Tag Archives: Bible

Book Recommendation: Truth Matters

“Truth Matters” is written to answer common objections raised against Christianity by skeptics, pundits, etc, and also to address legitimate questions that sometimes occur to people. It deals with matters such as the reliability and trustworthiness of the biblical manuscripts, why is there is so much evil, the claim of contradictions in the Bible, and also the claim that early Christianity was actually diverse, but then “orthodoxy” eventually stomped all the others out. It is written for high school students, so it is quite readable and understandable. And while it doesn’t go into all the intricacies of the arguments, it does give a fairly good overview of the basic contours of them.

Why Squirrels are Better

 

How to be happy: be a dog!

This just in from the stating the obvious department…

While I was still living in FL God provided me with a frequent image to consider: squirrels (don’t laugh! this is going somewhere serious I promise!). You see there is a tree in the backyard of my parent’s house that I would watch the squirrels play in every morning before I did my daily Scripture readings. I would often be jealous of them. They didn’t worry about their jobs, money, or many of the other things that I worried about. They simply ran around the tree chasing each other, gathered material for nests, and (after checking to make sure the dog was inside) hopped down to the ground to search for food. Their lives seemed so simple, happy and worry-free; I wondered why my life had to be so complex, sad, and worrisome.

I’m not sure that I truly learned the lesson God was teaching me back then (actually I’m not sure I’ve truly learned any lesson God has ever taught me), but it’s a lesson I am being taught again as I near the end of another semester of seminary. I even find myself worrying about the same things I did back then! What will I do after seminary? Am I currently pursuing the right path for after graduation? Will I have enough money? Actually I am even worrying about more things! Am I being called to marriage or singleness? Can I personally do ministry without the support of a wife? Will having a wife (and likely kids also) be a detriment to my ministry?

Squirrels have not been my only teachers regarding these concerns, but Scripture also. The Psalms address these concerns in numerous places I believe, but Psalm 95.1-7 has stood out to me in particular:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 95.1-7a ESV

These verses recount God’s creation of the world and everything in it, including humans. As a result of this we, along with the rest of creation, should recognize that we not only exist due solely to God’s decision to create, but that we are dependent on Him for our daily sustenance (e.g. food, water).

Jesus explicitly teaches this several times in the New Testament. First in Matthew 6.25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6.25-34 ESV

It doesn’t matter how much money we have or how big our house is, if God doesn’t send the rain to water the crops and fill the rivers and lakes, or the sunshine to grow the crops we won’t be alive for much longer. No matter how fit or healthy we are we will not live a moment longer than God has decided that we should live. So what should we do? God knows that we need food, water, and clothing, and He will give these things to us, just like he does to the birds (and squirrels!). And just like the birds (and squirrels!) are obedient to God and serve Him the way He intends for them, so we also should follow God and be obedient to His teachings and live the life he intends for us, a life of holiness. We should not be anxious about food, water, and clothing.

Jesus again teaches us not be anxious when He is in Martha’s house:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10.38-42 ESV

Martha is busy with all the preparations* for Jesus and His disciples, but how does Jesus describe her? As anxious about many things! A rebuke! It is Mary who Jesus describes as having “chosen the good portion,” which is listening to the words of her God and Savior and following Him, rather than being worried about food and entertaining guests.

Even the Apostles struggled with being anxious! They were once worried that they had no food, even though they had already seen Jesus feed thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread:

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16.5-12 ESV

But why is it significant that we not worry about these things? Because they are symptomatic of what is in our heart. The passage I quoted above from Matthew 6.25-34 has a parallel account in Luke 12.22-31 and immediately following adds:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Luke 12.32-34 ESV

I believe one of the fundamentals of the Christian life is to learn to set our hearts and desires on heavenly rewards rather than earthly rewards. This means learning to hear God’s voice and being obedient to what He calls you to do and trusting that He will provide for your needs along the way. The second part of Psalm 95 is instructive regarding this:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalm 95.7b-11**

God has called us to follow Him and to trust Him to provide for our needs along the way. We should not be worried about whether we will have food, or water, or clothing, or whether we will be married because God knows what we need and will give us what we need. What we should be worried about is whether or not we are being obedient to Him, following Him where He is leading us, and trusting Him to provide for us. If we are not doing this it is a sign that we love the things of the world, such as money or power or prestige, more than the God who made us. It is a sign that Sin is ruling our lives.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

*The word translated “serving” probably refers to the preparations for a social event, such as a meal. See BDAG, διακονία 2.b.

**The incident at Meribah and Massah is found in Exodus 17.1-7 where the Israelites grumbled against Moses and did not trust that God was with them and would provide for their needs on their journey to the land He had promised, even though they had already seen Him provide bread for them from heaven (Exodus 16). Also, Hebrew 3.7-4.13 has an excellent exposition of these verses which I highly recommend reading.

