Tag Archives: Bible

Acts of the Apostles 1.12-14

Book of ActsIf you get a little angry when television programs delay the part you’ve been waiting to see after having just advertised it, you may feel the same way about this next passage. The previous passage (1.1-11) left us with the expectation that the Holy Spirit was going to come, but this next passage does not contain that event. Instead the author has decided to tell us of the decision to fill the office that Judas Iscariot left abandoned following his suicide. This post will focus on vv. 12-14 as it provides an opportunity to teach a very important lesson concerning prayer. The next post will finish the passage with vv. 15-26.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

Following Jesus’ ascension they leave the place where it occurred, Mt. Olivet, and went back to Jerusalem to the room where they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. This is in accordance with Jesus’ command in 1.4. The author also pauses here to tell us that there were more present and praying than just the Apostles. While the exact identity of the women present here is unknown I will point out that several women are mentioned in Luke’s gospel as having either accompanied Jesus or provided for him during his ministry: Mary Magdalene, Joanna (Herod Antipas’ household manager), and Susanna (see Luke 8.1-3). Jesus’ mother and His brothers were also present. The word translated “brothers” in this verse is adelphos. It can refer to physical brothers, but it is also translated “brothers and sisters” and is translated as “brethren” in the following verse. In the next verse we find out that the total number of people gathered and devoting themselves to prayer was around 120.

There aren’t “right” or “wrong” ways to pray, but I do think there are profitable and and non-profitable ways to pray. I often see prayer described as “bringing your requests before God,” but what I don’t often see described is what these requests should be. I have found not knowing what to pray for to be quite detrimental to my personal spiritual life, and I imagine it has had the same effect on others as well. We can certainly pray for things like a spouse, a new job, a baby, healing for a friend or family member, etc, but if we only pray for these things our thoughts will be primarily focused on these requests being granted and we will feel disappointed and angry with God should they not be granted. These are not bad things to pray for, but they should not be the only things that we pray for, nor should they be the primary things that we pray for. If our prayers are focused on these things God becomes a divine cosmic genie whose sole purpose is to give us what we want, rather than the purifier and sanctifier of our souls.

Instead, I believe, that our prayers should be primarily focused and concerned with requests that will make us more like Christ. This is the goal of the Christian life while on Earth after all, at least to the extent that it is possible to achieve in a Fallen world. I’ve found that praying written prayers everyday is one of the best ways for me to learn what I should be praying for and where the emphasis of my prayers should be: on requests for sanctification (becoming more like Christ). Prayer is profitable when we focus our requests and mind on things that will sanctify us, and is unprofitable when we focus our requests and mind on personal desires (e.g. spouse, baby, healing, etc).

My morning and evening prayers consist primarily of written prayers with personal requests being brief (e.g. one sentence or so for each one). Doing it this way allows me to focus on what I am praying for rather than on composing my prayer. I was surprised at how much easier prayer became and how much more eager I was to do it when I removed from myself the burden of having to compose my prayers each day.

Most likely any liturgical Christian tradition (probably all actually) is going to have written prayers or prayer books that they use regularly. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer is great since it contains the services of Morning and Evening prayer which can be used for personal devotion by omitting some of the parts (you can find it online here: http://commonprayer.org/offices.cfm), but will be of limited benefit if not used within the Anglican liturgical cycle (I don’t think you should use it outside the Anglican liturgical cycle). The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions also have prayer books available as well, just make sure that you don’t get one that is intended for use in monasteries and convents; monks and nuns have devoted their lives to prayer and can afford to do it for hours a day, everyone else cannot and is not expected to. Also be aware of prayers to Mary and other saints if you have objections to that sort of thing.

So that wraps up this post. I didn’t get as far as I wanted to, but the prayer thing is pretty important and I think real instruction in prayer that is profitable is quite lacking in Evangelicalism these days. Next up is 1.15-26.

The Acts of the Apostles 1.1-11

Before I get into the post let me first apologize for not have written anything recently. My absence has been due to a number of factors including being too busy write and not being inspired to write anything anyway. That being said you “should” start seeing regular entries here for the foreseeable future as I have decided to embark on a study of the Acts of the Apostles and share my insights and thoughts here. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Book of Acts

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach,until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.

The first sentence is actually quite informative for us as it gives us a clue as to the identity of the author of this book. The Gospel of Luke begins with the author saying that he is composing an orderly account of the “things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word…” The “things” referred to are the teachings and works of Jesus, as evidenced by the content that follows in the Gospel of Luke.

Thus since Acts begins with a statement mentioning a “first” account written to a Theophilus about the teachings and life of Jesus we can conclude that whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. This is important to note as it helps us identify what the “orders” given to the apostles were. These orders the author is referring to are recorded in Luke 24.44-49, which can be summarized as the apostles being witnesses to Jesus being the Messiah that was prophesied by Moses, the prophets, and the psalms and should stay in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit comes.

To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Having already identified the author of this book being the same as the author of the Gospel of Luke we already know that Jesus said these things at the conclusion of that Gospel (for verse 5 see Luke 3.16). So why is the author repeating it for us here? I believe for 2 reasons: (1) to emphasize that this account is not separate from his first account, but rather is a continuation of it and thus should not be thought of as a separate, unrelated account; and (2) to introduce what the focal point of this account will be, the main theme if you will: the coming of the Holy Spirit and the “acts” that this event brought about.

