Tag Archives: Christianity

Acts of the Apostles 2.14-21

Here’s a recap before we get started:

 1.1-11 – IntroductionThis book is a continuation of the author’s previous account, the Gospel of Luke. The author informs us that this account will deal with the coming of the Holy Spirit, which was promised by Jesus during his Earthly ministry.
1.12-26 – Replacement of Judas: When the Apostles were praying after having returned to Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension it is revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy Judas’ apostleship since it is now vacant following Judas’ suicide. Matthias is selected to occupy the vacant office.
2.1-13 – The Coming of the Holy Spirit: During the Jewish festival of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and rested on each one of “them” (probably referring to the group of people that were gathered to pray together in 1.12-14) and they were speaking in foreign languages so that those who were also in Jerusalem struggled to explain to themselves how it was possible that they were hearing people from Galilee speaking in their own native languages, since the Galileans most likely did not know the languages in which they were speaking.

Acts of the Apostles 2.14-21

Book of ActsIn the previous section we saw some of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem from foreign lands explain to themselves the phenomenon of the Galileans speaking in the languages native to those foreign lands by saying that they were drunk, or “full of sweet wine.” In this next section we have Peter’s response to those who alleged that the Galileans were drunk.  Just to be sure, the women who were gathered with the Apostles to pray in 1.14 are also included in the group referred to as “Galileans.”

14 But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
18 Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
19 ‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
20 ‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
21 ‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Interestingly, Peter is said to “take his stand with the eleven,” referring to the eleven Apostles. However we have already seen Judas’ vacant office be occupied by Matthias in 1.12-26. The text seems to indicate a clear progression of events up to this point, meaning that the events happened in the order in which the text places them, so there should be twelve Apostles at this point in the account. The most likely explanation to me seems to be to take the phrase to mean Peter in addition to the eleven Apostles.*

The third hour of the day referred to in v. 15 is 9 a.m., so it is highly unlikely that they would be drunk so early in the day. Instead Peter says that what is happening is what the prophet Joel said would happen and quotes from Joel 2.28-32. Unlike in chapter 1, this passage that Peter quotes is actually predictive of something, that something being the coming of the Holy Spirit. The passage that Peter has quoted here lists several signs that will accompany the coming of the Holy Spirit:

  • The Spirit will be bestowed upon men and women, slaves and free. In short there will be no distinctions made when the Spirit is bestowed; it can be bestowed upon anyone. And everyone who receives the Spirit will see visions, dream revelatory dreams, and prophesy.
  • There will be wonders in the sky above and on the earth below including: “blood, fire, and vapor of smoke;” a darkened sun; and a moon of blood.
  • Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.

The immediate accompanying sign that Peter likely has in mind is prophesying, since in v. 11 it says, “…we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” The second accompanying sign Peter likely has in mind is the darkened sun and moon of blood. The Gospels record that during Jesus’ crucifixion the sky was darkened from about the sixth hour (noon) to the ninth hour (3 p.m.), and Luke adds the detail, “because the sun was obscured” (Matthew 27.45; Mark 15.33; Luke 23.44-45). What is likely being described here is a lunar eclipse since it can last for several hours and turns the moon a reddish color, giving it the appearance of blood.

Peter interpreted Joel’s prophecy to be referring to the kingdom of Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, which is why he changed the words “After this” to “In the last days.” To a Jew the “last days” refers to the coming of Messiah when he will restore Israel politically and reign forever. This is the first stage of Peter’s argument that the promised Messiah has come since the sun was darkened and the moon appeared red like blood, the Spirit was bestowed, and men and women are prophesying.

The proper response of the Jewish people then is in the last line of Joel’s prophecy that Peter quotes, “Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” It is only by belonging to the kingdom of the Messiah that they will be saved, otherwise they will perish. Here saved seems to mean in the sense of delivered from punishment; e.g. spending eternity with God rather than separated from God.

So to summarize Peter’s speech so far: these people are not drunk, but this is the fulfillment of the signs that the prophet Joel said would occur in the last days when Messiah comes, and you all should recognize this and join us and receive the Spirit as well.

In my opinion Peter could have stopped here and would have made his point quite clearly. Peter however continues his speech, and we will continue also, but in the next post.

* The other possibility I can think of is that there was some distinction made between Matthias being an Apostle and the remaining eleven Apostles that Jesus himself had chosen. My main problem with this explanation though is that 1.26 says that Matthias was added to the eleven Apostles, which seems to go against there being any such distinction made.

