isaiah has been building up to the reign of a righteous king (cf. 32:1; 33:16), and in chapter 36, we finally arrive at the reign of Hezekiah. Isaiah and Hezekiah witnessed the northern kingdom fall to the Assyrians. Now, the Assyrians are at the backdoor of the Judahites—taking the fortified cities (36:1) because Hezekiah had rebelled against them (2 Kings 18:7–8). Hezekiah panics and offers to pay tribute to stop the siege—his father, Ahaz, having aligned with the Assyrians, Hezekiah wanted to only trust in God. Sennacherib names his price, but it doesn’t stop there (2 Kings 18:14–16). When Sennacherib sends a message, the scene is similar to Isaiah’s prophecy in 31:1–9. It’s a folly to trust in Egypt, which Israel tried to do under King Hoshea (2 Kings 17:1–4; cf. 36:4–6). Egypt couldn’t stop the Assyrian conquering of Israel, so Judah and Jerusalem had best not even entertain the idea. God, however, has promised to deliver Jerusalem. 

Rabshakeh (a royal title meaning “chief of the officers”), Sennacherib’s mouthpiece, derides any talk of Hezekiah trusting in his God (36:13–20). They believe that Hezekiah has offended God (36:7; cf. 2 Kings 18:3–6) and that YHWH sent the Assyrians to punish him (36:10). Given his language usage, Rabshakeh may have been privy to Judah’s internal affairs (compare 36:6 with 10:5–6). Nevertheless, his words so upset Judah’s high officials that they tear their clothes and tell Hezekiah what was said, and he, in turn, rips his clothes and adorns himself with sackcloth (36:22–37:1). What else is a king to do but inquire of God’s prophet (37:2)? 

God’s message to Hezekiah is, “Don’t worry about what’s being said because I will distract him” (37:6–7). Rabshakeh is still so focused on Judah and Jerusalem even while Sennacherib moved on to war against others, so he was sure to try to keep them in fear (37:10–13). Hezekiah doesn’t dwell on the message. He doesn’t get unraveled by it. Instead, he takes it to God and prays (37:14–20). Isaiah delivers God’s reply to Rabshakeh’s message to Hezekiah, and the word is that Assyria will not succeed in their endeavor to take Jerusalem. Before any of this ever came to be, God promised to break Assyria (14:24–25), and he does so (37:36–38). The Assyrian threat has subsided, and Sennacherib has died at the hands of his sons.  

Having prayed for deliverance from the Assyrians, Hezekiah now prays for deliverance from death (38:1–3). God grants his request and sets his reign distinct from his father, Ahaz’s (38:8). Ahaz had been subject to Assyria, resulting in hefty tributes and Assyrian gods introduced into the temple. Hezekiah had torn down all such altars and shrines, the very thing Rabshakeh believed offended God (36:7) was something that pleased him. Hezekiah recovered from his illness, but the Babylonians would learn of this and send messengers with a letter. Hezekiah would show them all the riches of his dominion (39:1–2). Isaiah’s reply to Hezekiah’s actions is matter-of-fact (39:3–7). Hezekiah’s reply to that seems even odder (39:8), but some linguists suggest that the king accepts God’s judgment and then, under his breath, mutters or thinks the last line. The Chronicler, however, reads the scene differently (2 Chron. 32:24–31). Hezekiah had become proud but then humbled himself to God. Hezekiah knew Judah would fall, but not during his reign.

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God’s Judgment of Judah and Jerusalem

Many commentaries equate God’s intentions in Isaiah for the earth with the end-times (Is. 24:1–3) since he had previously pronounced judgment against the world for sinfulness (13:5, 9, 11). However, the language of 24:5 is reminiscent of the Noahic covenant (Gen. 9:16; cf. 6:5). Several references to “the land” also lead us to think about Judah and Jerusalem (Is. 26:1)—“the land” is a reference to them (24:3, 13, 23). The same can be said of “this mountain” referring to Zion (25:6–7, 10). Judah here appears as a microcosm of the world. A great responsibility is placed on God’s elect. We were meant to have been royal priests from the garden, maintaining sacred space. Instead, God made his dwelling place among Israel, which shrunk to Judah and Jerusalem. Now that they have sinned, the world God envisioned has become smaller and smaller—sacred spaces now being corrupt. The leaders of Judah have sinned (28:7–8, 14–15) and Jerusalem (29:1–8). Jerusalem, however, pretends piety when God knows differently (29:13). 

As Ahaz trusted Assyria for his relief, they trusted Egypt (30:1–3; 31:1–3). Contrasted to those who trust Egypt are those who trust God (30:18–26). God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem are divided—some trust in earthly powers while others trust in God. Those spoken against tend to be the elite, as shown here. The simple folks are those who look to God. They have no standing among the elite, so the day of judgment is to them a day of reckoning (29:18–20). If there’s one thing we must all learn, the “experts” aren’t always right. They could defer to them as religious leaders when they thought of priests and prophets. Yet, God spoke against them for their drunkenness. Similarly, it may not be wine on which folks are drunk today, but on power, influence, or complacency (32:9–15). 

Hope is available (26:3–6). Finally, the chief cornerstone of 28:16–17 resembles the restored city of 1:26 and looks to a new faithful community. This stone is a precious cornerstone to many, but to others, a snare (28:13). God also promises to deliver Jerusalem (31:4–9), foreshadowing when they will attempt to siege Jerusalem in 701 BCE. A reign of righteousness is upon Jerusalem (32:1–8; 33:17–24), and this applies not only to Hezekiah but also to Jesus. Jesus often identified himself with figures from the Old Testament: 

  • Jonah (Matt. 12:39)
  • Solomon (Matt. 12:42)
  • The Temple (John 2:19)
  • The brazen serpent (John 3:14)

Peter described Noah and his family’s salvation through the water as a type of baptism, while Paul said Adam was a type of Christ. 5:14). So we may be safe in saying that Hezekiah was also a type of Christ, for the most part. He was one of the final faithful as Jesus. Here are similarities between Hezekiah and Jesus:

  • Hezekiah cleanses the temple (2 Chron. 9:1, 5, 15–16)
  • Hezekiah restores Jewish fidelity to God (2 Chron. 30:6–13, 26–27)
  • He prays for sinful Israelites (2 Chron. 30:18–20)
  • Hezekiah’s reign was faithful to God (2 Kings 18:1–7)
  • Hezekiah’s healing after being told he would die was three days, just as Christ rose from the grave on the third day (2 Kings 20:1–6)  

In Hezekiah’s days, Zion would be a city of glory (35:1–10), and the Lord’s glory in Christ would also occupy it. Jesus’s ministry on earth would resemble Hezekiah’s reign, but to a greater degree.

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The Fall of Judah’s Neighbors

God is called “LORD of hosts” over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, over 60 times appearing in Isaiah. “Hosts” can be understood as a significant number or an army. The notion of an army seems to be more plausible (cf. 2 Kings 6:15–17) because by the time we arrive at chapters 13–23, where God pronounces judgment, the language is interesting when we follow it. God calls his “holy ones” and “mighty ones” (13:3). God musters these for battle, coming from the end of heaven (13:4). Earlier in chapter 6, we saw an assembling of the heavenly court, God, with the seraphim. There’s one similar passage to Isaiah 6, and that’s 1 Kings 22:19–21. In both of these passages, God is seated on a throne, he asks for a volunteer, the court has a verbal exchange, a volunteer announces himself, and the mission is to deceive God’s people who have angered him with their sinfulness. 

A heavenly court is attested to not only in the passages mentioned and in Job 1:6–11; 2:1–6; Zechariah 3:1–5. Isaiah 6:10 seems like a problematic passage when God commissions the prophet to dupe the people essentially. However, when taken with the passage from 1 Kings 22 and Ezekiel 14:4–5, it makes sense that God would answer them according to their heart’s desire (cf. Is. 19:14). Against whom, then, will this heavenly army war? Other hosts of heaven were assigned to oversee the nations, but some became rebellious and received worship as gods (Deut. 32:8 [LXX], 17; Ps. 96:5; Dan. 10). The battle of the faithful and rebellious hosts ensue with the results being mirrored on earth—sometimes the angels fighting against the physical enemy. Divine warfare is a motif in Exodus. Each plague corresponds to YHWH attacking one of Egypt’s gods: e.g., the first plague is directed at Ḥapi, the Nile-god; the second at Ḥeqet, the frog goddess; the fifth at Apis, the bull and Hathor, the cow; the eighth, ninth, and tenth plagues at Ra. 

Angels minister to those who are to obtain salvation (Heb. 1:14), so it would stand that they would offer protection of the righteous one (Ps. 91:2, 11–12). A common belief was that earthly rulers mirrored the actions of the divine beings, so when the king of Babylon is spoken against, later believers associated some of the jargon used of him with Satan (Is. 14:12–15). Lucifer, meaning “Day Star,” is plausible as usage for Satan, given other passages about stars and their link with angels (Job. 38:7; Rev. 12:3–4). 

By the time we arrive at Ahaz’s death—anywhere between 715–725 BCE—Philistia is urged to not rejoice at the transition of monarchs. Ahaz had agreed to Assyrian domination, but that would change upon the end of his reign and the beginning of Hezekiah’s. Hezekiah changed allegiance to Egypt and led a rebellion against the Assyrian king. Isaiah 14:29 seems to refer to Ahaz as a serpent, and a viper comes from him like a seraph. Hezekiah, we will learn, subdued the Philistines (2 Kings 18:8), and did much good for Judah and Jerusalem as the rest of Isaiah’s oracle points out (14:30–32; cf. 2 Kings 18:6–7).  

The remaining oracles are poems of promised judgment against evildoer nations. God judges Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria and Israel, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Jerusalem. Yet, God gives a couple of rays of hope. First, he will have mercy on Jacob and settle Israel in their land (14:1–2). Second, God will set one on David’s throne to judge with justice (16:5). Judgment sounds harsh, but God will give grace too. 

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Isaiah Goes to Ahaz

In the final years of his life, while a leper in seclusion, Uzziah’s son reigned with him. Yet, the reign of Jotham doesn’t figure prominently into Isaiah’s ministry. Since the prophets often presided during times of crises, Jotham’s reign did not need prophetic intervention. Yet, things changed when Ahaz became king. By the time of the events of chapter seven, Israel has allied with Syria to make war against Jerusalem. The king of Assyria had chipped away at Israel’s territories (2 Kings 15:29), so the weakened kingdom believed an alliance with Syria was necessary. When Israel and Syria go against Jerusalem, Ahaz requested the help of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7–8) thus demonstrating a lack of faith (cf. Is. 7:4–9). The goal of Israel and Syria was to install a puppet king over Judah (Is. 7:7), but God didn’t allow it.  

Isaiah urged the king to ask for a sign, but he refused to do so. God, nevertheless, gave Ahaz a sign to reinforce the promises previously made about the Davidic line. A young woman would bear a child and call him “Immanuel” (God with us) thus confirming that God was keeping his promises. When Isaiah gave this sign by the Lord, I’m sure he did not have the future messiah in mind. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood that way, which I’ll get to shortly. There are four possible ways to understand the sign as they understood it. 

  1. King Hezekiah was the promised son. This is a very popular interpretation and some conclude that Hezekiah is referred to in 8:8. Furthermore, the description of the government in chapter nine seems fitting to Hezekiah in the immediate context, especially when read with chapters 36–39. I favor Hezekiah as the fulfillment of the prophecy, but I also hold that the next option is viable.   
  2. Others contend that this is Isaiah’s son mentioned in 8:1–4, whose name means “Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Prey.” He is referred to as a sign (Is. 8:18) and that argument could be made that 8:8 references him, but Isaiah and his wife already have a child (7:3). The son mentioned in 8:1–4 seems to be a sign to Isaiah while Immanuel was a sign to Ahaz.  
  3. Another interpretation is that it refers to an unknown woman fulfilling the promise, but if she were unknown they wouldn’t be aware of the sign when it came to pass. This is viable but highly unlikely. 
  4. Some believe Jesus is the only fulfillment of this prophecy, but that wouldn’t have brought comfort to Ahaz if something far off was meant. Jesus is a fulfillment of this prophecy on the macro level, but not on the micro level. The Hebrew term could mean a virgin, but more often it was a young woman. Matthew borrowed from the Septuagint which, in the place of almah is the specific term parthenos (“virgin”).  

Hezekiah, I contend, is the micro fulfillment of this prophecy, but Jesus is the macro fulfillment of the prophecy. The sign is about God saving his people, and he saved Judah and Jerusalem through Hezekiah. However, Judah and Jerusalem would continue in their infidelity, which necessitated God’s judgment and his ultimate savior of his people and all humanity—Jesus. 

The prophecy can be viewed as a type/antitype sort of thing, such as we see in 1 Peter 3:20–21. As Noah and his family boarded the ark, they were saved by being on it when water came. When we board the ark that is Jesus, through baptism, we too are saved. Similarly, Hezekiah was righteous and brought about God’s will, and Jesus is the one who has perfectly brought the will of God. The micro interpretation has to do with the immediate context of the author and their audience. The macro is the whole redemptive story of creation, so there’s an immediate and greater meaning to the text. The prophet gave us immediate meaning, and the Holy Spirit gave the church greater meaning. This is how Matthew used the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures—Jesus was the embodiment of Israel. 

God promised to punish Samaria (Israel) and Assyria, and that a remnant of Israel would return. Assyria is depicted as an ax in God’s hands to reduce Israel to briers and thorns (9:19), but in using the ax, it would break and be reduced to briers and thorns (10:17; cf. 10:34). Deforestation of Israel appears in 9:8–10:4, and out of this deforestation is a rod from the stem of Jesse (11:1). It’s very easy to read this chapter as messianic because so much applies. After Judah successfully defended herself, a new age of government and peace is expected. The predatory and preying animals dwelling together in harmony is a way of communicating peace among nations, given the language used about them (cf. 5:29; 9:12, 20–21; 10:14), and through Christ, the nations have ceased warring in that people have become Christians and identify as such rather than as the nations from which they hail. It’s easy to see Jesus in this passage (cf. 6:13) and I’m willing to accept this passage as a future hope, albeit one that’s distant.  

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The Circumstances of Isaiah’s Ministry

We’ve all seen shows that aren’t in chronological order. My wife and I have gotten into “Better Call Saul.” Sometimes, the beginning of each episode shows what happens after the main premise of the show. At other times, the beginning is a flashback to before the main premise. Isaiah is kind of like that. The prophet’s ministry begins in Isaiah 6, but the first five chapters set the stage by laying out the circumstances that precipitated his ministry. The fact is, these first five chapters should not be read as chronological, because they aren’t. Scholars don’t agree about the structure, though many theories exist. For our purposes, we’ll treat these chapters as introductory despite how disjointed they seem. 

The structure of the early chapters is one of the puzzles of the book, but may be laid out as follows: 

  • Isaiah 1: wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Isaiah 2:1–4: the hope of a renewed Jerusalem. 
  • Isaiah 2:5–4:1: judgment on the oppressors. 
  • Isaiah 4:2–6: the renewal of Zion. 
  • Isaiah 5: God’s disappointing people. 

Starting out, we get a glimpse of not only Jerusalem’s future, but it’s spoken of as if it’s in the past. Notice the language of the first chapter: “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire … Zion is left as a … besieged city” (1:7–8). Leading up to this is the point—Judah and Jerusalem have rebelled (1:2). They are referred to as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” (1:10; cf. 3:9). Whether or not Isaiah wrote some portions with hindsight (cf. 5:13) is debatable. Some have suggested that it was written in hindsight, others that it’s some literary device common at the time. Because of the disjointed nature of these chapters, it may be better to just appreciate it as is, noting when the tone shifts. 

The sins of Judah and Jerusalem are the key themes, and God’s judgment will come. The righteous will be spared the oncoming trouble despite how distant it was (4:3–4). The wicked would still worship, much to the chagrin of God (1:11–15). God doesn’t always want worship, especially when it doesn’t match our character. What he wants is our whole hearts (1:16–17; 21–23, 27). For this reason, he calls for justice and righteousness. He saw a lack of them in Judah (5:7, 20). 

When we read these terms, especially “justice,” we mustn’t think in terms of modern parlance. Anything and everything is a matter of justice—environmental justice, social justice, gender justice, etc. Justice is justice, and any modifier tells one that it’s more a group’s desire than actual justice. Mišpāṭ (“justice”) refers to government, the exercise of authority, and decision-making. It’s paired with ṣědāqâ (“righteousness”) because when justice is perverted, the right thing isn’t done in relation to other people. Righteousness here must be understood as relational and not as personal holiness—at least not in this context. These two words suggest “the faithful exercise of power in community.”

The powerful of Judah and Jerusalem had a duty to look after those less fortunate, but that wasn’t happening (1:23; 3:13–26). Orphans and widows weren’t being treated fairly (1:17, 23). Foreign ways infiltrated God’s people (2:6), and they trusted more in instruments of warfare than God (2:7). When Israel was suffering under the Egyptian yoke, they cried out to God (Exod. 3:7, 9). Now, in Isaiah’s day, they cry out to God against their countrymen (Is. 5:7). Judah and Jerusalem are Egyptian oppressors now. This is the language used here. 

Yet, a future hope remains (2:2–4). Early Christians understood these verses to refer to the incarnation (“latter days”) and subsequent birth of the church. The Lord’s house was often a metaphor for the church (1 Tim. 3:15), and those who went to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem also went from there preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. Acts follows this geographical route—beginning in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and to the ends of the world. Rather than being warring nations, we are brothers and sisters who’ve laid down our arms. As Christians, we are a nation (1 Peter 2:9). The nations of the world still war, but God’s nation does not. The long sought reality was the hope of Israel, and our story as the church is the fulfillment and continuation of God’s love of his people whom he set apart to be lights to the world.  

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Isaiah’s Call

What does it mean to see God? We know that no one has seen God because the gospel tells us this (John 1:18; 6:46). Isaiah didn’t see God so much as his glory (John 12:41), but what he saw in this vision was life changing. Some may wonder why this isn’t the first chapter of the book. After all, the calling of a prophet should precede his message. The greater part of the first five chapters are poetry, setting the conditions that spurred God’s employment of Isaiah. There’s a literary genius to the structure, but we’ll not delve into literary criticism. Not only did Isaiah’s life change, but the makeup of Judah did too.   

There’s a particular irony in Isaiah’s calling. He was given a vision of heaven’s court in the year King Uzziah died (6:1; 740 BCE). The irony is that King Uzziah was banned from the temple—a shadow of a heavenly reality (cf. Heb. 9:11–12, 23)—after he presumptuously entered to burn incense on the altar of incense—something only a priest could do. This specific altar was outside the holy of holies, and as close as one could get to the literal presence of YHWH. Uzziah was subsequently struck with leprosy and lived the rest of his life as a leper, banned from the temple. During his isolation, his son served as coregent, overseeing the affairs of the kingdom (2 Chron. 26:16–21). While the king was prohibited from the temple, Isaiah sees something greater than the temple—he sees God in heaven. This scene expresses the changing of an era. An age of stability has ended, and the ensuing problem of the Assyrian threat began. 

What Isaiah saw was the actual temple—doorposts, smoke, altar, and burning coals. Yet, it’s the heavenly temple and not the one at which he worshipped in Jerusalem. The year of Judah’s king dying, Isaiah sees the king of heaven—seated on a throne, high and lifted up. He’s not in a palace, but a temple (v. 1). The reminder is that YHWH still reigns and is in control no matter who reigns and wars on earth. Isaiah seeing God as reigning, surrounded by hosts, was to reinforce to the prophet and Judah that despite threats on earth, God wars in the heavenly places against those evil forces (cf. Eph. 6:12). 

Isaiah, next, sees seraphim. This is the only place they are mentioned, but elsewhere, the term is used in reference to serpents and their venom (Num. 21:4–9). The conclusion has been made by some that these angels were winged serpents of some sort. The Nehushtan was destroyed during Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4) and may have very well occupied space in the temple when Isaiah received his commission. Next is the trisagion chanted by the angels—it is antiphonal and causes the foundations to shake. This reminds me of a passing car whose bass is so loud that your car or windows rattle. Such is the nature of their voices and praise. YHWH is one of the “hosts.” Other passages attest to God being surrounded by multitudes (cf. Deut. 32:8 [LXX]; Job 1:6–11; 2:1–6; Ps. 82; 1 Kings 22:19–23; Ezek. 14:4–5), but this might be better rendered “armies.” Isaiah would have understood it that way, and in the coming struggles with the Assyrians, it would have been significant (Is. 13:4; 24:21; 31:4). 

Imagine for a moment seeing the most august scene ever. There’s the majesty of God, flanked by fiery angels from whose wings you can feel the breeze. They continually chant this chorus with such beauty that it sends chills down your spine. At the same time, their voices are so rich and powerful that the foundations quake. Not only do the words of their chorus strike you, but the performance of them is something you feel pierce your very being. Smoke engulfs the area, and it reminds you of what you’ve heard your ancestors saw in Sinai many centuries ago. The effect is terror. You pause from the awe of taking it in to the realization of where you are and what you’re like, and who you’re before. 

‘Woe is me; I am  lost!” Why does he feel so? The ending of the passage tells us why, but not so much in English as in Hebrew. “The king, the LORD of hosts, my eyes have seen.” It’s vital to note here that the term used of Uzziah is the same used of God—hammelek. The death of the king threatens stability, but God is all the stability that Judah needs. Isaiah appears before God in a state of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips. In our present existences, no one can see God and live (Exod. 33:18–20; cf. Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:22). This was what frightened Isaiah. He assumed the sins of the people as well as his own and believed there was no way to survive this. However, the very God whose holiness can consume the profane (cf. Lev. 10:1–2; 2 Sam. 6:6–7), can also cleanse. In similar temple imagery, one of the seraphim takes burning coal to cleanse the prophet, atoning for his sin. Isaiah need not fear. He is cleansed. He can remain. 

Isaiah’s commission began with seeing God. Now, it turns to hear him. Isaiah readily accepts God’s commission, but the message he is to deliver will fall on deaf ears. The wonders that he’ll work will be seen by blind eyes. The hearts of the people are already turned against God, and Isaiah’s ministry will be unsuccessful in terms of people responding positively to it. When the prophet inquires how long this will last, we see that God has decided to judge Judah. It’s going to last until judgment comes. Why bother? God bothers because he cares. He bothers because he wants them to know that they have heaped up judgment on themselves, not only through Isaiah’s ministry, but even through all those who’ve come before him. Success here isn’t defined by how many people respond to the prophetic call, but how faithful the prophet is to God in delivering the message. Fidelity to God—that’s success. 

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A Prelude to Isaiah

The above image is a painting by James Tissot (c. 1896) titled “Isaiah,” from the Jewish Museum

The prologue to Isaiah in The Wycliffe Bible reads, “Isaiah is worth to be said not only a prophet, but more, a gospel, for he declares so openly … of Christ and of [the] Holy Church, that you guess him not only to ordain and profess a thing to come, but to ordain a story of things passed.” Reading Isaiah as Christians leads us to look for nuggets of Messianic material. Having read the New Testament, Isaiah is quoted at large, with passages being connected to the life of Jesus. I want us to resist the urge to read Isaiah that way primarily. Why? That’s likely not how the original audience read it. They were concerned with their lifetimes and the prevailing circumstances and not something centuries ahead. Nevertheless, in the unseen and distant future, some things would occur, and in the immediate context, we’ll see how they would have understood it and how it became just a part of the larger story of God’s people—even to the time of Christ. 

Isaiah was written during a crisis by a prophet bearing that name—which means “Yah is Salvation.” So anytime you see a name ending with –ah or –el, that’s Hebrew for God’s name. For example, Samuel means “name of El” or “El has heard.” Jeremiah’s name means either “Yah will exalt” or “appointed by Yah.” The first thirty-nine chapters detail the crisis Isaiah faced, spanning four kings, the prophet having access to them (7:3). Isaiah’s ministry was from 740–681 BCE, receiving his prophetic call when Uzziah died (Is. 6:1), 740–739 BCE. His access to the kings and priests (8:1–2) has led to the suggestion that he was aristocratic, royalty, or priestly. 