 

A Satire of Modern “Scholarship”

A major, and perhaps fully unrealized, consequence of the Internet is that information is proliferating faster than at any previous time in human history. The supporting narrative heralds this proliferation as a good thing that will further the ‘progress’ of humanity and make life better, but there is a dark underside to this proliferation that seems to often go unnoticed, or is at least not discussed.

It is certainly true that the Internet has improved life in many ways. For example, it has enabled businesses to communicate essential information to other businesses very quickly and easily, such as your insurance company setting up a car rental for you when yours is in the shop. Or as another example, it has enabled instant communication with people who might be across the world through instant messaging technologies such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.

As a consequence of these technologies information now spreads faster than ever before, but without any checks as to the quality or accuracy of that information. Some sites in fact just want written content because it’s how they make money, whether or not it’s accurate information or not seems to be irrelevant [example: content mills]. This business model seems to have infiltrated some previously trusted industries, such as journalism, which results in more news sites publishing articles that will drive traffic to their site, regardless of accuracy or neutrality.

For me I notice this tendency for sensationalism in the area of theology [probably inevitable]. A fairly recent example of this is the Newsweek article published several months ago about how the Church hates gay people. My response to that article is here. The basic goal of such articles it seems is heap condemnation on the Church in response to the Church [allegedly, though perhaps accurate in some individual situations] heaping condemnation on some other group. In short they’re propaganda pieces, and in propaganda the only thing that matters is rallying people behind your cause, truth is irrelevant.

So all that to say that today I came across a piece that satirizes such articles and provides a good example of how they work and go about their argument: Miguel Ruiz: New light on the oldest profession. Usually these article involve sexual ethics, which is what this article uses in its satire. Let me break it down for you:

First, they usually start with saying that Christians, or the Church, has unjustly oppressed a certain group of people unjustly: “The history of Christianity is a twisted tale of conflict over sexuality and the suppression of those who dissent the party line on bedroom ethics.”

Then they will state that the view of the opposition is based upon a single interpretation of Scripture; “These days, it is commonly argued that there is only one correct approach, from sound exegesis of Scripture, to human sexuality and appropriate boundaries.” And then assert that whatever this teaching is it is on shaky ground and has changed throughout history: “However, we still must concede that what is commonly accepted as “right” today is not exactly how we have always taught.”

Then they will attempt, but usually fail, to substantiate their claim that the Church has changed its teaching in this area [usually sexual ethics], perhaps claiming that the interpretation of Scripture has changed as the culture changed and ultimately concluding that the teaching of Scripture is not clear: “Throughout the centuries, various sexual practices have gone in and out of favor with the church catholic at various times and in various cultures, as external influences have doubtlessly impacted how the relevant Scripture passages were read and understood. We’ve run the gamut from repressing to libertine, and everything in between.  It is nothing short of confounding how difficult it is to get the Bible to speak directly and consistently on these matters.” 

Then they will make their appeal to your emotions: “If we truly value and respect the Word of God, we would be wise to continue listening and respectfully consider alternate interpretations, especially those coming from fellow believers as a matter of conscience. We’ve all made mistakes in Biblical interpretation before, probably not for the last time.  So I challenge you to listen with an open mind as I explain how we’ve been largely wrong about a particular issue for a number of years:  Prostitution.” This statement here is the giveaway as to what is coming next in the article. They believe to have already demonstrated that the Church has changed its view regarding the issue [though they probably haven’t] and on this basis then appeal to your emotions by basically saying, “If you want to be a true Christian you need to recognize that in your own history teachings and interpretations have changed, and so you then have an obligation to listen to my own alternative interpretation which differs from the current accepted interpretation, and even more so because I am also a ‘Christian.'” Essentially, they’re guilt tripping you into listening to them.

This guilt trip will probably then continue by saying that Christians are unjustly persecuting this certain group, prostitutes in this case: “Prostitution gets a bad rap in our culture today, and as a result, women in this profession are grossly mistreated.  When we think of sex workers, the stereotype that comes to mind is a scantily clad woman, working a corner, wearing too much makeup.  She renders her plunder to a psychologically manipulative and physically abusive pimp who doesn’t take very good care of her.  It has truly become a dangerous profession in our day, largely because a judgmental spirit against it fosters a suppression of its legitimacy, resulting in occupational trauma.  Unfortunately, this is often done in the name of Christianity.  It doesn’t have to be so.”

From here then they proceed to make their point from Scripture: “The exegetical scholarship on this issue is no longer as conclusive as we once thought.  Let’s take a look at what the Bible really has to say about prostitution, from the beginning.” This is where things get really bad. Making claims and not even attempting to substantiate them, as they’ve done previously, is already bad enough. But revealing that you don’t have basic reading comprehension skills, nor that you have very little skill in the actual Biblical languages is really bad, especially when you’re making that claim.

