A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hate Speech and Homosexuality

The term “hate speech” has appeared in the media on innumerable occasions over the last decade or so. It is now a solid part of the culture that has made its way into everyday conversations. The term means any kind of speech that expresses “hatred” toward some person, or more commonly, type of person. We all know that it is usually used in reference to language that is considered bigoted. Most recently, in the context of a most disappointing announcement from a famous fiction author, it has been used by many in discussions about homosexuality. The problem is that in peoples’ ignorance of the truth it has become a blanket term that some use to vilify the preaching of the gospel, especially when sexual morality according to the Bible is the subject.

Let’s think about hate for a moment. There are a number of references to hating people in the Bible; the exact number depends on your translation. By far most of them speak of those who hate God or hate his people, and so the vast majority of the “hate speech” in the Bible refers to the ungodly as the ones who hate. However, there are a couple of passages wherein God’s people, or God are said to hate someone. For instance, David writes, “I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked” (Psalm 26:5 NASB). The Hebrew word David used is fairly translated as hate, so we do not misunderstand the severity of the statement. Note also Malachi 1:2-3 (quoted in Romans 9:13), “…I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated…” (Malachi 1:2-3 ESV). God used the same word that David used. It is a tough passage. However, I think we are right to say that both passages use the word hyperbolically. In Romans 9, Paul is clear that Esau (the individual) was hated only in the sense that in spite of his being the firstborn son, Jacob was chosen to be the one through whom the Christ would come and to whom the promise to Abraham would be reaffirmed. Obadiah 10-15 explains the reason for the Lord’s final disgust with Esau (the nation—Edom). They became his enemies, because of their evil treatment of his covenant people (Israel). So what God really hated (and hates) is evil works. So it was with David. We hate the sin and love the sinner.

So it is with homosexuals. Am I uttering “hate speech” when I speak the truth that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), is unnatural and dishonorable (Romans 1:26-27), and that those who practice it will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9)? Of course not! I do not hate a single homosexual in the literal sense of that word. It is actually out of love for them that I boldly fulfill my ministry of “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). If I love someone who is practicing destructive behavior, I am compelled to correct such a one. I cannot accept him in his folly. As Christians in the 21st Century, we must ask as Paul did, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16 NASB). We must instruct homosexuals with all kindness in the hope that they will turn from their sinful behavior unto Christ as some in Corinth had done (1 Corinthians 6:11a).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Original Sin?

Many people in “Christendom” believe in the doctrine of Original Sin. It is the idea that the “original” sin committed by Adam so tainted his soul as to cause the taint to be passed on to his descendants from generation to generation through procreation. The doctrine thus teaches that babies are born into the world condemned as sinners even before they make their first decisions. There is a Catholic version of the error that found embodiment in the writings of the Fifth Century theologian Augustine of Hippo, and a Protestant version that was articulated by John Calvin in the 1500s.

The Catholic version of the teaching can be found in the Catechism, which states: “[Adam] transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the ‘death of the soul.’ Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin” (Catechism, 1994, 1997, p. 102). Later on the same page we read, “How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man’ …By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.” This doctrine led to such unbiblical ideas as the Immaculate Conception and the Perpetual Virginity and Assumption of Mary—and, of course, infant baptism (actually infant sprinkling). Catholics “baptize” babies to free them from the condemnation they believe flows from Adam’s sin into all his descendants.

Calvin’s take on original sin (and his resulting view of grace called the Five Points of Calvinism) is often remembered by the acrostic: TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). The idea of TULIP is that Adam’s sin passed to all mankind through natural procreation, making everyone totally unable to choose to be truly godly. That leads to the idea that God had to choose certain people as the recipients of a miraculous grace to enable them to do what is right. Common sense says that if salvation is by faith in Christ, but only those specially chosen by God can ever have faith, then Christ did not die for everyone—thus, according to Calvinism, atonement is limited. If the “unconditional election” of certain ones to saving faith is a divine act, then, of course, who can resist God’s miracle? Finally, if faith is the result of a miracle worked in a man’s mind unconditionally then it follows that apostasy would be impossible. Most Calvinists do not baptize babies, but wait for a special conversion experience which they believe to be evidence of their unconditional election before being baptized.

What is the problem with the doctrine of original sin?