During his tenure as a prophet, he’d see the tiny kingdom of Judah exist in a world of three superpowers—Egypt to the south, Assyria to the north, and Babylon to the east. In 721 BCE, he’d see the northern kingdom of Israel fall to the Assyrians. Judah sought the military aid of Egypt to protect them from Assyria, but Isaiah would preach that Judah needed to trust in God alone. In 701 BCE, he’d see the Assyrians attempt to besiege Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah. After, Hezekiah invites the Babylonians over to see the wealth of Judah and to provide protection from the Assyrians. Isaiah rebukes Hezekiah for this, saying that Babylon would destroy Judah—something that would occur in 586 BCE. In 681 BCE, he detailed the Assyrian King, Sennacherib’s death (37:38), being put to death himself during Manasseh’s reign by, according to tradition, being sawn in two. 

We all have ideas of what a prophet is, but we need to understand (biblically) what a prophet did. The Hebrew nabi is translated as “prophet” but can also be translated as “spokesman.” The prophet spoke for God, delivering His message. But, as Isaiah 6 will disclose, they also saw visions of heavenly matters to talk to their current events (cf. 1 Kings 22:19–23; Ezek. 1, 10; Dan. 7:9–14). One way to think of a prophet is to think of a holy person who counsels kings, peoples, and priests. Their counsel was often the word of the Lord, but at times, it was based on just natural wisdom from being a holy person of God (cf. 2 Sam. 16:23). Prophets could also have a voice in the heavenly court through prayer (Gen. 20:7, 17; 1 Kings 13:4–6), and Moses was said to have received the law through the mediation of angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2) when he was immersed in the clouds (Ex. 24:1–2, 9–11, 15). 

His message is one of judgment and hope. God’s judgment will purify Jerusalem to make it possible for God to fulfill His promises. The first promise is a Davidic king whose kingdom is forever established (2 Sam. 7:12–16). All kings of Judah were descendants of David, but their kingdoms were only temporary. The Kingdom of God through Jesus would be this specific rule of which the Lord promised on the grand scale, while in the context, it may refer to Hezekiah. The second promise was fidelity to the covenant (Exod. 19:5–6). The third promise was that Israel would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2–3). 

I’m going to suggest we read Isaiah the following way: 

  • Isaiah 6 details the prophet’s call and the focus of his message. 
  • Isaiah 1–6 speaks about Old (current) Jerusalem and New (future) Jerusalem. 
  • Isaiah 7–12 addresses King Ahaz. 
  • Isaiah 13–23 tells about the fall of Israel’s neighbors, including Babylon. 
  • Isaiah 24–27 speaks about the lofty city (sinful Jerusalem).
  • Isaiah 28–35 detail the rise and fall of Jerusalem. 
  • Isaiah 36–38 records the rise of King Hezekiah. 
  • Isaiah 39 records the fall of King Hezekiah. 

This is only the first section of the book with its themes. Once we get to the second section, we’ll set a similar structure, and I’ll address the notion of 1 & 2 Isaiah. 

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Eschatology (End Times) Lesson Outlines

Life After Life

  1. What happens when someone dies?
    1. The spirit leaves the body—“for as the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). 
    2. The spirit returns to God—“then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). 
  2. Where does a person go when they die?
    1. Jesus told the thief that they’d be in paradise—“today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus said something similar to the Ephesians—“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). 
    2. Peter preached that Jesus was in hades—“for you will not leave my soul in hades, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).
    3. The rich man and Lazarus went to hades/Abraham’s bosom—“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in hades…” (Luke 16:22–23a). 
    4. We go to be with the Lord—“For I am hard-pressed between [life and death], having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?’” (Rev. 6:9–10). 
    5. Note: paradise, hades, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are interchangeable. It would appear that they are one-in-the-same in a manner of speaking. These passages suggest: 1) when we die, we are with Jesus, and since He’s in heaven at God’s right hand, when we join Him, we join Him where He is. 2) When God returns, He’ll bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (dead Christians). 3) The souls of the martyrs are beneath the altar in heaven with God and Christ. 
  3. What is life after life like?
    1. One of the best passages to understand this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. We learn a few things from this passage:
      1. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). Notice that the rich man, Abraham, and Lazarus all retain their identities, recognize one another, and the rich man can feel. 
      2. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:24–25). From these two verses, we notice that they can communicate, the rich man and Lazarus are noted as feeling either pain or comfort, and that what happened in life follows them to hades. 
      3. “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us’” (Luke 16:26). There is no crossing from one side to the next, so there is no second chance. 
    2. This naturally brings up the question: “If we already know where we’ll be when we die, what’s the point of the judgment?” From what I gather, judgment is when we stand before the Lord to give account. There will be no hiding because heaven and earth flees from the presence of the Lord (Revelation 20:11–13). When Adam and Eve knew they had sinned, they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). There will be no hiding. We will have to stand before God to answer. 
  4. Before judgment comes the resurrection. 
    1. Passages attesting to the resurrection—“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).” “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28–29).” “I have hope in God … that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).
    2. Passages attesting to the redemption of our bodies—“Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
    3. What will our resurrection bodies be like? Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:35–55:
      1. Corruption vs. Incorruption (v. 42)
      2. Dishonor vs. Glory (v. 43)
      3. Weakness vs. Power (v. 43)
      4. Natural vs. Spiritual (v. 44)
      5. Living vs. Life-giving (v. 45)
      6. Earthly vs. Heavenly (vv. 47–48)
      7. Mortal vs. Immortal (v. 54)
    4. We aren’t meant to live eternally as disembodied spirits—“For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2–4). 

The Judgment

  1. Thinking about judgment:
    1. When we think of judgment, we’re likely to think of the event with negative connotations in mind. However, judgment is a good thing, as the Scriptures remind us (cf. Psalm 2, 98; Isaiah 11:1–10). God’s judgment will set things right once and for all. Jesus’ death was the single act to reconcile us to God and no longer dread judgment, but we must realize that it won’t be a great day for some people. 
    2. Any sin is a personal affront to God. 
      1. “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9)?
      2. “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor …” (Lev. 6:2)
      3. “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam. 12:13).
      4. “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” (Ps. 51:4). 
  2. Jesus, our Judge:
    1. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). 
    2. Our standard will be Christ’s words (John 12:48). 
    3. We will be judged concerning our:
      1. Hearts: “[Christ] will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts [at His coming].” (1 Cor. 4:5)
      2. Words: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36–37)
      3. Deeds: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
  3. Condemnation:
    1. Those who give lip service to God will not be saved: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21–23)
    2. Those who do not regard others will not be saved: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    3. Those who don’t know God and obey the gospel will not be saved: “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thess. 1:8–9). 
  4. What doesn’t save:
    1. Sincerity—Jacob sincerely believed that Joseph was dead for years until they were reunited. 
    2. Zeal—Saul of Tarsus was zealous for God, but he murdered many Christians (Romans 10:1–3). 
    3. Religious acts—Cornelius the centurion was well spoken of and often gave alms and prayed, but Peter was still sent to provide him with the gospel (Acts 10:1–2). 

A New Heaven and Earth

  1. What to remember: 
    1. Thus far we’ve studied what occurs when a person transitions from life on earth to the afterlife. 
      1. A person goes to be with the Lord in a place that’s called by various names: heaven, hades, paradise, and the bosom of Abraham. 
      2. While here, we will know whether or not we’re among the saved or condemned. 
      3. Then comes the resurrection at the second coming of Jesus, followed by the judgment. 
      4. After the judgment, a person either goes to the lake of fire (hell), or they go to be with the Lord. 
    2. We will have resurrection bodies in which we will then join God in the new heaven and earth. 
    3. If you would like a copy of the previous two outlines, feel free to email me at schunter@ymail.com (yes, it’s ymail and not gmail). 
  2. Passages regarding God’s concern for creation:
    1. God saw that everything He made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 
    2. Every creature of God is good (1 Timothy 4:4–5). 
    3. Man’s sin subjected creation to futility (Genesis 3:17–19; cf. 5:29).
    4. Disobedience to God by us defiles earth (Isaiah 24:5–6). 
  3. Key passages:
    1. In Romans 8:18–25, creation:
      1. Awaits the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19).
      2. Has been subjected to futility by God for redemption (v. 20).
      3. Will be delivered from corruption (v. 21).
      4. Currently groans within itself (v. 22).
      5. Like us, creation awaits adoption, redemption (v. 23). 
    2. Ephesians 1:7–10.
      1. Note “things” in “heaven and earth.” 
    3. Colossians 1:15–20:
      1. Christ the head of creation (vv. 15–17).
      2. Christ the head of the new creation (vv. 18–20).
      3. The church is the source of the restoration and fulfillment of creation in Christ. 
    4.  2 Peter 3:10–13:
      1. The heavens and elements are destroyed by fire (vv. 10, 12). 
      2. Because such will be destroyed, we ought to be holy and godly people (v. 11), because, in the new heaven/earth, righteousness dwells (v. 13). 
    5. Revelation 20:11–21:27 leads us to believe: 
      1. The new heaven/earth follows judgment (21:1).
      2. Our current heaven/earth is no more (21:1).
      3. God’s dwelling is with humanity once more as in Eden (21:2).
      4. In the new heaven/earth, God wipes away our tears, death is conquered, and sorrow and crying and pain no longer exist because they were a part of the current heaven/earth (21:4). 
      5. Contrasting with the first heaven/earth, God and Christ is the temple of the new heaven/earth whereas earth itself had been (21:22). The first heaven/earth had darkness, but not the new (21:23–25). Unlike the first heaven/earth, no defilement shall enter into the new heaven/earth (21:27). 
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“Predestination”

Whenever you hear the word “predestined,” it’s essential to ask the user to define the term. Some people understand it concerning a person’s life is predetermined by God. This would remove any personal accountability, or it should, from the person’s actions. After all, God predetermined it, so why should we pay for it? I believe Romans 8:29 gives us a clearer picture of predestination than anything. 

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (NKJV)

Alternate translations are also helpful. 

Because those he knew in advance he then marked out in advance as being in conformity to the image of his Son, so that he might be firstborn among many brothers. (DBH trans.)

Those foreknew, you see, he also marked out in advance to be shaped according to the model of the image of his son, so that he might be the firstborn of a large family (NTW trans.)

Both David Bentley Hart and N. T. Wright substitute “marked out in advance” for “predestined.” The Greek term proorizo is elsewhere translated as “determined before” (Acts 4:28) and “ordained before” (1 Cor. 2:7). “Marked out in advance” is a suitable translation because it leaves out the element of “destiny.” 

Nevertheless, the order of the passage places God’s foreknowledge at the beginning. This speaks to God’s omniscience at the front of what follows (cf. 1 John 3:20; Heb. 4:13; Is. 49:9–10). Just because God knows ahead of time doesn’t mean that He causes the outcome. He can work within it, but He doesn’t drive it. Some may think it a contradiction that God knows everything ahead of time because then we reflect on passages where God is said to have repented, regretted, or even changed His mind. The former two seem as if He was caught off guard by what occurred and, therefore, regretted it (cf. Gen. 6:6–7; 1 Sam. 15:10–11). I believe the biblical authors meant to convey that God can lament a situation despite knowing about it ahead of time. People whose loved ones are dying do all they can to prepare for the inevitable, but they still cry when the loved one passes away. They knew it was coming, but that fact doesn’t halt the emotion they feel upon its actual happening. When we study passages that say that God changed His mind (Exod. 32:14; 2 Sam. 24:15–16), we are forced to grapple with passages that speak of His unchanging nature (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6). Once more, the authors aren’t conveying that God didn’t know something but that He knew at what point He would change. These are not contradicting premises. 

Because God foreknows, He “predestines” it to be. For those of us who are Christians, God knew we’d be amenable to the gospel. Because of this foreknowledge, He determined that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. Our volition hasn’t been violated, and God hasn’t determined ahead of time that we would obey. He just knew it would happen, so He set things in motion to accomplish what He knew would occur (Rom. 8:30). I contend that predestination should be understood through the paradigm of God’s foreknowledge. We omit God’s foreknowledge if we don’t read it this way and take Ephesians 1:5, 11 as the paradigm. Paul wrote that God “chose” (v. 4) us and “purposed” (v. 9, cf. 11), which one could understand as Calvinists do. A synthesis of both passages is vital and should be understood together.

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When the Kingdom of God Encounters Legal Trouble

In the New Testament, we read about something that isn’t present in the Old Testament—the Sanhedrin. This council became the governing body of the Jews after the Babylonians destroyed the monarchy and subsequent exile. Though Israel had a king in the New Testament, he did the bidding of Rome, and it’s clear that Israel didn’t respect his authority given that entanglement. The Sanhedrin grew during the Hasmonean dynasty when they revolted against the Greeks to preserve their religion and identity as God’s people in a period often referred to as Intertestamental. This dynasty of priests recruited legal experts and priests—the former usually being Pharisees and the latter Sadducees. The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy men who were religious and civil authorities. They oversaw the temple and carried out religious duties. They also were a policing force as well as a court of law. Peter and John drew legal trouble for preaching Jesus as Christ (Acts 4:1–3). When they addressed the Sanhedrin, they boldly proclaimed Jesus (Acts 4:8–12). The body attempted to stop them, but they appealed to God as the standard of what they would do (Acts 4:18–21). 

This is how power works. Power corners the market on authority. The authority they had was a responsibility to a nation, and anyone who dared threaten that stability was an enemy. Because they ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name, they set the stage to punish them if they broke that command. Power issues edicts followed by threats. Why? Because they’re authoritarian and demand to be obeyed. Jesus and the Kingdom’s manner is a threat to how they operate (Acts 4:23–30) because His ways threaten to upset the order by robbing authorities of their power. This was why He was crucified. The Jews offered up Jesus to maintain their standing with the Romans (cf. John 11:49–52), and the Romans crucified Jesus to keep the peace among the Jews. None of what Jewish leaders did stopped the movement Jesus began. However, the attention the Way received was of concern to many (cf. Acts 5:13). Peter and John were arrested a second time and, subsequently, beaten (Acts 5:40). Yet, the Sanhedrin knew that the tide was turning against them (cf. Acts 5:26).  

Notice the players: two former fishermen against highly educated holy men. Luke even points this much out (Acts 4:13). The leaders were astonished because they were “uneducated” and “untrained” (idiotes). The Kingdom of God doesn’t rely on credentials. Nor does it depend on someone having civil power. When a person has that kind of power, it doesn’t necessarily mean serving God. They can, but God doesn’t rely on that. If He did, we wouldn’t see His power but think it’s in our hands. So instead, He worked through them despite not having religious or civil authority. That’s the Kingdom of God. No seeking of esteem or grandeur. Just simple people allowing God to use them.

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A Different Kind of King

We all know that Herod was king of Israel when Jesus was crucified, but what may elude us is that all kings of Israel, from the return from exile to that date, were puppets of the ruling power. The last actual king was Zedekiah: “Then they [the Babylonians] killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7). Jews returned to Jerusalem under the authority of the Persians. Then, they were ruled by the Greeks, and in Jesus’ day, the Romans. All of the prophecies about a king that would come to rule Israel were held tightly by the nation, but they expected a mighty warrior who’d raise the armies of God and conquer the occupiers. That wasn’t what God had in mind. 

When we read the gospels, Jesus never ascribed the title “Messiah” to Himself. In the first centuries BCE and CE, many figures bore that title. They were militaristic and often led insurrections only to be quashed by the ruling power (cf. Acts 5:36-37; 21:38). Israel wanted their Messiah to be the type of king that succeeded in this venture. He would liberate Israel from Gentile rule. The nation would be exalted on the world stage once more and returned to its former glory of the days of David. Jesus, however, preferred the title “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13). He likely avoided the title Messiah due to the way it had been used. 

The Roman Empire, and preceding republic, often granted triumphs. It was a religious and civil ceremony where a successful military leader, likely a general, was publicly celebrated and sanctified. On the day of his triumph, he wore special attire that identified him as a near-divine or near-kingly figure. Often, his face was painted red as an imitation of Rome’s highest god, Jupiter (Zeus). Then, he rode a four-hour chariot through the streets of Rome with his army, captives, and any spoils of war. He’d then conclude by offering sacrifice to Jupiter. Jesus had a triumph of His own wherein He was acknowledged as King (John 12:13; cf. Mark 11:9-10). 

Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the week He was crucified worried the religious leaders. Subsequently, they sought His death (cf. John 18:14). However, it’s necessary to note that Pilate did not constantly live in Jerusalem or thereabouts. He would arrive in the city in a procession akin to a stately or royal procession before the high holiday of the Jews. Therefore, King Jesus’ triumph followed Pontius Pilate’s grandiose arrival. While on trial, Jesus and Pilate had a discussion revolving around Jesus being called a King (John 18:33-37). Jesus sets His kingdom apart from earthly kingdoms. Warfare is the modus operandi for earthly kingdoms, but Jesus’ kingdom isn’t from the world. Not only is His kingdom different in origin, but it’s also different in kind. 

Jesus was crowned, not with gold, but with thorns. He was robed, not with regal majesty, but mockery. He wasn’t bowed to but struck by the hands of Roman soldiers (John 19:2-3). What sort of kingship is Jesus’? It’s self-sacrificial love. It’s service and suffering. It isn’t the seeking of power or the use of military might. As Christians, do we belong to this kingdom, or are we so entrenched in politics that we fail to live the lives of citizens of heaven? 

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Caring Enough When a Christian Needs Restoration

Christians aren’t immune to worldliness and sin. If anything, we may be more susceptible to it because of our profession of faith. Before, we didn’t give as much conscientious thought to trying to be good. We either were or weren’t. It’s easy to be unattached and just live life, but when we confess Jesus and are baptized, we often paint a target on our backs not only to the adversary but to anyone who wishes to troll our imperfections in light of our faith. 

The majority of Scripture doesn’t paint a picture of unblemished saints but people in covenant with God who often stray from the precepts of that covenant. If you’ll notice, a more significant percentage of the New Testament is devoted to correcting misbehavior than is not. Think about it. Can you name a book of Scripture that doesn’t expose the sins of God’s people? Maybe Esther? Yet, throughout the whole of the Bible, we see God’s love for an often straying people. 

Several passages speak about a Christian who has departed the faith or is overtaken by sin and what the rest of us, who are not, should do. 

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20; cf. 1:15)

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1; cf. 2:11-13)

But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. (2 Thess. 3:6; cf. vv. 14-15; 2:15)

But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. (1 Cor. 5:11)

Here’s the rub: most of us feel inadequate and unqualified to be the person who points out another person’s sin and draws a line in the sand. The people who feel qualified make us question their motives and character because, after all, only the self-righteous Pharisee is comfortable doing that. Right? Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle with our temptations, and some of us with our private sins. So why should we point out another person’s sins?

There’s a difference between being a struggling sinner and an embracing sinner. We who struggle with our sins may feel remorse. We often also pray for forgiveness and try to do better. Whether or not we succeed is another matter, but it is a struggle. For others, they don’t struggle with sin. They simply embrace it and make it a part of who they are. I believe this is the difference between the Christian who has strayed and the one who has not. We don’t have to draw a line in the sand because God has done that for us. However, one might wonder when to take action if that line is somewhat obscure.

For example, what does it mean to “wander from the truth,” be “overtaken in any trespass,” or to walk “disorderly?” Furthermore, the sins Paul mentioned to the Corinthians are generic. We can define them however we’d like, either broadly or narrowly. I’ve seen brethren use it in ways that I’m not sure the Holy Spirit intended. “Wander from the truth” means different things to different people, but what did James mean? Walking disorderly is the same, so I have many questions about this process. I believe we should care for our brethren, the good and the bad. We should encourage them all, but those who have wandered and been overtaken should be loved back to God. 

This specific query is focused on knowing when to take restorative actions. If it’s something that alienates a person from God, then we should act. On the other hand, if it’s a matter of personal scruples (Rom. 14; 15:1), we should learn to bear with those and not make them points of faith, which many in the churches of Christ tend to do, sadly. Unfortunately, some people make things a matter of faith that are scruples.  

How do we proceed from here? I believe, first, that we should heed the warning that Jesus gives (Matt. 7:1-5). Next, we deal with ourselves as a starting point, and then we determine the sort of judgment we’re using. Is it of God or man? Is it Scripture-based or tradition-based? Is a soul in peril, or do they just have a different point of view from me? Finally, we should carry out this task according to Paul’s instructions: “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). 

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Early Christian Views on the Life of Unborn Children

For Christians today, the conclusion is forgone that life is precious. Regarding most pro-life movements is the emphasis on the lives of the unborn. The struggle to obliterate the barbaric custom of aborting the unborn is as much a reality now as it was in the first century to the earliest Christians. Nevertheless, the battle wages on and Christians continue to advocate that unborn lives be regarded as worthy of the same rights and privileges as those already born.

Political rhetoric attempts to sway the conversation to the side of choice. Attempting to be sympathetic to those who make the decision to abort a life, many hold that the decision is itself agonizing and that women must be in control of their bodies and decisions about their “health.”[1] While the rhetoric often frames the conversation and vilifies those of us who are pro-life, it must be stated that this author is as pro-life for the unborn as he is for the living. I would want to appeal to those who contemplate such a decision to end a life to not do so on the grounds of our religion and the esteem that God our Father has for life.

A Theology for Life

When God created humanity, He created them in His own image (Genesis 1:26–27). Having been made in God’s image, anyone who took life was to lose their own for the reason that they destroyed the image of God: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). In the ancient East, appearing in God’s image implied a “representation of identity relating to the office/role and the value connected to the image …  The image of god did the god’s work on the earth. The biblical view is similar as people are in the image of God, embodying his qualities and doing his work.”[2] Because each human bears God’s image, this is the source of human worth and personhood.

The language used of those unborn gives us a greater understanding of God’s esteem for those in the womb. These pre-born image bearers of our Father have as much worth and personhood as those outside the womb.

For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Marvelous are Your works,

And that my soul knows very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.

And in Your book they all were written,

The days fashioned for me,

When as yet there were none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16

This particular Psalm gives us an idea of the great care with which God acts during the gestation period of the unborn. While science gives us a technical explanation, the Psalm enlightens us with a poetical explanation of God’s workings. Therefore, we read in another Psalm that “the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). It was the fruit of Mary’s womb that Elizabeth blessed (Luke 1:42). A child is not a burden, but God’s gift.

God reveals that He knows the unborn even before they form in the womb (Jeremiah 1:4–5). Yet, while in the womb, they are regarded as living beings and the discussion about when life begins is unnecessary (cf. Luke 1:41). In the Mosaic Law, if the unborn were harmed, retribution was necessary (Exodus 21:22–25). We also see this reflected in our own laws when a pregnant woman suffers harm along with her unborn child. The treatment of such matters is as if harm were done to two people, but were the vessel to decide that the unborn were unwanted or a burden, they would need only to “chose” and the treatment of the unborn as a person is neglected for the idol of choice.

Abortion in Greco-Roman Society

Hippocrates (c. 460–375 BC) was a pioneer of medical theory as well as the oath that all physicians swore by upon beginning their practice of medicine, and still do today from my understanding. A part of the Hippocratic Oath states, “I will not give to a woman [an abortifacient].” Abortion was rather common in antiquity, but Greco-Roman society wasn’t entirely careless regarding the unborn. In some cases, abortion appears as wrong as we believe it to be today. For example, in Athens, if a man died while his wife was pregnant and she aborted the pregnancy upon his death, she was charged to have committed a crime against her husband. The legal theory was that her abortion was criminal since the unborn child could have claimed the late father’s estate, so it was more a matter of property rights than a moral statute. Fast-forwarding closer to the advent of Christ, we see that not much had changed in this regard.