This part of the article generally involves taking verses out of context, leaving important key elements out of the story, and just generally misunderstanding Scripture in order to support the author’s point. In this satire one of the stories used is the story of Judah and Tamar. It summarizes the story as follows: “The first recorded prostitute is Tamar.  She slept with Judah after his three sons died without knocking her up.  Oddly enough, Judah did not realize it was his three-time daughter in law.  When it was discovered that she was pregnant and she gave proof that it was at his doing, his response was (and I quote the ESV), “She is more righteous than I.”” There are several features of this summary that are useful to point out. First, the reference to where the story can be found in Scripture is missing [hint: it’s Genesis 38, or you could just Google ‘Judah and Tamar’], a reference that would be helpful if, you know, you actually wanted to read the story yourself and check the accuracy of the author’s summary. Second, Tamar was not even a prostitute. She was the wife of Judah’s eldest son Er [Gen. 38.6] and after Er died was given to Onan [Gen 38.8]. Judah merely thought she was a prostitute because she had a veil over her face, which is also why Judah didn’t recognize her [Gen 38.14-15, 21-22].

Third, only two of Judah’s sons died without ‘knocking her up,’ Er and Onan. The third, Shelah, is never recorded as having slept with her. In fact that she was not given to Shelah, as Judah promised to do [Gen. 38.11], is a crucial element in the story that is left out because it is Judah’s refusal to give Tamar to him that motivates Tamar’s actions. Furthermore the summary of ‘died without knocking her up’ overlooks the reason as to why they died: they were both wicked. We are not told the specifics of Er’s wickedness, just that he was wicked [Gen 38.7]. Onan was wicked because he refused to impregnate Tamar and thus give his brother descendants [Gen 38.8-10].

Even the concluding statement of the summary is misleading. Tamar was accused of being pregnant by immorality and in response to this Judah was going execute her [Gen. 38.24]. In order to defend herself she says that she is pregnant by the man to whom the signet, cord, and staff she has belongs to [Gen 38.25]. Then after Judah identifies them as belonging to him he says that Tamar is more righteous than he is because her actions were a result of his refusal to give her to Shelah [Gen 38.26]. It is a statement on the unrighteousness and wickedness of Judah, which was great considering that in the previous chapter he was jealous of his brother Joseph and sold him into slavery, and the fact that both Er and Onan were wicked as well also testifies to his own wickedness in my opinion. But all this is missed because usually the author apparently didn’t even bother to read the story and understand it.

However the madness will continue since it is apparently not sufficient to demonstrate lack of understanding regarding the Old Testament, it must also be shown with the New as well. In the satire the author proceeds to then interpret a saying of Jesus in light of an obviously faulty and wrong understanding of the story of Judah and Tamar: “Consider the significance of this.  Judah is not just one of the patriarchs of Israel.  Neither is he the firstborn, from whom the Messiah was expected to come.  Rather, the first three sons were passed up in favor of Judah!  The very father of the tribe of Jesus, an essential link in the genealogy of salvation, has declared a prostitute to be more righteous than him!  What does that say about how he viewed them?  It reminds me of something Jesus used to say;  “The tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”  From the popular Christian sexual ethic of today, you would expect a much more sever evisceration of this demographic, but these words seem rather flattering.” Here, again, Scripture is taken out of context and interpreted to mean something that would seem absurd if read within its context. No reference is given for the saying of Jesus either, so I’ll assume it’s Matthew 21.31.

Here’s the context of the saying: the chief priests and elders of the people challenge Jesus and ask him by what authority he is doing and teaching the things he is [Matt 21.23]. In response Jesus asks them whether the baptism of John came from heaven or man [Matt 21.24]. They discussed it and realized that either way they answered came with consequences they did not want to accept, so they simply said they didn’t know [Matt. 21.25-26], to which response Jesus refuses to answer their question [Matt 21.27]. He does however tell them a parable:

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.

At the end of the parable Jesus asks them:

31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

To which they respond:

They said, “The first.”

Then Jesus responds:

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The article takes the saying of Jesus out of its context and interprets it to mean that Jesus said prostitution was an acceptable profession. However in its context it means that the prostitutes believed the repentance that John was preaching [Matt 3.1-12] and were baptized. Even though at first they refused to follow what John was preaching they later changed their minds and obeyed, and their obedience is why they are in the kingdom of God. The chief priests and elders however said they would do what John was preaching, but they never actually did it. Thus they were disobedient and their disobedience is what keeps them out of the kingdom of God. Much as what the case with Judah’s statement that Tamar was more righteous than he was, the saying “tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom before you” is not a statement concerning the acceptability of the profession of prostitution, but rather points to the unrighteousness someone, in this case the unrighteousness of the chief priests and elders.

