I learned in your article on divorce that the only time divorce is permissible is in situations where fornication takes place prior to the consummation of the marriage. But what about the case of a woman who fails to tell her husband about sexual encounters that took place prior to their marriage? Can he divorce her after learning of her deception even though the two have already consummated their marriage?
In the specific situation you described, the husband and wife would still be duly married and therefore may not divorce.
First, the woman in your example committed the sin of fornication before her marriage, not after the marriage. As our article explained, only sexual infidelity after marriage is grounds for divorce and even then only when the married couple has not yet consummated their marriage.
If a couple marries but fails to consummate their marriage for some reason (e.g., a soldier who marries immediately before deploying for battle, etc.), then the couple must remain faithful to their vows. Should one member of the marriage engage in sexual infidelity during this time, that act may be biblical grounds for divorce because the couple had not yet consummated their marriage. In this situation, the Bible permits divorce because a “one-flesh” relationship had not yet been established (see Matthew 5:32 & 19:8).
Obviously, this situation almost never happens in modern society. In our modern society, a couple typically consummates the marriage within hours of the wedding ceremony. With so little time separating the two events, it is virtually impossible today for a Christian to invoke the exception Jesus described in Matthew 5 & 19.
Once consummation takes place in any marriage, that marriage cannot be ended except by the death of a spouse (see Matthew 19:6 and Romans 7). Even though a marriage is formed under false pretenses as in the case you described, nevertheless deception does not invalidate a marriage in the eyes of God according to scripture. Scripture never makes deception or even infidelity prior to marriage grounds for divorce
For example, consider the experience of Jacob, who was deceived into marrying the wrong woman in Genesis 29! Though Jacob was deceived, nevertheless once he had consummated the marriage with Leah his marriage was valid and sealed for life. Jacob could not walk away from his commitment to Leah despite being deceived by Leah's father, Laban.
Therefore in the situation you described, the woman’s fornication prior to marriage was regrettable, but once her marriage was consummated, her prior sexual sin was no longer relevant to the validity of her marriage. The marriage has been formed and must be honored by both parties.
Does Psalms 90:10 say that the lifespan of humans is 70-80 years?
The verse you quoted from Psalm 90 must be understood in its context (as is the case with all scripture). The context of v.10 is:
Notice the Psalmist’s line of thought in this passage. He is speaking on behalf of the nation of Israel (i.e., “we”). The people of Israel were under God’s judgment for their disobedience under the Old Covenant. God was “consuming” Israel in His fury and anger against them. Israel endured exile, bondage, drought, famine and other consequences for their apostasy to the covenant.
In v.8 the Psalmist says Israel sins were “before” God. Though Israel thought they were sinning in secret, the Psalmist says their secret sins were placed in the light of God’s presence. In other words, they weren’t so secret after all. Because of Israel’s unrepentant sins, the Old consumed His people in fury through judgments that weakened them and brought them to early death.
In v.10 the psalmist says the life of a person is seventy or maybe eighty years, yet the pride of our years is merely labor and sorrow. No matter how long we may live, soon we are gone in the end. Therefore, the psalmist asks God to teach His people to number their days, which means to appreciate the fragile and fleeting nature of life on earth. By gaining a healthy appreciation for our mortality, God’s people would live with wisdom for whatever time the Lord gives.
Therefore in this context, it’s clear the psalmist is not specifying an exact length of life for all human beings. Rather, he’s remarking in a general way that most people live between 70-80 years, which is still true today. Some may live fewer years and some may live longer. Nevertheless, 70-80 years is generally the length of life for mankind, and in eternal terms, it’s a very short time indeed. Therefore, we must live with an appreciation for the eternal consequences of how we live.
When exactly is one considered saved?
The Bible teaches clearly that the way to salvation is to believe in and confess Jesus as Lord:
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul teaches that God moves a person to make such a confession by His Spirit through the gift of faith. Simply put, a person believes and confesses in Christ because the Lord gives that person the ability and desire to do so. Unless and until a person receives the gift of faith, a person cannot and will not confess Christ.
When the Lord by His grace enables a person to believe in the Gospel, they will cry out to Him as Paul says:
Notice Paul says that we received a Spirit of adoption from the Father, by which we made our confession of faith (i.e., our cry to the Father). In John 3 Jesus described this process as being “born again” by the Spirit of God. The moment of our salvation comes when the Holy Spirit the gift of faith, and that moment inevitably leads the person into making a confession of Christ. In the course of events, the moment of confession may follow sometime after the arrival of faith, but salvation is assured from the moment of faith. Our confession is result of believing and therefore is the means by which salvation is shared with others.
For a complete description of Romans 10:9-10, please listen to our Romans Bible Study.
For a complete discussion of these matters, please listen to our Ephesians Bible Study.
In Genesis 1:2, the creation account begins with the Spirit of the Lord moving over the "waters." Who created water in the beginning?
The opening verses of Genesis declares:
Water was not created until Day 2. God created the water out of the formless material described in Day 1. The Hebrew word for “waters” is a euphemism for a deep, dark space, like the depths of the sea. We can see how Moses uses the word waters in this way when we notice he compares the word to the "deep" earlier in that verse. Moses juxtaposes the words "deep" and "waters" in the verse in a parallel fashion as synonyms.
Therefore, on Day One of Creation, literal water did not yet exist. Instead, a formless void existed, which Moses compares to deep, dark waters. In reality, Day One describes the beginning of all matter yet without atomic or molecular form. Beginning in Day Two the Lord creates form out of the formless material of Day One.
Can a Christian observe the Lord's supper (i.e., communion) alone?
The most specific instructions in Scripture concerning the way the Church should observe the communion meal is found in Paul's teaching in 1Corinthians 11.
In this passage, Paul clearly expected the Church to observe this communion meal in the context of a gathering. Paul's instructions include statements like "...when you come together as a Church..." and "...when you meet together..." which strongly suggests Paul expected the meal to be conducted in a corporate setting.
Furthermore, the original Last Supper observance by Christ was based on the Passover celebration, which was required to be conducted in a group setting:
Notice that smaller families were required to join together with to form larger groups that would ensure the lamb was fully consumed. Therefore, it was not possible for a Jew to observe the Passover meal alone. Here again, this pattern argues against an individual observance of the Lord's Supper, since it is modeled after the Passover. (For more background on the connection between Passover the and Lord's Supper, please listen to Lesson 13 of our John's study.)
Finally, observing the Lord’s Supper individually is not necessary. The purpose of the observation, according to Paul, is to witness to the sacrifice of Jesus and His promise to return for the Church (see 1Cor 11:26). By definition, we cannot offer a witness without an audience, so communion's chief purpose according to Paul cannot be achieved when we're alone.
For all these reasons, we do not believe a Christian should attempt to conduct communion alone. Doing so is likely nothing more than eating a meal.
Genesis 2:10 clearly states a river flowed "out of Eden to water the garden." If the river flowed "out of Eden" to water the garden, was the garden inside Eden or outside of Eden?
Your confusion is the result of the rendering in your English translation. The original Hebrew does not create this confusion.
Looking at Genesis 2:10 we find:
A better way to render this verse in English would be, "Now a river watered the garden in Eden, and the river flowed out of Eden and became four rivers." So the Garden was in Eden, and a river originated in the garden. It eventually flowed out of Eden. You might find our Genesis Bible study helpful.
Who are those Paul's describes as “asleep” in 1Thessalonians 4?
Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica saying:
In v.13 Paul uses the word “asleep” as a polite way of describing death, in the same way we might say someone has “passed away” rather than saying the person has died. Therefore, those who are “asleep” in 1Thess 4 are those Christians who have died. By the context, we see Paul was referring to believers who die prior to Christ’s coming for the Church at the Rapture.
For a complete explanation of this passage, please read "How do we know there will be a Rapture."
We know the seven Jewish feasts picture important moments in Christ's ministry. Since the first four feasts in the Jewish calendar were fulfilled by Christ on the exact calendar day of the feast, should we expect the final three feasts will be fulfilled on their appointed days too?
This is an intriguing question many Christians have asked, but sadly there is no definitive answer in scripture.
Here are the feasts of the Jewish calendar and their associated prophetic fulfillment:
The first four of these feasts (i.e., Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Pentecost) saw their prophetic fulfillment in Christ's first coming. In each case, these feasts were fulfilled on the actual calendar day of the feast, so Jesus died on Passover, He was resurrected on the Firstfruits, the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, etc.
Consequently, some assume that this pattern will continue for the three remaining feast, predicting, for example, that the rapture of the Church will occur on a future Feast of Trumpets. While such speculation may sound sensible, scripture doesn't teach this will be the case. The word of God never promises such a fulfillment of the feasts, and while the pattern of the first four feasts is compelling, nevertheless the Lord could choose to break that pattern in the future.
Arguing against this possibility is the fact that the events pictured by the final two Jewish feasts are not single-day events. The Tribulation will last seven years, while the Kingdom lasts 1,000 years, so it is literally impossible for these events to be fulfilled entirely on their appointed feast day (though they could begin on their respective feast day).
Furthermore, the next feast due to be fulfilled is Trumpets, which pictures the Rapture. Jesus clearly states in Matthew 24:36 that we will not know "the day or hour" of the Rapture, so it seems unlikely that this event will coincide with its feast day. Some suggest that Jesus' "day or hour" limitation could still allow for the Rapture to occur on a future Trumpets feast day since the feast is commonly celebrated over a 2-day period, and therefore we wouldn't know the exact day much less the hour of His return.
Nevertheless, we cannot be dogmatic about this theory. While it's possible that the Rapture could occur on the day of the feast of Trumpets in a year to come, it is equally possible that God could choose to break the pattern for future feasts.
Regarding this topic, you may find our "End Times" seminar helpful.
Are observances like Ash Wednesday & Lent biblical? May a Christian participate in such things?
The observance of Lent is not a biblical practice, per se. The Bible never commands it nor does it prohibit it.
Lenten practices are rooted in the traditions of Catholicism and were later carried forward by Protestant denominations coming out of the Reformation. Under Catholic doctrine, Lenten sacrifices (e.g., fasting, abstaining from certain foods, etc.) are a way to "share in Christ's suffering" so Catholics might also share in His glory, according to Catholic misreading of Romans 8:17. In other words, Catholicism teaches their followers that to be glorified with Christ (i.e., to be saved) requires that we first endure deprivation and suffering like Christ did on our behalf, and Lenten observances further that goal.
Obviously, such teaching is heresy. First, the Bible clearly teaches that no one is justified (i.e., saved) by works or suffering but only by faith in Christ, Who suffered on our behalf. Observances like Lent cannot reconcile us to God, since a work of sinful flesh cannot erase our debt before God. Only faith in the shed blood of the sinless Christ for our sins can reconcile us to God. Therefore, anyone who practices Lent in the expectation of earning or maintaining their salvation has fallen from grace or was never saved in the first place.
Secondly, Catholicism's justification for Lent taken from Romans 8:17 is a blatant twisting of the scriptures. When understood in its context, Paul's teaching does not support the Catholic view. Instead, Paul instructs believers not to fear for their eternal security when they experiencing suffering on earth. Rather, Paul reassures us that our suffering on earth can be compared to Christ's suffering on the cross: it will be temporary and ultimately leads to glory with Christ. Catholics teach a false Gospel of salvation through works, so they misinterpret passages like Romans 8:17 in order to support their views.
Therefore, a Christian should approach Lenten observances with caution and discernment. While observing a Lenten season is not necessarily sinful, the theology associated with the practice is potentially confusing or detrimental to new or untaught believers. The various arguments for Christians observing Lenten practices may imply the necessity of such sacrifices for pleasing Christ or maintaining our fellowship with Him, but the Bible says Jesus made the once-for-all sacrifice for sins, and therefore no more sacrifices are required (Hebrews 10:10).
Instead of pursuing a Lenten season of self-sacrifice, we recommend Christians engage in a regular practice of fasting, prayer and exercising self-control in all things in keeping with Paul's teaching in Romans 12:
Rather than dedicate a certain period of the year to meaningless sacrifices, we are better to devote our life to pleasing Christ by making our bodies a living sacrifice of praise to Him.
You teach that Moses was punished by God for striking the rock twice in Numbers 20, but the text says He was punished for striking the rock instead of speaking to it. Which is true?
In Numbers 20 Moses was told to speak to the rock in the desert to bring forth water for Israel:
In frustration with the people of God, Moses chose to strike the rock instead of speaking to it:
Earlier in Exodus, the Lord did instruct Moses to strike the rock to produce water:
So in Exodus 17, Moses obeyed God by striking the rock, but in Numbers 20 Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock instead of speaking to it. The incident in Numbers 20 was the second time Moses struck the rock, the first time being in Exodus 17. Therefore, we teach that Moses was punished for striking the rock twice in the sense of striking it Numbers 20 and in Exodus 17, not in the sense of striking it two times in Numbers 20.
New Testament Scripture in 1Corinthians teaches that the rock in the desert was intended by God to be a picture of His Son, Jesus Christ:
When the Lord instructed Moses to strike the rock in Exodus 17, He intended to establish a picture of Christ as our Redeemer. The Bible says repeatedly in Psalms and Isaiah that Christ is our Rock and Cornerstone struck (i.e., killed) for our sake, and He will bring forth streams of living water (i.e., salvation...see John 4:10). Moreover, Hebrews says Christ died once for all and no further sacrifice for sins is required.
So the Lord intended Moses strike the rock in the desert only once in the scene from Exodus 17, thus picturing Jesus sacrificed once to bring us salvation. Later in Numbers 20, the Lord instructed Moses to only speak to the rock to preserve the picture created in Exodus 17. When Moses chose to strike the rock a second time instead, he disrupted the picture created in Exodus 17. Had God allowed Moses' mistake to go unchallenged, we would likely be confused by the distorted picture, concluding it was necessary for Christ (i.e., the rock) to be sacrificed (i.e., struck) repeatedly for our salvation.