This book is all about what happened after the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and the acts that were done through them as a result of this. The Holy Spirit will figure prominently in the rest of the book and I will be paying attention to the times when He is mentioned.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Here we see reflected in the comments of the apostles the Jewish expectation, which remains until today, that when Messiah comes he will found a political kingdom and restore the nation of Israel politically. Jesus’ response indicates that this will indeed happen one day, but that the apostles should not worry about when this will happen. Instead they should wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit so that they will be empowered to be witnesses to Jesus being the Messiah the Jewish people were expecting.

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

This concludes the author’s recounting of the end of his first account, the Gospel of Luke, and also his introduction for second account. With Jesus’ ascension the expectation now is that the Holy Spirit will come soon as it is taught in the Gospel of John in chapters 14.16 and 16.7 that unless He (Jesus) goes away the “Helper” will not come.* Jesus had already told the apostles twice (vv. 4-5, 8) to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit and now the realization of this event is at hand.

To summarize what has been said so far: the author wants us to know that this is a continuation of his first account, the Gospel of Luke, and that it will be focused on coming of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent acts the apostles performed as a result of being given Him.

That concludes this post, next up will be 1.12-26.

* It is my position that it was known throughout the church by the time Acts was written that if Jesus didn’t go away the Holy Spirit would not come (this is said in John’s gospel, which was probably written after Acts). The early church first taught things orally and only later were they written down.

The Useless(?) Doctrine of Inerrancy

Disclaimer: This is still an issue that I am thinking through, so I reserve the right to flip-flop on my position laid out in this post as I study it more since I may indeed discover that some of my reasoning is based on faulty information and/or assumptions.

There has been a question floating around in my head for the past few weeks that I have been pondering and trying to answer: “Why is Inerrancy even a doctrine in the first place? It just seems a bit redundant if we believe that all scripture is “God-breathed” to say that it is also Inerrant since we believe that God does not make errors. Over the course of thinking about this I discovered a few things and would like to share them with you. Some of these I knew before and they became clearer to me as I was thinking about this, others I had not realized prior to this.

Initially my thoughts centered on trying to figure out why in the world there even exists what seems to be a redundant doctrine with Inspiration (Scripture is “God-breathed”). Isn’t it enough to say that Scripture was “breathed” out by God so that the words He intended to be part of Scripture came to be Scripture, and since God is perfect that it would therefore be without error? Why add this doctrine of Inerrancy to specify that Scripture is without errors in all areas upon which it touches? Isn’t that implied with it being “God-breathed?”

The first thing I realized is that Inerrancy seems to be in place because of a deficiency in understanding of the doctrine of Inspiration. In our times it seems quite likely for someone to take the inspiration of the Bible to be the same as the inspiration that an artist has before creating something. There may indeed be something “divine” behind the inspiration, but it is also combined with the thoughts of the artists and thus is subject to error.

In this case the solution to the problem is not Inerrancy, but to make sure people have a proper understanding of Inspiration (which may also include making sure people have a proper understanding of God). A deficient understanding of the doctrine of Inspiration is not going to be corrected by adding the doctrine of Inerrancy.

The second thing I realized was that Inerrancy seems to be used by people to support their own viewpoints, and if you disagree with them then you are accused of violating Inerrancy. As I thought about this second point I realized that this behavior likely stems from a misunderstanding of where theological authority comes from. As Protestants when asked about this we are quick to respond with “the Bible!” and nothing else, which displays an insufficient understanding of authority. In Family Biblereality many (if not all) Evangelical Protestants actually accept two sources of authority in spiritual matters: the Bible and Tradition. Or at least you do if you accept the doctrines of the Trinity, the full humanity and deity of Christ, and the New Testament canon, among others because these things are not spelled out in the Bible, but were determined by the church (in response to heresies that were also based on the Scriptures) after the documents that would eventually become the New Testament were written.

Conclusion
This leads me into what I find to be the reason that Inerrancy exists in the first place: Evangelical Protestants need a way to preserve the orthodox teachings of Scripture (what everyone has always believed about them) without appealing to Tradition as a source of authority (we wouldn’t want to be like those crazy Roman Catholics now would we?).

The problem with doing things this way is that I don’t see how it actually accomplishes preserving the orthodox teachings of Scripture because it sets up a subjective basis for determining whether or not something is “orthodox.” In order to determine whether or not something violates Inerrancy the first thing that has to be determined is what the passage is talking about and touching on (e.g. is it talking about an actual historical event, or is it meant to be taken metaphorically or allegorically), which means that we have to engage in interpretation, which leads to a subjective conclusion that may or may not be in line with what has always been believed. Basically it seems to turn something that is indeed objective (what has always been believed) and turned it into something subjective (an interpretation).

So, to conclude this analysis, my basic question is: “Why are defending something that can be determined objectively with something that has to be determined subjectively?” Why not just simply point to the objective evidence and say that this is what has always been believed about this passage, so this is what we believe about it, nothing more and nothing less? Or in other words, instead of adding a doctrine which doesn’t seem to really accomplish anything, why not simply acknowledge Tradition as a source of authority?