First, it is unbiblical. Paul wrote, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19 ESV). The passage does not mean that Adam’s sin passed on to his children, but that through him sin had its introduction into the world. His act and example paved the way that all men since have willingly followed (Rom 3:23); all except one. Jesus’ righteous act and example paved the way for everyone who will choose to follow him, not just a limited few who come to him whether they want to or not (Jn 3:16; Act 10:34-35, 17:30; 2 Cor 5:15; Col 1:28; Tit 2:11; et al), and it should be noted from a reading of Rom 5:18 that Adam’s sin corrupted to the same degree that Jesus’ righteousness justifies. Jesus’ righteousness justifies those that choose him, just as all who choose to follow Adam’s example (by sinning in any way, see Rom 5:14) are shown to be his sons and partakers in his condemnation. {As a side note, if Adam was faithful after his expulsion from the Garden to whatever commands God gave him concerning atonement (i.e. repentance and animal sacrifices) under what we would call the Patriarchal Dispensation, we can assume his condemnation was removed at the cross.}

Second, one must understand the way God finds fault and condemns, and how he views little children based on a few very clear passages, and let the easy passages shine interpretive light into what may be the more difficult ones (like, perhaps, Rom 5). In Ezekiel 18, God made it as clear as anything that he does not condemn the child for the sins of the parents—period. And passages like Matt 19:14 and Mk 10:15 show us, if they show us anything at all, that God does not look upon the spirits of children as tainted and condemned.

Finally, let the Romans context solve its own difficulties. In Romans 7, Paul has these words to say: “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Rom 7:9 ESV). Now, the Catholic catechism says that procreation transmits a sin that is the “death of the soul.” Calvinism says we’re all born “totally depraved,” which certainly would not be a condition we would call spiritually alive. Yet Paul says there was a time in which he was “alive,” and that it was before the commandment came. Well, according to the doctrine of Original Sin, Paul is just wrong, because he would have been conceived in spiritual death. Which do we believe, Paul or the Catechism? Also, “the commandment” was written down by Moses long before Paul was born. So how could he have been alive before the commandment came? The only possible answer is that he was spiritually alive in the condition of youthful innocence before he was old enough to be accountable to the Law. When he came into the age of being responsible for choosing his own way, he sinned. That is when spiritual death became a possibility for Paul—when he chose to sin. Paul was conceived in innocence just like Adam and Eve were. God is not so harsh as to condemn his creatures to death for crimes they neither committed nor are even aware of. Thank God children are safe in their innocence, and may he be praised that there is a sacrifice and true teaching able to save their souls if they will only choose it when they grow (or fall) out of their innocence. The doctrine of Original Sin is false. Let both Catholicism and Calvinism fade away, and may true Christian teaching endure forever!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another Martyr

I read an article today that fills me with grief and anger. (For however long the article remains online, it can be found at worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=58076.) The article is about a man named Rami Ayyad, a Christian Bookstore manager who lived in the Gaza Strip. He was abducted by masked Muslims while he closed the shop this past weekend, and then beaten, tortured and shot to death. He left behind a pregnant wife and two young children. Of course, control of the Gaza Strip was seized by Hamas in a recent coup, and Islamic law is bearing down hard on the approximately 3,000 Christians who live there. Local Islamic groups have promised harsh action against them if they spread the gospel. My prayer for them goes up to the Lord that they will be delivered and that the gospel will overcome, because “the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9), nor can it be! One cannot be a Christian and be silent about the truth. When the ancient unbelieving Jews threatened Peter and John and warned them not to preach Christ, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV). Let us all pray for strength and protection for believers in Jesus in the Gaza Strip and everywhere else, and pray for the enlightenment of the many Muslims who want to serve God, but are misled and actually fighting against him.

In addition to the report about the martyred shop-keeper, the writer of the article commented about present conditions in the Gaza Strip, and quoted some of the local Muslim leaders. It bothers me very much that many Muslims view the moral depravity of many in the Western world as having something to do with Christianity. The article reads:

Al-Zahar said his terror group, which demands strict dress codes for females, respects women's rights. “It is wrong to think that in our Islamic society there is a lack of rights for women. Women enjoy their rights. What we have, unlike the West, is that young women cannot be with men and have relations outside marriage. Sometimes with tens of men [sic]. This causes the destruction of the family institution and the fact that many kids come to the world without knowing who are their fathers or who are their mothers. This is not a modern and progressed society,” al-Zahar explained.