The article continues through several more equally bad and absurd uses of Scripture to make its point, but I won’t go into those.

Satire is wonderful art form and when executed well can bring absurdity to light. This article does a great job in highlighting how many articles written and published on various online news sites concerning Christianity are written. They start with the presumption that Christians are wrong because they do not affirm that a certain lifestyle is acceptable and in their effort to convince us that we are wrong to do so they try to use our own Scriptures. In the process they end up demonstrating that they in fact have absolutely no clue as to what our faith is about.

This satirical article does just that in what it says, but also in what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t finish the story of Judah! Remember when I mentioned that he sold his brother Joseph into slavery? Well guess what, neither Judah’s nor Joseph’s story ends there [the whole story is Genesis 37-50]. Joseph encountered several adverse and hostile situations in his life, but through them all he remained faithful and obedient to God and God preserved him through all of them and eventually made him a person of great authority in Egypt. Eventually the land where Judah and his brothers were living had a severe famine, but there was plenty of food in Egypt because God had warned Pharaoh through a dream, which Joseph interpreted and revealed the meaning of, that a famine was coming. So when they came down to Egypt to get food Joseph recognized them and decided to test them [remember his last interaction with them was their selling of him into slavery] by keeping Simeon in Egypt until they brought their youngest brother Benjamin down to Egypt with them. Well Jacob [Judah’s father] doesn’t want to lose another one of his sons [Simeon is now in Egypt and he assumes Joseph is dead] and is reluctant to let them go back.

However they eventually do have to go back and it is Judah who ultimately convinces his father to let them go and buy food by offering to take the all the blame should they fail to return with Benjamin. When they are preparing to leave Egypt Joseph orders his servants to put his cup in Benjamin’s sack and then to catch to his brothers before they leave and confront them about the “theft.” When they are then brought before Joseph and are being questioned about the incident it is Judah who speaks up and defends himself and his brothers [Gen. 44.13-44]! You should really go read that. I won’t quote it because it’s obnoxiously long. But seriously read it!

This is the full realization of the repentance that Judah began when he recognized his own wickedness after the incident with Tamar, and, I think, it is why the Messiah, Jesus, came from the lineage of Judah. It is the repentance that John preached in the wilderness and the repentance that the tax collectors and prostitutes practiced, but that the chief priests and elders refused to do. And it is this repentance that is the basis of the Christian life. We recognize and admit we are wicked people and confess our failings daily, and daily ask God to help us overcome them so that we may be like Christ. As Athanasius said, “God became man so that men might become gods.”

And I would further venture to say this failure to understand the Christian life also leads to a failure to understand the Christian God. It was God who chose Jacob’s descendants to be His people, but they were wicked and needed to recognize this and it took a famine in their land and nearly losing some of their brothers for them to realize how wicked they were. This was why God brought the famine on the land and Joseph to Egypt, so that his chosen people would repent and be preserved and be a blessing for all the world by giving birth to the Messiah, Jesus.

There are two things that are true about every single person on this planet: we are all loved by God because we are His creation, and we are all sinful, wicked, and evil. God calls us to recognize our own wickedness because it draws us away from Him and how we are made to live. We are made to live in harmony with God and our sin and wickedness gets in the way of this harmony, and so we must daily repent and daily ask God to help us overcome it.

May God grant us all the grace to live a life of repentance.

 

 

 

 

Propaganda Disguised as “Scholarship”

Recently Newsweek ran a rather lengthy article entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” which claims to be an exploration, “of the Bible’s history and meaning” and “is not intended to advance a particular theology…” but this is simply not true. That a particular theology is not being advanced is blatantly obvious in light of the fact that rather lengthy sections are devoted to attempts to counter the claim that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Sorry, whether or not something is or isn’t taught in the Bible is a theological claim.

Secondly, the article isn’t really even an exploration, it’s a propaganda piece. There is no mention or discussion or even an attempt at the articulation of the actual beliefs of the “Evangelicals” that are the target of the author’s rant. An actual exploration of the religious text of any community should include an unbiased and fair investigation into the beliefs of that community and an accurate articulation given as to what that community has to say about their own religious text. Once such beliefs are understood and articulated then counter perspectives and arguments can be given.

So since such a perspective never made it into the article, probably because it would have made the article boring and far less controversial, I offer the following Evangelical responses to it, none of whom I know to, “wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals.”

Dr. Dan Wallace (biography and credentials): Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

Dr. Darrell Bock is responding in parts, thus far two parts have been published:
Responding To Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 1 On the Base Biblical Text- Do We Really Know What We Have?