I could say much more about this topic, but I think this captures the essence of my thoughts accurately. I am not trying to deny Inerrancy. I do not think that there are any errors in the Bible. I just think that this doctrine seems to add an unnecessary layer of theological complexity, and I all for avoiding making things more complicated than they need to be.

If you have an opinion on this matter by all means share it. I just ask that you be nice, constructive, and respectful with your comment.

What Jesus Prayed For: John 17

While I was on vacation over New Year’s I had the privilege to lead a Bible study on John 17. What follows is a summary of what was taught and discussed.

Essentially Jesus’ prayer for us can be summed up in the concept of abiding in him and in the image of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches (John 15.1-17). Abiding in Christ means following his commands (1 John 2.5-6; 3.4-10), which flows out of love for God (John 14.15, 21, 23; 15.10, 14; 1 John 5.2-3), which begins with believing that Jesus is the Christ (promised in Genesis 3.15) who has restored access to the Father (1 John 1.5; 2.24) and receiving the Holy Spirit who enables us to keep God’s commands.

So then, Jesus’ prayer for us is this: that we would recognize that we are separated from the Father and can only have access to him through Jesus. Once this is truly believed one will then love God and obey His commands, through the help of the Holy Spirit, thus abiding in Him.

This abiding achieves the unity amongst believers (vv. 11, 21), protection from the evil one (v. 15), and the sanctification that Jesus prayed for (v. 17). The unity because all believers are united to the Father through Jesus who is the only way to the Father (John 14.6; Remember also the vine imagery). The protection because all believers will be in the hands of the Father and none can snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10.29). The sanctification because all believers obedience to God’s commands results in the purifying of their souls (1 Peter 1.22-23).

We can see the results of our submission to this abiding process in Jesus’ prayer for himself in vv. 1-5, which was for God to be glorified despite knowing that it would entail his own death (see Matthew 16.21, 17.23, 20.19; Luke 9.22, 18.33; Mark 8.31, 9.31, 10.32-34; John 2.19-21; 12.24). The laying down of our own lives for our friends is the greatest expression of love (John 15.13) and evidences that the love with which the Father loves Jesus is in us (v. 26).

I think it is important to realize that ultimately Jesus prayed for us to abide in him. This is a simple yet hard thing to do, but it is all he wants us to do. He wants us to follow him and trust his leading. He is the good shepherd and we are his sheep (10.7-17). He will take care of us and wants us to trust him to do it (Matthew 6.25-34).

For more on this concept read and study 1 John.

Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition

Cave 4 at Qumram

Yesterday (Labor Day), I went with a group from here to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. Overall it was well worth the trip and the price of admission to see so many pieces of history. I’ll share a brief overview of the exhibition and then share some of my thoughts concerning what I saw.

The first exhibit contained artifacts from the Hasmonean Kingdom when Alexander the Great was out conquering. The second exhibit featured artifacts from around the time of King Herod in Jerusalem. Then we got to look at some ossuaries that were used to house the bones of the deceased. Exhibit four contained artifacts from Masada, where the Jews made a final stand against Rome (the temple had already been destroyed by this point). After this I believe we got the chance to look at some facisimilies of some fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

After all these exhibits we watched a short video explaining the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and then got to look at the actual some fragments from the scrolls themselves as well as some early fragments from the New Testament and some old Christian Bibles from the Reformation (Luther’s Bible, 1611 King James, Erasmus’ Bible, among others).

Impressions

  • Many of the plates and bowls were tiny compared to the size of modern plates and bowls. The ones in my kitchen look gigantic compared to the ones that I saw. I speculate this was the case for two reasons: 1) The food supply was not as stable back then as it is today, so conservation of food was essential. 2) Because conservation of food was so necessary they ate significantly less than we do today; they realized that they could survive on significantly less food than we eat today.
  • It was a bit surreal looking at some of the fragments. It was <surreal synonym> to think that this was a 2,000 year old piece of parchment or papyrus. And not only was it 2,000 years old, but it contained words that we already old when the fragment itself was written. There’s something to be said of words that survive for thousands of years, regardless of whether or not you agree with what they say, because there’s something timeless in them that has meant something to multiple generations. This is why I like reading books by old dead guys (and gals); there is a timeless meaning in them.
  • There were a few illuminated manuscripts on display. Ever since I discovered these existed a few years ago I’ve loved looking at them and wished that there was a modern version of these manuscripts. I loved how elegant they looked and how the pictures served to illustrate elements of the biblical story. So I was excited when I found that there was indeed such a Bible in existence today! You can read about the Saint Johns Bible here.

Overall I definitely have a new appreciation for the Bible. Just seeing how skilled some of the writing was on the fragments, and how well it corresponds to the Bible we have today speaks volumes as to how laboriously and painstakingly these manuscripts were copied. Some people even dedicated their lives to copying these manuscripts.

I’d encourage anyone that has the chance to go see the Dead Sea Scrolls if you ever have the chance, regardless of what you believe.