The problem is that most Muslims do not see that there is a strict separation between church and state in the West. Though it has not always been this way, it certainly is now. Christians are as unhappy with the sinful moral standards of those around us as anyone. No one is a true Christian who practices fornication, and no true Christian approves of any kind of relationships between men and women that would lead to such. The moral decay in the West is not due to people being Christians, but to people quitting Christianity. Christians do not view Western society as “progressed.” Western society is sick and we all know it. Many of us are trying hard to bring about revival. For those who are not, perhaps this can be your call to awaken from apathy. The article continues:

The terror chieftain [said that] the West can learn from his group’s Islamic values. “Here I refer to what was said in the early ‘90s by Britain’s Prince Charles at Oxford University,” Al-Zahar said. “He spoke about Islam and its important role in morality and culture. He said the West must learn from Islam how to bring up children properly and to teach them the right values.”

Jesus said, “Bless your enemies,” and so I will bless them. I appreciate the high moral standards of many Muslims. I praise their high standards of modesty and must admit that many Christians could take lessons here, but not due to any lack of instruction about modesty in the Bible—it’s all there, many simply do not practice it. I cannot deny the zeal for God that many Muslims display, except that I would kindly say of them the same thing Paul said about the Jews who would not accept Jesus in Romans 10:2-4. The West needs nothing less than it needs the teachings of Islam. God forbid that Islam should gain a greater foothold anywhere in the world! The West needs what it has always needed: true Christianity informed by an accurate understanding of the Bible. The East (and the Middle-east) needs the same thing. Let us pray that the whole world, East and West, will get what it needs: Jesus. Until then, we’re likely to have more stories of brutality against those who are loyal to Christ. May God grant endurance to those who hold to the testimony of Christ, and may he bring swift victory and consolation to those who suffer in his name, and may he grant the truth to prevail in every place. Amen!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sons of God and Daughters of Men, Part 2

Let us notice the details of Genesis 6:1-8. We want to have a basic understanding of the context, as that will enable us to make sound interpretive decisions, but the first step in understanding the passage is to carefully note the details.

Often when one takes the time to consider the details of a passage carefully, the mistakes of erroneous points of view become clear. First, let us notice the subjects of the passage. We have men multiplying on the earth. They have human daughters born to them. The sons (men) of God are attracted to human women. They marry them, and the products of their unions are men. As I stated in the previous installment, I believe rampant polygamy is implied and God was displeased with that. It is with these men that the Lord begins to be angry, and then it gets worse. As these mighty men reign in the earth, wickedness increases to the point of near total saturation. It is the wickedness of man God is angry about, not angels. Finally, Yahweh is sorry that he made man, because of what man has done. Nothing is said of anger against angelic corruptors. God decides to blot out man from the earth, because of what man has done—the same kind of man he created, not half-angel beasts. Even though the phrase “sons of God” is used of angels in Job, we have already seen Luke 3 show us that the phrase is a valid description of Adam (and thus his progeny) in the time of Gen 6, and we have also seen that the concept of men as God’s sons is even found in the Old Testament. Therefore, not only is calling these “sons of God,” in Gen 6, humans warranted by the Scriptural evidence, but inserting angels into the Gen 6 scene is a violation of the context altogether.

Before I move on to giants; take to heart some good old common sense that I learned from Vernon McGee. Good angels wouldn’t do what the “sons of God” do in Genesis 6. Bad angels would not be called sons of God (and never are in all the Bible to my knowledge, even in Job the “sons of God” assemble, and separate from their number, Satan also comes –Job 1:6, 2:1). The offspring of the unions between the sons of God and daughters of men were men of renown, not monstrosities, and the giants (“Nephilim”) were already there before the mighty men were born. That pretty well settles it for me, but I want to write about two more things before I am finished with this question.

First, concerning giants: The Hebrew word in Genesis 6 is “nephel.” To my knowledge it is used two times in the Bible, in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. The word does not mean “giant,” it means “feller” (i.e. fell-handed), “tyrant,” or “bully.” The interpretation of the word to mean giant likely comes from the descriptions of the Nephilim in Numbers 13:33, who were so large the Israelites felt like grasshoppers in comparison. They were likely in the same league as old King Og (Deut 3:11), and Goliath (approx. 9’6” tall) and his progeny (1 and 2 Samuel), but the word properly translated giant in all those passages is “rapha.” For all we know the pre-flood Nephilim were that large too, but that is beside the point. The word Nephilim means violent aggressors, not necessarily giants. The old Jewish fables which spawned the writing of 1 Enoch, claiming that these ancient giants were “3,000 ells” tall (1 Enoch 7:3) (talk about having your head in the clouds) is just outlandish and is not supported by the Scriptures at all.