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 2 Translation Issues and Constantine

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 3 On Three Kings and Claims about Differences and Contradictions

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 4 More Claims of Contradictions and Conclusion

His blog (where future response will show up), along with his biography and credentials is: Bock’s Blog

Dr. Ben Witherington (biography and credentials): News Weak—- The Problems with Mr. Eichenwald’s Article

Father Lawrence Farley is an Eastern Orthodox priest who serves in Canada. While not the recognized scholar that the other authors are, his response is no less valuable because of it. He touches briefly on all the points the article makes. And for clarity’s sake, he probably wouldn’t label himself an Evangelical, but nonetheless he at least is in agreement with Evangelicals on this issue. Newsweek Nonsense: an Expanded Response

Commentaries. One of the articles refers the reader to commentaries, thus I will offer two quality ones that are available for free online so that they may be used by those interested for reference and investigative purposes.

Dr. Constable’s Expository (Bible Study) Notes

Bible Study Resources by David Guzik

I feel at this point these responses are a representative and a fairly complete Evangelical response to the Newsweek article, so I don’t think I will be adding any more at this point. If however I happen to run across one I will be sure to add it to the list.

Christianity is Not a Contract!

Diablo 3 - Tyrael

Tyrael of Diablo fame.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” — C.S. Lewis

A fairly common question I see asked regarding Christianity is, “Is it okay to do _________?” I recently saw such a question posed again and I thought to myself, “Why is this question even being asked? What theological framework allows for such a question to even be asked in the first place?” As I thought about the answer to these questions I realized that to ask if a certain behavior is “okay” is to approach Christianity with the assumption that it is a contract entered into between a person and God, an assumption I believe is invalid.

In a contract two parties agree to fulfill certain responsibilities and it remains in effect as long as the terms of the contract are not breached. Such an approach sets up the expectation that as long as we do not breach the “contract” God will still fulfill His side of the deal and give us a place in heaven. And since we are by nature sinful and evil beings we then try to seek out what the bounds of this contract are; we ask ourselves, “How far can I go? What sort of loopholes can I find that will allow me to do what I want and fulfill my desires without breaching this contract?” It is this mindset I believe that leads to the question, “Is it okay for a Christian to do _________?”

Such a mindset is, I believe, taught nowhere in Scripture. We are taught that we were created by God, in His image, and were commanded to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1.26-28). In order to sustain us He gave us the plants and the trees and their fruits (Gen. 1.29) and of the trees the only prohibition was from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if we did so we would die (Gen. 2.17). So we see that one tree leads to death, while all the others (including the tree of life [Gen. 3.22]) lead to life. Thus we had two ways set before us, one of life and another of death, and we had to walk in one or the other, there were no alternatives. For if we ate of the trees that were allowed, we would live and fill the earth and subdue it; and if we ate of the tree of which eating was prohibited, we would die; and if we had tried to be “neutral” and not eaten of any of the trees we also would have died as we require sustenance by our nature.

Even though we chose the way leading to death, the way to life was not thereby made unavailable to us, for we were prevented from eating from the tree of life, which would have resulted in us living forever in our fallen state (Gen. 3.22). Thus God cast us out of the Garden in order to work the ground from which we were taken (Gen. 3.23-24) in order that we might learn that the way of life was now through repentance and trust (Isa. 30.15).

The Commandments given through Moses were given in order that we might know more clearly which way leads to life and which leads to death. For at the beginning of the list of blessings for following the commandments it is written, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28.1. Or in other words, they would subdue the earth. But concerning the curses it is written, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” – Deuteronomy 28.45. Or in other words they would die.

The New Testament also presents two ways, one of death and another of life, and these two ways are opposed to each other. Representative of this are the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5.16-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Thus Scripture does not present us with a contract, but with a choice, a choice between two ways, one which leads to life and another which leads to death. In Advent we are called to recognize our sinfulness and repent as we await the coming of our Lord. Let us do this so that when He comes we will be found working as the wise servant and serving others (Matt. 24.45-47) and not as the unwise one and be found exploiting and beating them (Μatt. 24.48-51). Let us continue on the way of life. Let our prayer throughout this Advent season truly be:

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

 

What’s At Stake in Creation

There was a debate recently between Bill Nye and Ken Ham regarding creation. I didn’t watch it. I have no plans to. Because frankly I just don’t care what either one has to say. However this debate will probably generate discussion amongst people, so I figured I would at the very least contribute my thoughts on the matter of origins as a Christian.

Everything you need to know regarding the Christian position on origins can be found in the first verse of the first book of the Bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
(Genesis 1.1 ESV)

Specifically it’s the words “God created” that are the position. They tell us two important things, 1) the universe was created and had a beginning, and 2) God brought about the beginning. If you put this in the form of a doctrinal statement it would look something like, “We believe that all things were created and God is the creator.”