Ovid’s work Amores was first published in 16 BC. In this work of poetry, Ovid mentions abortion in the early Roman Empire and the unborn child as a “burden” (Am. 2.13). However, in the next elegy, he refers to the fetus as “tender” and the destruction of it as by a “warlike method.” This particular elegy is against abortion because it robs society of her Caesars and other heroes. Furthermore, were this a common practice, Ovid suggests, there would be no humanity. He asked why women would “thrust and pierce with the instrument and give dire poisons” to unborn children, which explains how abortions were performed then (Am. 2.14). The methods of abortion were sometimes as risky for the mother as they were for the unborn baby and many women died from having attempted to terminate their pregnancy.

The Roman statesman, Cicero mentions a disdain for abortion similar to the Athenian law mentioned above. A mother had been bribed by alternative heirs to terminate her pregnancy, which she did. The mother, in turn, was condemned to death because she cheated the father of his posterity and the Republic of a potential citizen (In Defense of Cluentius 32).

The philosophical school of Stoicism held that life began once a child was born. The breathing of a person outside the womb was the moment life began. This thinking allowed abortion to be acceptable, and Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC–AD 65), a Roman statesman and philosopher, was able to use this belief in the legal system. Seneca wrote that “unnatural progeny” were destroyed, which was likely a reference to an incestuous conception. He also wrote about drowning children that were born abnormal and weak (On Anger 1.15.2–3), but I’ll talk more about infanticide in the next chapter. The Stoic idea that unborn babies were not humans came to influence Roman law and only further justified the practice of abortion.[3]

Not all Stoics, however, consented to abortion being a good thing. Musonius Rufus (c. AD 30?–102) saw abortion as inhuman. He saw its purpose as solely of enhancing the firstborn’s inheritance more than anything, which amounted to greedy motives. The lawgivers, he contended, functioned to discern what was lawful and good for the state, as well as what was bad and detrimental to it. The lawgivers, he recalled, urged the increase of the homes as something fortunate. So fortunate was the increase of the homes “that they forbade women to suffer abortions and imposed a penalty upon those who disobeyed” (Discourse 15). His discourse on this matter is likely a referendum against the common practice of abortions in the first century.[4]

Juvenal wrote that wealthy women would not endure labor, but would dull the pain with drugs or obtain an abortion (Satire 6.593–96). He also wrote how Emperor Domitian (c. AD 81–96) impregnated his niece and then gave her abortive drugs. The niece in question, Julia, died in AD 91 as a result of the abortion (Satire 2.20–24). Here we see another example of why abortions were performed (incest). Wealthy people may not have just wanted to deal with it, so they selfishly terminated the pregnancy. However, there was another reason for terminating a pregnancy. Slave women might terminate a pregnancy to avoid bring up a child in slavery.[5] The slave women would have had to have done this in secrecy because a slave’s child was the property of her master and not her own.   

In the second century, the Greek gynecologist, obstetrician, and pediatrician, Soranus of Ephesus, wrote his work Gynecology which explains how medical knowledge at the time treated various related matters. In this work, he distinguished between an involuntary abortion—what we’d call “miscarriage”—and the willful termination of pregnancy. He also distinguished between a contraceptive and abortive. The former was to prevent conception from taking place while the latter was intended to expel the unborn from the woman’s body (Gyn. 1.59–60).

In discussing when an abortive was given, he noted that some would not give an abortive if a woman wanted to terminate the pregnancy due to adultery or because she wanted to preserve her youthful beauty—again, two reasons why abortions took place then. An abortive would be given if it were discovered that the woman’s body, according to the science then, were determined to be unable of birthing a child and thus risk the mother’s wellbeing. However, Soranus preferred contraceptives to an abortive as a preventative risk, because “it is safer to prevent conception from taking place than to destroy the fetus” (Gyn. 1.60). He then went on to list various concoctions that could be used as a contraceptive or abortifacient, but if used to terminate a pregnancy, serious side effects followed that posed significant risks (Gyn. 1.61–63). Yet, this didn’t prevent him from explicitly naming how one might terminate a pregnancy (Gyn. 1.64–65).

While more citations could be supplied to the ends of showing how common abortion was, we also noted a couple of pagans who were against it, but not for the same moral reasons early Christians stood opposed to the practice. Additionally, there were others who opposed abortion in antiquity, but Christians gave a clearer understanding of why it was wrong that distinguished them from others. It’s now to this focus that we turn.

Early Christians as Pro-Life

What we must admit is that there are no clearly stated prohibitions against abortion in the New Testament. However, early Christianity borrowed their moral understanding of various issues from Judaism, so we, first, look the Jewish historian, Josephus (c. AD 37–100). He wrote about the Jewish prohibition against abortion on the basis that it was a matter of Jewish law.

The law, moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind: if anyone, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean.

(Against Apion 2.202)

The Ten Commandments were used by early Christians just as they were by Jews—as teachings that pertained to moral living. Notably, the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” was given a greater exposition in Christian thinking. When in the late first, early second century, a document known as Didache was written, attention turned to the sixth commandment and stated, “You shall not murder … you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide” (2.2). This document understood the sixth commandment as extending to the unborn. The reason I included “sorcery” as a part of this understanding is that the Greek term translated “sorcery” is the word from which we get “pharmacy.” Therefore, “sorcery” here likely included taking abortifacients—drugs that induced abortion. Our modern understanding of the sixth commandment was clearly understood as extending to the life of the unborn.

Also in keeping with the Mosaic Law, the paths of life and death (Deuteronomy 27–28) are recast as darkness and light in another early Christian writing.

But the path of darkness is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the path of eternal death and punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul …  Here are they who are persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies; they who know not the reward of righteousness, who cleave not to what is good nor unto just judgment … murderers of children.

(Barnabas 20.1–2)

Christian writers believed that life began at conception. Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 160–215) inferred from Luke 1:41 when John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb that very belief (Instructor 2.10.96). Athenagoras, in the late-second-century, pointed to Christianity’s rejection of abortion as proof that Christians were moral when he wrote that the Christians “say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion” (Leg. 35).

Later church councils forbade abortion and actually levied punishments against any who murdered their unborn. The Council of Elvira (c. 4th century) reflects such beliefs.

If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice. (Canon 63)

A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches. (Canon 68)

Even some of the most notable early church theologians supported this stance. Both Augustine (c. AD 354–430) and John Chrysostom (c. AD 347–407) viewed abortion as murder.

What are we to make of this information? Life is precious and worthy of being protected. Moreover, even without the testament of church history, the Scriptures give sufficient enough evidence for us to believe this once one examines the passages that speak about the life of the unborn. However, for those who desire greater proof, early Christian history is without apology in holding that life begins at conception, so the unborn ought not to be aborted. These two beliefs led to another moral issue. The problem that arose as a result of unwanted children led to the abandonment of children throughout the Roman Empire, so what did Christianity do? They practiced pure and undefiled religion and cared for the orphans.


[1] Perhaps the best source that I’ve read about pro-life principles from a philosophical and practical standpoint is by an obstetrician and former politician, Ron Paul, Abortion and Liberty (Lake Jackson, Texas: The Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, 1983). For a complete classical evaluation of abortion, I’d urge a reading of Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982). 

[2] John H. Walton, ed., Genesis, in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 21.

[3] Cf. Justinian, Digest 35.2.9.1.

[4] Caesar Augustus issued edicts in 18 BC and AD 9 promoting childbearing, but he did not explicitly outlaw abortion (Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church, 27). 

[5] Dio Chrysostom (c. AD 40/50–110/120), Discourses 15.8.

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Gregory the Theologian on Celebrating the Birth of Christ

Contrary to the popular claim that Christmas is pagan in origin, early celebrations had little to do with pagan rituals. Instead, they began as a sincere desire to celebrate a part of the life of the Savior—His Incarnation. Disputes existed as to whether or not to count Jesus’ conception or birth as that specific day. Some believed conception was preferable to birth.

Gregory the Theologian, writing in the fourth century, suggested that Christians celebrated Christ’s birthday, then, as a way to tell the story of how God wanted to restore humanity through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who came in the flesh. Christians, so Gregory wrote, celebrated God coming to man so that man might return to God by putting off the old person to put on the new person renewed after Christ through baptism (Oration 38.4).  

Furthermore, he encouraged that the celebration not be observed as the heathens observed their festivals.

Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, not enervate the nostrils with perfume, or prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin.

Orations 38.5

To read Gregory’s words is to understand that any Christmas celebration was meant to exalt Jesus and distinguish Christianity from paganism through the very festival itself. Yes, some of the same things we do today would be defined as heathen by this fourth-century theologian.

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This Native American Heritage Day

My Choctaw grandmother’s maiden name was “Tubby.” I always wondered what kind of Indian name that was, until I researched it. “Tubby” derived from “Tubbee”–which was my great-great-grandfather, Simpson’s surname as spelled out on the Dawes Rolls.

“Tubbee” was the ending of our ancestor’s name, Mushulatubbee. The records of this name were written by white men, and they likely wrote it how it was pronounced. There are variations in the spelling of his name, however, but it goes to show how up until my grandmother’s time, some of our people’s identity was erased. When we think of “tubby” today, we think about a chubby person. Then, we think, “What an odd Indian name.”

A monument to Mushulatubbee in Oklahoma gives his name as originally being “Amosholi T Vbi.” It can be translated based on its compounds: “vbi” means “to kill.” The “t” in the middle joins two words when one ends and the other begins with vowels. The “v” is pronounced as “ah” as in “father.”

So, the maiden name of my grandmother, “Tubby,” is originally pronounced as “tahbee,” meaning “to kill.” The first part of Mushulatubbee’s name, “amosholi,” can be translated as “resolute,” or “determined.” Hence, his name given to him as a war chief when he led raids against the Osage is “Determined to Kill” in English.

From the time of Indian Removal, when indigenous peoples were forced to assimilate, they were taken to boarding schools and their names changed. The Choctaw Academy in Kentucky shows evidence of this. Meashpulah’s name was changed to John Allen; Elahtahbee’s name was changed to Samuel Cornelius; Annutona’s name was changed to C. A. Harris; Okelumbee’s name was changed to Samuel Worcester.

A Choctaw lady just a few years younger than my late grandmother, in the 1950s, was relocated to Henning, TN. Government officials came to her home and told her parents that if they didn’t send her and her siblings to school, then the government would take them. She and her siblings stayed at a white families home through the week to ride the bus to school and they’d go home on weekends. They were forbidden to speak their native language.

Tubbee was the suffix to Choctaw names of the warrior class. Mushulatubbee was a warrior and Chief. His descendants, as with many others, were forced to assimilate. They had no say and choices were made for them regarding certain things.

As a way to honor my ancestors and demonstrate my own indigenousness, I petitioned to have my name amended. I’m now Steven Chad Hunter Oklatubbee. “Okla” means “people,” so I’m from the Tubbee people. Literally, “killer people.” While I’m no killer, I can choose to honor those who couldn’t choose for themselves by making a choice.

From the time I was a child, I was told that because I was more white than Choctaw, my indigenous blood didn’t matter. Yet, my father is obviously not white. Nor was my grandmother. I was nearly convinced that this part of me didn’t matter. When my grandmother died in 2018, I realized that my link with my Choctaw people was severed. I’m taking it upon myself to make sure my children know and are proud.

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Nearing Moab

I want us to keep in mind that we’ve all been given moments of mercy, not what we deserve. So much of what we can say about Israel in Numbers in some way or another could be said about us. We, too, are obstinate, rebellious complainers. Maybe not all the time, but enough of the time that we should deserve what God might give us. Yet, we have mercy. 

Miriam was dead, Aaron had recently died, and Israel was getting closer to the Promised Land. Everything that occurs from the waters of Meribah to the end of Numbers does so in one year, and it’s a busy year. After a thirty-day mourning period for Israel’s first high priest, a brief skirmish broke out when a Canaanite king heard that Israel was in transit to the land. Then, after they were utterly destroyed, Israel returns to her ways of disobedience and striving against God. 

Speaking against God and Moses because of discouragement (Num. 21:4), Israel hits replay on a somewhat regular complaint that they’ve had, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread” (Num. 21:5). God sent seraphim nahasim (fiery serpents) among the people so that many of them died. This may seem mean on God’s part, but He had already said that this generation wouldn’t see the Promised Land. Rather than seeing God as the one misbehaving, we ought to see Israel’s behavior as faithless and blasphemous. Once more, the people go to Moses (you know, the guy they spoke against) and ask that he pray to God. God gives a moment of mercy: a fiery serpent is fashioned out of bronze, and anyone bitten who looked upon it did not die. 

As Israel continues their trek through the wilderness, they send messengers ahead asking for safe passage. When it’s denied, they are once more forced to fight and defeat their enemies. As they enter the plains of Moab, the king of Moab, Balak devises a plan. Because Moab and Midian were petrified at the prospect of Israel entering their territory, Balak sends for Balaam to come and curse the people (Num. 22:6). However, God intervenes (Num. 22:12). Balak sends for him once again, and Balaam replies (Num. 22:18). God instructs Balaam to go with them should they come again, but he is only to speak the words given to him by God and nothing else. 

As Balaam goes the following day, an exciting thing occurs. As he rode his donkey, the angel of the Lord stands in his path, but only the donkey sees it. She turns aside, Balaam strikes her. She crushes his foot against a wall. He strikes her. She laid down, and he hit her. The Lord opened the donkey’s mouth to speak to Balaam, then his eyes were opened, and he saw the angel of the Lord. Perhaps to emphasize to him that he ought to be careful to speak only what God tells him, Balaam gets the point (Num. 22:38). Balaam pronounces several prophecies in favor of Israel. God blesses these disobedient, complaining, obstinate people. We see here a moment of mercy. 

While in Moab, Israelite men consort with Moabite women and begin their idolatry (Num. 25:1-3). God orders the judges of Israel to kill their men who played the harlot. Israel, meanwhile, weeps at the doors of the tent of meeting when one Israelite man takes a Moabite woman to the tent of meeting. Phineas, a priest, so moved with zeal, runs them both through with a spear. Seeing this and knowing Phineas’ heart, God relents from the harm He is visiting upon the guilty. Once more, we see a moment of mercy. 

As the year goes on, another census is ordered, and inheritance laws are given. Then, Moses is instructed to go atop Mount Abarim and view the land Israel is to possess. God reminds Moses of his rebellion and wouldn’t enter the land (Num. 27:12-14). Moses only requests that a worthy successor be chosen to take his place once he’s gathered to his people. God selects Joshua (Num. 27:18-21). This is a moment of mercy because God doesn’t leave Israel without a leader. Offerings are made, and laws are given, then Israel settles east of the Jordan (Num. 32). Next, God gives instructions for the conquest (Num. 33:50-56). Further administrative commands are given, but before Israel takes the land, they’re to be reminded, once more, of the law of Moses. That’s what Deuteronomy is, a second giving of the law. 

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Israel in Paran

Most of us have been on a trip we looked forward to. Leading up to the trip, we packed, planned, and made sure we were prepared. Then comes the time to leave. We set out and go on our way, excited and ready to arrive. However, traffic jams, plane delays, and other things make the actual travel part miserable. We become impatient, tempers flare, and before you know it, if we’re not careful, the trip could be ruined by a conflict due to these circumstances. 

Israel is en route to Paran, and as they neared the area, the people began to complain (Num. 11). After God gave a solution, one might think that all is well. Now, however, there’s discord among the leadership. The High Priest, Aaron, and Moses’ sister, Miriam (a prophetess), begin to oppose Moses’ leadership. Jealousy seeped in among them, and they, first, took issue that Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman. Talk about nitpicking. Of course, when you consider the law and its command not to marry among other nations, we might see why they became frustrated. Nevertheless, rather than staying on point with finding issues in his choice of spouses, they turn to Moses’ leadership (Num. 12:1-2). 

Even more interesting is Numbers 12:3, which has led to the (wise) suggestion that the book was redacted. Otherwise, could we believe that Moses would have said that about himself? No matter, because this was said, God heard it and dealt with the issue, explaining Moses’s special relationship with Him. This resulted in a plague upon Miriam that Moses interceded on her behalf (Num. 12:6-16). 


The challenge to God’s authority figure, Moses, doesn’t end here. As Israel encamps in Paran, spies are sent to scope out Canaan. This isn’t a quick day trip. They spend forty days spying out the land (Num. 13:25). The land itself looked appealing, but it was populated with solid people. Caleb quieted the people and urged them to possess it, but those who went with him deterred the nation (Num. 13:30-33). Caleb and Joshua were the only ones of the spies to demonstrate faith in God’s ability (Num. 14:6-10). 

God, as you might imagine, is tired of Israel’s demeanor. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time they’ve misbehaved either (Num. 14:22), so their punishment is that they will not enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:23). Those who led a rebellion of unfaithfulness suggested returning to Egypt, and God judged them except for Caleb and Joshua because they had faith. After the news that they’d not enter the Promised Land, the people didn’t take this consequence well but did an about-face and mounted an assault to enter the land, but were repelled. 

The rebellion doesn’t stop there. Korah, a Levite, challenges Aaron and Moses’ authority. Everything up to this point occurred in one year, but Korah’s rebellion occurred nineteen years later. This also didn’t end well (Num. 16), so God demonstrated His chosen by causing Aaron’s staff to bud before the entire nation (Num. 17). Afterward, instructions are given regarding the Levites (Num. 18-19). Another nineteen years later, Israel sets out to continue their journey and arrive at Kadesh. Moses’ sister dies and is buried in Kadesh. 

Yet, another issue arises, demanding attention. There’s no water, and, as you might imagine, the Israelites become melodramatic once more, wishing they would die—these people. Moses has a horrible lapse in judgment too. God told Moses to take Aaron’s rod, speak to the rock, and it would give water, but Moses, in anger at the congregation, strikes the rock twice. God isn’t thrilled about this. As a result, Moses is accused of not hallowing the Lord and will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:10-12).

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Reading Numbers

Oxford University is believed to be the world’s second-oldest university. Some records show classes as early as 1096, but the establishment of the university isn’t altogether clear. Around the year 1230, they began appointing a vice-chancellor to run the school. In 2015, after 785 years, the first woman was nominated to be vice-chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson. Given the rise in women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century, and many laws granting women equality in the ’60s and ’70s, you might have thought that this day would have arrived sooner. Yet, as we always say, “better late than never.” Some might say, “That took longer than it should have.” 

When you think about the Book of Numbers, think, “That took longer than it should have.” From Exodus 19 all the way through Numbers 10, Israel is in Sinai. From Sinai to the Promised Land is a two-week journey, but Israel will wander in the wilderness for forty years. It takes longer than it should. The name of this book in Hebrews is not “Numbers,” but bamidbar, which translates to, “In the wilderness.” The book can be broken up into three sections: chapters 1-10 are in Sinai; chapters 13-19 are in Paran; chapters 22-36 are in Moab. The chapters not mentioned in this list are the chapters of their traveling from place to place. 

Why is it called the Book of Numbers? In the opening of the book, God orders that Israel be numbered. He even tells Moses how to organize the people in the camp. God’s presence is central to the people, His dwelling place being in the tabernacle (Num. 2:17). Surrounding him are the Levites and priests, and surrounding them are the rest of the tribes. God’s presence in the center of the nation is meant to convey that He is central to their existence. Over the tabernacle is a cloud indicative of His presence, and when the cloud moves, they move (Num. 9:15-19). The Levites break down and carry the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant (Num. 1:47-53). The ark leads the way to communicate that God leads Israel, and the tribe of Judah follows immediately behind with the other tribes in tow. 

So why did it take longer than it should have? Because Israel followed God, and God hindered them from the Promised Land. This book is about why, and the why, simply answered, is Israel’s unbelief and sin. 


Chapters 1-10

Notice, first, where we are in time. We are two years removed from the Exodus (Num. 1:1). God has Moses organize and number the entire nation, which we can guess took some time. Then, He orders for the special role of the Levites (Num. 3:5-13). From there onward, the Levites as a whole are numbered, and the various heads of the families of the Levites are given their special roles. The sons of Kohath were responsible for carrying the holy furniture of the tabernacle (Num. 4:1-20). The sons of Gershon were to carry the structure of the tabernacle (Num. 4:21-28). The sons of Merari were to carry, if you will, the nuts and bolts of the tabernacle (Num. 4:29-33). Imagine a package arrives for a new desk, but it’s one you have to build. In one bag are the nuts and bolts, then there are the actual parts of the desk, and, finally, the things you put in and on it. This is sort of the division of the Levites as it regarded the tabernacle. They were charged with maintaining the sacred space. 

God gives instructions regarding lepers, restitution, and unfaithful wives (ch. 5). Then, He gives the outline for the law of the Nazarite, a person who wanted to consecrate themselves to God for a specified period. One specific aspect of this vow, among others, was that a Nazarite’s hair was to remain uncut while keeping the vow (e.g. Samson). Aaron is given the word of the Lord as to how he can bless the children of Israel (Num. 6:22-27). Hereafter, the leaders of Israel present offerings to the Lord and they celebrate their second Passover. Afterward, God ordered two silver trumpets, shofars, made to sound to call Israel to relocate and in battle. Then, they leave Sinai. 

Everything seems to be going well. That is until Israel begins to complain only after three days of travel. These people seem to be more of a settled than moving people. They complain because they miss the land of slavery’s food, and they’re sick of manna (Num. 11:4-6). Even Moses becomes exasperated (Num. 11:11-15). Leadership isn’t always pomp and circumstance. The only time many leaders hear from people is when there are complaints. Be sure that you don’t only go to the elders of ministers when you’re unhappy. I’ll tell you now if that’s all you approach me for, it won’t be long before I actually quit listening to you and you’ll lose any effectiveness you may have. Complaining isn’t a spiritual gift, so don’t use it as one. 

God gave Moses aid in seventy elders on whom He gave His Spirit. One man shouldn’t bear the burden alone. Even seventy among the many of Israel is too little, but it’s better than nothing. Then, he listened to the people and promised to give them meat for one month, to the point that they loathed it. How quickly we go from zeal to dissatisfaction. Only because circumstances change and we aren’t as comfortable as we once were. Sometimes following God and His plan takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us move. Israel wasn’t meant to reside at Sinai, and they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. God was taking them to a wonderful land, a place better than where they were and had been. But, getting there was too hard. Don’t be afraid to put in the work. Don’t allow comfort to paralyze you. If it seems or is known to be God’s plan, trust Him and go.

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Reading Leviticus

When most believers try to read the Bible in a year, they’ll begin with Genesis. By the time they get to Exodus 25, it isn’t as easy because the readings are step-by-step instructions about the tabernacle, its construction and furniture. Then, once you get to Leviticus, the average reader becomes so despondent that some give up the project altogether. However, there’s a difference between reading and understanding. Once Leviticus is understood, it makes sense.

Let’s look at the bigger picture, and we’ll see how Leviticus is actually a book of grace. First, return with me to the Garden of Eden. There, God and humanity had perfect fellowship that was uninterrupted. Until, that is, sin entered the picture. Afterward, God removed humanity from Eden, where His presence dwelt, and, eventually, humanity began to have to sacrifice an animal to atone for their sins. The first mention of an altar appears after the flood, and it was built by Noah. Just so we don’t forget, God offered the first sacrifice. Remember when Adam and Eve knew they were naked? They sewed fig leaves to provide clothing, but a little later on, God made for them garments of animal skins—which suggests that the first sacrifice was made then.

What does Leviticus have to do with Eden, you ask? What God wants more than anything is for humanity to dwell (tabernacle) with Him. He chose Israel as the vessel for this goal, but, first, Israel has to set the stage for all humanity. The tabernacle is the way that God can live among His people, and how His people can dwell before Him. Because God is holy, He cannot let sin, an injustice against heaven’s laws, go unpunished. However, because He is holy, He balances wrath with grace by offering ways that humanity can avoid judgment. Some Protestant readings of Leviticus suggest that the book is a way for Israel to not incur His wrath, and because humans are depraved they deserve God’s wrath and judgment. They might even point to Leviticus 10:1–2 as a proof of that. I read it differently. Leviticus is a book of grace where God offers to Israel how He can remain among them, and how they can dwell before Him in holiness.