Acts of the Apostles 2.1-13

Book of ActsNow we finally come to the event that the opening verses of the book prepared us to expect: the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is a very significant event as it marks the beginning of the Church. Since there is so much to cover with this event I will be breaking this up into several posts.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of

Book of ActsMesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” 12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

First, the author provides for us the date on which the Holy Spirit was given: the day of Pentecost. This is a Jewish feast and it is dated 50 days from Passover. So, since Jesus was crucified on (or near) Passover*, rose 3 days later, and presented himself alive to the apostles over a period of 40 days following his resurrection before he ascended (see 1.3), we can conclude that approximately 10 days have passed since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to skip over details like this, that seem to have no other purpose than to provide a date, but I would advise you not to do so. Such details are incredibly important. Details like this, and the genealogies (especially the ones in Matthew and Luke), tie Christianity to historical events, dates, and people. Christianity is based on historical events, such as the resurrection of Jesus, his ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (all of which have been recounted to us by this point in the book). Christianity is not a philosophical system that someone produced in a vacuum. Christianity doesn’t hinge on a particular doctrine, but rather on the historical event of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Christianity is only false if these events did not happen.

As a side note, Mike Licona has some great resources (free and paid) to take advantage of if you are interested in investigating the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. His site is: RisenJesus.com.

It is this relation to actual historical events that sets Christianity apart from most, if not all, of the other major religions of the world. It is also this relation to historical events that I personally find to be the most persuasive aspect of Christianity. If there lived a man who claimed to be God, was killed, rose again, and ascended into heaven I have to explain those events somehow and come to a conclusion about them; I can’t merely dismiss them as fiction if they actually happened.

We can see an example of people trying to explain to themselves a supernatural phenomenon in this passage. When the Holy Spirit came there was a noise, and tongues of fire came and rested on the Apostles. When the noise was heard the people who were in Jerusalem, people from every nation under heaven,  gathered together and were perplexed because they heard men who were from Galilee speaking in their (the people in Jerusalem, i.e. not the Apostles) own language (for the languages see the list in vv. 8-11). We can see two different attitudes to the event: 1) some are perplexed and bewildered and seeking to understand how this could be possible; 2) others are dismissive of the event and mock the Apostles as simply being drunk. Neither group is doubting the event happened, but rather is trying to make sense of it.

So to recap this passage: when the Holy Spirit came there was a noise, the people of Jerusalem gathered together when they heard the noise and found the Apostles speaking in their (the people of Jerusalem, i.e. not the Apostles) own native languages. This perplexed them because they identified the Apostles as being from Galilee who likely did not learn the languages in which they were speaking. Pay attention to these events and remember the signs that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit, it will be important later.

That wraps up this post. Maybe finishing chapter 2 in the next post. And that’s a big maybe, there’s a lot to cover in the rest of the chapter.

*I’m not going to reconstruct a timeline here, but you can see the sequence of events by starting with Matthew 26.17; Mark 14.12; Luke 22.1; and/or John 13.1 and reading the rest of the account(s).

Acts of the Apostles 1.15-26

Book of ActsWhen we last left off the 11 disciples had returned from Mt. Olivet to Jerusalem and were devoting themselves to prayer, presumably for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. They were joined by others for a total of about 120 people gathered together in prayer. We pick up the action beginning with verse 15:

15 At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘Let his homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it’;

and,

‘Let another man take his office.’

“At this time” indicates that it was during prayer (again, presumably for the coming of the Holy Spirit) that Peter stood up and spoke the words that follow. I believe that this is a significant thing to note as it is indicative of Peter’s state of mind when he spoke these words. His mind was concentrated and focused on God (he was in prayer after all) when he spoke these words. Thus we can be confident that the words he spoke were of God, and not of himself.

The point of vv. 18-19 in this account is to inform the readers about Judas’ fate as this is left out of Luke’s gospel. I will briefly mention that vv. 18-19 do not align exactly with Matthew’s account of Judas’ death; Matthew 27.5 simply says that Judas went out and hanged himself. An exhaustive attempt at reconciling these accounts is not something I wish to do, so I will simply say that they can be reconciled this way: Judas went out and hanged himself over a cliff and after he had been hanging for some time the branch broke and when he fell his intestines burst open. The accounts do agree however that the field became known as the “Field of Blood” (Matt. 27.8).