Therefore, God rebuked Moses to assure our proper understanding of the picture of the rock barring him from entering the Promised Land. In the process, the Lord formed a new picture to support a proper understanding of salvation. By barring Moses from the Promised Land, the Lord illustrated that we cannot enter into salvation (i.e., the Promised Land) by works of Law (i.e., by Moses) but only by the work of Jesus (i.e., by Joshua, which is the name Yeshua or Jesus).
In the book of Ruth, you teach the characters picture important Biblical actors like Christ and the Church. Regarding Boaz's nearest kinsman, could he represent God the Father since he's related to Boaz (i.e., Christ)?
The nearest relative in the story of Ruth cannot represent a member of the Godhead, given his failure to redeem the widow. We're told in Ruth 4 that nearest relative could not meet the terms of the Law and he was shamed as a result.
These facts preclude us from drawing a connection between Boaz's closest relative and the Father, for the Father is not shamed by Christ's (i.e., Boaz's) redemption of the Church (i.e., Ruth). Instead, we teach indicated that the nearest relative pictures unsaved humanity descended from Adam, which is unable to meet the demands of the Law for its own sake. The relative is unnamed in the story to indicate he stands for something more than a single individual.
You will find the support for this argument provided in our Ruth study.
I thought Scripture teaches the Rapture can't happen until the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed. So how can you say that the Church will be gone before the beginning of Tribulation?
Your interpretation of the Bible is in error. The Bible never connects the Rapture to the coming apostasy or the arrival of the Antichrist (i.e., the man of lawlessness). On the contrary, the Bible consistently teaches that the Lord’s return to His Church is imminent and dependent on nothing:
We believe you are misunderstanding Paul's teaching taken from 2Thessalonians 2:
Paul says that the “day of the Lord” cannot come to pass "unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” The term “day of the Lord” is a reference to the seven-year Tribulation, not to the Rapture.
Can you please elaborate on what exactly is the inheritance of God (Christ)?
When the Bible speaks of a believer’s inheritance (or sharing in Christ's inheritance), it’s referring to our eternal rewards we receive in the Kingdom. The Bible says Christ inherits the entire earth, and He shares that inheritance with His children. Our ministry offers two detailed explanations of this concept from scripture.
First, please read Explaining Eternal Rewards, Explaining Talents vs. Minas and Explain the Kingdom of God.
We also highly recommend you listen to our Ephesians Bible study, especially Lessons 1E & 1F, which explain our eternal inheritance in Christ.
Could the stories of Greek gods originate in the Nephilim of Genesis 6?
In Genesis 6, the Bible seems to suggest that the mythology of ancient cultures, including Greek and Roman mythology, may have found its source in the historical accounts of misbehaving demons. In the days prior to the flood, demons (fallen angels) committed gross sin by mating with earthly women to produce an unnatural, powerful offspring called Nephilim:
The offspring of the demons (i.e., the "sons of God") and earthly women were Nephilim. They were mighty men of ancient times and were renown, meaning their strength and accomplishments were legendary. Nevertheless, these “creatures” polluted the line of humanity, threatening God's plan to produce a Messiah in the seed of men, so God brought the flood to the earth to destroy all flesh including the Nephilim. Meanwhile, the legends of this strange and powerful human-like creatures lived on in the mythology of ancient man.
How can I do understand the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek text of scripture on my own?
Ideally, every student of the Bible would learn the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages of the Old and New Testaments, but of course few have the time or inclination to do so.
Fortunately, it's not necessary to learn the languages to understand scripture properly, nor is it required to gain a working knowledge of important words or phrases used in scripture. Modern study tools make it relatively easy for every student to uncover the meaning of the words in the original languages, though care must be taken to avoid improper interpretations.
The main tool required to understand the original Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible is a concordance, which is a dictionary of Greek and Hebrew words found in the Bible crossed-referenced to English translations in the Bible.
Today, the easiest way to access a concordance is online at websites like Blue Letter Bible or using software like Accordance. You can find many helpful resources online for how to use a concordance properly, including Mercer University.
You teach that the Rapture could happen at anytime, since there are no preconditions. I thought the Rapture couldn't take place until the world was ten nations under ten kings? Which is correct?
The Bible teaches that there is no prerequisite for the return of Christ for His Church. The rise of ten kings ruling over the world is a prerequisite for Tribulation, according to Daniel. It is not a prerequisite for the Rapture.
We don’t believe Pastor Armstrong has ever stated that the rise of the ten kings is a requirement prior to the Rapture (since it isn’t), but if he did say this, then he merely misspoke.
By the way, you may find our four-part video series on End Times to be helpful to your studies in this area.
Do these verses intertwine into a greater meaning, Proverbs 10:23, Jeremiah 10:23, Mark 10:23, 1 Corinthians 10:23, and Hebrews 10:23?
Despite sharing similar chapter and number citations, each of these verses is found in entirely different contexts and are speaking on entirely different topics, and therefore there is no meaningful relationship between them.
Moreover, the proper study of scripture doesn’t work in this way. Scripture must be understood verse-by-verse in its proper context as part of a single work. For example, if you desire to understand the meaning of Hebrews 10:23, then we recommend you study the entire book of Hebrews, which we offer on our website for free.
Please explain the "test" mentioned in 2 Corinthians 13:5?
Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians come in the context of a larger discussion:
In v.3 Paul says that the church in Corinth was seeking for a “proof” or test that Paul was truly speaking for Christ as an apostle, to which Paul replied that his audience should apply the same test to themselves. Paul is saying that before they judge him, they should judge themselves. Before they criticize him for not following Christ properly or not speaking for Christ accurately, they should examine themselves to see if they know and live the truth properly.
Paul issued this challenge having already defended himself against numerous accusations levied against him by his critics in the city in the prior chapters of the letter. Paul had patiently explained his teaching and motives against false accusations, so now he turns the tables on the church and asks them to examine their own behaviors and motives to see if they are living in keeping with Christ’s will.
Therefore, Paul's test refers to the question of whether a Christian is operating in the faith, in Christ’s will and according to His word. His critics were those who failed this test since they were carnal Christians operating outside Christ’s will. Since they opposed Paul, in whom Christ spoke, they were failing the test they placed on Paul himself.
Why did Satan choose a snake to deceive Eve?
The Bible doesn’t indicate why the enemy chose to use the body of a snake to deceive Woman. We must presume that there was nothing inherently special about the snake before Satan chose to indwell it. Once he entered the snake, then the Lord memorialized the snake’s role by altering its appearance forever:
You mention that there will be those who oppose Christ during His reign in the Kingdom. Who might oppose Him?
In the Millennial Kingdom, the world will be populated by two kinds of individuals: glorified human begins and natural (i.e., sinful) human beings.
The glorified human beings are those who were resurrected into new, sinless bodies prior to the start of the Kingdom, both Old Testament and New Testament saints. The natural human beings will be men and women descended from Adam (like us) and born during the Kingdom age. So like us today, these people will occupy sinful bodies that naturally oppose God. The glorified population will reign over the natural population, which must be ruled because of their sinful nature.
These sinful men and women will be the descendants of believers who enter the Kingdom coming out of Tribulation (i.e., the “sheep” separated from the “goats” in Matthew 24). Since these believers never died prior to the start of the Kingdom, they were never resurrected into glorified bodies. Therefore, they enter into the Kingdom in the nature of Adam and are able to reproduce as we do today. Their descendants give rise to an unbelieving population in the Kingdom. (You can learn about these two populations in detail by listening to our Revelation Bible study on our website.)
In Revelation 20 we’re told that at the end of the age, the enemy will be released so he can deceive the nations of natural descendants living in the Kingdom to rebel against Christ’s rule:
Notice that the natural (i.e., unsaved) population of the Kingdom will grow over the thousand years to reach the point of an uncountable number. They will come against Christ, yet He will prevail and bring Satan and his forces. For a complete understanding of the Kingdom, please listen to our Revelation Bible study, particularly lessons 20A-20D.
In Matthew 6:15, Jesus says if we do not forgive others, our Father in heaven will not forgive us. I've heard conflicting interpretations of this passage. Some say this means our salvation can be lost if we don't forgive others, but others disagree. How do I know which interpretation is true?
Before we answer this question, we must first remember the words of 2Peter 1:
Peter reminds us that scripture always has one proper interpretation. Its meaning is not subject to our personal views or desires. In other words, we can’t make it mean whatever we want it to mean. Its meaning is determined by God Who authored the words for us. Peter says that only men “moved” by the Holy Spirit can bring forth scripture, and by the same token only the Holy Spirit can lead us to a proper interpretation of His own words.
Secondly, all believers possess the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, living in them as Jesus promised:
So all believers possess the Spirit of God, which means all believers possess the potential to know all scripture. Nevertheless, believers will not have a perfect understanding of the Bible this side of Heaven, because the Lord doesn’t reveal His whole counsel to every believer. As Paul says:
In the meantime, the Lord equips some within the church to teach others concerning the meaning of His word. The presence of teachers in the Church doesn’t replace a believer’s responsibility to study personally, but they will aid in our personal study, so we should seek them out wisely, as Paul says:
Differences of opinion concerning scripture simply evidence that we lack a full understanding of God’s word, and therefore when we encounter such difference in opinion, we return to scripture seeking clarification from the Lord. He may not provide that clarification immediately, but as we continue to seek Him in His word, the answers will come. Eventually, we receive a full understanding in our glorified state as Paul said in 1Cor 13.
Regarding Matthew 6, Jesus is speaking temporally, not eternally, meaning He's explaining how the Lord will respond to our mistakes while we live on earth. He's not speaking of how God will judge us after we die. We see this distinction when we consider the full implications of Jesus' comment and the context of His statement:
Jesus said if we forgive someone, then the Lord will forgive us. God's forgiveness of us is contingent on our forgiving others, but we know from other Scripture that believers have no power over the eternal fate of another person, for Christ alone is our Judge:
Furthermore, if our choice to forgive another determined our eternal destiny, then Jesus would be preaching a Gospel of works. To forgive someone is a work, and yet we know the Bible clearly states that we are forgiven on the basis of God's grace and not by our works:
Therefore, Scripture precludes us from interpreting Jesus' words as speaking of our eternal judgment. Instead, we must understand Jesus to be speaking in terms of earthly, temporal outcomes, not eternal outcomes. In other words, He’s not asking us to forgive someone from the penalty of their sin, for only God can do that. Jesus is asking us to be willing to restore relationships with those who have sinned against us and hurt us, for this is the good work we’ve been called to perform:
Jesus promises that if a believer forgives in this way, God will likewise forgive us in the same way. That is, the Lord will forgive us of our offenses against Him, which broke our fellowship with God. Our eternal salvation was never in question since no believer can sin their way out of salvation, for God’s grace is greater than our sin:
The believer is justified and forgiven the eternal consequences of sin (i.e., the Second Death) from the moment of our faith in Christ, therefore all mentions thereafter of receiving God's forgiveness during our life as a believer speak of the earthly consequences for sin.
Nevertheless, our sin on earth may still bring the possibility of God's discipline and other earthly consequences. The Lord may choose to hand out earthly discipline when we sin against Him, and the Bible says the discipline of the Lord drives us back into a godly walk with Him:
The means to avoiding God's discipline is to repent, confessing our sins while seeking the Lord’s forgiveness, which the Lord will grant us as John promises:
But Jesus says that if we are so hardhearted we hold other believers' sins against them and break fellowship with them, then the Lord will likewise withhold His forgiveness of our sins. Instead, He may bring us earthly discipline. Our eternal salvation remains secure, but our earthly life will suffer.
If we desire the Lord to forgive us of our daily missteps, we must be prepared to extend our forgiveness to other beleivers for their missteps against us.
Please explain the Bible's timeline of Jesus' birth and His family's movements following His birth?
The account of Jesus’ movements following His birth is far more complicated than many suppose.
Looking at Matthew’s account we find:
In Luke's account we find more:
Based on these two passages and other historical information, we can propose the following chronology of events:
1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in 6 BC. (Please see our What date did Jesus die? article for details.)
2. After 8 days He was circumcised, and after 40 days Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22).
3. The Magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem (Matt 2:8).
4. The Magi knew the exact date of the appearance of the star, which is the date of Jesus’ birth (v.7). (Please listen to our Wise Men of Babylon teaching for more background.)
5. The star appeared around 2 years earlier, according to v.16, so the events of Matthew 2 occur around 4 BC.
6. Jesus was in Bethlehem at the time of the Magi's visit, which means Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem after traveling to Jerusalem and remained there for about 2 years (v.11).
7. Herod attempted to kill Jesus after the Magi visit, so Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt until Herod’s death.
8. Herod dies in 4 BC.
9. After learning of Herod’s death, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus then return to the Galilee after fulfilling all scripture (Luke 2:39).
You may find our Luke Bible Study helpful as well.
Since the Great White Throne Judgment takes place following the destruction of our current heavens and earth and arrival of the new heavens and earth (Revelation 20:11), where is the location of the Lake of Fire?
The Lake of Fire's specific location is never given in scripture, though we find an important clue in Revelation 14:
Notice the location of the place of eternal torment is said to be "in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” This description would imply that the Lake of Fire will be located in the heavenly places, not in the physical realm. Therefore, it's existence is not impacted by the destruction of the first heavens and earth following the 1,000-year kingdom, since it is not a part of the created universe.
Beyond this, we cannot say where the Lake of Fire exists.
In Ezekiel 28:18-19 it says Satan will cease to exist, but in Revelation 20:10 and Matthew 10:28 the Bible says Satan is tormented forever and ever. Which is true?