Reading Leviticus reveals clusters of chapters that focus on various sacrifices and their meanings. The beginning and ending chapters consist of this material. As we move inward, we’re met with laws regardings priests, and further inward we’re shown the purity laws that must be followed. Once we reach the middle of the book, we’re introduced to the Day of Atonement—the one day that the high priest may enter the holiest place behind the veil, in God’s very presence, and make atonement for the entire nation. Encompassing the whole of the book is the theme of holiness.

God calls Israel’s attention to Himself as a recognition of all that is holy. You’ll often read God give instructions and then declare, “I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:26; 21:8). He, then, demands that Israel follow His ordinances and commandments as a show of their commitment to Him and as an exhibition of their own holiness (Lev. 18:4, 30; 22:31–32; 26:46). He always warns Israel against societal conformity. He does not in any way want Israel to do as the Egyptians did, nor as the Canaanites do (Lev. 18:3, 24–28). This is an especial notable concept for American Christians. We will not be judged on how American we are, and our level of patriotism will not be the standard. Our allegiance to Jesus will be. Holiness in Leviticus extends to how God is worshipped (Lev. 10:1–2), sexual relations (Lev. 18:6–22; 20:10–21), and how we regard our neighbors (Lev. 19:16–18; 19:32; 20:9). The second greatest commandment that Jesus gave originated in Leviticus. It isn’t a Christian command so much as one that God gave His people as far back as the covenantal relationship.

For the Christian, Leviticus and the theme of holiness is important. We have been recreated in holiness, so we are no longer slaves to sin but righteousness (Rom. 6:15–19). God has called us to holiness (1 Thess. 4:7), and without holiness we shall not see God (Heb. 12:14). This is but one concept that is as important to us as Christians as any, and it originates in Leviticus.

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Paradise Restored in the Tabernacle

Moses, having received the pattern for the tabernacle, now puts blueprints into action. After calling for a free-will contribution from Israel, the assembly brought so much that they had to command them to stop (Exod. 36:3-7). God’s people, knowing of a need to glorify and honor Him, always steps up and meets that need. The wonderful part about this is that it is as true today as it was then. The construction ensues and the reader is reminded time and again that everything is done as Moses commanded, or as God commanded Moses (Exod. 38:22; 39:1, 7, 21, 26, 29, 31-32, 43; 40:16). Finally, after made and consecrated, God inhabits His tabernacle (Exod. 40:33-38). His presence dwells above the tabernacle, by day as a cloud and, by night, as a pillar of fire. Israel now knows that they dwell among God, and He among them, priests mediating between the two.

The specifics of tabernacle construction mirror that of paradise, the Garden of Eden. Upon completion of the earth as with the tabernacle, the same Hebrew term is employed for their completion (Gen. 2:1; Exod. 39:32; 40;33). After the completion of each, a blessing is pronounced (Gen. 2:3; Exod. 39:42-43). Finally, the comparison is that God now dwells among Israel just as He did among Adam and Eve. This cohesive theme throughout all of Scripture shows that if we understand the beginning, we’ll understand the end, the same being shown throughout Scripture. In a manner of speaking, paradise is restored but imperfectly. The original paradise, the word the Greek Septuagint uses for the garden of Eden, was heaven on earth and sinless. The new paradise demands sacrifices for atonement. Nevertheless, we see God’s aim to be with His people and among them.

Christians in churches of Christ, no thanks in part to Alexander Campbell’s Sermon on the Law, often relegate the Old Testament to something of a bygone era and not really significant to the church today. This is not a sentiment that I share, because Scripture has proven this to be untrue. Exodus, however, provides us with several items of significance for the church.

  • Jesus is the new lawgiver. Just as Moses ascended Sinai to receive the law to give to Israel, so God incarnate from the Mount gives the law to His followers.
  • The Lord’s Supper was born out of the Passover meal.
  • Jesus’ death is modeled as a sacrificial lamb.
  • Paul compares baptism to the Israelites walked between the waters of the Sea of Reeds as they exited slavery into liberty.
  • Hebrews depicts Christian living on earth as sojourning in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.

Insignificant? Absolutely not.

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The Divine Pattern

Decades ago, Goebel Music wrote a voluminous book, Behold the Pattern. While much of the information is helpful, he may have been capable of putting things more succinctly. Nevertheless, those of us in churches of Christ are patternists when it comes to the life of the church. As God gave the divine pattern of the tabernacle to Moses atop Mount Sinai, so Jesus endowed the apostles with the Holy Spirit to reveal to us a pattern for being Christians. Furthermore, that pattern extends to the organization and worship of the church.

The earliest account of worship appears in 1 Corinthians 11-16. While it isn’t written as a word-for-word instruction manual on how to worship, we can deduce enough from this passage to know how the early Christians worshipped and what not to do. Some disagree over whether the beginning of chapter 11 or the demarcation of 11:17-18 is the point at which Paul addresses the assembly. If we hold to the latter, which I may be more prone to, the focal point of worship begins with the Lord’s Supper. A reading through chapters 12-14 discloses that prayer and song was a part of that gathering. Prophecy or revelations of knowledge may have been akin to our modern sermon. In chapter 15, Paul invokes the Scriptures regarding Jesus’ death and arise from the grave, which may suggest that Scripture reading had a place in the worship (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13). When we arrive at 16:1-2, a contribution was given weekly, and if we take the weekly to apply to everything preceding the offering, then the Lord’s Supper, singing, praying, preaching, Scripture reading, and offering were what the early Christians did in worship. Not only should we do what they did, but we should embody the heart of Jesus too. It isn’t enough to simply do it absent the mind and heart of Christ.

As it relates to the organization of the church, 1 Timothy 3 discloses that elders and deacons were overseers and servants of the church. Timothy himself was referred to as a deacon, but the term is translated in English as “minister” (1 Tim. 4:6), which may denote a separate function. Elder, bishop, overseer, and pastor were one-in-the-same and not different offices (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Today, however, many fellowships follow more the Ignatian separation of pastor, elders, and deacons, or some version thereof.

Eden, Sinai, Tabernacle, and Temple

In trying to show a cohesive unit throughout Scripture, I’ve often referred back to creation and Eden. I’d like to show you nine ways that Eden was a Temple and that the later Mount Sinai and tabernacle/temple were built upon Eden.

  1. The Temple was where God’s presence dwelt, and He made Himself known to Israel. His walking with Adam and Eve is prototypical of this reality (Gen. 3:8).
  2. When placed in the Garden, Adam is to “cultivate” and “keep” it (Gen. 2:15), which were words used elsewhere regarding priestly service in maintaining sacred space (Num. 3:7–8; 8:25–26).
  3. The tree of life was the model for the lampstand in the Temple.
  4. The Temple was made with wood carvings of landscapes reminiscent of Eden (e.g., pomegranates, palm trees).
  5. The entrance to the Temple was to the east (Ezek. 40:2, 6), as was the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24).
  6. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the Ark of the Covenant were touched on pain of death—both being the source of wisdom (e.g., Ten Commandments).
  7. A river flowed from Eden (Gen. 2:10) and the Temple (Ezek. 47:1–2).
  8. There’s a tripartite structure to the Temple (outer court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies), the mountain at Sinai (base, middle, and summit) and Eden (Eden as Holy of Holies, the Garden as the Holy Place, and the outer world as the outer court).
  9. Eden, Sinai, and the Temple are all associated with a mountain (cf. Ezek. 28:13–14).

I would hope it would be safe to say that a unified cohesion exists concerning the significant theme of Scripture. Now, however, we turn to the pattern God gave Moses. God, in these instructions, spoke to Moses six times, the seventh being the Sabbath law. When God created the heavens and earth, he spoke six times and on the seventh rested. The tabernacle is, therefore, a microcosm, a new creation.

Patternistic Religion

Scripture marks three times that God reminds Moses to build the tabernacle according to the pattern he received. The first time entails the Ark of the Covenant pattern and the lampstand (Exod. 25:40). The second time appears after constructing the sanctuary, something into which the former two shall be housed (Exod. 26: 30). The final admonition appears after instructions on the veil between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place (Exod. 27:8). As Christians, we are collectively (1 Cor. 3:16) and individually (1 Cor. 6:19) the holy of holies because God’s Spirit dwells in us.

The Ark of the Covenant has over it the mercy seat where two cherubim face one another to guard it, just as they were placed to protect the entrance to Eden. Moses received the law from the summit of Sinai. Since they were deposited in the Ark, the mercy seat now functions as the summit of Sinai, thus making this place a portable Sinai. The mercy seat is vital because the High Priest could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:1–3, 29–34). He was to sprinkle the blood of a bull and goat on the mercy seat to remove the people’s uncleanness, transgressions, and sins (Lev. 16:14–16).

Later, the author of Hebrews informs us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins because these annual sacrifices would have only been one-time and not yearly (Heb. 10:1–4). What are we to do? Interestingly enough, when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the fourth century BCE, a word was used for “mercy seat” that appears as another word in the New Testament. Rather than translating the word as “mercy seat” in the New Testament, it’s translated as “propitiation” (Rom. 3:23–25). On that mercy seat, the footstool of God, the summit of Sinai, was the conduit between humanity and God. Jesus Himself is that mercy seat—the place where sacrifice and atonement meet. The place where the righteousness of God is revealed and the wrath of God abated.

If we want to understand the end, we must, first, understand the beginning. Jesus promises that those who overcome shall eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7). Interestingly enough, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the word that replaced “garden” in Genesis is the word paradise. The original audience of Revelation would have understood that the tree of life was in Eden, the holy of holies. They would have understood Paradise as the garden. When Jesus promised the overcomers that they would eat of the tree of life in paradise, they envisioned Eden. The end takes them back to the beginning, the very initial design that God had in mind.

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Reading Biases Back Into Scripture: COVID-19 and End-Times Propaganda

Last Thursday, I returned to the office after lunch and was handed a sheet of paper delivered for me. The deliverer wasn’t someone we knew and not a member of Glendale. On the paper was this person’s beliefs about the COVID-19 vaccine. They had broken down the word “Corona.” They attributed, falsely, I might add, numerology to each letter that resulted in the number 666. They, then, wrote what was in the vaccine, which, to them, was code for Lucifer and other such demonic associations. This person, then, cited 1 Corinthians 3:16; Revelation 13:16–17; Matthew 4:10 for their justification. If I had the opportunity, I would speak with them. Since I wasn’t here and they were unknown to the office staff, I can’t even contact them to discuss this. I wouldn’t attribute evil motives to the person. I believe that they genuinely believe this. However, as Jesus once said, “They do err not knowing the Scriptures.”

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, he addressed divisions in the church and answered some questions. He urged unity in 1 Corinthians 3:16 to the church as a whole because they were the temple of God. This passage has nothing to do with what a person puts in their body. People, even in the churches of Christ, have often invoked 1 Corinthians 6:19 for that purpose. Even then, that passage has absolutely nothing to do with what a person puts in their body. Instead, it has to do with what a person does with their body—serve God holiness or engage in sexual immorality. Paul explicitly notes that sin is done “outside” the body and that sexual immorality is a sin “against” the body (1 Corinthians 6:18). He doesn’t, for one second, speak about what a person puts in their body. Jesus addressed that in Matthew 15:10–20.

The passage where John the Revelator wrote about 666 and the Mark of the Beast appears in Revelation 13:16–18. Since mandatory vaccination and passports are a topic of discussion, this person equated their belief in the conclusion of the numerology. If a person doesn’t have a passport, they cannot transact business with the Mark of the Beast from this passage. You may or may not remember that I preached through the entire book of Revelation a couple of years ago. I specifically addressed the Mark of the Beast, and if you click on the blue highlighted part, you’ll be redirected to those notes.

I am not a medical doctor or scientist, so I can’t speak authoritatively on the vaccine. I know many of you have taken it, and many have not. I don’t think we should judge one another either way for having received it or not. Let’s not let the Enemy divide us over this. If you’ve not taken it and are on the fence, I would encourage you to speak with your primary care physician about it. Don’t take a politician’s guilt-tripping, a bureaucratic medical doctor’s urging, or even a health department’s advice to take it. Your primary care physician knows your history and current state of health, and they can give you the absolute best advice. This is what I did months ago, and my decision was based on that advice, and not on those who do not know me or the state of my health.

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Meeting God at Sinai

Three months have passed since Israel left Egypt. Since they left bondage. Now, the sign that God promised to Moses is coming to fruition (Exod. 3:12). On this mountain, they were to “serve” God. This is a cognate of “tend” (ovda) in Genesis 2:15, which denotes priestly service (cf. Num. 3:7–10). This is fitting because God tells Israel that He intends for them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6). God’s royal decree to Adam and Eve was to “subdue [the earth]; have dominion” over every living thing (Gen. 1:28). God gave the first humans both a royal and priestly service. The fall interrupted their ability to carry it out. He has now passed that service to Israel. Priests mediate humans to the divine and the divine to humans. As a “holy nation,” if they keep God’s commands, they would mediate between God and the nations, a promise God had made to Abraham (Gen. 12:3). As far as a timeline of events goes, beginning in Exodus 19—through Leviticus—and ending in Numbers 10 is one year of Israel camping at Mt. Sinai.[1]

Meeting God

Thus far, Moses and God have spoken with one another. Moses goes and informs the people of what God has said, and he returns to God to relay their affirmation of these very things. Then, God is preparing to appear in the presence of the Israelites, but before they do so, they are to prepare (Exod. 19:10–13). This would occur over three days. We have to imagine that they’ve been traveling for a few months and probably haven’t bathed or changed clothes. Perhaps they stunk and needed to do laundry. Still, the cleanness they were to appear as was appropriate for appearing before God. Boundaries are established around the mountain to show the demarcation between the sacred and the common. Wherever God is, there is holiness. Were sinful commoners to approach such holiness, the result would be catastrophic. When the third day came, Israel saw a frightful sight (Exod. 19:16–19). God once more orders Moses to remind Israel to respect the boundaries set.

The following few chapters demonstrate God’s ordering of society. Various commands, general and specific, are given—the most famous of which is the Ten Commandments. The first three have to do with respecting God, and the last seven have to do with one’s neighbor. Thus we see the first and greatest command reflected here and the second, which is like unto the first. After that, specificity reigns until chapter 24 and is referred to as the Book of the Covenant. Afterward, Moses, his brother and nephews, and seventy elders go up the mountain. Moses recounted all of God’s words, and the people assent to His law.

Early in the morning, Moses built an altar at the base of the mountain. He set up twelve columns for the twelve tribes of Israel. Offerings and sacrifices were made, the blood was taken and used to cleanse the altar and the people. Then, he and those bid to come up the mountain do so. They see God and eat and drink. Sacrifice was always followed by a communal meal of the worshippers. Notice the similarities of these events to Christianity: the Word of God is given, recorded, read, and assented to by God’s people. The sacrifice of Jesus, His body and blood, are what we partake of every Lord’s Day as a community of God’s people. We, too, eat and drink, and we do so in God’s presence. The continuity is astounding.

The preacher of Hebrews informs us of our New Covenant in light of this first covenant (Heb. 9:18–20). These sacrifices, however, were ineffective at the atonement of humanity to God (Heb. 10:1–4). Those can never take away sins like the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:11–14). God set up this system to prepare us for that which was to come. We eat from an altar far superior to the one given to Moses and Israel (Heb. 13:10). Under the Old Testament, priests were given portions of most sacrifices, but laypeople couldn’t partake. As Christians, we all partake.


[1] Enns, Exodus for Normal People, 22–23.

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YHWH, God of Slaves and Destroyer of Egypt gods

A Shepherd Meets God in the Wilderness

The story begins with Moses tending his father-in-law’s flock, but he went by a different name when we last read about his father-in-law. Here in the opening of chapter 3, he’s Jethro (as well as 18:1), but he was Reuel (2:18). As if things aren’t confusing enough, he’s called Hobab in Numbers 10:29 and Judges 4:11. Now, because our translators don’t want us to be too confused, they refer to him as Jethro in Exodus 4:18, but in Hebrew, his name is Jeter. Oy vey! Since we’re on multiple names, Moses came to Horeb, also referred to as Sinai.

Moses comes upon a burning bush (seneh) in Sinai (sinay). Nice pun, no? Anyway, it’s burning but not consumed. God has previously disclosed Himself as fire (Gen. 15:13–17). As he turns to inspect, God calls out to Moses and stops him. He’s on holy ground. This is unlike anything else, so it can’t be regarded carelessly. We later read that God dwells on seneh (Deut. 33:16). Still, when He later instructs Moses on the tabernacle, it becomes a portable Sinai. Nevertheless, God knows the suffering of His people. He has heard their cry (Exod. 3:7, 9)—the same word used by Sodom and Gomorrah’s inhabitants (Gen. 18:21; 19:13). God wants Moses to do this thing, and the sign will be that they will worship Him at the very mountain where Moses stands (Exod. 3:12). God will “stretch out” His hand (shalahti), and it will cause Pharaoh to “let go” (yeshalach) in Exodus 3:20.

Moses objects several times (Exod. 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10), but God answers him at every turn, even giving him signs. The signs that God gives Moses in Exodus 4:1–9 represent a couple of things. The snake may have been the cobra that Pharaoh typically wore around their headdress. Pharaoh’s power was absolute. He was as good as a god in ancient Egypt, but, later, when his magicians duplicate this miracle, and Aaron’s rod swallows up theirs, it’s a foretaste of the downfall of Pharaoh (Exod. 7:8–12). The second miracle of Moses’ hand turning to leprosy and back to normal foretastes the plagues that are to come. Moses’ final objection is that he just doesn’t want to do it (Exod. 4:13). God becomes angry but offers Aaron as the mouthpiece.

Moses has requested permission from his father-in-law to go to Egypt and see his countrymen. Jethro bid him “Godspeed,” and Moses left. In the meantime, God spoke to Moses’ elder brother, Aaron, and asked him to meet Moses in the wilderness. After they met and talked, they go to the elders of Israel and tell them all that God has told Moses. They bow their heads in trusting what has been said to them, so the showdown begins. Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say that Yahweh has ordered that they go on the three-day journey to worship Him. Still, Pharaoh refuses to acknowledge Israel’s God. He thinks they have too much time on their hands to contemplate such a thing, so he multiplies their labors by requiring the same daily quota. Instead of the materials being brought to them as previously, they’re to procure them independently. It’s too hard, so they gripe at Moses, and Moses gripes to God. Yahweh reassures Moses about what He’s going to do, and Moses relays the message. Because Israel’s oppression is worse than before, they refuse to listen to Moses. For the first time in the story, God speaks to Moses and Aaron (Exod. 6:13). This is a sign of things to come—the high priesthood—because the genealogy that follows reveals that they are Levites, priests.

Plaguing Egypt

The plagues would be an undoing of God’s order, just as He allowed chaos to reign in the deluge, so He’d let chaos temporarily reign in the plagues. Each of God’s creative acts finds its negative counterpart in the plagues. Interestingly, each domain that God plagued also corresponds to the realm of a reigning Egyptian god or gods. We read ten times, “And God said,” in creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28–29). We also see a unique plague corresponding to most creative acts.

This particular episode has mixed in it the creation of observance, a memorial that would last through generations.            

  • Plague 1: “bodies” or “gatherings” of water (Exod. 7:19) correspond to when God created the seas in Gen. 1:10. Hapi was the god of the Nile, and it turning to blood symbolizes the god’s slaying as well as payback for Egypt’s slaying of Israelites children.
  • Plagues 2–4: This triad of plagues (frogs, lice, and flies) are associated with the three elements of the earth—water (Gen. 1:20), land (Gen. 1:24), and air (Gen. 1:22). This is all contra Genesis 1:28. The goddess Heket had the head of a frog and controlled fertility. Geb was over the dust of the earth, and Kephri was the god of creation and had the head of a fly.
  • Plague 5: Pestilence among livestock reverses Genesis 2:18–20. There was a marked distinction between Israel and Egypt (Exod. 9:6–7; cf. 8:22). Hathor was a goddess depicted with the head of a cow.
  • Plague 6: This plague corresponds to the creation of humanity in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). They weren’t made sickly but whole. God’s affliction of the flesh reminds the people that they aren’t superior to others, and Pharaoh isn’t a god. Isis was the goddess of medicine and peace.
  • Plagues 7–8: These two demolish the vegetation, which was a reversal of God giving it (Gen. 1:12; cf. Exod. 10:15). Nut was the goddess of the sky, and Seth, the god of storms and disorder.
  • Plague 9: When God darkened the earth, He took creation back to the state that existed between Genesis 1:4–5. Ra was the sun god and personally backed Pharaoh, so this was enormous.
  • Plague 10: Osiris was the god of death, but Pharaoh was considered the god of Egypt. The taking of life was the reversal of God breathing life into humanity (Gen. 2:7).

God instructed Moses on the Passover. A male lamb without blemish was to be taken and sacrificed for each household according to its number. The blood was to be applied to the doorposts and lintels of the houses. This meal was to be eaten in haste, and they were protected by the lamb’s blood. Egypt, however, suffered the loss of its firstborns. Keep in mind, a firstborn isn’t always an infant or toddler. I’m a firstborn, and many of us, regardless of age, are too. This doesn’t specify children but firstborn. On that note, God gives the law regarding the firstborn. Every firstborn of their livestock and children are God’s. Children may be redeemed by a sacrifice as well as donkeys, but the firstborn belongs to God. We later see this when descendants of Levi are substituted as the firstborn child (Num. 3:11–13). Descendants of Levi were sacrificed to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. This sort of reminds us of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac: luckily, God provided the substitute for Isaac’s redemption.

Israel now leaves Egypt, but a detail emerges that we’d do well to notice. Moses procures the bones of Joseph (Exod. 13:19; cf. Gen. 50:25). This oath made by the children of Israel looked ahead to a day when Israel would leave Egypt. When they arrived, they did so in good standing with the Egyptians and were welcomed because of who Joseph was to Egypt. Similarly, you and I will be accepted by God because of who Jesus is and what He’s done. Our attachment to Him, the lamb of God, causes God to stay His hand and pass us over when judgment comes.

Slavish Tendencies

Shortly after leaving Egypt, Israel is once more faced with the dilemma of liberty. It isn’t always cheap, and it often means self-reliance more than anything. So, they complained (Exod. 14:11–12). Pharaoh and his army close in on Israel, but luckily, it wouldn’t be long after this complaint that they’d walk through the Sea of Reeds. One might think their mood would have vastly improved after that miracle, not to mention the fact that God placed Himself as a cloud between them, giving Egypt cloudy darkness while giving Israel light. Their mood wouldn’t improve much after that. They’d left on the 10th of the first month, and now on the 15th of the second month, just a little over a month since they departed Egypt, they grumble once more (Exod. 16:3). God provides for them and gives them instructions about the Sabbath. These complainers: do you think they followed His words to the T? Nope (Exod. 16:20). Now, God isn’t too pleased (Exod. 16:28–30). It’s not too long before they complain again (Exod. 17:3). Wouldn’t we think that having seen what they saw and having lived through what they endured would be a good enough reason to rejoice like they had in chapter 15?

Similarly, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians something similar (Rom. 6:16–23). The Roman Christians still behaved as if they had before. No transformation. No change. But they had heard the good news, obeyed the gospel, and kept on living as they had. God no more expected Israel to live as slaves as He does. We are Christians to live as slaves. We are either slaves to sin, the taskmaster that oppresses us and kills us, or to righteousness. The latter is life-giving through Jesus Christ, our Lord. The former is life-taking. As Christians, when we live after the precepts of our God and follow His path, we demonstrate that we have truly been redeemed. Many of us acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, but do we live as if Jesus is our Lord? In the ancient world, one’s lord was their master. They couldn’t do anything to shame their lord, and if their lord gave an order, they were obliged to follow it. We have a good Lord who loves us, and rather than barking orders, He tells us what to do because it’s what’s best for us. Shall we be slaves to Egypt and sin, or righteousness and God?