Going back to v. 16 Peter says “the Scripture had to be fulfilled” and then in v. 20 he quotes two separate passages from the Psalms. The first, “Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it,” is from Psalm 69.25. The second, “And let another man take his office” is from Psalm 109.8. Both of these Psalms are describing someone who has been betrayed by those to whom he has shown nothing but kindness and is suffering as a result. By betraying Jesus and delivering him into the hands of the chief priests Judas fulfilled these passages by living out the actions described of the betrayers; he caused an innocent man to suffer harm. Peter then is quoting these passages not to say that these Psalms are predicting Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but rather to say what should happen to Judas as a result of his betrayal of an innocent man.

The first thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let his homestead be made desolate…”; this is essentially asking for someone’s destruction. This “destruction” could be the loss of everything he has worked for his entire life, such as in the case of Job, or it could include the loss of his life. Judas fulfilled this by taking his own life.

The second thing that Peter says needs to be fulfilled is: “Let another man take his office.” This has not yet been fulfilled at this point in the account, thus Peter is calling those who have gathered to pray to take up this task of selecting someone to take Judas’ place.

21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Peter specifies two criteria that must be met for Judas’ replacement: 1) he must be a man, and 2) he must have been with disciples during the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry (this started with Jesus’ baptism by John and ended with his ascension). Peter’s prayer in vv. 24-25 before they draw lots indicates that it is Jesus who revealed to Peter that someone should be selected to occupy the office that Judas left vacant following his death. Then they draw lots and Matthias is selected and added to the eleven apostles.

After reading this passage I ask myself: “Why did someone have to be selected for Judas’ vacant office before the coming of the Holy Spirit?” Or in other words, “Why is this event significant enough to be recorded in Scripture?” It is evident that Peter was directed by Jesus to select a replacement for Judas’ office, but why I cannot say. Perhaps the best explanation I can offer (I emphasize that this is just my opinion) at this point is that since there were twelve tribes of Israel and it was important that no tribe lost its inheritance in the Promised Land (pre-exile of course), so it was important that of the twelve appointed apostles no one lose his inheritance. Since Judas lost his inheritance with his suicide someone then had to be appointed to replace him and receive his inheritance. I’ll avoid going into more detail regarding this for now so this post doesn’t get too long, but if a further explanation is necessary I will be glad to provide it.

Summary
Before we move on let’s recap what has happened so far. The author has told us this is a continuation of his “first account,” which we identified to be the Gospel of Luke. Thus Luke-Acts is best read as one continuous book. He begins the second account by telling of Jesus’ ascension and that he (Jesus) commands his disciples to go into the city and wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Thus the expectation going into this account is that the Holy Spirit is going to be featured prominently. But before the Holy Spirit comes Peter is directed by Jesus, while in prayer, to select someone to replace the office that Judas left vacant with his death, and that for some reason it was necessary for someone to replace Judas before the Holy Spirit was bestowed.

Up next, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Finally.

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 Sun Shines Even in the Cold

There’s a weather phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with since moving to Texas: sunny and cold. To a native Floridian like myself it seems quite strange that it could be sunny and yet the surrounding air feel cold at the same time. These two things should not go together. The sun is warm. It produces heat and makes things warm. How could the sun be brightly shining and yet the air around me be cold? Is the sun somehow defective?

There’s a spiritual phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with during my life: sunny and cold. To a life-long Christian like myself it seems quite strange to have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet for them to feel distant at the same time. These two things should not go together. God indwells me. God is near me. How can God indwell me and yet feel distant? Is God somehow defective?

In reality I know that the sun is not defective; it is producing as much heat as it always has. Yet this does not make me feel any warmer.

In reality I know that God is not distant from me; He is as close as He always has been. Yet this does not make Him feel any closer.

If I put on a coat I will feel warmer, but this will not change the fact that the air around me feels cold.

If I spend time praying, reading Scripture, worshiping with others, and fellowshiping with others I will feel encouraged and persevere in my faith, but this will not change the fact that God feels distant.

I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and the air around me feels warm once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.

I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and God feels near to me once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.

When winter comes around again, and you are huddled around the dying fire of your faith, clinging desperately to every scrap of warmth, wondering why things are not the way they seem like they should be, take note of those around you because they have passed the test. The spiritual winters in our lives, those times when God feels distant and we struggle with our faith, are tests not only for those of us who are in the midst them, but also for our Christian brethren who see us in the midst of them.