Regarding Satan’s disposition, we must interpret scripture with scripture. In Ezekiel we read:
But later in Revelation, we read:
Based on these two passages, we must conclude that Ezekiel’s words are a reference to the Lake of Fire. In other words, when Ezekiel declares that Satan will cease to be forever, the prophet means that Satan will cease to be of concern or importance because he will have been consigned to an eternity in the Lake of Fire. From the standpoint of Creation, Satan has ceased to be because he will exist outside of our experience forevermore.
Likewise, Jesus’ comment in Matthew agrees with this conclusion:
To “destroy both soul and body in hell” means to be consigned forever to the torment of the Lake of Fire, which is called the Second Death. In the Bible’s terminology, the Second Death does not describing a ceasing to exist but rather a spiritual separation from God accompanied by torment.
In Ephesians, you explained that the church "lost their first love" by not serving Christ by their deeds, but in your Revelation study, you said the church left their first love by trading the Gospel for social works. Please explain these differences in your teaching.
Our teaching in these two books is consistent.
In Revelation, we taught that the essential mistake of the church in Ephesus was abandoning the message of the Gospel even as they set out to serve in the city of Ephesus. The church was not seeking for the glory of Christ or His word but was simply accomplishing works in their own power for their own glory. Consequently, their deeds moved away from the mission of the church as their hearts drifted away from their first love. The church in Ephesus was “busy,” but their efforts were not directed by the Spirit nor in keeping with Christ’s will. In that sense, they left their first love of serving Christ.
In Ephesians, we taught that the church was distracted by their pursuit of a worldly life in wealthy Ephesus. Once again, we taught that the church left their first love by pursuing personal gratification, wealth and public praise rather than seeking Christ's reward and praise.
These two perspectives agree entirely. The church left their first love by setting aside His word and the pursuit of the Gospel and the glory of Christ to chase worldly interests of one kind or another.
If the snake and Satan and the ground were cursed, then how is Adam not cursed since he comes from the ground? If a curse is something that can't be reversed, then how could even Christ reverse it with His death?
Mankind's eternal identity is not found in our flesh but in our spirit, as Paul explains in Romans 7:
As Paul explains, the flesh (our body) is not eternal. Our spirit, which occupies a body, is eternal. Our spirit is the eternal part of our nature, and therefore it is our true identity. One day our body will die, and our spirit will live on to occupy a new body one day.
Therefore, God's curse on the ground impacted all that came from the ground, including plants, animals and the physical body of man and woman (who came from man). Only our bodies came from the ground since our spirit was "breathed" into us by God Himself (Genesis 2:7). God did not specifically pronounce a curse against Adam or Woman. Therefore, we know God did not curse them (i.e., their spirits), otherwise, they would have been condemned without hope of rescue.
Similarly, Christ’s physical body was cursed when He died on the cross taking upon Himself the curse God' pronounced on our flesh. Furthermore, His Spirit was separated from the Father for a time, taking upon Himself the punishment our sinful spirit deserves. Since He didn’t have sin of His own, He was not required to spend eternity in separation from the Father.
For a fuller explanation of Christ’s death, please read Why didn't Jesus have to stay in hell longer.
How can I explain the Gospel to a Muslim family member? He is only willing to read the Qur'an.
The Qur’an is a book believed by Muslims to be the word of God given to the Prophet Mohammed, which retells in very brief form the story of the prophets from the Torah. Interestingly, the Qur'an includes 104 mentions of the Person and work of Jesus, though Muslims do not believe Jesus was the Messiah. To be clear, the Qur'an is not inspired by God, though Muslims believe it to be so. In truth, the enemy has used this book to confuse and enslave millions of people.
Nevertheless, the Lord is more powerful than Satan, so He has hidden within parts of this false book the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christians can use these selective passages of the Qur'an to introduce a Muslim to the truth of salvation through Jesus without risking offending the Muslim or inciting a confrontation.
Muslims are generally open to religious conversations centered on their religious text, which gives us opportunities to share the Gospel provided we know how to use the Qur'an properly. We can explain to a Muslim from the Qur'an that there is a loving God who continues to intervene in the lives of mankind to save them by a sacrifice of His perfect Son, Jesus though they fail, sin, and reject Him.
Here's how a Christian can show the story of Jesus to a Muslim using the Qur'an (we've included the associated biblical references also):
The Beginning of the Problem:
From Genesis 3:1-21, we know Adam, the first prophet, was created from the ground in Paradise when God (Allah in Arabic) breathed life into him. Adam walked with God in the garden until he disobeyed by eating the forbidden fruit. This caused several things to happen: his children began killing one another, God kicked him out of the garden and out of His presence, and bloodshed and death entered into the creation. In response to Adam sinning, God killed an animal (performed a sacrifice, a qurban ) and covered their sin and shame with the skins. (See the full biblical story here: Genesis 22.)
Secondly, we can find a similar teaching in the Qur’an:
(Surah 7:19-22) O, Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden, and enjoy (its good things) as ye wish: but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression. Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them (before): he said: "Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live forever. And he swore to them both, that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit, he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: "Did I not forbid you that tree, and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?"
While the Qur'an is not an inspired text of God, to a Muslim it carries the authority of God, and therefore it is a compelling testimony. What we can teach a Muslim from this passage is that when man sins, his first response is always to try to fix his condition on his own. This is what we often refer to as “good works.” It is mankind’s repeated attempt to become holy enough to be accepted by God. In the story of Adam, he tries to hide his shame with fig leaves. This is biblical truth hidden in plain sight in the Qur'an.
Furthermore, the Qur’an and the Bible both state that God is the only one who can solve man’s problem of sin. God must supply the remedy:
Surah 7:26 O children of Adam! We (God) have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty and clothing that guards (against evil), that is the best. This is of the communications of Allah that they may be mindful.
This is the basic truth of scripture we can teach a Muslim, that only God can provide the way of salvation. We can see it repeated in other places…
The Story of Abraham
Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son. He takes his son up the mountain and is ready to kill him, but God stops him and instead points to the ram caught in the bushes. This illustrates a key truth that God can provide a substitute to die in place of someone else. (See the biblical story here, Genesis 22.)
The Qur’an teaches a similar lesson...
Sarah 37: 102-107 And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, "O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think." He said, "O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.” And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead, We called to him, "O Abraham, Indeed, this was the clear trial. And We (God) ransomed him with a great sacrifice,
Once again, the Muslim may be convinced of biblical truth from seeing it within their own book.
Once we understand how God deals with sin, it now makes sense why God had to send Jesus to the earth to be offered as a sacrifice (qurban). We needed a perfect sacrifice to die in our place. The blood of bulls and goats cannot remove sin. They are only temporary fixes. Neither can our good deeds (prayers, alms, confessions, charity) remove our sins.
The Book of Romans confirms that this was the reason Jesus came to the earth.
In other words, He died in our place. He was offered as sacrifice or qurban.
The Qur’an actually says something very similar…
Surah 3:55 And when Allah said: O Isa (Arabic for Jesus), I am going to terminate (mutawafeeka, “cause to die”) the period of your stay and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the day of resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, so l will decide between you concerning that in which you differed.
So the central biblical truth we share with Muslims which opens the door to all further truth is that we cannot earn favor with God. He has to fix our sin problem for us just as He did for Adam and Abraham. Once a Muslim understands this, he or she may accept Christ's provision for us which cleanses us of our sins. It causes us to be what the Gospels call born again.
Once again, the Qur'an is not a work of God nor does it represent the truth of God. For the most part, it is a collection of lies used by the enemy to keep millions of people in bondage to sin. Nevertheless, the Lord has hidden with this false book the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which believers can use to introduce a Muslim to the truth without risking offense or confrontation.
In the study of Acts, you taught Paul was converted without any miracles or signs of the Spirit, but didn't Paul hear Christ speaking in a language the other men didn't understand (i.e., in tongues)? Also Paul lost his sight and regained it with prayer. Aren't those miracle and signs of the Spirit?
In our Acts study we taught that Paul’s own conversion was not accompanied by Paul manifesting miraculous signs, like speaking in tongues. As we made this observation, we emphasized that such an example proves that not every conversion is accompanied by speaking in a foreign language (and in fact, almost none are). Since Paul did not experience this event, then clearly it is not a requirement for salvation.
A careful examination of the text shows confirms that Paul did not speak in a foreign language when he was saved. Paul's salvation experience is recorded three times in Acts, so let's compare them:
Notice what we learn by comparing these three passages:
1. Paul heard a voice and responded in his normal speech.
2. The other men with Paul also heard a voice but saw nothing and could not understand the speech.
3. Yet Scripture says explicitly that the voice speaking to Paul spoke in Hebrew, not a foreign tongue (Acts 26:14).
4. Therefore, we must conclude the Lord prevented the other men from understanding the speech since they would have known knew Hebrew.
Therefore, there was no mysterious or unknown tongue spoken in the moment of Paul’s conversion, either by Paul himself nor by anyone else. Even God Himself spoke in Paul’s natural language. Clearly, speaking in foreign languages is not an expected outcome of salvation.
Secondly, our Acts study did not claim there were no miraculous events surrounding Paul’s conversion. Rather, we taught that Paul's experience does not suggest that all believers must expect miraculous signs at their conversion, as some claim. While miracles certainly happened in the course of Paul's conversion, we can see by the context they were not intended to serve as public evidence of Paul's salvation. Rather, they occurred for Paul's sake, to ensure he would follow Jesus' commands obediently, thereby allowing time for Paul's heart to appreciate the meaning of his encounter with Christ.
Does God give us our will to desire and be obedient to Him, or is that our responsibility after He saves us?
God’s command to every believer is to be obedient, but our obedience requires we follow the leading of the Spirit rather than giving in to the temptations of our flesh. So obedience is a yielding process, allowing Christ to live through us in place of our sinful nature. Naturally, this will be a struggle for every Christian, since our sinful nature doesn't wish to yield. We must discipline our flesh so that our new spirit may have the freedom to follow Christ.
Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7, where he acknowledges that every believer will fall back into sin from time to time because of our flesh. Nevertheless, Christ expects us to fight against this desire so we may please God through our obedience to His commands. As we yield to Christ's desires in this way, we may know true peace and contentment.
Since the gifts to baby Jesus included gold and valuable spices, can we assume that Joseph became wealthy for a time?
The Bible tells us very little about the gifts Jesus’ family received:
We do not know how much gold Joseph and Mary received, so we cannot say how wealthy they became. Since scripture tells us that Jesus lived a humble, unremarkable life as a child, we must assume that his family was not particularly wealthy despite the gifts. Perhaps the amount of gold given was very small or the family gave some of it away as a tithe. Another theory speculates that the gifts would have funded the family's exile in Egypt for a few years.
All we can say for sure is that the family was not known to be wealthy according to the Gospels.
Is reading or watching homosexual (non-pornographic) books, TV shows, movies, etc. sinful?
Christians are accountable for what we watch or hear just as for what we do, so when we choose to read books or watch programming celebrating sinful practices, we may be committing sin ourselves.
We may be guilty of approving the content by our patronage. Our viewing or purchasing of the materials indirectly benefits the authors, actors and producers, giving them added incentive to produce more of the same.
Moreover, we are allowing the offensive materials to influence our thinking in ways contrary to scripture. As we become more comfortable with sinful behavior depicted in these materials, we may become sympathetic to such practices even though the word of God declares them to be offensive to God and an against His natural order. As Paul said:
Furthermore, we have allowed the enemy to gain a foothold in our hearts and our minds through the influence of these sinful materials. Whether the materials we consume promote homosexuality, adultery, fornication or some other form of sexual sin, we should steer clear of all of them and guard our hearts against their negative influence. As Paul says:
So the problem isn’t what kind of sin we approve (i.e., homosexuality); the problem is that we approve any kind of sin at all. You may also find our related articles helpful.
Does Acts 10:42 teach that a person must believe that Christ is to judge the living and dead in order to be saved?
In Acts 10 we read:
Peter declared to Cornelius that the apostles were ordered by Christ to preach that Jesus (i.e., the “One”), has been appointed by the Father to judge all the living and the dead.
To judge the living refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ, where Jesus will judge the believers (see 1Cor 3, 2Cor 5). Jesus will also judge the unsaved (i.e., the “dead”) at the Great White Throne Judgment following the Millennial Kingdom (see Rev 20). In this way, Peter meant that Jesus judges the living and the dead.
Peter's comment comes in a larger passage in Acts 10, where Peter was explaining his call to preach concerning Jesus to the world. Part of Peter's commission was to preach that Jesus would judge the world. Peter was not saying that every evangelist must include this detail in their presentation of the Gospel nor that every believer must accept this detail before being saved. He was merely explaining his personal commission as an apostle including teaching on this point, which Peter did in 2 Peter 3.
Where should someone start their studies on the VBVMI website?
Truly any book of scripture is suitable for any Christian, nevertheless depending on your spiritual needs, we recommend the following paths if you are:
I've heard there is controversy over the true author of Revelation. Who actually wrote Revelation?
The opening verses of the book of Revelation state that "John" wrote it (v.1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). From the first century to the present day, almost all orthodox scholars have concluded that this means the Apostle John. Two noteworthy exceptions were Luther and Zwingli. Today, many scholars who accept the divine inspiration of the book believe the Apostle John wrote it. Others, of course, believe some other "John" wrote the book.
Some of the early church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Irenaeus, and Victorinus) wrote that the Apostle John experienced exile on the island of Patmos during Domitian's reign (1:9). They wrote that the government allowed John to return to Ephesus after Emperor Domitian's death in A.D. 96. Consequently, many conservative interpreters date the writing of this book near A.D. 95 or 96.