Second, and finally, if the Nephilim were the products of angelic corruption, and thus, were the real problem in the pre-flood world, how could there be Nephilim on the earth after the flood (Numbers 13:33)? The Nephilim in Numbers were descended from Noah. Noah was not among the corrupted ones of humanity was he? No. The Nephilim were on the earth before the “sons of God” (good people) were seduced by the “daughters of men” (evil people) “and also afterward” as the text says. Their size, if larger than normal in Genesis 6, was due to human genes that obviously survived in Noah (does not mean Noah was large) and were passed on to appear again in the sons of Anak and the Philistines years later. The problem in Genesis 6 is not a problem of angelic beasts corrupting mankind, but mankind corrupting himself. It is a chapter in the struggle between God’s people and the people of the world that began with Cain and Abel and continues to this day. In that day, the influence of evil won out, and the entire race, save one family, fell into corruption and sin. Thank God one man, the great ancestor of every human being alive since that time, walked with God and found favor in his sight! I hope the question is now answered satisfactorily.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sons of God and Daughters of Men, Part 1

Recently a member of the congregation submitted the following request: “Please explain Genesis 6:1-4, ‘Sons of God,’ ‘Daughters of man,’ ‘Giants.’” When I started this blog, I informed the congregation that one of my aims was to use it as a means of answering their questions. I knew I was asking for it, but the first page of questions submitted to me inspired a chuckle. There are five questions on the page, one about instrumental music in worship, one about divorce and remarriage, another about 1 John 5:16-17 (“sin leading to death”), and the one I’m trying to address now—five biggies. I am uncertain as to whether the brother or sister who submitted the questions wants to read the answers, or hear them in a sermon, so I’ll do some of both. I won’t be answering all of the questions on this blog, but I invite those of you who are reading it to pay attention over the next couple of weeks and I’ll be answering a few of them here (Lord willing). It will take a few installments to completely answer this first question. Now, to the matter at hand—I am expanding the text to include verses 5-8, because I will incorporate some of the things from those verses. My base text is the ESV:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Gen 6:1-8 ESV).

There are two predominant interpretations of this passage. Both go back a long way. First, some believe the passage reveals that in the pre-flood world some angels abandoned their proper places, took on bodies of flesh, and married human women, spawning as the product of their unions, the Nephilim, or ancient giants (hereafter called “first interpretation”). This was the view of most ancients from pre-Christian Jews to Christians until the time of Augustine. Those who accept this interpretation argue that the phrase, “sons of God,” is only used in the Old Testament to refer to angels. I’ll deal with the specific passages shortly. Many who hold this view also look to New Testament passages like Jude 6, which reads, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…” (Jude 6 ESV). They make something that may or may not be anything of the words translated “just as” at the beginning of verse seven (which makes an example of the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah for their fornication) to create a link between the angels’ sin and the sin of the people of those doomed cities. In support of this interpretation, there are several parallels between 2 Peter and Jude, and both epistles seem to draw from the ancient Jewish pseudepigrapha, the book of 1 Enoch. Jude 14-15 certainly seems to be a direct quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9 (listed as Ch. 2 in one edition I found). Considering the contents of 1 Enoch (which leans heavily upon this idea of angels called Watchers cohabitating with human women), this is a point in favor of this first interpretation of Gen 6.

The second prevailing interpretation (hereafter called “second interpretation”) of Genesis 6:1-4 is that the phrase “sons of God” refers to the line of Seth, Adam’s third son (Gen 4:25), and that “daughters of men” refers to the line of Cain that (when one reaches Ch. 6) has already been shown to be corrupt (4:23-24). This was the view of ancients like Chrysostom and Augustine, and reformers like Luther and Calvin (Boice, 1982) and is the dominant view among Protestants and members of churches of Christ today. The idea is that God’s faithful children intermarried with wicked people who had abandoned God, and thus the whole human race was corrupted leading to the flood.

Though there are variations in the details of both interpretations, we may summarize the two by saying that those who hold to the first view believe that angels married human women in Genesis 6 and those who hold to the second view deny the same. I hold to the second interpretation. I deny that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 are angels. Now, I’ll move on to the details.