Recreation

In our first lesson on Exodus, I pointed out how Moses used language akin to the creation narrative in Genesis as well as the flood. In the previous study, I pointed out how the plagues were demonstrative of God removing His order from certain creation elements to punish the Egyptians. Keeping with this theme of creation, when the Israelites cross the Sea of Reeds, we note a recreation theme, just as it was post-flood. Notice in Exodus 14:21 how a “wind” drives the water back to create “dry land.” The word translated wind is the same word that can be translated as “spirit”—ruach. We remember how the Spirit of God, His ruach, hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). On Day 2 of creation, God divided the waters, and some were below, and others were above. On Day 3, God further separated the waters below to reveal the dry ground. Notice the theme?

Crossing the Sea of Reeds is a replay of creation. In Genesis, the earth came out of the water, but in Exodus, waters are split to reveal dry ground. As the distinction between land and water was created, the earth was made habitable to humans. This dry ground is life-giving to the Israelites. Then, in a replay of the flood, the waters crash down on the unrighteous Egyptians, just as God flooded the earth. Waters are tamed to bring life and released to bring death (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:5–6). Notice how Paul ties the Christian initiatory rite of baptism to Israel (1 Cor. 10:1–2).[1] As water saved Noah and his family, and Israel and their family, the waters of baptism save us too (Rom. 6:3–6). We are, therefore, a new creation just as the earth was recreated after the flood, and Israel was created anew by passing through the waters. This is why we live as slaves to righteousness and God rather than to sin.


[1] I must give credit to Peter Enns and his book, Exodus for Normal People (Perkiomenville, PA: The Bible for Normal People, 2021). A lot of the information in these lessons that I’ve preached have come from him and his book.

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What Exodus Has To Do With Creation

A recurring theme in Genesis was the threat of famine that sent the Hebrews to Egypt for food (Gen. 12:10; 26:1–2; 42:1; 46:1–4). The last time it occurred in Genesis, the entire family of Israel wound up there due to the seven-year famine Pharaoh dreamt about. That sojourn ultimately led them to settle in the land of Goshen. What began as an effort to sustain themselves would turn into a reversal of fortune. Somewhere along the continuum of time, things changed, but this is expected since Yahweh had promised Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years (Gen. 15:13–14). Yet, He would bring them back to the land of Canaan after the fourth generation. Before they’d return, things would get worse before they got better.

What Moses is Showing Us

In the early chapters of Exodus, we notice a retelling of the creation story in a sense, but through the history of Israel. Israel is depicted to the ancient reader as fulfilling the vocation of humanity from the beginning. The first evidence being the divine order to fill the earth and subdue it (Exod. 1:7; cf. Gen. 1:20, 28; 9:1; 17:6). Whereas it was commanded of Adam/Eve and Noah, God told Abraham that He would make it happen for him. In each instance, God is narrowing down His purpose for creation through specific ones. He began with Adam (human) and Eve (life). After their expulsion from Eden because of sin, the line was narrowed through Seth, and the mandate was once again given to Noah. As sin persisted, the vocation was given to Abraham to be realized in Israel. They had multiplied and filled the land.

Israel is God’s vessel for demonstrating His creative purposes. It’s meant to be through them that humanity comes to know the God of creation and form a relationship with Him. When we read at the beginning that they “increased abundantly” (Exod. 1:7), it might be better that we substitute that translation with “abounded.” This is the same word used to describe the sea creatures in Gen. 1:21, and it’s also used post-flood in 8:17; 9:7. These usages point initially to the creation and, then, to recreation. The author hints that a new creation is being carried out through Israel, and it is accomplished in part by their multiplication.

Fulfilling God’s divine vocation resulted in the Egyptians taking notice. To Pharaoh, the growing number of Israelites was a threat. However, the more he tried to stop it, the little it did to accomplish his goal. If anything, Pharaoh’s oppression intensified Israel’s growth (Exod. 1:12). With Pharaoh wanting Israel to diminish and God wishing them to fill the earth, a show-off and clash are sure to result. The last time such an occasion reared its ugly head was at the Tower of Babel. Those present had pitted themselves against God, and He scattered them. Pharaoh is about to do the same, and those of us who know the story know it won’t end well for the King of Egypt.

Rather than Israel subduing the land, they were stopped (enslaved). Humanity was suppressed by sin resulting in the fall. Being further subdued resulted in the flood, so the enslavement warrants a liberation just as God had previously given. As Israel continued growing and evil pervaded in their enslavement and oppression, Pharaoh ordered the murder of all male newborns. Of course, the scheme didn’t work because the Hebrew midwives kept it from happening (Exod. 1:17, 21). One specific Levite couple had a “beautiful” son. Literally, this is the same word translated as “good” seven times in Genesis 1—tov. This reminder points to the fact that this son will be used in God’s scheme of recreation.

Pharaoh began ordered newborn males to drown in the Nile. This boy’s parents put him in “an ark of bulrushes” (Exod. 2:3). In Genesis, the flood destroyed the whole human race. Still, in Exodus, Pharaoh wanted male children drowned in the Nile, threatening to destroy Israel. As the ark saved Noah, so an ark saved Moses. Noah saved humanity; Moses would save Israel. Sadly, this wasn’t the story for everyone and likely explains why God later takes the firstborn among Egypt and drowned the Egyptians in the Sea. Moreover, as God parted the chaotic waters above a vault and below as the sea, so He’d part the waters of the Red Sea for Israel’s escape. As the flood destroyed the earth’s inhabitants, God’s releasing of the parted sea would drown the Egyptians.

Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s court, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He kills an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Afterward, he tries to play peacemaker between two other Hebrews who make it known that they are aware of what he had done to the Egyptian. Pharaoh also learns and seeks Moses’ life, so Moses flees. He finds women being harassed at a well and rescues them, one of whom would become his wife after the manner of Isaac and Jacob. He meets a Midianite priest who becomes his father-in-law, and chapter two ends with a simple verse that our English complicates. “God saw the Israelites. God knew.”

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Hebrew Numerology, Archaeology, and Exodus

Around 1800 BCE, people from the land of Canaan had already made their way to Egypt and established a dynasty. This comes to us from historical and archaeological evidence. It isn’t specified that these people were Israelites. Still, they may have been given the timeline of the sojourn in Egypt and the lifetime of Moses. The Israelites were to be slaves in the land of Egypt for 400 years, so this would line up rather nicely with the traditional lifetime of Moses and the writing of the books of Moses (1450–1400 BCE). However, around 1650 BCE, a group called “Hyksos” invaded Egypt and ran things until about 1550 BCE. They’re presumed to have been from Asia.

The traditional dating of Exodus is 1446 BCE, which is given to us from a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1, which placed the building of Solomon’s temple at 966 BCE, 480 years after the Exodus. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know if the numbers are used literally or symbolically. The Israelites and ancient peoples of the east believed numbers had symbolic and, therefore, religious meanings. In this case, if we were to read it symbolically, we’d begin with the number 40, which is a go-to number symbolizing a complete or appropriate period. Moses’ life is broken up into three periods of 40 years. Israel would spend 40 years in the wilderness wondering. Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted. Are we to understand these numbers literally or symbolically? 40 times 12 gives us 480—twelve symbolizing the tribes of Israel. According to the numbers, these symbolic numbers held religious connotations, which would have been viewed as a divine period of time. There can be problems reading the numbers as literal numbers rather than symbolically as they might have.

This is always something I caution when reading the Old Testament. Some who read these books read everything literally, and that’s a product of our Western Civilization, especially for us living in the twenty-first century who’ve inherited the Enlightenment way of processing information. They thought and told stories differently than we do, so we have to try to get in their minds as best as possible. This can be hard, but it makes studying the Old Testament so much more enjoyable once we’re there.  

When Did Exodus Occur?

Archaeology points to a mass Hebrew settlement in the land of Canaan in the 12th century BCE. When you look at it that way, it will make for a massive discrepancy between the actual historical exodus and the conquest of Canaan. Some figures suggest a disparity of 200–300 years. We know that much time didn’t elapse between the departure and conquest, so what are we to make of this gap of centuries between the two based on archaeological evidence?

First, just because this was when the settlements appear doesn’t mean that’s when Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan. They could have been there sooner. The settlements may point to a period of economic prosperity more than arrival in the land. Second, because the Pharaohs are unnamed in the book of Exodus, it may point us to an actual, historical conflict that occurred in the 16th century BCE between a divided Egypt. This second point is what I’ll focus on here.

From Genesis, Israelites settled in Goshen, which was located in northern Egypt. Interestingly enough, Northern Egypt is referred to as “Lower Egypt” while Southern Egypt is referred to as “Upper Egypt.” Anyway, in the sixteenth century BCE, Egypt was divided, culturally and politically. Northern Egypt was ruled by the Hyksos. Some historians believe that the Hebrews were their slaves during this period. Perhaps as we see from the story of Exodus, Pharaoh grew concerned by their numbers and that they may ally themselves with Southern Egypt against them, which would unify the country.

Near the end of the 16th century, the Southern Egyptians began a campaign to unify Egypt. There’s a notable coinciding abandonment of Semitic people, which the Israelites were, around the same time. Before these events, Egyptian sources report natural disasters that afflicted Egypt, including abnormal weather conditions and disease. Could these have been the plagues? That sounds like it. The discrepancy of dates is more about how the data is read than anything. There is a plausible explanation, and this is it.

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The Contaminated Waters of Baptism

We’re in a room of different people, and you ask the question, “Who all has been baptized? Raise your hands, please.” Hands go up en masse. Then, as you ask these people to detail their accounts, you give a questionnaire to use for this purpose. One question may be, “How old were you when you were baptized?” Some people put a few weeks old, others nine years old, and others put they were in a specific decade. Another question is how you were baptized. There are multiple choices with a box to check beside their answer: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. You ask what else they did at the time of their baptism, what the baptizer said as they were baptized, and on and on the questions go. Then, you ask everyone to keep their sheets with their answers, and then you open your Bible and begin studying the topic.

Baptism in the New Testament and Beyond

Since we in churches of Christ use the Bible as our guide, we look to specific passages about how the earliest Christians practiced their baptisms. We note that those who were baptized understood what they were doing and consented to such (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:37). The only thing that would hinder a person from being baptized would be nonbelief (Acts 8:36–39). Certain people are incapable of faith through no fault of their own (e.g., mentally handicapped, infants). Alongside belief is the confession of Jesus as God’s Son (Acts 8:37; 22:16; Rom. 10:9–13). Since most people in a Bible study lack a working knowledge of Greek, we use our English Bibles and note that baptism was a burial (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) and that whoever administers baptism pronounces Jesus’ words in the Great Commission for the invocation (Matt. 28:19). The result of this, therefore, is forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), a renewal of one’s spiritual self (Rom. 6:3–4; Titus 3:5), sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11), and the putting on of Jesus (Gal. 3:27). Assuming the person has faith in Jesus as God’s Son and His work on the cross, the medium through which this is accomplished is baptism itself (1 Peter 3:21). The end of that process is called “salvation,” but the key to this salvation is our faith in God (Col. 2:12). Without faith, baptism is meaningless, and with faith, baptism is so meaningful because of Jesus’ work.

This was the understanding of the church in the days of the apostles, the earliest leaders of the church. However, even the second generation of Christians understood this. There was no forgiveness of sins without baptism.

Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they would never accept that baptism which leads to the remission of sins. (Epistle of Barnabas 11.1; c. 132–35)

Some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins. He said to me, “That was sound doctrine which you heard; for that is really the case.” (Shepherd of Hermas 2.4.3; c. 150)  

[We] may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, [where] there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61; c. 153–55)

For centuries, Christianity taught that baptism washed away our sins. It wasn’t until Ulrich Zwingli (c. 1484–1531) that a view contrary to this began being taught.[1]

Contaminated Waters

 A Jewish-Christian source dating to the sixties, Didache, gave instructions for when the optimal environment was unavailable.

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things [chs. 1–6 instructions], baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (7.1–3)

Considering that this may have been composed in western Syria, where there may have been areas where water was scarce, explains the exceptions. This in no way mentions sprinkling but pouring. The thrice pouring of water may have been enough to recreate total immersion and count as sufficient for baptism. It wouldn’t be surprising that it corresponded to the thrice-invoked name of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Sprinkling is mentioned in the New Testament, mainly in Hebrews, but invariably concerning the imagery of sacrifice since the priest would sprinkle the animal’s blood upon that which was being sanctified (Heb. 9:19, 21; 11:28; 12:24). The usage also appears metaphorically (Heb. 10:22; 1 Peter 1:2). However, it’s never used about baptism. These are two separate Greek terms, but sprinkling is predominant in some traditions today despite not being so in the early church.

By the third century, some believed it more appropriate to delay baptism until one neared death. That way, they could be the purest upon dying when they met God. This led some people to wait too long to receive baptism as immersion, which the word actually means. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250–58) defended sprinkling if one was on their sickbed. He also advocated that sprinkling and pouring were adequate measures of imparting the grace of baptism, citing Old Testament passages as justification (e.g., Ezek. 36:25–26; Num. 19:8). As long as this was done in the church, and the faith of the giver and receiver were sound, it was perfected by the Lord (Letters 69).

His view was relatively new given an occasion that arose where a man on his sickbed received this sort of “baptism.” Novation, a presbyter in the Roman church—oddly enough, one wonders how a person could become a presbyter without first becoming a Christian—was the first to receive a sickbed baptism by sprinkling. Of course, by this time, so much had changed. Only priests administered baptism, and they were to have cleansed the water beforehand so remission of sins could occur. More and more, the clergy came to define the faith rather than the rule of faith itself.

Cyprian also wrote extensively about baptizing infants in his works. He’s one of the earliest explicit sources that attest to this practice but not the earliest to mention it outright. That notoriety belongs to Tertullian, who opposed the practice (Baptism 18; c. 200). Other references have been inferred as suggesting infant baptism earlier, such as Justin Martyr (1 Apology 15.6) and Polycarp (Mart. Poly. 9.3). Nevertheless, the other references are stretches at best. By Tertullian’s time, he referred to it as something already being done “for which a practical and scriptural rationale was advanced (themselves indications of a new practice that needed justification).”[2]

On the one hand, you have infant baptism, sprinkling those on deathbeds, and various other methods of administering this one fundamental grace God imparted. The change came by way of well-meaning clergymen. Yet, in the fifth century, Augustine would refine and propose the doctrine of original sin. The custom of infant sprinkling/pouring would become the standard practice for centuries. The third century certainly had its difficulties with baptism. Still, we must decide whether to work within the confusion of the church’s leaders then or those inspired by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Is our baptism apostolic or traditional?


[1] Jack Warren Cottrell, “Covenant and Baptism in the Theology of Huldreich Zwingli,” (Dissertation, Princeton Theological University, 1971).

[2] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 363.

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How the Papacy Was Born

Ask anyone who attends a church what the leadership structure is, and you’ll get various answers. Some people have a pastorate, presbytery (elders), and a diaconate (deacons). Others have the pastorate and diaconate (e.g., Baptists). We have presbytery and diaconate with the ministers acting in a role akin to the monarchy of England—we really have no power but yield influence. It’s become common to refer to the preacher as “pastor” in nearly every tradition except the high church traditions where they’re notably called “priest” or “father.” Among us, such preachers are the minister unless also an elder. He can be called pastor then but is usually not.

The person standing in the pulpit is usually esteemed differently than what he would have been in the early church. Church leaders in the New Testament were well thought of but not venerated. They would have been respected for their station and looked to for concrete leadership since the Gospel Way was usually oral more than literary. The Hebrew Scriptures were indeed used in the early church, as they were in the synagogue. Still, the first-century church lacked a complete New Testament as we have today. Instead, they had the leaders of the church (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) and in the congregations (Acts 14:23) to guide them. Additionally, the early church liturgy included robustly doctrinal hymns instead of modern praise and worship one witnesses in most churches. The ancient hymns were statements of belief, and when chanted repetitiously, even the simplest of Christians was capable of repeating them to explain Christianity (Phil. 2:5–11; Col. 1:15–20; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1–3; 1 Peter 2:21–25).

By the end of the second century, Ignatius’ tripartite polity was common throughout the church. After all, his urging Christians to submit to their bishops in all things would have ensured that the one bishop was regarded as the protector of truth. He was a local bishop of a city at the time, but later the position would grow to a territory. By the end of the second century, Hegesippus and Irenaeus had produced lists of bishops throughout various cities. The latter would draw up a list of bishops and strengthen such by arguing their succession from apostles.

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the [Roman] Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.3.3

Gnostic teachers first claimed an apostolic succession of their teachers, so Irenaeus’ list became a hallmark of the orthodox faith taught in churches. The Roman church rose to prominence for numerous reasons, the least of which entailed Peter and Paul having ministered there for several years. 

The Rise of Roman Primacy

The church at Rome had emerged as a leader of Christianity by the end of the second century. “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this [Roman] Church, on account of its preeminent authority” (Iren., Ag. Her. 3.3.2). Being the capital of the empire also had its perks. The Roman church grew immensely during the second and third centuries. Despite being as large as they were, they maintained fidelity in preserving apostolic traditions. Their wealth allowed them to be noticed for their charity, often sending aid to the churches throughout the known world when needed. Some of the members held political positions of influence in the empire as well. This congregation was known to have had direct contact with Peter and Paul, who were put to death in the city.[1] These factors elevated this church throughout the universal assembly of Christians. In time, this notoriety would vest significant authority in the church’s bishop.

Though Peter is often touted as the first pope and founder of the Roman church, history and Scripture would dictate otherwise. When Pentecost came in either the late twenties or early thirties CE, “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10), were among those who heard the good news. Jews had lived in Rome as far back as the second century BCE, with many more becoming slaves due to Pompey’s triumph in the first century BCE. Among the Jews who came for Pentecost were also proselytes—Gentiles who’d fully converted to Judaism.[2] That both existed in Rome indicates that a converted Gentile population already identified as Jewish, so the mix of Jew/Gentile in Rome existed before even the church’s first Pentecost.

When Paul wrote his letter to the church, he made no mention of Peter. Paul’s close familiars, Aquila and Prisca, met him in Corinth when Jews were exiled from Rome, suggesting that the church was already in existence (Acts 18:1–2). Peter went to Rome in 42 CE after having been a bishop of Antioch.[3] As an elder in Rome (1 Peter 5:1, 13), Peter may have aided the church in becoming better structured and ordered, but he didn’t establish the congregation. Paul wouldn’t arrive in Rome until 60 CE and would live there and minister for at least two years (Acts 28:30). After that, we don’t entirely know where he went until the traditional date of his and Peter’s martyrdom in 67 CE. Given the time they spent in Rome, they would have been able to make headways and solidify Christian orthodoxy that would have been the envy of the church.

Ignatius, Clement, and Hermas wrote to the Roman church in the late first and early second centuries. In their writings, the Roman church had a plurality of presbyters-bishops and not a pope. Near the end of the second century, an ongoing debate on the proper date of Easter persisted. Until this time, peaceful tolerance over this difference had prevailed, but the discussion flared up again. Bishops from all over called meetings to discuss this. Some in Asia reaffirmed the practice of observing Easter on the 14th day of Nisan regardless of which day of the week it fell.

In contrast, the others insisted that it should always be celebrated on a Sunday. Victor of Rome grew frustrated by this ongoing controversy and attempted to excommunicate the Asian churches for their view (Hist. Eccl. 5.24.9). This was likely the first time a Roman bishop exercised power over the church universal. Still, this attempt at ex-communication failed despite Sunday being the day that prevailed. Nearly fifty years later, however, Cyprian of Carthage and Stephen of Rome disputed over baptism. Stephen of Rome invoked Matthew 16:18 for the first time to assert Roman privilege. By 382 CE, that text was solidified as a passage of Roman primacy since the see of Rome was then taught to have succeeded Peter. Then, the occupier of Peter’s see became regarded as holding priority over others but was not then necessarily head of the church universal.[4]  

The Papacy as We Know It

As time went on and Christianity grew, the bishop over a capital city or province became known as a metropolitan. Among the metropolitans, those in a city with a more extraordinary claim to apostolic succession were given the title of patriarch. This form of church polity was extant at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. An enormous issue arose when Constantine, in 330 CE, relocated the empire’s capital from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). This city, so named after the emperor, was referred to as “New Rome.” Some believed that the relocation of the imperial capital meant a change for the church, but Rome did not take well to this belief. If the seat of imperial power now rested in Constantinople, fine. However, the Roman church was still to be esteemed as first among equals because both Peter and Paul had pastored there, thus giving them the purest form of Christianity. The first three patriarchates were Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. Later added to them were Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Nicene Council gave more tremendous honor to Rome and Constantinople, but not authority.

At the Council of Chalcedon (c. 451), equal privileges were given to Constantinople as Rome wielded. These two sees were constantly battling over power and prestige. The Patriarch of Constantinople in 595 assumed the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch.” John the Faster, who’d taken that title, provoked Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory I) to petition the emperor, requesting that he not acknowledge such. By this time, the Western Roman Empire had fallen, and people in the West looked to Gregory for a sense of continuity. Being from a senatorial family, one might think that Emperor Maurice would have weighed this. Still, instead, he acknowledged John the Faster as Ecumenical Patriarch. Maurice was slain by a usurper a few years later, and Gregory sent letters praising the new emperor. Emperor Phocas would, in 606, transfer the title “Universal Bishop” to Boniface III, thus establishing the Roman supremacy of the pope. As you might imagine, the Eastern church didn’t accept this.


[1] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 138.

[2] Horace portrayed the Jews as forceful in their proselytizing (Sat. 1.4.142–3; cf. Matt. 23:15). Many were Jews by conversion rather than by birth (Acts 13:43. Cf. Juvenal, Sat. 14.102–03). A Gentile could become Jewish by circumcision, immersion, and a sacrifice (Keritot 9a; cf. Pesahim 8.8; Exod. 24:8).However, Gentile conversion was not always welcomed and in some cases was even rejected.

[3] Jerome, On Illustrious Men 1.

[4] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 237–38.

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From Presbyterian to Monepiscopacy in Early Christianity

My earliest memories in a church were with my grandfather at New Hope Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. I often napped during worship, being younger than eight, and when granddad sang with the choir, a sweet elderly lady had charge over me. When they built a new state-of-the-art facility, we went from the quaint and charming church to the larger sanctuary, where eventually a full-on band would become a regularity. In the old building, we had but a piano, and that was it. There were drums, congas, and various other instruments and performances in the new building that seemed to dominate the service before too long. 

Fast-forward to when my mother met and married my stepfather, I was around nine or ten, and he attended a church of Christ. It was a culture shock. No instruments. No choir. The focus was more so on the sermon than the music. Very different. As a pre-teen, I attended church camp, and one of my uncles sat me down and talked to me about the gospel, sin, and salvation. At Taylor Christian Camp, I confessed Christ and was immersed in the creek, and became a follower of Jesus. An imperfect one at that, but a Christian.

When my (now) wife and I began dating at sixteen, I’d attend mass with her at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Madison, TN, and she would attend services with me. I found the Catholic Church interesting because it was unlike anything to which I’d been accustomed. I had questions. She had questions. We explored our belief in Jesus and what our respective churches did and taught. Still, we ultimately agreed that Scripture would have the final say. When she was seventeen, she confessed Christ as her Lord and was immersed at church camp of all places.