You may find our Revelation Study helpful.
Please explain the 1 Timothy 5:8?
When seeking to interpret scripture, it’s important to understand the text in its proper context. The full context of 1Timothy 5:8 is:
In this passage, Paul gives the church a test for how to care for the weak and vulnerable within the body. In particular, Paul is focused on the needs of widows within the body of Christ. Widows in Paul’s day were especially vulnerable since they often lacked income and could not possess property. The church body often came to the rescue of needy Christians, including widows, which is what the Lord intended.
Still, such charity must be applied in the right ways to prevent abuse, so Paul sets standards or tests for whether the body of Christ should provide financial support to a widow within the congregation. First, Paul says the church must ask if the widow have immediate family that can provide support. If so, then the widow's family must assume responsibility for her care before seeking support from the church body.
In Paul’s day there was no state welfare for the needy, so if a family failed to care for a widow, they would have doomed their relative to a life of poverty and likely death. Such neglect would have been considered disgraceful, so few if any families dared to be so cruel. Believers, on the other hand, had the church body to lean on for financial support in hard times. So if a family couldn’t afford to support a widow, then the church would step into the gap and provide support to a believing widow rather than allowing a sister in the Lord to suffer.
Unfortunately, some believing families in Paul’s day neglected their responsibility to care for their widows out a selfish desire to protect their own wealth. These families had the means to support their widows, yet they refused to do so expecting the church would handle the need instead. This is why Paul says such families were worse than unbelieving families. They weren’t willing to show the common decency, love, and selflessness that even unbelievers were willing to demonstrate to their families.
Secondly, Paul says if a widow is to receive support from the body, the widow must be in good standing in the church body. If she is not living in a godly manner, then she has no right to expect the hard-working members of the body of Christ to sacrifice for her sake. This test of behavior is appropriate since a church body would deeply resent being called to obey Christ by sacrificing to support a woman who was not herself seeking to be obedient to Christ.
What do we conclude from Paul’s teaching? In short, Christians must not neglect customary personal responsibilities even in cases where the church body is prepared to assume that responsibility for them. For example, if a Christian can afford his bills and support his family, then he must do so. If a Christian has the ability to mow her own lawn, clean her own house, or do her own shopping, etc., then she should not lay those burdens on the church body instead. The Lord has joined us to a church body so that we may serve and be served at times, but we must not abuse that relationship for our own advantage.
Can we assume that Noah housed all diferent kinds of animals on the Ark?
As correct study of Genesis indicates, the Lord did not create the full diversity of Creation during the first six days. Instead, the Bible says He created “kinds.” Kinds (min in Hebrew) are something like species today, which means He created animals that had the potential in their DNA to diversify over time into subkinds.
For example, we can imagine the Lord created a feline “kind” that eventually diversified into various cats and a canine kind that diversified into various dogs, wolves, etc. Therefore, Noah needed only collect a pair of each parent kind and not pairs of every derivative animal.
This understanding of kinds significantly reduces the space requirements on the Ark.
In Genesis 1: 26 God said “Let Us make man in Our likeness…then in verse 27 it says God created man in His own image, in the image of God. Can you explain the difference between “Our image” and "His own image”?
The references in Genesis 1 to God’s plural nature and to His singular nature are examples of the mystery of the Trinity. Scripture consistently represents God as both One God and also as Three Persons:
God is One:
God is Three Persons:
As we see in these various examples, God is described in scripture both as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet scripture also describes God as “One.” Therefore, we must acknowledge both the Three Persons of God and at the same time that God is One. This seemingly contradictory truth is also evident in the Creation account where we see God describing Himself both in plural and singular terms.
Pastor Armstrong's lesson on Genesis 6 referred to all creatures having "lifeblood" dying in the flood, with the exception of the fishes because they are not considered to have lifeblood. Can you please explain more about this lifeblood and what the implication is? Additionally are there any sea creatures that have lifeblood, such as sea mammals like whales?
First, the Bible teaches that the life of a living creature is found in the blood.
But when the Bible speaks of life in this way, it’s not making a biological determination; scripture is emphasizing the symbolic importance of blood. Obviously, biological life exists in organisms that do not possess blood (i.e., in plants), but the Bible uses the term “lifeblood” more specifically than merely to describe biological life.
The Lord associated blood with life and death for the purpose of picturing the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross:
Therefore, plants have biological life but they do not possess “lifeblood” in the sense that they cannot die to atone for the sin of a living creature.
Secondly, fish do possess lifeblood. Nevertheless, fish were spared from destruction in the flood because the Lord brought the flood specifically to target mankind living on the earth. Since man (and land animals) must breathe air, the Lord determined to extinguish life with a flood. But notice how the Lord specifically targeted creatures (including man) that live on land and breathe air:
The Lord was intent on destroying sinful man who had been corrupted by the demonic realm (see Genesis 6). To accomplish this goal, the Lord flooded the entire earth, which naturally resulted in all air-breathing land animals dying too. Therefore, the Lord made provision to save the land animals along with Noah’s family in the Ark.
On the other hand, a massive flood is not a threat to water creatures, so no plan of rescue was required for them. Their preservation was not a matter of possessing (or not possessing) “lifeblood” but merely a consequence of the method the Lord chose to bring destruction.
Why did God allow snakes on the ark? God cursed the snake in Eden, so wouldn't the flood be the perfect time to destroy them all?
The snake itself was not cursed to destruction in Genesis 3, but rather to crawl on the ground. The curse against the snake was an ignominious change in its form resulting in the snake becoming least among all creatures, as we see in Genesis 3:14:
God cursed the snake "more than all other cattle." In other words, the curse on the snake was that it would be stigmatized among all animals of the earth. So the snake was required to enter the Ark so that it could continue to serve as a memorial to the fall of man. Forevermore, the world may look upon the form of the snake as it moves on its belly and remembers the mistake Adam made to bring the world into sin.
In fact, since sin continues to exist in the Kingdom to come, the snake will continue to go along on its belly the Kingdom for the same reason:
In the Gospel of John study, Pastor Armstrong teaches that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon Him. Is the pastor inferring that Jesus was without the Holy Spirit the first 30 years of his life?
The Gospels teach that Jesus received the Holy Spirit at the moment of John’s baptism. Prior to that moment, Jesus did not have the anointing of the Spirit of God. As John the Baptist explains:
Notice in v.32 John says the Spirit “remained” upon Jesus after His baptism. Until that moment, the Spirit of God was not yet upon Jesus. The Spirit’s arrival empowered Jesus for His public ministry. We can’t say whether the Spirit was with Jesus in any other way before that moment, but according to John, Jesus’ baptism was the moment He received the accompaniment of the Spirit of God. The Gospel of John Bible Study may be helpful.
This truth doesn’t diminish Jesus’ deity. Rather, it reminds us the reality of Jesus’ humanity. He willingly took the form of man, a place lower than the angels Hebrews says:
At His incarnation Jesus willingly gave up the place He had with the Father as Paul says:
In His form as man, Jesus willingly relinquished equality with God (in terms of His power and position, not identity). Therefore though Jesus was God, He required the presence of the Holy Spirit to perform supernatural works while on earth as a man. Scripture goes on to tell us that all Jesus' miracles during His public ministry were “permitted" by the power of the Spirit. According to Mark 6:5, the Lord’s ability to perform miracles was not His own. He was “permitted” to do miracles by the Spirit.
What does it mean that Jesus revealed his glory?
The question comes from the passages in the Gospel of John, specifically:
You will find a complete verse-by-verse description of these passages in our John Bible study.
Specifically, listen to Lesson 17 from this study to find answers to your question.
What is an evil heart of unbelief?
The phrase you quoted comes from the letter to Hebrews:
In this context specifically, the writer is describing the heart of a believer who has moved away from a faithful walk with the Lord and has begun to live in the flesh. They have allowed sin to harden their heart to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and therefore they are in danger of experiencing shipwrecked faith.
The writer is not describing a loss of salvation, but a loss of fellowship and potential reward. For a complete explanation of this passage, we recommend you listen to our Hebrews Bible study.
What is the biblical difference between vision and prophecy?
A vision is a supernatural revelation of God given to a person in the form of a dream or trance-like state usually for the purpose of revealing the glory of God or the meaning of past or future events. Example of visions in the Bible include Abraham’s vision in Genesis 15, the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel in Daniel 2 & 7, the visions of Isaiah in Isaiah 6, and the visions of Ezekiel throughout his book.
On the other hand, prophecy is any supernatural revelation of God regardless of form. We could say all visions are prophecy, but not all prophecy comes in the form of visions. In fact, most prophets do not receive visions. Instead, most prophets report receiving “a word from the Lord.” Consider these examples:
In all these examples, a prophet expresses the will of God based on having received a “word from the Lord.” We do not know how they prophet received this word, but in the absence of any explanation, we assume it was through ordinary means and not by way of a vision. Other times a prophet will state he received the word of the Lord by way of a vision specifically:
Ezekiel received most (some say all) his prophecies as visions, which makes Ezekiel unique among the major OT prophets.
If someone wants to reach unbelievers with the gospel of the truth; Christ Jesus, can you please suggest the right scriptures to use?
Regarding reaching unbelievers with the Gospel, all scripture may be useful for that purposes, though certain passages are easiest to explain. We recommend 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Also, the story of Nicodemus in John 3 is very helpful.
How should a Christian respond to another believer living in open sin without repentance? Aren't we suppose to forgive them and not judge them?
When considering how to respond to a fellow Christian living in open rebellion to the commandments of Christ, we do not have liberty to chose our response. Scripture gives us only one response in 1Corinthians 5:
Paul says that the church is not to associate with anyone calling themselves a Christian yet engaging in immoral conduct without repentance. We are to separate ourselves from such a person, not even eating with them. The purpose of the separation is to send a message to the rest of the body that such shameful conduct is not pleasing to the Lord nor conducive to fellowship in the body.
Secondly, isolating the unrepentant sinning believer from the rest of the body protects the church from the harmful effects of their sin.
For more information on this topic, please listen to Lesson 5B of our 1Corinthians study.
Some bible believing churches practice the act of suspension against some of their church members who may commit fornication or adultery. Is this biblical?
Regarding church discipline of immoral believers, please read our article on church discipline.
How does someone receive the Holy Spirit?
The Bible teaches that every person who places their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith:
To understand how Jesus saves us from our sins, please read our related articles.
Our Acts Study may be helpful.
Can we call the United States a "Christian nation"?
There is no such thing as a “Christian nation.” The Bible says that the Lord establishes all nations on earth according to His purpose:
The Lord has determined the time and place for every human to exist on earth. The Lord designated one nation above the rest, Israel, and then He created all Gentile nations without distinction. The Lord created those divisions and assigned us as He chose, and He says that no Gentile nation is any more godly (or Christian) than another.
In fact, the Lord says that all men (whether Jew or Gentile) are sinners with hearts that are far from Him:
So the belief that the United States is a “Christian nation” is nothing more than American Christian self-righteousness combined with political mythology. Ironically, many of the United States nation’s founding fathers (e.g., Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, etc.) were self-avowed atheists or theists, not Christians. Even the faith of puritans or others quasi-Christian pilgrims is unclear.
Regardless of the nature of their faith (or lack thereof), we simply cannot credit an entire nation of people with saving faith based on the actions or beliefs of a few. As Paul says, only those who have the indwelling of the Spirit of God by faith are part of the Church:
In summary, the United States is merely a Gentile nation like any other on earth: one occupied by millions of sinful, lost and dying unbelievers together with some born-again Christians.
At the end of Nehemiah you suggest there is no Levite blood in Christ. Yet in Luke, Elizabeth is married to a Levite priest and Mary is her cousin. Doesn't this gives Jesus both priest and king blood, which Is also true for the Melchizedek order?
There is no such thing as “priest blood” under Jewish Levitical law. A man either qualifies as a priest or he doesn't, and that determination is based solely on the identity of the father’s identity. In Jewish reckoning according to their Law, a man born to a Levite's father is a Levite, but if a Levite daughter marries a layman (i.e., non-Levite), then she is no longer a Levite and her offspring no longer qualify as to be Levites.
The Law reflects this truth. For example:
Marrying a layman disqualified a Levite daughter from sharing in the sacred food gifts from the tabernacle because she is no longer a Levite herself.
Therefore, since Mary married Joseph, who was not a Levite, Mary was no longer a Levite herself and her children could not qualify as Levitical priests. As the saying goes, “you can’t be a little bit pregnant,” and likewise Jesus couldn’t be a little bit of a Levitical priest. Jesus wasn’t a Levitical priest because He couldn’t meet the qualifications.
The writer of Hebrews stresses that Jesus was not qualified to be a Levite priest:
Therefore, Jesus is not an Aaronic priest in the Levitical system, nor does He have the potential to qualify for the designation because the title is not assigned by degrees. It comes from the identity of the father, and if you are not born to a Levite father, you can’t be a Levitical priest. One either qualifies as a Levitical priest or doesn't, and Jesus doesn't.
On the other hand, Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek under a different law. Jesus priestly order is an entirely different order that doesn't originate in the Law even through Moses nor through a connection to Moses and Aaron (as the writer of Hebrews emphasized).
This is a complex topic, and our ministry features a detailed article explaining the Order of Melchizedek and how Jesus qualified to hold that title.
Furthermore, please take time to listen to our Hebrews Bible study, especially Lessons 7A & 7B.
Referring to your teaching on Melchizedek, the Bible is not clear on when Shem died or how long he lived, is it? How do we know it was Shem and not Noah who was the "Melchizedek" who met Abram?
According to scripture, Shem lived 600 years:
According to v.11, Shem lived 500 years after he became the father of Arpachshad. This statement indicates that Shem died after the 500 years, therefore he died 502 years after the flood at the age of 600.