The sun does not cease to shine during winter.

God does not cease to be near us during our winters.

We should not cease to be near our Christian brethren in their winters. They are not expecting us to bring about spring. They just don’t want to be alone during the winter. Do not merely pray for them, but huddle with them around their dying fire, however low it may be. God has not abandoned either of you and will see both of you through. Spring will come, and it will be evident then that God is in you because you have loved as God loves.

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.

Christianese for Dummies

It has occurred to me that I may use terms on this blog that may not be sufficiently understood by those who are outside the Christian faith. And while my posts are primarily written for Christians I want them to be of benefit to all people, regardless of whether or not they are Christians. So with that goal in mind I have decided to define a few terms that will hopefully assist those who might be confused by, or not understand, some of the terms I may use.

God (The Trinity)
Christians believe in one God who is comprised of three separate and distinct persons, the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Thus since both the Son and the Spirit are from the Father they are of the same substance as the Father, are distinct from the Father, and are worshiped and glorified with the Father there is one God who is comprised of three separate and distinct persons.

If you don’t completely understand this it’s fine; in the end the Trinity is rather hard to explain. Perhaps this will clear some things up a bit though: St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.

Sin
Sin primarily refers to one of two situations: In the first situation sin is used to describe individual actions or practices that are contrary to God’s standard of righteousness. An example of this is James 4.17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” In this verse sin is used to refer an individual act, failing to do the right thing despite knowing what the right thing to do was; this is contrary to God’s standard. Thus anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it commits a sin.

The second situation sin is used to describe is the power that produces sins (described in the first situation) and rules over those who are not in Jesus Christ. An example of sin used this way is found in Romans 6.1-14; the “sin” that Paul is referring to in this passage is the power that produces sins and rules over those who have not been baptized into Christ Jesus, not individual acts or practices.

Salvation
Salvation primarily refers to one of four situations. The first is a situation where someone is in physical need of saving, such as Peter in Matthew 14.30.

The second situation is the moment of justification, when we receive Jesus’ righteousness and are thus declared righteous because God sees Jesus’ perfect righteousness rather than our sinful selves. When you hear someone ask someone else, “Are you saved?” this aspect of salvation is what they are asking about; they are asking if the person believes themselves to have been declared righteous by God. Exactly when this moment occurs, and how it occurs, is not agreed upon within Christianity.

The third situation is the process of sanctification. Salvation is more than being declared righteous and going to heaven when you die, it is also the process of being transformed to be more and more like Christ by living everyday in communion with God. This process of transformation has been dubbed sanctification, but in Scripture the word salvation is often (always?) used to refer to this.

The fourth situation is glorification. This occurs when we die and the final removal of sin occurs from the life of those who are in Christ (i.e. the saints) and we commune directly with God throughout eternity. This will also occur when Jesus returns at the second coming, the Earth is restored, and we receive our glorified bodies.

My opinion is that it is best to conceive of salvation as referring collectively to situations 2, 3, and 4. We are justified in order to be sanctified, and sanctified in order to be glorified and restored to what we were originally before sin entered the picture. Salvation is really this entire process, not just a one time event.

So hopefully this clears a few things up for some people. I’ve tried to be real basic here and not go in to great details so as not to overwhelm people. If you think something else should be on this list let me know and I will add it.

What is a Holy Life?

What does it mean to live a holy life? Living a holy life should be the goal of any Christian, but how do we know if we are doing this? Certainly we will never live a perfectly holy life, but we can never even attempt to live it if we don’t know what it looks like. During the course of my studies this semester I came across what I consider to be the two aspects of a perfectly holy life: (1) sinlessness and (2) obedience to God.

Sinlessness. This means, as you might expect, a life without sin. Anytime you do something that God has declared wrong or commanded not be done, like lust, lie, or covet for example you have committed a sin. Even the greatest most perfect Christian on the planet sins multiple times per day; it is so embedded in our nature that we will cannot but help but commit it.

Obedience. This means doing the things that God has commanded to be done, like loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. This also includes things that God may have commanded you personally to do, such as taking a certain job or preparing to enter a certain vocation.

While in theory these two aspects can be separated out into neat definitions this isn’t so easy to do in reality. In reality these two aspects are so intertwined that they are inseparable. The more you sin the greater its influence becomes over your thoughts and actions. The less you sin the less its influence becomes. However it is not enough to simply not sin. Something must take the place of sin’s influence otherwise all you are doing is striving for a moral purity which you will soon cease striving for as you will quickly realize that moral purity by itself is quite pointless.