She had already resolved never to attend church as an adult because it was forced on her child, so she believed. Because we agreed that Scripture, not the clergy, should guide our walk with Jesus, she concluded that her christening as an unconsenting child wasn’t faith. Faith is necessary to salvation. As Paul told the Ephesians, we are saved by grace through faith, and the obedience that follows is our yielding to Jesus and His way, the Way. However, something began troubling me. Why were there so many different versions of Christianity? Why was what we did right and others wrong, assuming that was true? Were we even correct to start with? What if, as my wife had concluded, I’d been wrong for so long?

For context’s sake, my wife’s family was predominantly Catholic, and that’s all she had known. My family, however, was an assortment of various beliefs. We were Baptist but had aunts and uncles that were sort of charismatic—Church of God. I had cousins that were Mormons and other kin that were Methodists. My wife’s family was Catholic, and now I’m “church of Christ,” as one might say. What’s right? I began an exploration of this topic. What does the New Testament teach, and when did things start to change? That’s what I wanted to find out. Thankfully, a dear friend and mentor pointed me to Everett Ferguson’s work. Specifically, his book, Early Christians Speak, and so began my love of church history. I’d actually write my doctoral dissertation on Christian hospitality in the early church into late antiquity. I absolutely love history. It has been a great aid in determining why I believe what I believe and still believe.

Looking to the Top

I came to learn about first-century Christianity that many people couldn’t read. Only a few had access to the writings that now make up the New Testament because not every church had a complete Old and New Testament in them. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves how the church functioned without a New Testament. Obviously, in the first century, there were apostles, prophets, teachers (1 Cor. 12:28), evangelists, and pastors (Eph. 4:11). These people led the church and guarded sound doctrine (orthodoxy) and, in turn, passed it on to others who would take up their mantle (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2). Congregations weren’t relegated to a building on the local level as we tend to envision Christianity in America. It was typically by locale. House churches were dispersed throughout a city or province, with elders appointed over the saints in those areas (Acts 14:23). They guided, taught, and shepherded God’s people, and a part of their position was to guard sound doctrine among the saints (Titus 1:5–9).

In the New Testament, the terms “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” were used interchangeably of the same ministry (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1–4). No one man had the title and oversaw a congregation, but a plurality of such men (cf. Phil. 1:1). They were responsible for those among them (1 Peter 5:2), so their oversight couldn’t have spread to other areas over which they knew little. The apostles, however, were leaders of the church in its universal sense. They could order and rebuke as the Lord willed. The elders of those congregations throughout the ancient world were to maintain what the apostles taught. Since we lack the apostolic presence today, this is why we rely upon Scripture. Moreover, the ancient church saw the apostles capable of imparting a measure of the Holy Spirit that would have proved beneficial to the congregations through spiritual gifts such as prophecy and the like. We lack such miraculous means today, but we do have the Scriptures, and they are sufficient.

Aiding the pastors in their works were deacons. The term “deacon” sounds churchy, but it means to minister or serve when translated. Deacons were often paired with elders (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3) and subordinates. Timothy was regarded as a deacon despite our English Bibles translating the word as “minister” (1 Tim. 4:6). What’s likely is that he was regarded as something other than just a deacon because of the particular task given to him among the Ephesians. Just as one term can have several different meanings, it was given a different meaning to Timothy.

In such a case as Timothy being a minister, this would constitute the third class of church leadership behind the elders but seemingly equal to the deacons. Timothy was gifted and appointed by the elders and endowed with a measure of the Holy Spirit’s gifts by Paul (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). I think that it would be safe to say that such men didn’t wear the clerical dress (Matt. 23:5), equated themselves with God (cf. Acts 10:25–26), and bore no religious titles (Eph. 6:21; Phil. 2:25; Col. 1:7; 4:7). It might be safe to say that those who led the church in orthodoxy, service, and ministry were relatively simple and faithful as many would endeavor to be in the years that followed. However, circumstances would arise that would bring about changes in the way the church operated. These changes would eventually result in the Western Church departing from the apostolic polity of the church.

The Second Generation of Christians

Do you remember the biblical story when Jesus brought a child before His apostles and urged that they become like the child to see the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:1–5)? Later tradition claims that the child later became a leader in the church. His name was Ignatius, and he served in the Antiochene Church. There’s a little dispute around when he was a bishop of Antioch. If we follow the Orthodox ecclesial history, Peter was the first bishop. Evodius or Ignatius was the second or third bishop following Peter. Regardless, in or around 69 CE, Ignatius became a church leader in his mid-thirties or early forties. Before this time, he had been a disciple of the Apostle John with a dear friend and brother, Polycarp.[1]

Ignatius was martyred between 98–117 CE, with 108 being a rather popular date. As he journeyed to Rome from Antioch in Syria, he and the soldiers guarding him made some stops along the way. Ignatius would write several letters during visits as he headed for his martyrdom. We see in them a change in the polity of the church. Consider that Ignatius was the second generation of Christian leaders, so he wasn’t as concerned with being a “New Testament Christian” because such wasn’t a blip on the radar then. He was concerned with maintaining orthodoxy among the churches. In the local church, he believed that the bishop, an elevated elder with ties to an apostle, was the one to do just that.

Since, then, I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas you most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow-servant the deacon Sotion, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishops as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ, [I now write you].

Ignatius, Magnesians 2

This is among the earliest letters when the ministry of elder (presbyters) and bishop are separate rather than a particular position in the New Testament. As the letters go on, the views become more evolved.

For when you obey the bishop as if he were Jesus Christ, you are (as I see it) living not in a merely human fashion but in Jesus Christ’s way, who for our sakes suffered death that you might believe in his death and so escape dying yourselves. It is essential, therefore, to act in no way without the bishop, just as you are doing. Rather submit even to the presbytery as to the apostles of Jesus Christ …. Those too who are deacons of Jesus Christ’s “mysteries” must give complete satisfaction to everyone. For they do not serve mere food and drink, but minister to God’s Church.

Ignatius, Traillians 2.1–3

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist [Lord’s Supper] which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitle also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Ignatius, Smyrneans 8

Now, if Ignatius introduced something new, evidence should exist that supports my earlier conclusion, right?

One source that dates to the sixties acknowledges bishops and deacons (Didache 15.1), while another that dates to the last decade of the first century does as well (1 Clement 42.4–5). Even Ignatius’ contemporary and fellow disciple under John, Polycarp, saw the church as administered by presbyters and deacons (Philippians 5.2; 6.1). Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians was written around Ignatius’s death and after his letters. Still, for some reason, Christianity adopted his threefold structure. The early fifth-century scholar Jerome wrote that a presbyter and bishop were the same things. The distinction came in, he writes, in Alexandria during Mark the Evangelist (c. 49–74 CE)—author of the gospel. Jerome wrote that the presbyters elected a bishop from among them to hold a more exalted position just as an army elects a general (Letter 146.1). The conclusion about elders and bishops being one and the same, as I mentioned earlier, is the same position that Jerome took a few centuries after Ignatius and others ran with the Ignatian structure. Upon further studying Jerome’s views on the matter, church historian Philip Schaff wrote that Jerome believed this to have been a “custom of the church” to root out heresies.[2]

Final Thoughts

As changes such as these began, the greater authority would be vested in those holding official positions in the church. The result would be two classes of Christians: clergy and laity. The clergy would emerge as the authoritative figures. Therefore, what the clergy said, went. Heresies that arose in the first and second centuries were the impetus to the tripartite congregational polity, but it wouldn’t stop there.


[1] See Andrew Stephen Damick, Bearing God: The Life and Works of St. Ignatius of Antioch the God-Bearer (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publications, 2017).

[2] In George Park Fisher, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907), 52.

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Father Abraham

A lot of time was spent on the first eleven chapters of Genesis, but that all set us up to transition to Abraham. You’ll notice that from the beginning of Genesis until this point, God has selected individuals out of a group to represent Him in the fallen world. Adam and Eve were intended for this purpose, but they failed. Out of their two children, the good one was murdered for being good, and the murderer was further exiled from God. They bore another son through whom came Noah, and God hit the reset button on creation. Out of Noah’s sons, Shem would be the forefather of Terah, who’d have three sons, and out of those three sons, just like with Noah, one would be selected, Abraham.[1]

When we’re first introduced to Abraham, he goes by the name Abram (Gen. 11:26). He lives in Ur in Babylon, and our focus stays on him from here until he died in Genesis 25. Terah takes his family and leaves Ur, and they make it as far as Haran, some 600 miles northwest of Ur, where Terah dies. After his father’s death, Abram receives the call of Yahweh. They intended to make it to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31–32), but that didn’t happen. In these patriarchal times, the father, or head of the family, guided the family life. We know that Terah led the family in idolatry (Josh. 24:2). Still, we don’t understand why he left Ur and why they were headed to Canaan. However, this mirrors Israel in their later history because they would end up in Babylon because of idolatry, only to be allowed to return to the Promised Land, similarly to how their forefather traveled.

God wanted His first humans to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28), and God issued the same mandate to Noah (Gen. 9:1–3). The same request is made of Abram (Gen. 12:2; 15:5). Not only is this Israel’s story in a miniature form, but it’s also God trying to do what He intended to do from creation. In a world that’s fallen, God is redeeming it through one person, one family. “The Adam story looks forward to Israel’s story; the story of Abraham looks backward to creation.”[2]

No sooner than Abram arrives in the land God has promised to him, he leaves to go to Egypt because of a famine (Gen. 12:10). Sound familiar? This is the exact same trek Israel will follow for the same circumstance years later. Abram is concerned because his wife is beautiful, so he hands her over, and she is taken by the Egyptians. No worry, because Abram becomes rich in the process (Gen. 13:2–6). Yet, God plagues Pharaoh, and he sends Abram and Sarai off—just like He’d do for Israel. Abram and his nephew would settle apart from one another since their herds and flocks were too numerous. Lot would fall into enemy hands, forcing Abram to take his forces and retrieve him from captivity. Again, reminiscent of Israel and Egypt in a way.

After successfully retrieving Lot from bondage, Abram meets Melchizedek (“righteous king”), a king-priest of Salem, an early name for Jerusalem. This foreshadows the Davidic line from which Jesus came and the order He fulfilled. David himself somewhat fulfilled priestly roles and was also a priest-king in a sense. Much more could be written about this point, but it is an exciting study, to say the least.

Abram becomes concerned with how God will keep His promise. He proposes to God that he make an heir from his household, but God tells him that he will father a son (Gen. 15:3–4). To keep His promises, God binds Himself to Abram with an oath, a covenant (Gen. 15:9–21). This covenant’s meaning is that God will become the pieces of the sacrifices offered if He doesn’t come through with what He promised Abram. At the Exodus time, this was the promise invoked (Exod. 2:24–25).

All is well, right? Well, after some time, we’re not told how long Abram figures on helping God again. His wife, Sarai, offers her Egyptian slave, Hagar. Once the latter became pregnant, she despised her mistress, believing herself to have been elevated in status now. They have a tiff over this, and Hagar is sent away only to return after a divine revelation. Her son, Ishmael, will be a patriarch himself, and the Arabs claim descent from him (cf. Gen. 25:12–18).

A Turning Point in the Abrahamic Narrative

Let’s pause for a moment to remind ourselves how Abram has fared thus far. He has gone to the land only to leave because of famine. Talk about trusting in God, right? He lies and passes off his wife as his sister. The noble husband that he is. He returns to the land and has to divide from his nephew because their herdsmen aren’t getting along. He doesn’t want the problem to boil over into a family dispute. Good thinking here, at least. Since he’s not had children, he wants to name an heir from among his household servants, but God says, “No.” Then, after God makes a covenant with him, he goes on ahead to help God, at the behest of his wife, in keeping that promise by having a child with one of the maids. Still, that wasn’t what God had in mind, and, plus, it led to a family feud.

Between chapters sixteen and seventeen, thirteen years have passed. Ishmael is a gangly son that Abram has had the joy to watch grow up. Hagar has gone back to her place of being a submissive servant, and Sarai is happy. Yet, still no land and people. Out of nowhere, Yahweh shows up, commands that Abram walk before Him and be blameless. You kind of wonder whether or not that was an indictment of his early years of following God. Thus far, Abram has followed God for twenty-four years (cf. Gen. 12:4). Now, God commands that Abram have some skin in the game (pardon the pun). He commands circumcision (Gen. 17:9–13), likely a manner of God claiming the organ to indicate that Abram’s offspring was His and that Abram’s and Sarai’s future were in His hands. Anyone not circumcised, funny enough, would be cut off (Gen. 17:14). His (“Exalted Father”) and Sarai’s (“Princess”) names are both changed, akin to a monarch ascending the throne.

Abraham’s visited by angels who confirm Yahweh’s promise and even give him a timeline of one year (Gen. 18:10). The way it’s phrased, it was as if they said, “This time next year, I’ll return.” A condition of this promise is Abraham walking before God and being blameless, and this too is reiterated in Gen. 18:19. This time, however, Abraham is to examine God in a manner of self-discovery about himself as well as the character of Yahweh. Abraham is here and later depicted as a lawfully obedient follower of God (cf. Gen. 26:4–5), so the Israelite is simply following in his footsteps. Within the law are blessing (children) and curse (destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). Whenever people act as depraved as those of Sodom and Gomorrah’s cities, they have nothing but to be cursed and incur God’s wrath for the pain they cause.

The promised, anticipated son is finally born. Abraham and Sarah had waited for this moment for so long, and now it had finally came to pass. After a couple of years or so, Isaac is weaned, and a big celebration follows. Sadly, the festival would turn to a wake because Sarah would finally have Hagar and Ishmael banished. Abraham isn’t thrilled about it, but God tells him to listen to her because the promise would be fulfilled in Isaac. Oh, and God would take care of Ishmael too.

Several, perhaps many, years later, God asks the impossible of Abraham—to sacrifice Isaac. Critical to understanding this story is the laws regarding the firstborn. God says that the firstborn belongs to Him (Exod. 13:1, 11–13). That which opens the womb is God’s, and in the case of animals, we can accept this because sacrificing an animal to God was a part of the customs. God took the Levites to Himself, and they served in the tabernacle/temple, and for Isaac, he would be God’s too. Yet, God would make the exception in the case of humans. He wouldn’t accept human sacrifices because that’s what the pagans did (cf. 2 Kings 16:3). He would, however, take a substitute (Num. 8:17). We know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.

Abraham’s life points to the theme of God wishing to bless all peoples of the earth. He began with Adam, which was a bust, then through Seth, we’d find Noah, Shem, and Abraham. Abraham’s relationship with God is at times shaky. Still, overall he is the patriarch of the family of God in faith. He occupies many pages in the New Testament. To understand Abraham is to see the fulfillment of the promises God made over 4,000 years ago. In Abraham, we have that family through whom God promised to bless the earth in the flesh and in spirit. We are children of Abraham, who worship Jesus Christ, the Son of Yahweh.


[1] In case you hadn’t noticed, parents have a triad of children out of which one is selected. Adam and Eve bore Cain, Abel, and Seth, and Seth is selected. Enosh is named from Seth, and through him comes Noah, who also has three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Shem is from whom the Israelites would descend, and his lineage would go through Arphaxad to Terah who had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Abram is selected, so the next logical sequence would be one son, and Abram’s one son out of two would be Isaac.

[2] Enns and Byas, Genesis for Normal People, 99.

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The New Testament Canon

The twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament appear in the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius (c. 367)—a prominent bishop—and this is the typical starting point for many as to their history of the canon. Because of such a detailed letter regarding the New Testament, some have concluded that the canon was a late invention considering the letter’s dating. Still, as our last lesson demonstrated, the canon was emerging in the first century itself and is evident in the writings of the early church fathers as functional before the fourth century. Athanasius wrote this letter to end the disputes about other orthodox letters believed to be equal to apostolic writings—Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas. It also detailed Peter’s epistles and Revelation’s authenticity, something that was questionable to some.

Earlier than his festal letter, a catalog from North Africa listed twenty-four books, named the Mommsen Catalog (c. 359). Cyril of Jerusalem had earlier listed all the books except Revelation (c. 350), but the Council of Nicea is often the canon’s accepted settling point (c. 325). However, the council’s entirety wasn’t about the canon, but the divinity of Jesus, hence the Nicean creed. Because they affirmed the canon doesn’t mean that they “created” it. Similarly, regional church councils also acknowledged the canon, but they also didn’t determine it. As Michael Kruger puts it, “These councils were declaring the way things had been, not the way they wanted them to be.” 

Around 250 CE, the early church theologian, Origen produced a list of the New Testament in his commentary on Joshua.

Matthew … Mark also; Luke and John each … Even Peter … in two of his epistles; also James and Jude. In addition, John … through his epistles, and Luke, as he describes the Acts of the Apostles … in fourteen of [Paul’s] epistles.

Hom. Josh. 7.1; cf. Hom. Gen. 13.2

This list would have included Revelation in John’s epistles and Hebrews would have counted as a letter of Paul because many in the early church believed that Paul wrote Hebrews. 

What, however, precipitated the list and the official declaration of the canon? It all began around 144 CE because of an early church heretic named Marcion. He only listed the gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles, omitting the pastorals and Hebrews. A harmony of the four gospels appear in 170 CE by Tatian and entitled Diatessaron. About the same time, Melito of Sardis identified the Old Testament canon used by the Jews. The earliest response to Marcion’s list with a list is what’s called the Muratorian Canon (c. 180), so named after its discoverer. It contains twenty-two of our twenty-seven books, omitting James, 1 & 2 Peter, 3 John, and Hebrews. Interestingly enough, around the same time as the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus was the first to refer to a New Testament (Adv. Haer. 4.15.2).  

This leads to the truth that some books we now acknowledge as inspired weren’t always regarded as such by everyone in the early church. Athanasius explained the reasoning for excluding two well-regarded writings, but a few were disputed earlier such as 2 Peter, 2–3 John, Jude and James. Other writings were outright rejected: Acts of Paul, Apocalypse of Peter, Gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Matthias (Eus. Eccl. Hist. 3.25). 

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The Emergence of a New Testament

One can easily make the case that a New Testament, or a canon of the new covenant Scriptures, was expected. When we examine the Mosaic covenant, we notice in Hebrews 9:18–21 the facets making up the first covenant that appears in Exodus 24:3–8, and among them is the book (Heb. 9:19). Unlike the first covenant, no tabernacle or vessels in the New Covenant are cleansed because the church and individual Christians are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Nevertheless, we who comprise the church and are of the Way are sprinkled with the lamb’s blood in our baptisms, and in due course, a book would necessarily emerge. Now, this perspective isn’t accepted by everyone. Some scholars contend that the New Testament could not have been foreseen and wasn’t expected. Others contend that the canon wasn’t created until the end of the second century CE, but I tend to disagree with both of those propositions. 

The earliest hint of an emerging canon appears in 2 Peter 3:16. Peter recognizes Paul’s writings as on par with Scripture. What he has in mind when referring to Paul’s letters isn’t altogether clear, because Paul wrote some letters that were widely accepted while others were questionable. Peter assumes that his audience knows what he’s talking about, and he likely expects that they receive his own letter similarly given that he addressed himself as an apostle (2 Peter 1:1; cf. 2 Peter 3:2). Another hint at recognizing authoritative writings in the first century is 1 Timothy 5:18, which is a quotation from Luke 10:7 and Deut. 25:4. The opening phrase, “For the Scripture says,” recognizes both passages as being Scripture. This initial phrase comes from Deut while the rest is identical to Luke’s wording. Thus far, Paul’s writings and Luke’s gospel account are considered Scripture on the basis of internal evidence from the letters. 

Another aspect worthy of considering is the nature of public readings in the assembly. In several New Testament letters, we observe the command to have them read publicly which indicates that they carried authority (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Cor. 10:9; Rev. 1:3). We’re able to base this conclusion, in part, on how portions of the Old Testament were read in synagogue meetings (Luke 4:17–20; Acts 13:15; 15:21). Other scholars have additionally pointed out that the Greek structure of Matthew and Mark lent itself to a liturgical structure—which means that they would have been used for year-round public readings. The fact that such letters were urged to be read publicly along with Paul’s command to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13) may in fact suggest that he already believed his writings to have been such (cf. 2 Peter 3:2). 

The earliest historical source about a Christian assembly details the authority of the apostolic writings. 

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 67.3

What’s clear from history is that Scripture were not exclusively read in early church assemblies. Some popular writings that were often read in the church, but that were not placed among the acknowledged books, was The Shepherd of Hermas (Eus., Eccl. Hist. 3.3.6; cf. Rom. 16:14) and 1 Clement (Eus., Eccl. Hist. 4.23.11). Serapion, the Antiochian bishop (190–211 CE) wrote to dispel the Gospel of Peter that had been read in Rhossus because it had led some astray (Eus., Eccl. Hist. 6.12.2). Certain epistles were well esteemed because of the author, while others were forgeries.  

Some might find the notion of reading non-canonical letters in the assembly challenging. However, the reason these writings weren’t ultimately included in the canon was because they were not universally accepted. There were three criteria for canonicity: 1) universality, 2) apostolicity, and 3) orthodoxy. If a writing fit into all three, it was accepted into the canon. However, there’s debate over another point: did the church create the canon? If so, authority primarily rests with the church—which is what Catholics and Orthodox believe, their definition of “church” here meaning the priesthood. However, while it’s true that prelates assembled to formalize the canon, they didn’t “determine” so much as “acknowledge” what had, up to that time, been regarded as Scripture. From the latter point of view, Scripture is more authoritative. This is the great divide between Protestants and Catholics/Orthodox. 

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God Confuses Languages

The story about the Tower of Babel is sandwiched between genealogies.[1] Still, these are more than portions of Scripture we’d want to skip. It’s what’s often referred to as the Table of Nations. It comes between two toledoth (10:1; 11:10), the second of which is followed by yet another (11:27). The sections become more extended from here out, so while we have ten in total and six already used, their frequency becomes less. What’s interesting to note, first, is that all of these nations have their own language (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31). Still, when we arrive at Babel’s story, it begins with everyone having the same language (Gen. 11:1). Some might see this as a contradiction, but it’s actually a literary device that beckons the reader to pay attention.

We could detail the various people and the nations from them, but I want to focus on the point leading up to the story about the Tower of Babel. Cush (Ethiopia) is the father of Nimrod, a name often used to insult someone else in our time. Nimrod built Babel and Nineveh, who would later be two of Israel’s greatest enemies (Gen. 10:8–11). Jonah would preach to Nineveh, which later became the Capitol city of Assyria—who conquered the northern ten tribes of Israel. They led them into captivity while importing foreigners to intermingle with them, thus diluting the bloodline in 721 BCE. Years later, Babylon would subdue Judah and Benjamin, the Southern Kingdom, and lead them into captivity in 586 BCE.  

Centuries before, however, these two enemies of Israel can be traced to one person, Nimrod, who we eventually trace back to the degraded son of Noah, Ham. When we look at Ham’s sons, all of them are later enemies of Israel (Gen. 10:6). Cush, whom we’ve already looked at, birthed enemy kingdoms of Israel. Ham’s son, Canaan, well, we know about him. Mizraim was the Aramaic name of the Egyptians, who were often hostile to Israel. Put (Libya) was further west than Egypt and often supported the Egyptians and other Israel enemies (cf. Nahum 3:9; Ezek. 27:10; 30:5; 38:5).

Let’s say you’re an ancient Israelite who lives either before, during, or after Jerusalem’s siege by the Babylonians. This story and the Table of Nations are especially intriguing to you. The part about the Tower of Babel appears mid-genealogy in explaining your own lineage, so you sit up straight and take note. These post-flood people come together in the plain of Shinar (11:1; cf. 10:10), which is Iraq today. Iraq was, long ago, Babylon, and before then, it was the land of the Chaldeans. That’s important because it’s where Abraham came from, Ur of the Chaldeans.