Furthermore, if we trace the births and deaths of the patriarchs in the seed line carefully, we find that Abraham was born 392 years after Shem. Since Abraham only lived 175 years, Shem outlived Abraham by another 32 years. Therefore, Shem must have been the Melchizedek of Abraham’s day, since he was the oldest living patriarch in the line of the seed promise when Abraham was alive.
We can’t know Shem’s age when he met Abraham, but it’s likely Shem would have been about 450 years old when he met Abraham.
Finally, there were 892 years between Noah’s birth and Abram’s birth. Since Noah lived 950 years, we know he died shortly before Abraham left Ur to go to Canaan (when Abram was 58). Once Noah died, Shem inherited the title of Melchizedek.
Our Genesis Bible Study may be helpful.
What does Jeremiah mean in Chapter 4 when he says "there were NO MEN and ALL the cities were broken down"? Is he speaking about Noah's flood?
Chapter 4 of Jeremiah is not set in the time of Noah nor in any other time of Genesis. Jeremiah 4 is speaking of the events of the seven-year Tribulation that will come upon Israel immediately before the Second Coming of Christ. We are still waiting for the fulfillment of this prophecy.
In his previous chapter, Jeremiah explained the terms for Christ’s return and the arrival of the kingdom for Israel. Israel would see this glory only if and when the nation repented, confessing their sin for rejecting the Messiah and accepting Jesus as their Messiah:
As Israel receives the Lord (see v.19) the Lord will bring the blessings of the kingdom to Israel. Notice the promises in this passage are clearly speaking of an obedient and repentant Israel receiving the Kingdom in a future day. These are not matters of the past but of the future.
Then in chapter 4, the Lord continues this discussion by moving to describing the consequences for Israel failing to repent. The consequences described in chapter 4 are the plagues, judgments, and disasters of Tribulation, which are described in various places in the OT and in Revelation.
For example, in 4:20-26 the Lord describes the outpouring of His wrath upon the Earth and the utter devastation that it produces: cities with no inhabitants, mountains brought low, celestial bodies cease giving their light and human population virtually extinct. These consequences mirror the descriptions of Tribulation found in Revelation 6-18.
When Jeremiah says the earth is “formless and void,” he’s invoking the description of Genesis 1 to emphasize the complete chaos and destruction that is coming upon the earth because of Israel’s sin. He’s not describing a literal repeating of the Genesis 1 moment or circumstances, but rather he’s associating the one with the other to emphasize the magnitude of the destruction in Tribulation.
Tribulation is a period of judgment brought upon the whole earth but aimed specifically at Israel. In fact, later Jeremiah calls the time of Tribulation a time of "Jacob’s distress:"
Notice the similarity of the language describing this coming time of great destruction.
For a more detailed accounting of these matters, we highly recommend you listen to our Revelation Bible Study available online for free. This study covers the purpose and events of Tribulation as they relate to Israel.
Does Luke 18:15-16 and Acts 16:33 teach that infants should be baptized?
The passages you cited are frequently quoted by proponents of infant baptism, however, their misuse of these texts is a classic example of the error of eisegetical interpretation of scripture. Eisegetical interpretation is a process of seeking biblical support for pre-existing views rather than allowing the biblical text to explain itself naturally. This method is wrong because it does not allow the text to teach us objectively.
The correct form of biblical interpretation is exegetical interpretation, which involves studying the text without preconceived views so that the truth of scripture is impressed upon our heart without bias. When we study the two passages you mentioned in your question exegetically, we find that neither is teaching on the subject of baptism explicitly nor do these passages imply the conclusion your pastor (and others) have made concerning infant baptism.
First, consider the passage in Luke:
The women were bringing infants to Jesus (presumably for a blessing). The disciples felt behavior this was inappropriate, probably because they didn’t believe Jesus should be burdened with concerns that were beneath His purpose and importance.
Notice in v.15 the women were bringing infants since the Greek word for “babies” is brephos, which is the word for infant (i.e., a child too young to walk). Nevertheless, when Jesus responds to the disciples, he uses a different Greek word. Jesus says permit the “children” to come to Him. The Greek word for children is paidion, which generally refers to a school-age child. This distinction is important because it tells us that Jesus is not specifically addressing the issue of infants, which were being brought to HIm (much less was He speaking about the topic of baptism).
Then in v.17 we come to understand why Jesus desires that children be allowed to physically come to Him. Jesus wishes to use the idea of children coming to visit Him physical as a metaphor for humanity coming to Him spiritually. Jesus says that a child coming to Him is a model or picture for how every heart comes to saving faith. A child comes to Jesus in joy, with an expectation of a warm reception, without a sense of self-worth. A child brings nothing of worth to Jesus and makes no pay payment. Finally, a child trusts an adult without wavering.
These are the common characteristic of true saving faith at any age. Every believer must humble himself and believe he has nothing to offer Christ nor can he make any payment on his own behalf. He brings only joyful expectation that Jesus will receive him warmly and he holds this trust without doubt or wavering. This is “child-like” saving faith.
As we understand Jesus’ true purpose in comparing faith to children, we come to realize this passage offers no support for the practice of infant baptism. In fact, it says nothing at all about the subject whatsoever. Jesus spoke only of children, not infants, and His reference to children was only as a metaphor for saving faith. To draw any conclusion regarding the proper manner of baptism from this passage requires eisegetical manipulation of the text and is not a valid interpretation.
Looking at the second passage in Acts, we find:
In response to the earthquake, Paul’s jailer comes to a moment of repentance and seeks salvation in Paul’s God. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructs the jailer that if he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ he would be saved along with his household. Hearing Paul’s instructions the jailer believed, and as Paul promised, the jailer's entire household followed suit into faith resulting in the entire household being baptized and rejoicing.
Once again, this passage teaches nothing specifically about the issue of infant baptism. First, no ages for the members of the household are ever mentioned in this passage, so it is entirely possible that everyone in the jailer's household was older individuals. Many households have no infants. Without a specific mention of an infant receiving baptism, we simply cannot draw any conclusion from this passage.
Furthermore, the events in this passage are clearly supernatural in all respects, and therefore this scene is not a suitable prescription for common practice within the church. Believers do not routinely enter into faith as the result of supernatural earthquakes, nor do all believers receive their proclamation of the Gospel from the Apostle Paul himself. Similarly, the Lord does not promise to all believers that when one person believes that his (or her) entire household will always follow suit.
These unique and specific details confirm that this moment was not a prescription for how all believers should expect to see the Lord working. Rather, this is a description of how one person’s experience transpired. As such, we can draw no conclusions from the story concerning the normative experience in the church.
Therefore, even if one assumed that the jailer’s household included an infant who received baptism, we still cannot presume that this serves as a pattern for all believers. Such a conclusion is an eisegetical misinterpretation of scripture. The only proper and reasonable interpretation we may make concerning the moment in Acts 16 is that the Lord chose to do something unique and powerful through this jailer’s family in order to authenticate and magnify Paul’s apostolic ministry. Nevertheless, this moment says nothing about common practices in the church.
Besides these wrongly interpreted passages, the Bible does provide teaching on the proper practice of baptism in passages specifically addressing the issue.
First, the Lord Himself modeled the proper manner of water baptism when He received His own baptism under John:
The Bible tells us specifically that Jesus was baptized as an adult and by immersion under water. The Bible reports that Jesus was 30 years of age when He received baptism, not an infant. If infancy was the appropriate moment in life to receive water baptism, then we would have expected our Lord to have modeled this pattern for us by being baptized as an infant Himself. Instead, the Lord waited until He came into His earthly ministry as an adult to be baptized.
Secondly, we are told explicitly that after He was baptized, Jesus came “up out of the water.” This description precludes the possibility that Jesus received water baptism through a sprinkling or pouring of water over the head (which is commonly practiced among those who advocate infant baptism).
Instead, the text clearly indicates that Jesus was immersed in the river such that He came “up out of the water” at the conclusion of the baptism. Such explicit language demonstrates clearly how the Lord practiced water baptism, so based on this passage we must conclude that the proper model for water baptism is immersion by those who may freely enter into the water (i.e., someone old enough to enter on their own, not an infant).
Furthermore, the theology of baptism (i.e., it’s underlying meaning and purpose) must dictate our practice. The form of a ritual must support the ritual’s message and purpose, and when we consult the Bible’s teaching on the theology of baptism, we’re led to a very specific form.
Paul describes the theology of baptism clearly in Colossians 2 and 1Corinthians 15:
In Colossians, Paul teaches that Christ died on our behalf to pay our debt for sin. Through faith in His sacrifice, we are credited with His righteousness, and therefore we may share in His eternal life. He took our condemnation under the decrees of the Law and “nailed it to the cross” by paying the price the Law required for our sin.
Paul then says our water baptism pictures our dying with Christ and our hope for resurrection. How can water baptism convey such important theology? Simply put, the water of our baptism represents the grave, so that by going under the water we picture our burial with Christ, and then by our “coming up out of the water” we picture our hope in a future resurrection into an eternal body.
Obviously, this important message would be lost if the ritual of water baptism took a form other than the one Jesus modeled. For example, sprinkling water on a body does not communicate burial and resurrection. Likewise, an infant (or even a young child) being “washed” with water by an adult cannot substitute for a personal identification in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which baptism is intended to picture. Therefore, to wet an infant and call it “baptism” destroys the very meaning and purpose of the ritual according to scripture.
Finally, in 1Corinthians 15 Paul explains that the baptism for the [resurrection of the] dead is accomplished because we hold that believers will be resurrected into eternal life. Therefore, Paul asks why the church in Corinth was willing to practice water baptism if the church was doubting in the doctrine of resurrection? Paul’s commentary reaffirms that water baptism is intended to picture the death and resurrection of a body.
In our experience pastors and teachers who defend infant baptism do so out of a desire to support denominational traditions. They search the Bible for passages that appear to support their church’s preconceived doctrines because breaking free from their denominational viewpoint brings career and personal risks.
Nevertheless, we encourage all men and women to seek agreement with the word of God, even if it comes at the expense of denominational fellowship or career progression. When we stand before our Lord at our judgment, we will be judged according to our obedience to the word, not by our loyalty to denominations.
As Jesus said:
In the Revelation Study, Pastor Armstrong mentions that the average person living in the Millennial Kingdom may never see Jesus in his Temple because only priests can go into the "Holy of Holies," but doesn't Peter call all believers priests?
All believers in the church today are called priests, as you said, because our bodies collectively are the temple of God (1Cor 6:19). Christ dwells among men on earth by His Spirit in the bodies of believers.
In the Kingdom to come on earth, however, the temple will no longer be our physical bodies. Instead, a new physical temple building will be constructed for the Kingdom period, according to Ezekiel and Isaiah, and the Lord will inhabit that building as He once did in Israel’s past.
The best description of Jesus entering the Kingdom temple is given in Ezekiel 43. The prophet was shown a vision of the future temple (which Ezekiel calls the “house” of the Lord) as the Lord enters to reign:
Notice that in the Kingdom, Jesus will appear as the Shechinah glory of God, not as a man as in the days He first walked the earth. Furthermore, the Lord declares He will never leave His throne in the house of the Lord again. Therefore, in order for Jesus to be seen during the Kingdom, a person must have access to the Holy of Holies or some other part of the Millennial Temple. You may find the Ezekiel Study helpful.
Furthermore, during the time of the Kingdom, the Lord institutes a new Kingdom Law. The Kingdom law brings with it a new priesthood (see Heb 7:12). The requirements of the Kingdom law are given in Ezekiel 44-46, and in Ezekiel 40-43 we learn that Levitical priests will once again live around and officiate in the Kingdom temple.
Isaiah tells us that all the Kingdom nations will have the opportunity to witness the glory of Christ in the temple:
Notice Isaiah says that all nations will see Him in the temple, and the Lord will take some of the people of these nations as His priests. Therefore, priests will include Gentiles in this period. If we are selected to be a priest in the temple, then we will have access to the glory of Christ in a regular way. Otherwise, our access will be more limited as a worshipper.
Therefore, we know the nations will see Christ’s glory in some limited fashion, but what they experience will not be what the first-century disciple experienced. The world will see the glory of Christ in ways similar to how Israel saw the Shechinah glory of God in the Old Testament. Periodically and in a limited fashion.
In summary, the Church saints are priests today, because the temple of God resides in our bodies, but in the Kingdom, the temple changes as does the law, and therefore the priesthood changes as well.
Will time still exist in heaven? In Revelation, it talks about trees bearing fruit every month which seems to suggest time still exists. Can humans even exist outside of time like God does? Second, is hell eternal or will it be a punishment for a set time (1000 years) and then completely destroyed?
Regarding time, Creation will also exist in a place of time and space, since this is in keeping with our nature. Only God is omnipresent and without a beginning. Timekeeping in the New Eternal Order will be done in months only, not in years. So we will know a pattern of life (i.e., twelve repeating months), but we will not know a counting of years since there is no end.
Finally, Hell is not the eternal abode of the unbelieving. Rather, the Lake of Fire is their eternal home, and it will last for eternity, as Jesus says:
Notice, Jesus compares eternal punishment to eternal life. Just as we live forever in glory, the unbeliever lives forever in punishment. You can read more about the reasons for eternal punishment in this related article "Did Jesus have to stay in hell longer?"
In the Genesis study, you taught God would have been forced to destroy Adam and Eve if they hadn't hidden from Him, since sin can't exist in the presence of such a holy God. If that is the case, how is sin allowed to exist today? Are we not always in the presence of God?
First, God is holy and just, therefore He will judge sin perfectly in the end, but in His forbearance.