The context begins, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” While I am not arguing that Genesis 6 is an example of Hebrew poetry (characterized by parallelism), I do want to point out that I believe the second clause in the first sentence builds on the first and does not introduce any new characters. We have man, then daughters, then men, then daughters. Men have daughters; men marry daughters. I believe this is a subtle statement that the “sons of God” took up the practice that the descendants of Cain began: polygamy (Gen 4:19). So, from the start I reject the idea that “sons of God” refers to angels, but we need to have a look at the other passages in which the phrase is used before doing anything else.

The three times the phrase “sons of God” (Heb. “bene elohim”) is used in the Old Testament (other than Gen 6) are Job 1:6, 2:1 and 38:7. A similar phrase (“bar elohim”) is used in Daniel 3:25 where the fourth figure in the fire appeared like a “son of God” (KJV) (“of the gods” –ESV, NASB). While the instance in Daniel may well be a theophany, the passages in Job certainly refer to angelic beings. Linguistically, this gives weight to the first interpretation. On the other hand, “sons of God” is used a number of times in the New Testament in reference to men, and this gives weight to the second interpretation. However, fairness demands that I reveal the fact that some argue that the phrase is only used in the New Testament of those who have become God’s spiritual children through the gospel, and thus believe this is a point in favor of the first interpretation. In answer to that I cite Luke 3:38 where Adam is called “son of God.” Adam was a “son of God” when God made him. If he ceased to be a “son of God” when he fell (Gen 3) then it is still the case that the progeny of Adam can be called “sons of God” at least when they are in good standing with God, and it should be noted that Seth and at least some of his descendants were in good standing with God (Gen 4:26, 5:22, 6:8). While it may be a tricky passage, I find enough Biblical evidence to see the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 as good men, likely Seth and his descendants.

Is the use of specific words all there is to this case, though? I would say no. Even if the specific words “sons of God” are not used of men anywhere in the Old Testament (except Gen 6), is the concept there? We do find the concept in such passages as Ex 4:22; 1 Chr 17:13, 22:10, and Hos 11:1 (which also has a Messianic fulfillment). Therefore I propose that the second interpretation is well supported by the Scriptures and will show next that it is also the one best in keeping with the immediate context of Genesis 6:1-8.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Look Out for Number One!

This is the last installment in my little series about character. I’ve written about personal responsibility, integrity and strong work ethic. This week I want to write about being unselfish. We all know the saying, “You’ve gotta look out for ol’ number one!” The statement means that, for many, self is number one—self comes first no matter what. We know that most people live by that creed. Selfishness is the root of all interpersonal sins, if not of all sins, and is absolutely contrary to the Christian mindset. I want us all to live by the idea of looking out for number one, but I hope we can all start seeing others as that person of first priority, and not ourselves.

Though the height of the bus ministries was mostly before my time, I do remember riding on an inner-city ministry (Nashville, TN) church bus that my dad drove when I was a child. I was the only white kid on the bus, but since I wanted to fit in with the other kids, when a few of them asked me if the driver was my daddy, I lied and said no. They weren’t stupid and did not believe me, but I digress. I remember hearing about “JOY” busses, with the acrostic painted on the side: “’Jesus’ first, ‘Others’ second, ‘Yourself’ last.” I really like that idea, and think it is as Christian as anything can be. We ought to be going through life looking out for number one—number one just should not be me, it should be Jesus. While God does not demand that we have no concern for our own wellbeing, he does command that we become servant-minded, honoring him and seeking first his will (Matt 6:33), and esteeming others (especially brethren) in the next place before we seek our own good (Phil 2:3-4). The central theme of Christianity is the cross of Christ, Jesus’ offering of himself for us. Corresponding to it is the central act of discipleship, a complete sacrifice of the self (Matt 16:24; Rom 12:1). The highest calling is to follow Jesus, and the greatest honor is to become like him, therefore we should all sacrifice our wills to his and cease from selfishness.

I know that it can be difficult to do the right thing, especially when it means letting go of what I want, to enable someone else to have their way, for their own good. Nevertheless, no matter how difficult it may be, it is the thing that people of good character do. Good parents often go without what they would like to have for the sake of their children. All of us who have any goodness in our hearts at all have made sacrifices for those especially dear to us. The seed of unselfishness is there already if we love someone. Loving others is what makes it possible. All that remains is to develop a love for everyone, and we’ll have no trouble sacrificing for anyone. When I can see every child as I see my own sons, every parent like I see mine, every man and woman like my own brothers and sisters, and so on, then, if I want to be like the Lord, there will be no more room for selfishness. Those of good character are unselfish. I suppose it is no surprise that we find the bottom line of good character to be nothing other than unconditional love.