As far as Christians are concerned there isn’t much dispute over what I’ve said so far. Where things start getting testy are the verses that follow after Genesis 1.1. Some hold the position that the “days” described are literal 24 hour days (this is Ham’s position). Others hold that the “days” described are long periods of time, more like ages than 24 hour days. Still others hold that the rest of chapter 1 is simply praising God for His creative work in creation and that the “days” are simply serving a literary or poetic function.

At first glance it seems as though there could be no real issue here since they all affirm “God created,” even though they have different understandings as to how “God created.” Issues arise though when details are so focused on and disputed that sight is lost of the big picture. This is, I think, what has happened regarding the origins question in Christianity. Certain Christian groups (most of the time it seems to be the literal 24-hour day types based on my experience) have so forced their particular view of creation that they have caused people to believe that their view is the only valid view and unless you agree with them you are deceived or a heretic.

There’s been such a focus on the details of creation that we’ve forgotten how they fit into the big picture and so instead have made the details the big picture. This mindset of making the details the big picture is not only problematic for the creation debate, but also for all of Western Christianity. We need to begin to recognize again the big picture that unites all of us as Christians, not just in regards to origins, but in other areas of doctrine as well.

As Christians we need to clearly recognize that the only thing at stake in the creation debate is whether or not God created. We should only be arguing with those who say God did not create, and even then we should only be arguing for “God created,” not how “God created.”

Additionally, John H. Walton has a rather interesting perspective on interpreting Genesis 1 in The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. The book is written at the popular level and anyone should be able to understand his basic argument. I have not read the second part where he discusses science education in schools, but the first was quite interesting and thought provoking. Anyone interested in what the Bible says about origins would do well to seriously consider his argument, I think. And just to be clear, I am not endorsing Walton’s view, just saying that it was interesting, thought provoking, and bears consideration.

There is certainly much more that could be said regarding origins. However I will stop here for now as I have made my point.

Acts of the Apostles 6.1-15

Book of Acts

Up until this point in the narrative the episodes and events have primarily involved the Apostle Peter. Now the focus will shift from Peter and onto others, the first of whom is Stephen. His time in the narrative is short, but there is quite a bit that we can learn from him.

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

I remarked earlier that the events recorded in the Bible are not necessarily arranged chronologically, but are instead arranged according to the purpose of the author. Here we have another episode that does not necessarily follow chronologically from the previous events. The only clue we are given as to where it falls chronologically in the narrative is the phrase in v. 1, “Now at that time while the disciples were increasing in number…” Thus it is possible for these events to have occurred at any point after the bestowing of the Holy Spirit in chapter 2.

What transpired was a complaint from the Hellenistic Jews (Jews who had adopted the Greek language and probably some of the culture as well) against the native Hebrews regarding their widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This was no small matter since in those days these widows likely would have been dependent on others for their daily needs.

Recognizing the seriousness of this matter the Twelve (the remaining 11 appointed by Jesus and Matthias) gathered all the disciples together and told them to select “seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The Twelve recognized that this was a task that needed to be done, but they also recognized that it was not for them to carry out since they said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables… But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The lesson here is that there are a variety of ministries within the Church and none is inferior to the other and each is necessary. The Twelve recognized that their place was in the teaching and ministry of the word of God.* They had each spent time with Jesus while he was on Earth and had heard him teach regularly for 3 years. They had been chosen and prepared by God for the positions they were in and they recognized that they should not neglect the duties and responsibilities of their positions (e.g. prayer and “ministry” of the word). However they also recognized that ensuring all the widows were provided and received food, so they decided to appoint others to be in charge of this task.

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Remember earlier that the requirements for this position were to be a man “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” so all these men listed here had to have met that requirement. Thus mentioning that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” seems unnecessary and redundant. However, as we will see shortly, this is done in order to place special emphasis on Stephen and to seemingly put him above the others in terms of being full of the Spirit.

7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Before we move on to Stephen however it is again mentioned that the disciples, or the Christian community, continued to increase in Jerusalem. What is significant about it this time however is that the Jewish priests were also becoming part of the Christian community.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

The account of Stephen here is remarkably similar to what has been recorded of Peter and the other Apostles. Like the Apostles he performed miracles among the people (v. 8); was then opposed by some of the Jews (v. 9); those who opposed him could not answer him (v. 10); so they raise up false witnesses against him and get the Jewish leaders involved (vv. 11-14). However they all recognize that there is a certain power at work in him that is quite formidable (v. 15).

This is not the end of Stephen in the narrative, but rather just his introduction. His story continues in the follow chapter, which will be discussed next time.