Paul explains in Romans that in the course of discussing the sin of mankind that God passed over the sins previously committed because He intended to demonstrate His righteousness in Christ. Though God could have destroyed all sin on earth in the first moment, He demonstrated forbearance Paul says. Forbearance means waiting patiently for what is due or refraining from exercising a legal right. God has every right to judge sin – and one day He will do it – but for now, He is being patient so He may demonstrate His righteousness to the world.
Nevertheless, if men came face-to-face with God, judgment for sin in instantaneous because God can no long forebear what enters into His presence. As the Lod Himself explained to Moses:
And Paul says likewise concerning Christ:
In the same way that we cannot avoid judgment when we go before a judge in a court of law, neither can we avoid judgment for sin if we appear before God in sin. Consequently, the Lord has made a way for us to be made righteous through faith in Christ so that when we appear before the Lord in glory, we won’t receive judgment. Meanwhile, we cannot see Him face to face.
In our present situation, we have the Spirit of God in us, but this is not the same thing as seeing God face-to-face. Notice in Paul’s passage from 1Timothy that Paul describes in v.13 how Jesus stood in Pilate’s presence while at the same time Paul says in v.16 that Jesus dwells in unapproachable light. Clearly, the Lord can present Himself to mankind when He desires in ways that do not threaten our existence, while at other times He dwells in His full glory which we cannot approach in sin.
In the John Study on the VBVMI website, you said that the “we” in John 9:4 referred to the combined effort of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If you believe "we" means both the Holy Spirit and Jesus, then how do you explain Jesus' mention of a time “when no one can work?” Will Jesus and the Holy Spirit be unable to work at some point?
In John 9 we read:
To interpret Jesus’ words properly, we must remain constrained by the text. In v.3 Jesus introduces the idea of works in relationship to the blind man’s condition. Specifically, Jesus says this man was born blind (i.e., made to be blind by God) so that his healing could become a means of glorifying Christ.
Notice in v.3 Jesus says the “word of God” will be displayed in this man’s healing. This statement means that the “works” mentioned in this passage are the works that God alone can do. More specifically, Jesus is referring to the works that God does through men. In this case, God made a man blind so He could heal him by means of a Man (i.e., Jesus).
The next thing Jesus says is “We must work the works of Him who sent Me.” The question then becomes who did Jesus mean when He said “we?” The widely held view is that Jesus meant men+Jesus. In this case, Jesus was saying that He and His disciples must do the works of God (the Father).
The other possible answer is Jesus meant Jesus+Spirit (as Pastor Armstrong taught). In this case, Jesus was saying He and the Spirit are working to heal blind men (and other miracles) to serve a purpose the Father ordained in the Messiah’s arrival. As long as the Messiah is in the world, He must accomplish these miracles (in partnership with the Holy Spirit), for this is how the Messiah is to be known and glorified. For this reason, the blind man was born blind.
How do we know which answer is correct? Jesus gives us the answer in what He says next.
Jesus said that the work (of “we”) can continue only until “night.” In the darkness, no one can work. Then Jesus defines Himself as the Light (i.e., the day). In other words, Jesus says that His presence in the world makes this work possible, but when He departs these works must stop. Notice Jesus doesn’t indicate they will begin again. Once the Messiah is gone from the earth, this work will stop.
Therefore, we must conclude that the “we” refers to the unique and temporary works that the Messiah and the Spirit accomplished during His earthly life. These works served a special purpose and were limited to the Messiah himself. While others were permitted to perform miracles as well (e.g., the apostles), nevertheless those opportunities were never equal to the work Jesus and the Spirit accomplished during his three years of earthly ministry.
Obviously, this statement doesn’t preclude the body of Christ performing many other “works” and even miracles to a limited degree, but Jesus wasn’t addressing these works. He was speaking specifically of the unique works that He and the Spirit would accomplish together invalidating His claims. He made this comment in response to the disciples’ questioning of this man’s condition, and Jesus was explaining that this man’s condition was a necessity for the demonstration of the Messiah in His day.
How do I stop the enemy from making me doubt the Word of God?
It sounds as if you are already aware that your doubts are unfounded and that they are the product of Satan. As such, then the scriptures teach what to do:
And the writer of Hebrews echoes this when he writes:
These writers are reminding us that we must learn to resist such things and that the Lord allows the enemy to tempt us in this way to strength us and mature us just as our earthly fathers disciplined us for our own good. Rather than wish your trials gone, we recommend you take the opportunity to strengthen your will and mind by focusing on Christ and His word. As you do this, you will be better prepared to serve others.
Since you have a large following, the Lord will be particularly interested in strengthening you spiritually. You cannot gain this strength without enduring trials. Christ endured much greater than you, so you cannot complain about such things (since a slave is not greater than his Master). Pride is an ever-present concern for those who serve Christ, and even Paul required a “thorn in his side” to contend with his pride. Therefore, accept these trials of doubt and work to overcome them through the application of spiritual disciplines.
With respect to the specific doubts, you feel to God’s word, you will find that as you study scripture more, you will doubt it less. For example, have you taken our Isaiah Bible study online? If you take the study, we are confident you will have plenty of reason to cease doubting, for the text itself testifies to its accuracy and trustworthiness.
Did God create life on other planets?
The Bible teaches that the Earth is the only place in God’s creation where life exists since all things in the universe were created specifically for man. All other celestial bodies besides Earth are merely adornment of man. Genesis tells us:
Notice the three reasons the Lord made all celestial bodies in the universe: signs, seasons and days and years. Pastor Armstrong explains these reasons in detail in his Genesis study, but in summary all three reasons point to man. They exist to provide use for God in communicating to mankind. These objects have no purpose outside of man on Earth.
Beyond the reasons given in Genesis 1, the Bible says the universe testifies to man concerning to the glory of God:
Here again, the Bible states that the heavenly testimony is a declaration for man’s sake. The universe is for man. Next, the Bible says that man rules over all that God has made:
Man rules over all (not just some) of the works of God’s hands, which precludes the possibility of other life existing outside of Earth.
Finally, once the Lord returns to Earth and reigns in HIs kingdom, then the entire universe is destroyed according to scripture:
Likewise, Peter declares that when God's program for earth reaches conclusion, God will destroy the His first Universe:
The fact that our universe’s end will come once God’s program of events on Earth has been completed tells us that there is no other program taking place simultaneously elsewhere in the universe. The events on Earth dictate the beginning and end of everything in the universe. Clearly, the Lord made the universe for us, and therefore the rest of the universe must be lifeless and without a plan of its own apart from Earth.
Knowing that Earth life is alone in the universe, then we must conclude that the reports of “aliens” and spacecraft are either hoaxes, mistakes or demonic appearances. The demon world is capable of manifesting in various ways, and it seems reasonable to assume that demons make such manifestations from time to time to provoke fear and unbiblical speculation among the people on the earth. Such speculation serves to undermine confidence in the word of God, which is a priority for Satan and his armies.
Nevertheless, careful attention to the word of God alone will lead us to understand that there is no other life in the Heavens beyond what God created on this planet. Mankind is unique as God intended, and maintaining that understanding will serve to magnify our love for God and awe of His works. We alone were made in His image, and we alone have been provided with a plan of redemption through Jesus Christ (see Heb 2:16).
How should I approach finding my wife in a biblically-correct way?
While we can't direct you in a specific way concerning finding a spouse, we can remind you of what scripture teaches concerning marriage:
Remain chaste and do not engage in fornication. Remain pure waiting for the day of your marriage, and seek a marriage partner who has done the same.
God had an angel (Satan) turn against Him and take a third of the angels with him. What prevents this from happening again after Satan is destroyed in the Lake of Fire?
A survey of scripture teaches that demons (i.e., fallen angels) have become corrupt in nature like fallen man. These will not be redeemed since Hebrews 2:16 teaches that the Lord does not give help (i.e., a way of redemption) to fallen angels. We also know that one-third of the angelic host were convinced by Satan to rebel against God with him, according to Revelation, meaning that the remaining two-thirds of the angelic realm did not follow Satan.
Unlike mankind, all angels were created at once rather than through a process of procreation. We know this because Jesus said in Matthew 22:30 that angels are not given into marriage, which implies they do not procreate. We must conclude that when Satan fell, he had the entire host of angels at his disposal, and of these, he convinced a third to follow him into rebellion. Notably, two-thirds of the angels were not fooled by Satan and remained faithful.
Therefore, we can safely assume that the remaining angels will never fall, since the author of lies failed to draw them in his first attempt and there will be no future source of rebellion in God’s creation according to Revelation 21. Simply put, if Satan couldn't convince the remaining angels to rebel in his earlier attempt, then they will remain faithful forever.
Likewise, we can assume that once we obtain our glorified state in the Kingdom, we will also be impervious to Satan’s schemes. There will be no second fall of man, because the source of the fall (i.e., Satan and his lies) has already been judged, according to scripture. Scripture says we are no longer slaves to Satan and have conquered him through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have been made new in Christ’s likeness so that we share in Christ’s nature and in his desire to obey the Father.
Therefore, both the faithful angels and believers in Jesus Christ (i.e., the elect angels and elect humanity) are saved by God and forever preserved from rebellion. God’s original plan for Creation allowed for and even desired a fall of both the angels and of mankind. Self evidently, the Lord permitted His creation to be susceptible to deception and rebellion in the first place, so that a fall would occur in both realms.
Ultimately, the Lord brought about these circumstances so that He might redeem the elect and thereby bring glory to His name for His mercy and love. This is the essence of Paul’s exclamation in Romans 8:
You might find our Romans study helpful concerning this question.
In a mixed gathering at a bible study, may women speak up on things being spoken? Would that be going against 1 Cor. 14; 34 if one does?
Generally, in mixed groups the Bible expects men to lead teaching and to ask and answer the questions, as Paul says:
On the other hand, this principle may include some minor variations in practice. Our ministry features several articles that explore this point in detail. Please read "Can a woman teach men in the church?" and "Can a woman ever teach a man?"
Nevertheless, Paul does give a very specific command to the church in Corinth concerning women speaking up to challenge men during the teaching:
Notice in v.34 that Paul juxtaposes women speaking up in the service with women subjecting themselves to male headship (authority). Paul is implying that when the women in Corinth were asking questions, they were doing it for improper motives. The women were trying to undermine the authority of the male teachers by questioning their teaching. Their questions were not (apparently) asked in a sincere desire to understand the truth. Instead, the questioning was part of an effort to show themselves smarter than the men who taught them. It was a sinful motive.
In fact, earlier in the letter Paul described how women in the church in Corinth were taking dramatic steps (including shaving their heads) to claim equality with men, which violated God’s prescription for the church. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul’s point in chapter 14 concerning women speaking in the assembly was limited to those women who spoke up expressly for the purpose of challenging and undermining male teachers.
Consequently, we teach that it is permissible for a woman to ask questions in a mixed group so long as she does so with a genuine interest in obtaining clarification or to understand scripture better. She may ask her question publicly so long as her intentions are pure. If the questioning transitions into a confrontation, challenges or a dispute, then the woman should silence herself and expect her husband to answer her questions or else carry the questioning forward on her behalf (assuming he shares her concerns).
Is requiring new members to sign a church covenant a biblically-correct practice? Even if most of the requirements in the "covenant" are biblical, should a Christian agree to sign one?
Regarding membership, the Bible does not specify a “membership” process for a Christian to join or participate in a local congregation except water baptism.
Nevertheless, the Bible does expect Christians to establish a relationship with a local body and submit to the leadership in that body. The book of Hebrews implies that believers should actively participate in a gathering on a regular basis:
So regular participation in a body of believers is a biblical expectation. Furthermore, believers are called by scripture to submit to the leaders of their church body:
Therefore, on the basis of this command, we can say that if church leaders decide to place certain expectations on the church body for the benefit of their spiritual health (i.e., requiring regular attendance on Sundays, participation in home groups, etc.), then the body should submit to those in authority. Such rules only become legalism if the leaders teach that the rules are God’s requirements, not merely man-made expectations.
On the other hand, your pastor’s comments connecting “being Christian” with attending church are very concerning. To equate attending church with being a Christian would seem to suggest a human work is required to be saved, which the Bible clearly refutes. No human work – not even attending church – is required to be saved.
Furthermore, we know it is possible for even true Christians to stop attending church precisely because the book of Hebrews warns of that very thing! In Hebrews 10 we read:
Notice the writer says some in the body have fallen into the habit of "forsaking the gathering.” The writer is acknowledging that believers can become lazy and disobedient so that they stop seeking for fellowship among other believers. Clearly, these believers are no less saved, though they are acting in a disobedient manner.
Consequently, we suggest you seek to clarify your pastor’s comments in a respectful manner. If you should determine that he believes attending church is a conclusive litmus test for true faith, then we would recommend you consider seeking fellowship elsewhere, since such views are unbiblical and potentially harmful to your spiritual growth in the faith.
In summary, every believer should be participating regularly in a church congregation, and if the leaders of that congregation place certain requirements on that participation, we should submit to their authority. Only in cases where these requirements contradict scripture or offend out conscience should we raise objections.
Meanwhile, no human work – not even participating in a church – is necessary for salvation. Faith alone in Jesus Christ saves us, and unfortunately, some who have this understanding may yet forsake gathering together with other believers.
You may find it helpful to listen to our Hebrews study on our website.
Can Calvinists be evanglists or perfom social works (e.g., improve health systems, local economies, build orphanages, etc.)? Or are they more interested in Bible teaching and disciple reproduction?
First, we suggest you read the 'What is Calvinism' article on our website.
As we commented in that article, believers are not to be followers of “Calvinism” or any other manmade system. We follow Christ and proclaim the truth of His word.