Nevertheless, these people come together to build a city and a tower. This ancient tower is what’s known as a ziggurat. This sort of structure was common in ancient Mesopotamia. They weren’t built for people to go up despite it looking like a pyramid with stairs around it and the top having an altar. Ancient people often sought high places to worship the gods because they were “up there,” so the higher you could get, the closer to the gods. In this case, the ziggurat was for the gods to come down more than for the people to go up. In Genesis 3, humanity lost the presence of God by being cast from Eden, so they build this structure with the hope that God would come to them. They were often made next to temples, and the thinking was that God would come down and enter His temple to occupy it and so that they could have His presence among them once more.  

The two indicators of what might have been wrong here are that they 1) wanted to make a name for themselves, and 2) didn’t want to be scattered (11:4). I’m going to get to what I believe was wrong here, keeping in mind the story of Genesis up to this point. Still, God’s solution is to balal (“confuse”) their language. Literally, God is going to balal babel. It’s sort of punny. Ok, so what’s the problem? Humanity is at it again. From the beginning, humanity has crossed the boundaries of being creatures. We, time and again, want to be gods. Our initial fall was aspiring to have God’s wisdom (Gen. 3:4). Sons of God come down once again, transgressing the earthy and heavenly boundaries (Gen. 6:1–4). Humanity, or a portion of humanity, wants to break through those exact boundaries, not by going up (Gen. 11:4), but by making a name for God rather than self. That was their sin. That was what displeased God. There were several ways they could have made a name for themselves, but when it came to sacred space, that was to be done for God and not for oneself.

God is the one who creates and orders. Still, in building this tower and city, these people were making their own order and unity around themselves and not God, so He confuses and disperses them. Yet, God undid His work at Babel on Pentecost (Acts 2:1–7). The Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak in languages for which they were untrained, but what’s even more marvelous is how everyone present heard in their own language. They listened to the good news about Jesus, who came to rectify humanity’s errors plagued upon the earth. He did this by dying on the cross, and those who have faith in Him will be saved. They exalted the name of Jesus rather than themselves.


[1] Archaeologists have uncovered a relief detailing the building of a ziggurat during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. The archaeological evidence, including bricks from the ziggurat in question, plus the story in Genesis has caused scholars to date the account here to the exilic period that began in 586 BCE. A redactor is believed to have inserted it as a fictional story with a very real meaning.

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What the Flood in Genesis is Really About

Did you know that some of the fairy tales we grew up learning as children were actually sanitized horror stories, some of which were very salacious? For example, Little Red Riding Hood was originally about the werewolf fornicating with the girl, who herself was equated with a prostitute, and killing her after, first, seducing her. In the sixteenth century, the story was written during Europe’s werewolf epidemic. Men who committed horrific murders were said to have been werewolves since it would have taken such a beast to have achieved such horrible things. This was actually a legal charge of which some people were convicted in those days.

Sleeping Beauty, originally from the seventeenth century, was about a woman being assaulted in her sleep by a sex-starved king. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was initially about child labor in coal mines. Snow White was based on a beautiful woman whose father employed children in the mines since they were so small that only children could work in them. Disney went along and sanitized these stories to make them more child-friendly. Don’t even get me started on Pocahontas! Nevertheless, Sunday schools throughout the world have done the same with Noah and the Ark. We’ve caricatured this story by focusing only on Noah, the ark, and the animals going two-by-two, but this is actually very sad when read with ancient lenses.

In reading the flood story, we have to understand how ancient people told stories. We tend to read this as literal history with our Western minds. Still, ancient Easterners told stories using hyperbole—like some of the fishing stories our dads and uncles tell. We know the fish wasn’t that big and didn’t almost drown you with its strength, but we get your point. The flood was clearly a historical event, but the details surrounding this may, in fact, just be hyperbole. Take a comparison of Genesis 6:5–7 and Genesis 6:9. If we read this as literal, these passages are in contradiction of one another. Was not Noah a man, and would he not have been as guilty as the others? But the point is that amid such depravity on the earth, one man from whom the Israelites descended found grace in God’s eyes.

We see in Genesis a narrowing of their lineage. We’ve gone from Adam and Eve to Seth, and through him Noah, and from him Shem—from whom the Semitic people descend. As the story goes on and on, the focus becomes narrower and narrower until we arrive at Jacob and his descendants. The genealogy of Genesis 5 followed Seth and his son, Enosh, at the point when they began to call on the name of Yahweh (Gen. 4:25–26), which was another way to say that they worshipped God. Noah’s story derives from there and explains why he was a righteous man in a corrupt time, which will lead us closer to Israel and the Promised Land. Remember, Genesis is about Israel’s national story, its beginning, and focuses on land (that of Canaan) and people (Israel).

The Deluge

There is, however, something that should be noted: Israel wasn’t the only ancient civilization with a flood story. The oldest of these stories is the Epic of Gilgamesh (2150–1400 BCE). Other Mesopotamian civilizations had flood stories, as well as even the Greeks and Aztecs. Some archaeologists estimate that there was a catastrophic flood in the ancient Near East around 2900 BCE.[1] The telling of the story here should emphasize why more so than how. We should focus on why God did what He did rather than recreate a historical event with the details we have supplied. Sorry, Ken Ham. The point is human corruption precipitated the flood (Gen. 6:5, 11–13), and we may conclude that murder and the eating of live animals were a part of the issue (Gen. 9:1–7). There’s also the intro to this where divine figures are leaving their first estate (Jude 1:6; cf. 2 Peter 2:45; Eph. 6:12) to consort with humans, and the comingling of the earthly and divine figures are antithetical to God’s design making it, therefore, sinful to do so. This precipitates what follows. God, however, is not concerned with just being mean to humans, but out of all those who are on the face of the earth, none are good like Noah. God is going to hit the reset button. The flood will ultimately result in wiping off those humans who’ve placed themselves against God and His design. The one who honors Him will survive and go on to perpetuate people who, hopefully like himself, will continue in a good way.

This isn’t destruction so much as recreation. At least, this would be how Peter would explain it centuries later (2 Peter 3:5–6). There are some striking similarities between this recreation and creation itself. On the first day of creation, an empty void exists as a water mass (Gen. 1:2). God divided the waters above and below, and he partitioned the waters above with a dome or firmament (Gen. 1:6). We, next, read about this dome having windows in Genesis 7:11, so the flood-doors were opened and even the waters elevated from the deep below. God had divided creation, but now He’s undoing what He had done. Where chaos had existed, and God ordered it, He removes His order for the disorder to reign on inhabited earth. “If God’s creation behaves in a ‘disorderly’ and chaotic way, God will unleash the forces of chaos upon it.”[2] However, for Noah and his family, God has provided salvation.

After the flood is over, Noah builds the first-ever altar to Yahweh (Gen. 8:20). The animals on the ark are for offering to God. Remember Cain and Abel and offerings. Noah is now the new creation, the new Adam, who teaches worship via an altar. Then, we witness another first: God makes a covenant (Gen. 9:9–11). Rather than humanity living in constant fear of God’s judgment, God promises society to never allow chaos to have control, and the sign of this is the bow in the sky (Gen. 9:12–17). As God makes later covenants, we see Him give indications of the covenant. To Abraham, He gave the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:9–14), and to Moses, He gave the Sabbath (Exod. 31:12–18). To we who are Christians, the covenant sign is the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:20). “These signs are like brands. They serve as a reminder to the covenant partners of the relationship established between them.”[3]


[1] Enns and Byas, Genesis for Normal People, 74.

[2] Ibid., 82.

[3] Temper Longman III and John H. Walton, The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 106.

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To Include or Exclude the Apocrypha (Deutero-Canon)?

When we speak about the Old and New Testaments’ collected books, we use the word “canon.” This term is in Galatians 6:16 and appears as “rule.” When we speak about the canon of the Bible, we’re typically referring to the 66 books we have, but others have more books in their Old Testaments in other traditions. These extra books are the apocryphal books of the Old Testament (deutero-canonical to the Orthodox Church). They are considered canonical in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Apocrypha is a group of writings that date from 300 BCE to 100 CE. They consist of history (1 Esdras, 1 & 2 Maccabees), fiction (Tobit, Judith, and additions to Esther/Daniel), wisdom literature (Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, The Prayer of Manasseh), and apocalyptic literature (2 Esdras). While they appear with Scripture, Jews didn’t consider them to be canonical. Some people argue for accepting the apocryphal books as Scripture based on their inclusion in the Greek Old Testament’s earliest codices (Septuagint, or LXX) that date to the 4th–5th centuries CE. However, they were omitted when the LXX was initially translated in the 3rd–2nd centuries BCE and Jerome refused to include them when he composed the Latin Bible in 383 CE.  

They are, however, included in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible, among which is the Codex Vaticanus. A codex is a way of saying “ancient book,” and the plural is “codices.” This book was found in the Vatican library and has almost all Old and New Testaments, plus other books therein. It dated to the middle of the fourth century and was used by Erasmus in the Renaissance to complete his Textus Receptus. In addition to the Old Testament books they have, 3 Esdras, Wisdom, Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, Ecclesiasticus, additions to Esther Judith, Tobit, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah, and additions to Daniel are included. 

The Codex Sinaiticus was found in 1859 by Count Tischendorf at the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. It dates to the later fourth century and has the entire New Testament with half of the Old Testament in Greek. It adds 1 & 4 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus to the Old Testament. A fifth-century codex, Alexandrinus contains the Old Testament in Greek as well as the entire New Testament, but the New Testament adds the first epistle of Clement of Rome and 2 & 3 Maccabees. These three oldest codices agree on the inclusion of Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus (a.k.a. Ben Sira). Many have equated codices with canon, but it’s not the same.     

Josephus did not include the Apocrypha in his list of books:

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death …. but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes [d. 425 BCE] very particularly, but has not been esteemed of like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.

Against Apion 1.8

First, Josephus only identifies twenty-two books. What you have to keep in mind is that some of the books were one volume. For example, the minor prophets, which are twelve, were all one book then. Ezra-Nehemiah was one book, so some of these historical factoids explain why the Jews had fewer Old Testament books than what we have in our Bibles.

What does Josephus mean by, “has not been esteemed of like authority?” Jews didn’t believe a prophet lived among them during the Intertestamental Period. After the Gentiles defiled the altar, they tore it down and “stored the stones in a convenient place … until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them” (1 Macc. 4:46). They later made someone their leader and high priest forever “until a trustworthy prophet should arise” (1 Macc. 14:41). Between these two events, history even recorded that the distress arose in Israel so great since the prophets ceased appearing among them (1 Macc. 9:27). 

Melito of Sardis, a second-century elder, also failed to include them in his Old Testament list.

Accordingly when I went to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and I send them to you as written below. These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of Kingdoms [1 & 2 Samuel and Kings], two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs or Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve [minor prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras [Ezra-Nehemiah].

Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.26.14

The Council of Trent (Session IV, 1546) is historically the first point at which the Catholic Church formally recognized these books as “Divine Scripture.” They were not included in the original Hebrew Scriptures but were declared “genuine parts of Scripture” by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672). When you consider how active the Reformation was at this time, it necessitated an answer from both the Catholic and Orthodox churches regarding the Old Testament canon. Even in our own time, Orthodox bishop and theologian, Kallistos Ware, recognizes that these books weren’t present in the Hebrew text.

The Septuagint contains in addition ten further books, not present in the Hebrew, which are known in the Orthodox Church as the “Deutero-Canonical Books.” … most Orthodox scholars at present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Detero-Canonical Books, although a part of the Bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, new ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 200.

These books, however, do have value for understanding first-century Judaism. When the voice of prophecy had ceased, these books voiced what happened between the Testaments religiously, literarily, and historically. The two books of the Maccabees detail the struggle of the Jews for religious and political freedom, and they record a heroic period of Hebrew history. These books also help us understand the spiritual, philosophical, and intellectual life of the Jews before Christ’s birth.

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How Humanity Chooses Death

Imagine we’re in heaven with God. No decay, no futility, and nothing of the world we know that contributes to human woes. Now, if I were to ask how many of you would rather die than live, we’d all look suspiciously at anyone who raised their hand. Yet, the first humans had heaven on earth, and they chose death. After God created the human (Gen. 2:7),[1] He planted a garden in the heavens and earth. In the Greek Old Testament, He planted paradise. Whenever you read about paradise in the New Testament, think heaven, or Eden. When Jesus said to the thief, “Today, you’ll be with Me in paradise,” He had Eden (lavish) in mind. When John told the Ephesians that if they overcame, it would be given to them to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God, he had in mind Eden. We often call it heaven, but that’s where the tree of life exists.

Next to the tree of life is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the tree from which humans are forbidden to eat (Gen. 2:16–17), but before this prohibition is given, they are placed in paradise to “tend” and “keep” it (Gen. 2:15). God had given humanity a royal function in Gen. 1:28–29, but He now gives them a priestly function in Gen 2:15 (cf. Exod. 3:12; Num. 3:7–10). We often read the “tend” and “keep” as agricultural, but that isn’t the case though it can be. The work they would have done would be what we call worship, yet, not in the sense that we think of it. Rather, their jobs in the garden would have been to maintain the sacred space. If you’ve ever seen Buddhist monks tending the compound of their monastery, that’s what we have in mind here. That’s the tending that would have gone on. They were meant to maintain the area as sacred, and to protect it from the profane, which was why the command was given to not eat from the particular tree.

God gives the human a companion, an ‘ezer kenegdo. The second term means “besides,” so she’s to be by his side. “Helper” may give us the impression that she’s to aid him, but that also suggests that he takes the primary role. That isn’t what’s conveyed here. Rather, she’s to be actively intervening on his behalf. At least, that’s how the term was used in a military context.[2] Imagine two soldiers who are privates: they’re equal, they look out for one another, and they step up for the other in mutual service. This is what’s in mind. Man isn’t in control of woman, and she’s not subordinate to him. That doesn’t appear until God curses them. They’re two soldiers equal to one another and equally subordinate to God.

Remember how God ordered creation out of chaos? The serpent that shows up in the Garden is a chaos creature. In Christian theology we learn that this specific being was Satan, but ancient Israelites did not have such a view here. God created this creature (Gen. 1:21), and in the ancient east, they were mischievous and destructive.[3] Were Adam (human) and Eve (life) to do their royal and priestly function as image-bearers of God, they would have preserved the sacred space and ordered the creature gone when he clearly led them astray with lies. Yet, they bore with his nonsense and it cost them greatly.

A Repeat

The story that follows is Cain’s murder of Abel. God accepted both produce and meat as an offering, but one thing that differentiated the sacrifices was that Abel brought the firstlings of his flock while it appears that Cain brought just anything (Gen. 4:4–5). We later see reflected in Moses’ Law the importance of returning the first fruits to God (Exod. 13:12; Lev. 23:10), so when ancient Israelites heard this story read, they would make the connection. Because Cain grew jealous and killed his brother, he too would suffer a punishment akin to his parents. They were expelled from the sacred space of Eden, so Cain too would be exiled from the presence of God. When we recall that the earth was God’s temple, we can easily conclude that Eden corresponded to the holy of holies. God’s original plan was for all humanity to occupy the holy of holies, to be with Him and in His presence. Sin forces us out, away from God, but the blood of Christ brings us back.

Did Adam and Eve die on the day they ate the fruit? Yes! Centuries later when Israel was exiled, a connection was drawn between exile and death. Ezekiel envisions a valley of dry bones that represents Israel, but Israel is not literally dead. They were exiled, in Babylon. God’s promise to Abraham to give them land, and that a descendant of David would sit on the throne forever was all lost when they were exiled. Exile was death. The vision of Ezekiel was that the bones were brought back to life which represented Israel returning from captivity (Ezek. 37:11–14). When they are reconnected to their ancestral homeland with God, they are brought back to life.[4]

Abel is dead, and Cain is exiled and settles in Nod (“Drifting”). In exile, Cain builds a city—which was what the gods did, build cities. Cain invariably behaves as a god and in an irreverent manner, and one of his descendents follows in his footsteps and kills and even believes he’ll be protected more so than his father (Gen. 4:23–24). Adam and Eve wouldn’t ever claim Cain and his descendants, and Abel didn’t have offspring, so they had another son, Seth (“Granted”). Seth and his son Enosh began calling upon the name of Yahweh, which meant that they began worshipping Him (Gen. 4:26). Next is a long genealogy, and we’re prone to skip right over that part, but it bears some significance to the reading of this section. The genealogy reads from Adam to Seth, overlooking Cain and not able to claim Abel since he bore no offspring. The entirety of the genealogy of Genesis 5 is to set us up for the next section, and it does that by taking us from a righteous Seth to a righteous Noah. He was actually born to reverse the curse of Adam (Gen. 5:29).


[1] Adam is the Hebrew term for “human,” and adamah is the word for “ground.” It’s a play on words that’s used here.

[2] Alter, Books of Moses, 22.

[3] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 132–33.

[4] Peter Enns and Jared Byas, Genesis for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible (n. p.: The Bible for Normal People, 2019), 49–51.

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The Law in the Intertestamental Period

Thus far, we’ve established that with Moses living around 1500 BCE, the books attributed to him date between 1450–00 BCE. These books were vested with authority  by the command that they are read every seven years (Deut. 31:10–13), and they were read by Joshua in the 13th century BCE (Josh. 8:34–35).[1] The 8th century BCE prophet Isaiah urged the reading of prophetic books (Is. 34:16). By the 7th century BCE, King Josiah’s court had discovered a copy of the law, likely the book of Deuteronomy (2 Kings 22:3–20), and read from it and inquiring of Huldah what such things meant. Jeremiah (6th cent. BCE) urged something to read of his scroll as authoritative (Jer. 36:6–26). During Jeremiah’s tenure, Judah was exiled to Babylon.

When the exiles returned Maccabean Revolt’s time to their land after decades of absence, they did so under one journey where the scribe Ezra led them. Ezra was one who “set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ez. 7:10; cf. 7:6, 25; Deut. 16:12). Ezra’s knowledge of the Law enabled him to advocate for the Law in the reestablishment of Israel, so when the people assembled for a reading of the law, their response was remorse and weeping. The return from exile and covenant renewal did not prohibit a lukewarm response to the Law. By the prophet Malachi, the priests had turned from the Law (Mal 4:4). Their neglect of the Law, perhaps a response to unfulfilled prophetic expectations, led them to apathy towards religious observance. They were neglecting their duties manifested in the lack of reverence towards God so that instead of teaching the Law, they turned from it (Mal. 2:1–9).

The Law taking center stage is assumed to have been ongoing by the time of the Maccabean Revolt when the books of the Law were seized from the temple and any who possessed copies. The seizure was followed by a subsequent destruction of the law documents, which gave rise to Jewish zeal for the customs of their ancestors (1 Macc. 1:56–57). The Jews had formed the habit of searching the Law’s book when faced with national threats (1 Macc. 3:48), and they’d read from their holy books even before going into battle (2 Macc. 8:23). Following Ezra and Nehemiah’s example, they became stringent in their observance of studying the Law and turning to it. This was a dramatic shift from their pre-exilic mindset.

The Essenes dwelt around the Dead Sea while some lived in cities.[2] The Qumran community mandated a third of every night for reading the book and studying the law as a community.[3] Their study and reading of the law were likely oral rather than silent because of the Maccabees’ customs. 

For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end. (2 Macc. 15:39)

In the time of my maturity I remained with my husband, and when these sons had grown up their father died. A happy man was he, who lived out his life with good children, and did not have the grief of bereavement. While he was still with you, he taught you the law and the prophets. He read to you about Abel slain by Cain, and Isaac who was offered as a burnt offering, and about Joseph in prison. (4 Macc. 18:9–11)

Baruch read the words of this book to Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and to all the people who came to hear the book…. And you shall read aloud this scroll that we are sending you, to make your confession in the house of the Lord on the days of the festivals and at appointed seasons. (Baruch 1:3, 14)

The Essene’s method of interpretation was to not depart from the commandments and not add anything to them. The preservation of God’s commands in their most accurate form was a significant concern for this community.[4] Hence, they believed that their interpretation of the law was the last.[5] Their proper, communal study of the Law was thought to atone for the land, whereas earlier generations had ignored the Law’s reading and hearing.[6] Since the community also had priests and Levites as members, and these clerics read the text aloud in the assemblies that required a minimal number of ten.[7]

By the time of Philo, the Jews were regularly meeting in synagogues where they would read the scriptures and, after that, explain whatever was unclear.[8] However, scripture reading was not restricted to the synagogue or scribal community.[9] Among the Therapeutae, Philo recorded that scripture readings and the sermons that followed were common at banquets.[10]

While the origin of the synagogue is widely debated as originating with Moses or sometime during or after the exile, the literary value of its activity as it is observed in the New Testament would give greater weight to sometime after the removal. Nevertheless, the synagogue rose during the Intertestamental Period. The earliest New Testament reference to a synagogue meeting came in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus read from the prophets and gave a sermon. The synagogue meetings were not for worship per se but religious instruction. Synagogues were institutions of religious education;[11] to speak of synagogue worship negates the temple’s place in the life of the ancient Jew. The temple was where worship was rendered, as well as Scripture read at times too.[12]

There were at least two readings in a synagogue meeting—one from the Law and the other from the prophets.[13] The latter was followed by the synagogue ruler asking if anyone had a message after the reading.[14] The Law was read on a liturgical calendar and in its entirety every three years.[15] Had a priest or Levite been present, and they would have been given preference over an educated Israelite reading, [16] so Jesus’ reading infers the absence of both.[17] The reading of the prophets formed the conclusion of the synagogue service known as the Haftarah. Since this portion of the reading was not preselected, the reader, at their discretion, could select the passage to read.[18]

When the church was born, it was not considered distinct from Judaism, so synagogue and temple meetings continued until apostolic preaching went to the Gentiles. Upon conversion of the Gentiles and before their conversion, the early Christians primarily met in houses.[19] Within, the worship of the early church became defined as separate from the temple or synagogue. Still, the early church’s house meetings shared many organization and style practices with those of the synagogue.


[1] What’s unclear is if all Deuteronomy, or Exod. 21–23, or some other portion of the law was intended by this command. We call Torah Gen–Deut., but that may not have been what Moses meant.

[2] Josephus seemed to posit that some might have lived in cities (Wars 2.8.4), but Philo posited that they lived in isolated villages (Quod Omn. Prob. xii [76]) and cities (Hyp. [11.1]).

[3] 1QS vi, 7–10; cf. Wars 2.8.6, 12; Quod Omn. Prob. xii (75).

[4] 1QS I, 13–15.

[5] 4Q266 fr. 11; 270 fr. 7 ii.

[6] 1QS viii, 6.

[7] Quod Omn. Prob. xii (82, 84); 1QS vi, 7–10; cf. Wars 2.8.5.

[8] Philo Som. 2.18; cf. Contra Apion 2.18. The Theodotus Inscription on a first-century Judean synagogue read that the synagogue was “for the reading of the Torah and studying the commandments.”

[9] Cf. Bab. Tal. Taan. 4.2–3; 4 Macc. 18:10–11.

[10] Philo Vit. Cont. 9–10; Cf. Eccl. Hist. 2.18.

[11] Contra Apion 2.7; Mosis 3.27

[12] Bab. Tal. Sot. 7.7, 8; Bab. Tal. Yoma 7.1–3.

[13] Bab. Tal. Megillah 4.1–5; cf. 3.4–6; Acts 13:15; 2 Cor. 3:14.

[14] Acts 13:15; 15:21

[15] Megillah 29b

[16] Bab. Tal. Gittin 5.8

[17] Cf. John 7:14–15. On the literacy of Jesus see Tor Vegge, “The Literacy of Jesus the Carpenter’s Son: On the Literary Study in the Words of Jesus,” Studia Theologica 59, no. 1 (2005): 19–37.

[18] Megillah 4.4

[19] Acts 12:12; 17:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; et. al.