*What exactly is meant by “ministry of the word” isn’t exactly clear from the context. I believe however that teaching, preaching, and administering of sacraments are included in this idea.”

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

Acts of the Apostles 5.12-42

Book of ActsIf you’ve been paying close attention to the previous chapters you’ve probably noticed that the incidents described have a single person in common: the Apostle Peter. In addition to providing us with examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to the community (i.e. the Church) that He established on Earth, these incidents also authenticate for us the authority of the Apostles within the Church. The Apostles simply couldn’t claim to speak for God and expect people to believe them; anyone can do that. They had to provide tangible, irrefutable proof, usually in the form of miracles, that they spoke for God. We have already heard one account of Peter and John performing a miracle when they healed the lame beggar (3.1-10), and in the opening paragraph of this passage we have more accounts of Peter performing miracles:

12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Unlike the people who “held them in high esteem,” the Jewish leaders had no such affections towards the Apostles. So they put them in prison:

17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.

God however is not willing that His witnesses be in prison and unable to continue teaching the people everything Jesus taught them. So:

19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.

The Jewish rulers did not expect an angel of the Lord to free their prisoners, so they were confused when they were not found in the prison, but instead in the temple teaching the people the very things that the Jewish rulers had instructed them not to teach.

Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).

Earlier in this passage we saw the attitude of the people contrasted with the attitude of the Jewish rulers towards the Apostles. The people thought highly of them, but the Jewish leaders thought low of them and had them imprisoned. Now we see a contrast between the attitudes of the Jewish rulers and the attitudes of the Apostles. In v. 26 we see that the Jewish rulers are afraid of the people. In the following verses we see that the Apostles are afraid of God since Peter says that they must obey God rather than men:

27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

The contrasts continue with the reaction of the Jewish rulers to Peter’s words:

33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.

After Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 the people were also pierced to their hearts (cut to the quick), but instead of recognizing what they had done and repenting like the people did the Jewish rulers instead want to kill the Apostles. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel offers the following advice:

34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Regardless of his intentions, Gamaliel offers good advice to the council. At this point the newly formed Church is too large and causing too much of a stir for the Jewish leaders to simply execute the Apostles; doing so would anger the people and likely cause a riot. But the Apostles are undermining the authority of the Sanhedrin, so something must be done. Gamaliel reminds the council that this situation has been encountered before and that movements like these have died out on their own because they were not of God. However, if this movement is of God it will not be able to be stopped, and those who do fight against will be found to be fighting against God. So in the end the best thing for the Jewish rulers to do at this point is nothing and see what comes of this movement.

40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

The Jewish rulers apparently recognize that Gamaliel’s advice is wise since they take it and simply beat the Apostles and release them. The Apostles however did not listen to the order to not speak in the name of Jesus, but in fact directly disobeyed it and continued to teach and preach in the name of Jesus. If it wasn’t already clear that the Apostles were not going to listen to the orders of the Sanhedrin, it is now.

Thanks for reading. More next week.

Acts of the Apostles 4.32-5.11

Book of ActsThus far in the Acts of the Apostles the narrative has primarily been concerned with the formation of the Messianic community that would eventually become known as the Christian Church and the opposition to this community by the Jewish leaders and some of the Jewish people. This theme will resume shortly, but in the meantime we encounter an incident that demonstrates not everyone within this community truly belongs to this community; outwardly they are part of it, but they are not truly part of it because their hearts are different.

Before I begin discussing the incident I wish to point out that this is the first time an incident does not fall neatly within a chapter. Chapters and verses were added much later to the Bible and were not present in the originals, nor for several centuries thereafter. Thus when reading the Bible it is best to simply ignore them and focus on the flow of thought within the text because the thought may not be complete until somewhere within the next chapter. This passage is an example of this.

32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

This incident can be divided into two halves. This is the first half of the incident and describes for us how a particular practice functioning within the newly formed Christian community. If someone owned land or a house, and they desired to sell it, they would sell it and lay all the proceeds from the sale at the apostle’s feet so that it could be distributed to those who were in need. This was not something they were required to do, but was a consequence of the community being “of one heart and soul”  and no one claiming anything as his own, but instead recognizing it as belonging to the entire Christian community (v.32). Joseph, also called Barnabas, follows this practice and gives all the proceeds from the sale of the tract of land he owned.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.

7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes,that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

The second half of this incident begins with “but.” Most of the time when you see the word “but” used what follows is being contrasted with what was said before it. So in this case these next verses are in contrast to what has been described previously in 4.32-37.