Secondly, the suggestion that obtaining a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty in our salvation necessarily diminishes a believer's desire to serve Christ by acts of service or by reaching the nations with the Gospel is a false premise. On the contrary, the more a believer knows and understands the doctrines of their salvation, the more the person will be motivated to serve the Master Who bought them.
The scripture is abundantly clear that the Lord grants faith in the heart as He chooses, which you could read our devotional, 'Wrestling with God,' but this truth doesn’t diminish our enthusiasm to serve Him; on the contrary, it motivates believers to seek the lost.
In fact, knowing that the Lord has the power to change a heart is the primary basis for our evangelism. As Jesus said:
Salvation is impossible for men alone, but God can bring salvation to hearts by granting faith, and so we proclaim the Gospel knowing that those who have ears to hear will respond. God grants the ability to hear the Gospel:
Therefore, a believer’s desire to serve God by preaching the Gospel or by any other work of service is increased (not decreased) by knowing that God is in control of the outcome. Our desire to serve Him is based in our confidence that the Lord is the One Who yields the results.
Ironically, if we were personally responsible for the outcome in persuading a person to believe, we would have much less confidence to pursue evangelism, for who is capable of making an argument persuasive enough to overcome the pride of the flesh?
On the other hand, if our prospects for success are dependent entirely upon God’s grace, then how can we NOT act in service to God? Knowing God is in control of the outcome is a great motivator in moving forward as His ambassador, since God is capable of granting us success at any moment. We can go out serving Him in much greater confidence and enthusiasm knowing the result rests on Him alone.
Finally, you may find the article, 'Why do we Evangelize,' helpful.
When we die, are we immediately with the Lord or are we in a 'soul sleep' until the rapture or our time of the resurrection?
The Bible never teaches the concept of “soul sleep.” Passages like 1 Thes 5:6 in our English Bibles use the word “sleep” as a euphemism for death. Paul is referring to death using the word “sleep” just as we might say “passed away” today. He is not speaking literally of a sleeping process. As you quoted from 2Cor 5:6-8, believer’ souls are immediately and consciously present with the Lord from the moment of our death. Later at the resurrection, we receive our new bodies.
Likewise, passages like Luke 16:22-23 make clear that unbelievers also move directly from death to a conscious existence in torment. No one enters a time of unconscious “sleep.” Soul sleep is a false teaching of the false religion of Seventh-Day Adventists.
For further reading, see related questions.
Is Paul saying in Romans 3 that all have the ability to be justified by grace? If so, how does this fit with the rest of his teaching about being selected before birth?
Your confusion comes from taking these two verses out of their larger context in Romans 3. When we take vs.24-25 out of context, we lose sight of what Paul meant when he used the word “all.” So by returning to the context of the passage, we find the intended meaning of the word “all."
Paul describes our righteousness may be found. The righteousness required to enter Heaven is the righteousness of God, given to us by God’s grace, apart from works. Notice in v.22 that Paul adds that this salvation is “for all those who believe; there is no distinction…” Paul is saying that the means of salvation is the same for both Jew and Gentile. There is no separate plan for Gentiles apart from Jews. We find this conclusion confirmed further when we look at the end of the passage, as Paul concludes God is the God of both Jew and Gentile.
Therefore, when Paul uses the term “all” in this passage, he is referring to both Jew and Gentile. The word “all" doesn’t refer to all humanity.
For a greater understanding of these things, we strongly recommend you listen to our entire Romans Bible study.
Please explain Jesus' teaching on good and bad fruit from Matthew 7:18-20?
The verses you asked us to explain are part of the following larger passage:
Notice that Jesus is speaking about false prophets. False prophets (or teachers) are those who claim to know the Lord and to follow Him but actually are not truly His disciples. They are false in every respect: they do not know the Lord, they do not know His word, nor do they following His commandments. Therefore, they are “wolves” masquerading as “sheep.”
Christ tells His true followers to avoid falling victim to these false teachers by evaluating the “fruit” in their lives. Fruit refers to the product of their ministry. Just as a tree’s output is the fruit it yields after a season, so is a teacher’s production measure by the lasting effect (i.e., fruit) they yield in the lives of their students.
Jesus teaches the principle that true teachers of God’s word will naturally and always produce good outcomes in the lives of their students because these teachers are sharing the true word of God. The word of God itself produces the fruit in the lives of the hearers, and since the teacher is sharing the word in an honest way, that teacher will naturally yield good outcomes.
On the other hand, false teachers or prophets do not teach the word of God. Instead, they teach man-made conclusion in place of the word of God, as Jesus said a few verses earlier in this chapter:
Those who spread false teaching will always yield “bad fruit,” which refers to the absence of godliness in the lives their students. Those who listen to false teaching do not experience changed lives or develop greater love for and devotion to Christ Jesus and His word. They may experience a season of excitement or enthusiasm, but in the end, they cannot grow spiritually nor show the fruit of the Spirit in their lives since they lack the pure milk of the word of God, as Peter says:
Simply put, false teaching is not from God and therefore it lacks the power of God’s word. So Jesus warns the believer to evaluate the product of a person’s teaching to know whether such a person is teaching truthfully or not. In v.17-18 Jesus says that those who teach God’s word cannot yield good fruit, since only God’s word has the power to produce that outcome. Likewise, those who teach God’s word honestly will always see good fruit, because the word of God will not go forth and return void, as Isaiah says:
Why was Jesus named Jesus, and not Immanuel?
The Messiah goes by many other names in scripture, including Immanuel. The name given to the Christ child came directly from the Father Himself, as revealed by the angel:
The name Jesus is actually Yeshua in Hebrew, which is also translated Joshua. The name means “the Lord is salvation,” so clearly the Father wanted His Son to bear a name that announced His purpose.
This is the earthly name for our Messiah, but before He was revealed to the world, the scripture speaks of Him using other names. Collectively, there are over 200 different names or titles given to the Messiah in scripture. Taken together, these names describe the character and work of the Messiah in the plan of God.
The first name the Lord gave Himself is found in Exodus:
Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus continued to use this name in a subtle way, when He responded to the Pharisees this way:
In His return to earth, the Lord will assume yet another name, as Jesus says in Revelation 3:
So even the name Jesus is not the Lord's final name. His new name is described this way in Revelation 19:
So the question of what is the Messiah’s name is different than asking a human being for a name. Since there is no one like the Lord, He doesn’t bear a name to distinguish Himself from another. The only reason the Lord adopts a name is to describe Himself to His Creation. Therefore, the Lord names Himself as a means of describing Himself to mankind using multiple names.
Is it true that the whole world's sins are forgiven at the moment of Christ's death on the cross? We don't have to ask for his forgiveness, but in order to be saved we must place our faith in His resurrection after death?
In recent times, a false teaching has emerged within the church to the effect that Jesus’ payment on the cross forgave the sins of the entire world without regard to faith. Usually, this teaching cites 1 John 2:1-2 to support such a conclusion:
This reading is a misinterpretation of John’s teaching and is contrary to other scripture.
First, John’s teaching in 1 John 2 is not arguing for universal salvation. John was writing to an audience of Jewish believers living in the Diaspora in the mid-first century. To these believers, John says that Christ’s death on the cross was a payment not only for them but for the “whole world,” meaning for all kinds of men (i.e., Jew & Gentile), in all places and throughout all history. The Lord was dying for the sins of humanity, not just to save the Jews of the first century.
John's comment is similar to the statements of other writers of the New Testament when they say:
In all these passages, the author is speaking of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work. His death is a once-for-all sacrifice sufficient to enact the Father’s plan of salvation such that no additional sacrifice is needed. No additional Messiah is required. Jesus did all the work needed.
Therefore, these statements do NOT mean that the payment of Christ on the cross was applied to the sins of all humanity nor that all people will ultimately benefit from it. As John himself says:
Notice, those who do not believe are showing evidence they were “judged already” because they did not believe. Men are born sinners, and therefore all human beings are due judgment from birth. As Paul says:
As someone once said, we are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are born sinners. Therefore, all men are due judgment for their sin nature from birth, not for some specific sinful decision or action during their life. Those who fail to place their trust in Christ will be judged for their sin nature and the life of sin that resulted.
As John himself writes in Revelation:
At the judgment, the world of unbelievers will be called to account. They will not be judged for a specific sin of rejecting Christ. In fact, many of these will never have even heard the name Jesus or been exposed to the Gospel. Millions die every day who have never heard the name Jesus. Nevertheless, they will be rightly judged at the Great White Throne since they are sinners by nature and are due the penalty of sin.
Only by God’s grace may a person come to trust in God’s propitiation in Christ and be saved from the penalty of their sin. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the once-for-all payment for the whole world, but the effective application of His payment requires God’s grace to bring a man or woman to trust in that payment.
Regarding the unforgivable sin, please read our article on this important question.
Q: How many missionary journeys did Paul make?
A: Traditionally, we count that Paul made three, long journeys to share the Gospel with Gentile peoples, but these were not Paul’s only missionary travels. He also traveled to Rome in chains near the end of his life, and he may have continued on to Spain.
Even before his first missionary journey, Paul preached in Damascus, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tarsus, Antioch, and Arabia. Though these travels are not counted as “journeys” in the traditional sense, they do reflect Paul’s constant movement in seeking to fulfill his mission.
Where or how did the season of Lent come about? Is it in the Bible?
The practice of observing Lent began in the Roman Catholic Church as a period of personal the preparation for the celebration of Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. The practice was born out of Catholic works-theology, which holds that a person must become personally righteous to earn entry into Heaven, which is heresy.
Following the Reformation, many Protestant churches elected to continue a Lenten observance believing it promoted piety. Nevertheless, there is no biblical reason to observe a period of self-denial prior to Easter, and promoting a Lenten observance carries significant potential to confuse or mislead Christians concerning the true Gospel. Furthermore, it aligns Christians with Catholics in a way that suggests both groups share a common faith (which is not true).
Therefore, we discourage an observance of Lent or any 40-day period of self-denial prior to Easter. Instead, we commend fasting and prayer to all believers as a regular practice year-round.
You may find our article "Are Lenten observances Biblical?"
Why did Saul's name change to Paul?
The name Saul is Hebrew, and the Greek version of that name is Paul. At a point in the book of Acts, Luke begins addressing Saul by his Greek name, Paul:
From this point forward in Acts, Luke uses only Paul’s Greek name, reflecting his assignment to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. So Paul’s name was never changed, but Luke chooses to use his Greek name rather than his Hebrew name to reflect Paul’s mission to reach Gentiles with the Gospel.
After reading your article on divorce and remarriage, I wondered if a man divorces his wife and marries another woman, is that man now considered married to two women in God's eyes?
A divorce (by definition) is the dissolution of a marriage. When a man divorces a wife, he puts an end to the marriage relationship. Nevertheless, the two remain one-flesh, according to scripture.
We could make an analogy using an example of giving a child up for adoption. When a mother gives up her child for adoption, she is no longer considered the child's parent. Another woman will become the child's mother. Nevertheless, the woman remains the child's biological mother. The two will share a lifelong bond in the flesh (i.e., physically) that can never be broken. The child's physical relationship to the biological mother persists despite the child having been given to another family.
Spiritually speaking, marriage creates a similar life-long relationship. A man and woman form a "one-flesh" relationship through marriage, Jesus says. This bond cannot be undone except by death (see Romans 7). While a man may divorce his wife ending the marriage, he cannot end their one-flesh relationship.
Consequently, if that man divorces his wife, he is no longer husband to the woman. Like a woman who relinquishes her right to be mother over a child given up for adoption, he has relinquished his right to be husband to his wife. Divorce is sin, according to Jesus, but even so it does not end the one-flesh relationship, which is a life-long bond that precludes any future marriage relationship. While the two are no longer married, neither are they free to remarry, Jesus says, because remarriage results in the sin of adultery.
Therefore, a man who divorces his wife and remarries is not married to two women. He is married only to his second wife, yet he is also guilty of adultery in having taken the second wife.
For more information on this difficult topic, please read the following article.
Did God forbid interracial marriage? Didn't God make different races for a purpose?
Wikipedia defines the concept of race as the classification of humans into groups based on physical traits, ancestry, genetics or social relations, or the relations between them. In other words, the concept of “race” is a man-made concept.
In other words, there is no objective, scientific standard for defining a "race" of humanity, because the standards we use to classify a certain race are arbitrary. In fact, it’s scientifically impossible for a doctor or scientist to identify a person's “race” solely by examining that person's DNA (i.e., there is no such thing as "black" DNA or "white" DNA, etc.).
Within normal human DNA, God has prepared the diversity of physical traits we see within the human population on earth today. Every physical trait of human beings (e.g., our skin darkness, our facial features, our hair type, our height, etc.) varies along a spectrum of diversity. Therefore, science cannot identify – much less define – a clear-cut delineation between one "race" and another.
Instead, we only find gradual shifts in human traits between various populations of people in the world, and these differences cluster according to geography and family relationships based on migration and marriage patterns. For example, human DNA supports a wide range of skin color and these variations cluster by geography. Populations living in hotter climates with greater exposure to the sun tend to exhibit greater concentrations of skin pigment, while populations living in cooler climates develop less.
Such variations are a result of the normal programming found in every human being's DNA, and therefore these differences are meaningless apart from whatever arbitrary meaning we may choose to assign to them. By definition, assigning human beings to a racial group is not only subjective, it is inherently biased. No wonder sinful humanity has favored the use of racial labels to discriminate and oppress those perceived to be the enemy.
For example, Greeks have oppressed Turks, Indians have oppressed Pakistanis, Europeans have oppressed Asians, men have oppressed women, the healthy have oppressed the sick, the strong have oppressed the weak, and of course in American society, Caucasians have historically oppressed non-Caucasians.