The counter to the influence of sin is the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is where obedience comes in. When we are obedient to the commands of God we become more sanctified (that is, more like Christ) than we were previously. To be sure, obedience is not simply mere external actions, but is internal as well. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their disobedience, which ironically stemmed for their striving to be obedient, because even though outwardly they were doing everything that God required they were doing it for the praise of men and not the praise of God.

So, in short, living a holy life involves not only sinning less, but also being obedient to God’s commands. As Christians we are called to live a holy life (Leviticus 11.44; 1 Thessalonians 4.7). The Hebrew word for “holiness” means “to cut off” or “mark off.” We are called to live a life that is marked off for God. We cannot be ministers for a holy God if we ourselves are not pursuing holiness. If we are content as we are we will never minister God, but only ourselves. If we want to minister God we must mark ourselves off for him so that we will become more like him and it will become evident to others that we are serving him and not ourselves.

Holiness does not merely involve a life free from sin. It also involves a life lived in obedience to God. We can see this most clearly in the life of Christ. Not only did Jesus not sin, but he was also obedient to the Father’s will, even to dying on a cross.

In closing I will note that pursuing a holy life doesn’t mean that everyone will like you. Hopefully your Christian brethren will appreciate you, but I think that those outside the Christian faith will most likely despise you. God’s holiness reveals just how depraved and sinful we are (see Isaiah 6) and that causes one of two responses in people: (1) they recognize and lament their sinful state, or (2) they despise God. If God’s holiness is seen in a sinful human person (though certainly to a far lesser extent than in God himself) I think we can expect the same. After all, Jesus perfectly revealed (ministered) the Father to Israel and they did not accept his testimony, but instead ascribed his power to Satan and crucified him.

I Like The New Pope

If I were a Roman Catholic I think I would be really proud right about now. I think the new Pope has set a good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus: to be a servant of all.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

This new Pope seems to have rejected the luxuries that previous Popes have embraced in favor of showing himself to be on equal footing with others. Peggy Noonan notes several things that point to the humility of Pope Francis:*

  • His plain regalia as he stood on the balcony
  • Request for crowd to pray for him before he prayed for them
  • Loves the poor and even gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order that had no money
  • Lives in an apartment
  • Cooks his own food
  • Rides the bus
  • Picks up his own luggage
  • Pays his own hotel bill
  • Shuns security
  • Refuses a limousine
  • Gets on a minibus with the cardinals
  • Visits a church in a modest car in rush hour traffic
  • Greeted the people before greeting the Vatican officials and staffers following his election
  • Reportedly refuses to sit on a throne and meets his fellow cardinals standing
The White Crucifixion by Chagall

The White Crucifixion by Chagall, reportedly Pope Francis’ favorite painting

Many people seem to be hoping for change with this new Pope and I think change is exactly what they’re going to get, though perhaps not the change they are hoping for. The new Pope will probably not institute any progressive reforms or change the church’s stance on gay marriage, abortion, or contraception; this is not the change Catholicism needs.

The change Catholicism needs is a change of heart and mind, and I think the new Pope is quite capable of instituting this change if he continues being the servant that he seems to have been his entire life. It seems to this Protestant that for too long the Roman Church has communicated (whether intentionally or not) that it is superior to the people and its job is to rule over the people and the people are to serve them. This is a reversal of the order that Jesus intended for His followers. Jesus called His disciples to be servants of all, just as He was a servant of all and laid down His life for all.

If the Roman Church can embody this simple principle of servanthood it will bring some long overdue change to Roman Catholicism. People need to see Rome as interested in serving them rather than ruling over them. Once this change happens I think people will begin to see and embrace the God that Rome has over zealously protected these many years. They will begin to see that Jesus came to give life to His followers, not to scare or force them into obeying His teachings with the threat of eternal damnation. Pope Francis seems to understand this.

My hope and prayer is that Pope Francis continues what appears to be a great example of servanthood and that his example permeates throughout the Roman Church. Like it or not the Roman Church is the face of Christianity in the west, and a well received and appreciated Roman Church is good for the rest of western Christendom; we are yolked to them whether we like it or not.

*My apologies if you have issues viewing Noonan’s article. If you cannot view it please let me know.