In the previous verses we saw that the accepted practice was for someone to lay the entire proceeds from a sale of land or a house at the apostle’s feet. In these verses we see Ananias and Sapphira keep back a portion of the proceeds (vv.1-2). Peter’s words in v.4 are indicative that Ananias and Sapphira were under no obligation to sell the land (“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?”) and even after it was sold they were under no obligation to give the proceeds to the apostles (“And after it was sold, was it not under your control?”). Because the money they laid at the feet of the apostles they claimed was the entire price is why Peter asks in v.3, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” In v.8 Sapphira agrees that the money she and her husband laid at the feet of the apostles was indeed the price of the land.

Ananias and Sapphira were both struck dead in judgment for their actions. But why? At first glance it seems like a relatively minor offense to be struck dead for. However if we take a closer look perhaps their offense is not so minor. Recall that at the beginning of this passage the community of believers were of one heart and soul and no one claimed anything for themselves, but considered their possessions to be common property to the entire community. Because they had this attitude they gave all the proceeds from a sale of land to the apostles so that it could be distributed among the rest of the community. This act is in keeping with the attitude of claiming nothing for themselves, but considering their possessions, including their money, to belong to the entire community.

So if someone sold some land and laid all the proceeds at the apostles feet so it could be distributed to the rest of the community they were “of one heart and soul” with the community. Barnabas did this, but Ananias and Sapphira did not since they held back some of the proceeds; they were not of one heart and soul with the Christian community.

However in selling their land and claiming to have donated all the proceeds from the sale to the apostles they claimed to belong the Christian community. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be considered as part of the Christian community, but demonstrated by their actions that they were not. They were not struck dead in judgment because they sinned, but because they were not of one heart and soul with the rest of the community and were a threat to it.

In the previous passage we saw an example of God’s protection of His Church from the outside threat of the Sanhedrin. Here we see an example of God’s protection of His Church from the inside threat of Ananias and Sapphira. Were it not for God’s protection over His Church it would not have survived to this day. And should God cease to protect His Church, His Church will cease to exist.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Acts of the Apostles 4.13-31

Book of ActsThe response of the Jewish rulers, elders, and scribes continues in this passage:

13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

Despite the Jewish leaders recognition of Peter and John as being uneducated these educated leaders can offer no reply or rebuttal to what has been said. The reason is found in v.16: they recognized that a great miracle had taken place through them and it was evident to everyone and could not be denied. In fact the only response the Jewish leaders can offer at this point is to tell Peter and John to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus. To which Peter and John respond: it is not right to listen to man over God, so we will not stop talking about what we have seen and heard because what we have seen and heard is from God. In response the Jewish leaders threaten Peter and John further and then release them since the miracle they performed was too great (the man on whom it was performed was 40 years old) and the response of the people too overwhelming for them to dole out any actual punishment.

The response of the Jewish leaders here is indicative of a group of people who have been caught off guard by something they did not expect. The Sadducees in particular did not expect two uneducated and untrained fisherman to heal a man who had been unable to walk for the entire 40 years of his life and then turn around and counter one of their chief teachings by proclaiming that Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried had risen from the dead and it was through him that this man had been made well. Presumably the Jewish leaders thought that by taking down the leader of the group, Jesus, the rest of the group would disperse and the movement would ultimately come to nothing (more on this in chapter 5). However this is not what is happening, and the Jewish leaders seem surprised.

23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’

27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

The quotation here is from Psalm 2.1-2. In the portion of the Psalm that is quoted here we have a group of people (Gentiles) opposing and conspiring against the Lord’s Christ (or “anointed one”). Peter recognizes the situation described in the Psalm as being the same as the current situation where there is a group of people (Herod, Pontius Pilate, and Jewish leaders) opposing and conspiring against the Lord’s Christ (Jesus). Since Psalm 2 ends with the promise that the Lord’s “anointed one” will triumph over those who have gathered together to oppose him (Psalm 2.4-9) Peter then asks God to grant that he (Peter) and all those with him (“Your bond-servants”) would speak God’s message with confidence while God himself performs signs and wonders through Jesus. In other words, Peter is saying that Jesus is the Lord’s anointed one in Psalm 2 and asks God to grant the promise of Psalm 2, that those opposing the anointed one be defeated.

There is also another phrase in here which I want to note, since it occurs multiple times throughout the book: “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This phrase has occurred in 2.4; 4.8, 31 so far in the book and is usually followed by someone, or a group, proclaiming God’s message despite any opposition that might be encountered. This proclamation of God’s word despite opposition is a theme that will be encountered later on in the book as well.

At this point we also have another of the major themes setup which is going to play out through the rest of the account: the opposition of the Jewish leaders and people to the Holy Spirit indwelt Messianic community which would later be recognized as the Christian Church. But really this is just a continuation of the theme that runs throughout the entire Bible: God is in the process of executing a plan to redeem humanity and some are opposing that plan of redemption.

That’s all for today folks, thanks for reading.