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Reading Genesis 1 with Ancient Eyes

Imagine opening a puzzle box, only to dump out all the pieces. It’s a 1,000 piece puzzle. Your table looks like pure chaos, so you begin arranging the pieces, turning them face up. You arrange your outer perimeter. Then, you begin filling in the middle. It takes you time, but by the time you’ve finished, you’ve recreated the beautiful painting—da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. You affix it to a backboard, then you frame it and hang it on the wall. You’re finished, and you can admire your labor. This is something like what God did with creation. He had pure chaos, arranged it in order, put it together, and once it was complete, He stopped to appreciate it. 

Isaac Newton gave us the scientific method, which was a way of evaluating data to arrive at a conclusion of facts. One begins with a hypothesis, tests the hypothesis through experiments, and modifies it based on the tests and experiments’ outcomes. This method was then carried from science into various other disciplines—law, history, and sacred history (theology). In some sense, our manner of biblical interpretation, known as “hermeneutics,” borrows from this method. However, at times this is to our peril. 

Allow me to unequivocally say that Genesis is not a scientific textbook by which we determine the age of the earth, the viability of a worldwide flood or the ark which bore creatures in pairs, and other such things. Our understanding of the cosmos differs from theirs. We have made advances in knowledge that they didn’t have then. They know what they know, and we know what we know. Genesis is a very sophisticated book, but we shouldn’t try to make it say something based on what we know when it wasn’t an issue for them. Now, someone might ask, “So you don’t believe God created the earth in seven literal days?” I believe God can do that, but that’s not the point of Genesis 1. To draw that conclusion is to focus on a few details of an entire story whose aim wasn’t to answer that question in particular, and I doubt Moses and the ancient Israelites could have envisioned our time and technology. This is a sacred book, not a scientific methodology, so we must read it as if we were ancient easterners living in the first millennium BCE. 

Genesis is a story. It’s the telling of a nation’s history about the land where they were situated and the God who had brought them to that land. This book must be read literarily and then theologically. We must understand the type of literature this is before we can properly understand the book as a whole. When we recall that Moses is recording this as Israel’s national epic, we can conclude that some of the information will have to do with rebutting competing nations and their narratives. Remember, these folks just came from polytheistic Egypt, so Moses will have to deconstruct some of their beliefs in order to fully turn them to their God. 

A Genesis of Genesis

At some point during his last eighty years of life, Moses, maybe on Sinai, recorded the beginning of Israel’s national history as angels mediated the law to him (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2), or he received the revelation at some other time. Moses’ life is sectioned off into three blocks of forty years: the first being his life as in Egypt, the second with him as a shepherd, and the third as Israel’s leader. We may soon forget that we’re reading about a man who’s over 80. However, whenever he received the information on Genesis, we know that it was to tell Israel’s national story about the relationship they had with God and the land. He wasn’t an eyewitness. No one in that time was, but they likely had oral traditions and stories about the things he’d record. 

The entirety of the story centers on land and people: Canaan and the people of Israel. They had long been immersed in slavery, so they had little to no personal identity. Their entire identity had been as slaves, and breaking the mindset of being a slave was what Moses aimed to do. You can only go from being a slave to a free person when you have your own national story, and not your master’s. When you have your own God, and not the gods of your master. Rather than the plethora of temples, you want to know about Yahweh’s temple, and this is the story Moses tells. 

Sacred Space

We’re taken back to the beginning where God creates. To the original audience, everything was made for functionality and not merely as material, so we have to think about function over the material. For example, were I to hold up a pencil and ask you to describe it, you’d likely say that it was made of wood, give its color, and describe it based on its appearance. The ancient easterners would have described it as something they write with rather than how it appeared. The function was at the forefront of their mind more so than appearance or material, so this will shift us in our thinking. 

Elohim, so God is called, is creating order out of the formless, void earth. He’s arranging space for what’s to come by putting things in order on days 1–3, but beginning day 4, He fills it: the earth with light, the water with creatures, and the skies with birds. The world is filled with animals as well, and then God creates a human. At first, one human is made, but then two, a male and female, appear (Gen. 1:27). His crowning achievement is these humans. 

Unlike other creation accounts, or myths, Israel’s God creates everything to function a particular way. He’s Lord over it all. Also unlike other creation stories, when He creates humans, it’s not as His playthings or to entertain Himself, but to rule over His creation. Humanity bears His image and likeness. Whenever ancient deities faced a dilemma, they began arranging things to sort out the dilemma. Upon fixing everything, they rested in their temples. That’s why temples were built—not for humans to go to for worship and sacrifice, necessarily, but for the deity to occupy after a catastrophic issue that they resolved.

Given the literature and language of this passage, God built a temple for Himself. Let’s note some of the architectural language in the creation account. First, the “firmament” could also be translated as a “vault” (raki‘a) in verses, 6–8 and so on. Second, everything enclosed by this vault, the seas and earth, would have been akin to the floors of a temple and the lights for day and night may have been natural light for the day and candles or oil lamps for nights. Many temples contained elements of creation in them. The ceilings would have had sun, moon, and starts, though to many cultures those were gods in and of themselves, but here they are created by Elohim for a function, and not to be worshipped. Trees of some sort might have adorned the walls. In Solomon’s temple pomegranate and fig trees adorned the golden walls to remind the priests of the Garden. Within temples were images of the god, but in this case, the image of God resides in living beings, humans.  

Upon finishing His work of bringing order out of chaos, He stops and takes up residence in this new temple He formed. Once the existence of disorder, He’s ordered it, and now that His work was done, He inhabits it. This would have been how ancient audiences understood this story. We think merely in terms of the world, but they would have understood that a deity rested in a temple after some troubling event had been settled and peace reigned. The humans He created bore His image and likeness. Hence, their job is to embody God’s qualities and do His work, much akin to how the Vice-Regent in India was regarded as the King-Emperor himself in the early twentieth century. This is what we do: we tend the earth and its various parts while representing God. 

The heavens and earth were created as a sacred space where God dwelt with his creation, among whom were humans. While more time will be given to this in the next lesson, we should keep in mind the sacred space theme. A lot of Scripture is about sacred space and God being with His creation—humanity. This is how the Bible begins and, for all intents and purposes, ends. Everything in between shows us the love God has for creation. He continually pursues humanity who violates sacred space, pushing God away. Yet God, in His infinite power and mercy, cannot be kept from us. He does everything possible to draw near us, culminating with Him coming to the earth in the flesh, a doctrine known as the incarnation. God willingly sacrifices Himself in our stead, so He can have us with Himself. We must decide whether we shall keep pushing Him away or be drawn in by His warm embrace and love. 

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The Scribe in the ANE

The first instance of recording Scripture occurs at Moses’s hand at the covenant’s inauguration between YHWH and Israel (Exod. 24:4–8). Scholars mostly agree that the Book of the Covenant mentioned there entailed chapters 21–23 of Exodus, but opinions vary.1 Moses’ upbringing in Egypt explains how he became a scribe in the first place,2 because they placed a high amount of esteem and respect on the scribe. They believed that a scribe was his own boss and the highest of trades to which one could aspire.3 Moses obviously had scribal training in Egypt in the first forty years of his life in the higher echelons of society, and that skill would serve him well as the leader of Israel. 

Even in Israel’s later history, we see the scribe as one moving in royal circles ( 2 Chron. 24:11; Esth. 3:12). The scribal chamber was within the palace (Jer. 36:12), and their work often detailed the exploits of the monarchs they served (1 Kings 11:41) as well as the reign of the monarchy itself (1 Kings 14:19, 29). They also served by writing the decrees ordered (Dan. 6:8) and taking dictation (Jer. 36:32). Some might be sent to record the military skirmishes the realm was engaged in (Jer. 52.25), and a useful skill for the scribe to possess in later times was to be bilingual (2 Kings 18:26).4 Following the station of Moses as a prophet were other prophets who recorded books or records here or there (Josh 24:26; 1 Sam 10:25). Later, we even read about some later holy people referring to what had been written (Dan. 9:2; Neh. 8:1). 

This process led what we know as the Old Testament to be formed around 400 BCE,5 with some arguing that the Law, or Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), itself was authoritative by that time if not earlier. By 200 BCE or earlier, the prophets were canonized (cf. Is. 34:16; Jer. 36:6ff).6 Unlike our Christian Bibles where the Old and New Testaments are major divisions, the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) grouped its books differently. There are three groupings of books: 

  1. The Law (Torah)
    1. Gen–Deut. 
  2. Prophets (Nevi’im)
    1. Josh, Judg., Samuel and Kings (Former Prophets)
    2. Isaiah, Jer., Ezek., and the Twelve (Latter Prophets)
  3. Writings (Ketuvim). 
    1. Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther (Five Megillot)
    2. Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Chronicles. 

This tripartite division is reflected from Ben Sira, who was the first to refer to it in this way (180–175 BCE), but may be earlier than him. 

Centuries before this time, King Josiah (622 BCE) found a copy of the Law in the temple, and his subsequent reverence of it as such demonstrates its authority in the life of Israelite society (2 Kings 22:3–20). After captivity, Ezra had a copy of the Law in which to lead the nation (Ezra 7:6; Neh. 8:1ff). Centuries before them, Joshua (13th century BCE) read the same (Josh 8:34–35), and King David was to have had a personal copy (Deut. 17:18–20; cf. Deut. 31:9, 25–26). We know David consulted it after Uzzah died (2 Sam. 6:1–10; cf. 1 Chron. 15:1–13), but it’s obvious that it wasn’t central at all times.  

The interlude from the reading of Joshua until the next reading is a noted period of silence of public readings. During that time, the united kingdom of Israel was divided, and the northern kingdom following an idolatrous path while the southern kingdom sinned as well, but with periods of reformation. The next public reading came after the high priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. Hilkiah took the book to the king’s secretary who then took it to the King. Upon hearing the words of the Book of the Law, King Josiah grieved and sent to inquire of the Lord because all the curses of the book were to be rendered to the unfaithful people of Judah (2 Kings 22–23; 2 Chron. 34). When Josiah assembled the people to have the Book of the Law read in their hearing, Josiah led a covenant renewal to which the people consented. However, because of so many years of apostasy that began with King Solomon, changing the trajectory of Judah was unrealized because of so many years of neglecting to read the Law. Therefore, the land was purged of its inhabitants so that it could undergo a period of cleansing (cf. Lev. 18:28; 20:22).

This points us to the authority the Law and Prophets had. What we find was that those who were well regarded, adhered to the Law. We also note that the absence of it from the life of Israel resulted in an ignorance that permitted apostasy.  


1 Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004), 456.

2 The education of Moses is recorded in Philo, De Vita Mosis I 20–24, 32.

3 Christopher A. Rollston, Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010), 87.

4 Ibid., 88–89.

5 Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, rev. ed. (Abilene: Abilene Christian University Press, 1986), 8.

6 Jack P. Lewis, Between the Testaments (Nashville: 21st Century Christian, Publishing, 2014), 92–93.

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How to Study Genesis

Suppose I were to ask you to describe Genesis to me. In that case, you might describe it as about the origins of the earth, the creation, sin, and subsequent fall of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, and Abraham. Have you ever asked what purpose the book was supposed to serve? It wasn’t to decide whether creation or science was accurate—a false dichotomy, if you will—or tell us how old the earth is. Sadly, the way the church has taught the Old Testament has been to wrap it up in the childhood stories we learn in Sunday school. We don’t know the entire story, but only the stories within the story. 

The book’s Hebrew name is the first word of the book, bere’šit, and means, “In the beginning.” The term “Genesis” came from the Greek translation of the book, which dates to the third–second centuries BCE. The same date as the oldest manuscript we have of Genesis from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The purpose of Genesis was to detail the foundational story of Israel. This was, therefore, a national epic, and nothing less. The first eleven chapters are a synopsis of the world and answer various questions: “How did the world get here?” “Where did evil come from?” “Wouldn’t we have all spoken one language?” The story moves from this toward Israel’s history, beginning in chapter twelve with Abraham’s story. From there, through his son and grandson, the latter would be the head of the nation and from whom every Israelite is a descendant. 

Since many people aren’t Israelites, they might read it differently than we do. Jews read it differently from Christians, and academics read it unlike Christians in a pew might. Depending on why you’re reading this book and in what context you generally operate will determine how you read Genesis. I was hoping you could take off your context and go with me into the mind of an ancient Israelite. To do that, I’ll have to explain to you how you can do that. Don’t worry. You’ll be Jewish in no time! 

Sections

I’ve already mentioned two significant sections of the book: the first eleven chapters are usually referred to as primeval history. In contrast, the remaining chapters tell Israel’s national record through their patriarchs. However, various sections are marked off by the Hebrew term in the book, toledoth. This word translates as either “generations,” “chronicles,” or “lineage.” Moses used this term as somewhat of a boundary marker for the different sections: 

Genesis 2:4b–4:26

Genesis 5:1–6:8

Genesis 6:9–9:29 (new creation in 8:1–9:29)

Genesis 10:1–11:9

Genesis 11:10–26

Genesis 11:27–25:11

Genesis 25:12–18

Genesis 25:19–35:29

Genesis 36:1–37:1

Genesis 37:1–50:26

We’ll study the book based on Moses’s sections for us. 

I am a massive fan of the Avengers movies. There are four of them by that title, with many more making up the entire franchise. However, what makes me appreciate them is that I’ve seen them all in their order. Genesis is but one book in a collection of five. To read Genesis isolated from the other four is to miss the entirety of what Moses did for Israel. Unlike modern scholars, as I read even from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels, Moses authored these books. However, I grant that they are written in the vernacular of monarchical Hebrew and redacted (edited). What does this mean? If you read the King James Bible, you know from its vernacular and history written in Elizabethan English the same as Shakespeare. However, if you’ve tried to read the original 1611 version, it’s rather hard to read. Editors have updated the vernacular while preserving the Elizabethan sway it held. The same is true of the Hebrew in which Genesis appears (cf. Josh 24:26). 

In addition to the actual Hebrew style used, some clues point us to a monarchical period: Genesis 12:6 and 13:7 mention how the Canaanites lived in the land at that time which suggests that whoever added that detail wrote when they were not in the land. The list of kings in Genesis 36 is placed within the context of “before any king reigned over the children of Israel” (Gen. 36:31). Whoever added this detail lived during Israel’s monarchical period, which began about 1000 BCE. Abraham lived another thousand years before then (2100 BCE or so). 

I don’t believe that the entire Pentateuch was in the sixth century BCE, but it was edited over centuries. Something that makes me think this, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, is how Deuteronomy 34 records Moses’s death, which I’m confident he wouldn’t have written, and that no one to that day knew where he was buried (Deut. 34:7). Furthermore, there hadn’t been anyone like him up to that point (Deut. 34:10–12), but what point was that? This portion was likely added by someone who lived a long time after Moses, during the monarchical period of Israel’s history. Now that we have a setting, we’ll know how to read it: Israel’s national record before they were a kingdom. 

Since Moses is believed to have been the author of Genesis, we can safely say that he received the knowledge of the things written therein due to inspiration by the Holy Spirit. After all, we don’t learn about him until the next book of the Bible, so what we read about in Genesis wasn’t a result of an eye-witness account unless one considers God the eye-witness, who then passed it along to Moses.1


1 Daniel E. Fleming, “History in Genesis,” Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003): 251–62.

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The Genesis of How the Bible Was Created

We have in our possession a sacred book that is nonetheless a book. Scripture was written over 1,400 years by various authors. The Bible wasn’t put together until centuries after all the writings were collected, but some writings remained together as a corpus (e.g., Torah). How did this process occur? That’s what many wonder. How and who created the Bible is remarkable and something that isn’t required to know but is very enlightening. 

Allow me, first, to give you a timeline of pertinent events as it relates to writing altogether and the Bible.  

3200 BCE — Writing began in Sumer through pictographic means. You might look up Samuel Kramer’s work, History Begins in Sumer.  

3000 BCE — Egyptian hieroglyphs were developed. 

2100 BCE — Abraham lived around this time. 

1800 BCE — An alphabet is created in Egypt. 

1500 BCE — Moses lived around this time. 

1200 BCE — Ugaritic, a language from Ugarit—a northwestern area in Syria—is used, and Exodus 15 and Judges 5 have stylistic patterns that resemble it. These similarities lead linguists to conclude that these two chapters are the oldest in the Bible and date to 1100–1200 BCE. 

1000 BCE — The monarchical period of Israel’s history begins. 

1000–900 BCE — The earliest Hebrew inscription on  a potsherd is discovered (Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon). 

516→ BCE — We have manuscripts dating to this time period, known as the Second Temple Period, with the oldest dating to the late 4th century BCE. 

250→ BCE — Dead Sea Scrolls 

This timeline provides us a rough idea and overview of what we know about written communication. This information is the result of linguists, philologists, archaeology, and other related areas of study.1  

Materials used in writing were stone (Exod. 34:1, 28; Deut. 27:2–3), clay (Ezek. 4:1), wood (Is. 30:8; Hab. 2:2), and leather (Jer. 36:23). Additionally, papyrus leaves were mostly that upon which the New Testament was written. These plants grew along the Nile River and had been used as far back as 3000 BCE, but became common among the Greeks and Romans for making a book (codex) or books (codices). The average roll was 30 feet long and 9–10 inches high. Scribes would write on one side mostly, and occasionally on both sides (cf. Rev. 5:1).2 Animal skins, referred to as either vellum or parchment, were another common material used in the making of a letter. 

Whenever you hear about the discovery of a manuscript or something that scholars date to thus-and-such a period, they base this off the material upon which it was written, the language, dialect and syntax, and even carbon dating. Because we know that certain materials were used by particular people during a specific time period, this allows archaeologists to pinpoint a general time frame which contributes to our overall knowledge of the history of a text. 

The Birth of the Bible

It’s difficult to fix a date as to when the Bible was written, or began to be written. Believing that Moses lived around 1500 BCE, the books attributed to his authorship would have been written sometime in the second half of the fifteenth century, with redactions throughout the centuries (cf. Num. 12:3; Deut. 34:5–6). However, the book of Job is believed to have been written in the second millinium BCE, or it at least is about that period if it was written later. To put it in perspective, Job is believed to have been a patriarch akin to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and in their time. 

When it comes to what’s extant, the tenth century BCE potsherd known as Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon is the eldest. This find dates to the reign of King David and was found was on the north side of the valley of Elah (1 Sam. 17:1–3). Differing interpretations as to what it says exists,3 so to suggest it is Scripture may not be altogether true. This discovery also can’t be ruled out as unreflective of Scripture though.4 The Ketef Hinnom amulets, however, are among the oldest find that contain on them language akin to the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24–26 and date to the seventh century BCE. Since many scholars believe that the Old Testament is primarily a product of Israel’s post-exilic period, these two finds cast that conclusion into doubt given the language they each demonstrate.

Behind these fragmentary pieces, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest full-manuscript evidence of the Old Testament we have. They are a collection of over 900 manuscripts discovered around Qumran from 1947–56. Copies of every Old Testament book except for Nehemiah and Esther were found in 11 caves around the Dead Sea and the oldest dates to the third century BCE. Before this discovery, the Leningrad Codex was the oldest Old Testament manuscript, dating to 1008 CE. Scholars compared the two texts, being greater than a millennium apart, and found that little had changed. This attests to the accuracy of the Hebrew Bible transmission.The notion supported by the likes of Bart Ehrman that we can’t fully trust Scripture because of the lack of original copies is a bit of a farce when one considers the accuracy between these two texts.


1 I recommend a listening to The Bible for Normal People (episode 150).

2 Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, rev. ed. (Abilene: Abilene Christian University Press, 1986), 4.

3 Alan Millard, “The Ostracon from the Days of David Found at Khirbet Qeiyafa,” Tyndale Bulletin 62, no. 1 (Jan. 2011): 1–13.

4 Ralph K. Hawkins and Shane Buchanan, “The Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription and 11th–10th Century BCE Israel,” Stone-Campbell Journal 14, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 219–34.

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Paul’s Use of a Scribe

Years ago, while working on my Ph.D., I was on a university campus in Nashville, TN, for a journal conference where I had presented a paper. After my presentation, I attended other presentations until the evening break. As I walked behind two other graduate students talking, I heard one remark that he didn’t believe that Paul authored the “pastoral epistles” either. I perked up because I was clueless about what they meant and why. Perhaps I misunderstood them?

I began reading background material regarding the New Testament, specifically about 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I don’t refer to them as the “Pastoral Epistles” because that term isn’t once used in either of these three letters. That’s something that began in the eighteenth century and has stuck ever since. Nevertheless, many scholars believed these letters to have been pseudepigraphical: written in Paul’s name, but by someone else. Why did they think this, I wondered? Historically speaking, the early church did not like this custom. On several occasions, letters were rejected for this very reason (e.g., Gospel of Peter), and Christians who did so were reprimanded (Tertullian, On Baptism 17.4–5). The oldest list of New Testament books, dating from AD 180 or thereabouts, censured letters forged in Paul’s name.

As I gave this issue more study, I learned that the letters’ syntax did not match any of Paul’s other letters. This isn’t the only factor that scholars relied upon, but the one with which I’m concerned here. I believe Paul used a specific scribe to compose these letters; however, I couldn’t necessarily prove it until now, thanks to Ben Witherington III. First, Scripture didn’t hide that Paul used a scribe to compose his letters. Tertius wrote his letter to the Romans, so we’re told in Romans 16:22. Second, some commentators have inferred from Galatians 6:11 that Paul might have had eye-sight issues, or that he may have only written a line or two of his letters (1 Cor. 16:21).

I recently listened to a podcast that featured Ben Witherington III and Jason Myers about views on Paul. Witherington made a statement on this issue towards the end of the episode. He challenged many scholars’ consensus on this claim regarding 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Witherington argued that he believed that Luke wrote these letters and that Paul may have granted him a level of freedom to write them, which would account for the differences in syntax. He offered this for two reasons: 1) Luke alone was with Paul (2 Tim. 4:11) and 2) several phrases and terms appear only in these three letters as well as Luke-Acts. We already know that Paul quoted from Luke’s gospel account in 1 Timothy 5:17–18 (see Luke 10:7), so this makes Witherington’s point all the more plausible.

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Is it the Truth?

I recorded a devotional for our congregation that centered on how we Christians share and perpetuate information on social media and in general conversation. Given the increase of fake news that’s shared, and many of such by Christians, I thought it appropriate to urge the body of Christ where I serve to “buy the truth and not sell it.” You can watch it below.

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For Where Two or Three Are Gathered In My Name

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” so said our Lord. Usually, this passage is cited when a small number of people have gathered for some spiritual purpose. It’s a way of saying that the crowd’s size doesn’t matter because God’s with us, which is true, by the way, but is that what he meant when He said this?

 Leading into this passage was Christ’s instructions on handling when a fellow believer had sinned against a person. Jesus gave a three-step process where the first attempt was that the believer goes to the person and attempt to rectify the matter in private. If that step failed, they were to take two or three witnesses to help adjudicate the case. If that failed, the ordeal was to have been brought before the assembly (church). Were the person to ignore the church’s ruling, the offender was to have been excommunicated.

Following this, Jesus said that whatever they bound on earth was bound in heaven. Whatever they loosed on earth was so regarded in heaven. This is a continuation of judicial thought from the previous verses (15–17). Jews then believed that the Jewish high court had the authority on earth of God’s tribunal in heaven so that whatever they did on earth was done with God’s approval. Using His law as their guide, they were His representatives on earth and acted with His authority. The binding and loosing were understood as either imprisoning or releasing.

By the time we get to verse twenty, the two or three referred to the witnesses of 18:16. At a Jewish ex-communication case, a prayer of denunciation was offered for the person who was to be removed from fellowship. Prayer was also provided in the case of one who had repented. In Moses’ Law, the witnesses were first to execute the court’s judgment (Deut. 17:17). Here they are first to pray, so there was a great responsibility upon them. These weren’t always titled people within Israel or the church. However, faithful followers of God took part in this. When Christ says where two or three are gathered, He isn’t speaking about crowd sizes, but either the putting away or receiving back of an erring believer.

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