In each of these cases, sinful hearts used arbitrary physical distinctions as justification for cruelty against others, and any such hatred or prejudice is sinful and unbiblical. Such sinful attitudes and behaviors have no place in the life of a Christian for they are neither loving nor godly.
This is especially true for the believer who understands the Creation account in Genesis, since that account reminds us that all humanity descends from the same parents, as we read in Acts:
This single passage from the Bible renders the term "race" meaningless, since if all humanity descended from one man, then what is a race? Once a Christian understands all humanity descended from the same two parents, then we must abandon any belief in race as a meaningful distinction between people (much less view race as just cause for discrimination).
Whatever physical differences may exist between any two people on earth, those differences are no more meaningful than the differences between a brother and sister from the same nuclear family. We are all literally from one family, the Bible says.
Therefore, it is both illogical and unbiblical for a Christian to hold prejudice against another person because of a difference in physical features (e.g., skin color). Any Christian harboring hateful or discriminatory thoughts toward another person for any reason is sinning and should repent.
We must love everyone, even those we perceive to be our enemies, as Jesus said:
Consequently, we can find nothing in the Bible concerning interracial marriage, because in reality there is no such thing as "race" from God’s point of view. All humanity is the same, and therefore a marriage union is possible between any man and any woman, since the physical traits of the two are completely irrelevant to the question of marriage.
(We should add that the Bible does require a believer to marry only another believer.)
Did Adam and Eve have sexual relations while in the Garden of Eden, or after?
In Genesis 1 we read:
Later in Genesis 2, the Lord elaborated on this moment from Genesis 1:
Finally, the Lord provided details of how they began a family in Genesis 4:
Based on these passages, we can say for sure that Adam and Eve had relations and conceived following the Garden, but we can’t be as clear on what happened prior to the Fall.
There is an implication in Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve had relations in the Garden prior to the Fall. Specifically, Genesis 2:24 says that in a marriage (like the formed with Adam and Woman) a man and woman shall be “joined,” which is a reference to sexual relations. This detail suggests – but doesn’t prove – that Adam and Woman engaged in such relations while in the Garden immediately after Woman was introduced to Adam.
On the other hand, this reference may refer only to Woman’s origin, and therefore we can only say definitively that the couple engaged in sexual relations after the Fall.
What is "closed" communion? Is it Biblical?
Regarding the question of “closed” or “open” communion, these terms have different meanings in different churches. Some churches restrict participation in the communion ordinance only to those who are professing Christians, while others may go further by requiring church membership or water baptism. On the other hand, some churches permit anyone to partake of communion without restriction.
Biblically speaking, the only requirement for partaking in communion is faith in Jesus Christ only. Communion was given by Christ to the Church, and therefore It is never appropriate for an unbeliever to partake of the communion meal. The ritual is a picture of the body of Christ united in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by the sacrifice of His body and the spilling of His blood for the remission of sins. Unbelievers have no part in these things.
Jesus Himself modeled this restriction at the first communion meal (i.e., the Last Supper) when He dismissed the only unbeliever at the table, Judas, prior to the meal:
Judas was not included in the first communion meal since he was not a believer. Likewise, we must instruct those who have not yet placed their faith in Jesus Christ to abstain from participation in the communion meal. VBVMI also supports the practice of limiting the communion meal to believers who have consented to water baptism as a sign of their faith in Jesus Christ (though there is no specific biblical requirement to do so).
For more information on the meaning and biblical practice of the communion meal, please listen to Lesson 11B from our 1Corinthians study.
Are there angels? Is the devil real? What are demons?
The Bible teaches that angels, demons, and Satan do exist. Angels are ministering spirits created to serve believers in Jesus Christ, as the writer of Hebrews says:
Angels were created by God, including an angel called Lucifer, who was the greatest of all angels:
Lucifer (Satan) fell into sin because of his pride, and as a result, he brought down a third of the angels with him, as described in Revelation 12:
Notice the dragon (Satan) recruited a third of the angelic realm to join him in rebelling against the Lord. This third of the angelic realm are called demons. Demons are fallen angels, which move between heaven and earth doing the bidding of the enemy. Demons may bring torment to believers and unbelievers, and they may indwell unbelievers as shown in the Gospels.
At the end of this age, demons and Satan are bound and kept in the abyss during the kingdom.
At the end of the 1,000 Kingdom, the enemy is allowed a short time once more to work in the hearts of men on earth. At the end of that time, the Lord will judge Satan and cast him into the Lake of Fire forever.
Rev. 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
For more information on these matters, we recommend you listen to our Revelation Bible study.
What does it mean to pray without ceasing?
Paul tells the Church to pray without ceasing as part of a concluding series of statements in his first letter to Thessalonica:
Paul is arguing for godliness and self-restraint among the people of God. At the time Paul wrote his letter, the church was enduring persecution and great tribulation in their day. These tests led some to become anxious, impatient and even hurtful to one another in the body of Christ.
Paul admonished the church to restrain these sinful responses and to rely on the Spirit to ease their worries, strengthen their resolves and guide their understanding. Key among his instructions were to pray without ceasing in v.17. When a believer faces difficulty and trial, the tendency can to be a retreat from our disciplines of faith and move to action. We take matters into our own hands rather than waiting patiently for the Lord to address our needs.
Paul says godliness and spiritual maturity demands that we seek the Lord’s counsel in prayer while giving thanks for God’s will in our life. To pray without ceasing means to seek His will in everything we experience, not simply when we want something from Him or wish to thank Him for His gifts.
Prayer must be a daily means of working with the Lord to know His will and to do it.
If God existed from the beginning, then who created God?
Numerous Bible passages testify that the Godhead (i.e., Father, Son, Spirit) is eternal and without beginning and existed before all created things:
Notice He is called the “eternal” God. The word eternal in Greek means “age-long" or forever. God was never not in existence. Furthermore, God is the Creator of all things, so He existed before all things in Creation:
The beginning of Creation, God and His Son (i.e., the Word) were already in existence.
The first letter in the Greek alphabet is alpha and the last letter is omega. Therefore, the Lord is saying symbolically that He was before everything else and He is after everything else. Again, He was never not in existence.
Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16 that "upon this rock, He would build His church". What is the "rock?"
Jesus made His declaration to Peter in Matthew 16:
In response to Jesus’ question, Peter declared that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus replied that Peter’s confession of faith was the result of the Father in heaven granting Peter this insight. Next, Jesus declares that Peter (which is Cephas in Aramaic) would be the rock upon which Jesus would build His church.
Jesus made a play on words as He renamed Simon. The name Peter in Greek is the word petros (in Aramaic, the word cephas), which means a stone or boulder. Later when Jesus said He would build His church on the "rock," He used a different Greek word petra, which refers to a large rock (as in a mountain cliff). Given Jesus' choice of two different Greek words for rock and the overall context of the passage, we must conclude Jesus was addressing two different aspects of building His church.
First, Peter’s declaration of faith in Christ was to be the model for how the body of Christ would grow. The church body would be a "building" consisting of men and women who followed in Peter’s footsteps repeating his declaration of faith in Jesus. Jesus is the Cornerstone of the church, and all believers are the "living stones" who place their faith in Him (see 1Peter 2:5).
Secondly, Jesus renamed Simon with the name Peter (i.e., stone) to indicate that Peter would play a unique role in the founding of the church. Jesus declared that Peter would possess the “keys” to the kingdom, and what Peter "bound" or "loosed" on earth would be confirmed in Heaven. Historically, the Catholic Church has used this verse to support the legitimacy of the papacy, while Protestants have categorically rejected the idea that Peter held special authority over the early church. The truth lies between these two extremes.
According to Matthew 16, Christ did assign Peter special authority in the early church (i.e., the "keys") to open the Gospel to three people groups so they might receive the Holy Spirit and enter the body of Christ. Peter fulfilled this commission in three steps as recorded in the book of Acts.
First, in Acts 2 Peter unlocked the Gospel for the Jewish people at Pentecost. Peter preached the Good News, and as a result the Jewish people gathered on that feast day began to receive the Gospel in Jerusalem and beyond.
The visible evidence of Peter “turning" a key of the kingdom was the arrival of the Holy Spirit followed by visible manifestations of the Spirit among a new group of humanity. At Pentecost the first group to receive the Holy Spirit were Jews, and once that key was turned by Peter, the Gospel remained forever open to Jews.
Next, Peter unlocked the Gospel for the Samaritan people in Acts 8.
Faith first came to the Samaritans through Philip, but the Holy Spirit's arrival awaited Peter's "turning of the key." When Peter arrived in Samaria to confirm the acceptance of the Gospel among the Samaritan people, he laid hands on the new believers and they received the Holy Spirit. This was Peter's turning of the second key of the kingdom. Notice that Peter’s presence was required before the Lord began the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (the mark of the Church saint) among Samaritans. What Peter "loosed" on Earth was loosed in Heaven.
Finally, Peter opened the door for Gentiles to receive the Gospel in Acts 10.
When Cornelius and his family received the Gospel, Peter was God's instrument to deliver the Holy Spirit again in keeping with the role Jesus assigned to him. After Peter “turned" this final key, the family of Cornelius received the Holy Spirit and began to manifest His presence as was seen earlier.
Once the Gentiles received the Gospel, Peter had turned his final key. No more keys exist, since the kingdom is now open to all groups of humanity (i.e., Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile). Having fulfilled his mission to open the kingdom, Peter then disappears from the record of Acts.
In summary, Peter was the “rock” upon whom Jesus built the church both by his example of faith and through his personal authority to open the Gospel to the three groups of humanity. Once Peter turned the keys, he was no longer the “rock” for he had met his purpose.
Scripture does not support the view of the Catholic Church, which holds that Jesus’ words established the papacy with Peter as the first pope. The institution of the papacy was asserted by the Catholic Church several hundred years after Christ’s death to further the church's political power in the face of a declining Roman Empire. Peter himself never assumed such a title or position nor did later church leaders during the three centuries following Peter.
Therefore, the authority of the papacy is historically and biblically illegitimate, and certainly nothing in Jesus' statement to Peter in Matthew 16 lends support to the Catholic position. Jesus was referring only to Peter's unique role in moving the Gospel outward during Peter's lifetime.
For more information on the keys of Kingdom, we encourage you to listen to our entire Acts Bible study:
Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15 that if we aren't willing to forgive others, He won't forgive us. Aren't we already forgiven by faith in Christ alone?
Regarding Matthew 6, Jesus is speaking temporally, not eternally. Notice the context:
Jesus said if we forgive someone, then the Lord will forgive us. Jesus equates the two types of forgiveness. God's forgiveness of us is contingent on our forgiving others. As we try to understand Jesus' words, we must first remember that we have no power over the eternal fate of another person, for Christ alone is our Judge:
We know Jesus wasn't asking us to forgive someone from the penalty of their sin in eternity for only God can do that. The only kind of forgiveness we can extend to another person is the restoration of our earthly fellowship with that person. So when Jesus asks us to forgive another, He must be speaking in terms of earthly relationships, not eternal outcomes.
If a believer forgives in this way, Jesus says God will forgive us. From the context, the proper interpretation is that God will forgive us in the same way He asks us to forgive others: by restoring fellowship with us. Once again, Jesus is speaking in terms of earth consequences and earthly forgiveness. The Lord will forgive us from the earthly consequences of our sins provided we are willing to show forgiveness to others (which is a part of our mission to show the love of Christ to the world).
The Bible teaches that our sins after faith may still bring us earthly consequences. The Lord may choose to bring discipline against us for our sin, which the Bible calls the discipline of the Lord. Discipline is intended by God to drive us back into a godly walk with Him:
The means of obtaining earthly relief from the Lord's discipline is confessing our sins and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness, which the Lord will grant us as John promises:
When we repent and confess our sins (as a believer), the Lord will grant us relief from His discipline, but Jesus says in Matthew 6 that if a believer is so hardhearted that he or she withholds forgiveness in earthly relationships, then the Lord will withhold His forgiveness for that person's sins as well, which means the Lord will visit earthly discipline against such a hardhearted believer.
The believer's eternal salvation is not impacted, for Jesus isn’t speaking of the eternal forgiveness that comes by faith alone, nor is Jesus giving the Church a recipe for maintaining our salvation, for no believer can sin his or her way out of salvation. God’s grace is greater than our sin:
The believer is forever forgiven the eternal consequences of sin (i.e., the Second Death) from the moment of his or her faith in Jesus Christ, and this can never change.
Therefore, Jesus is speaking about earthly relationships and earthly consequences. If we desire the Lord to forgive us of our daily missteps and to withhold His discipline, we must be prepared to extend our forgiveness to others for their missteps against us.
Can we know for sure the exact date of Jesus' death?
Based on the biblical record, we can determine the day of Jesus’ death precisely.
I read in 1 Timothy 5:8 that a believer who fails to care for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Exactly what obligations does a believer have to provide financially?
While our ministry does not offer personal counseling or advice, we can explain the meaning of 1 Tim 5:8. When seeking to interpret scripture, it’s important to understand the text in its proper context. The full context of 1 Timothy 5:8 is:
In this passage, Paul gives the church a test for how to care for the weak and vulnerable within the body. In particular, Paul is focused on the needs of widows within the body of Christ. Widows in Paul’s day were especially vulnerable since they generally lacked income and could not possess property. The church body often came to the rescue of needy Christians, including widows, which is what the Lord intended.
Still, such charity must be applied in the right ways to prevent abuse, so Paul sets standards or tests for whether the body of Christ should provide financial support to a widow within the congregation. First, Paul says the church must ask if the widow has immediate family that can provide support to her. If so, then the widow's family must assume responsibility for her care before seeking assistance from the church body.
In Paul’s day there was no state welfare for the needy, so if a family could not care for a widow, their relative would be doomed to a life of poverty and likely death. Such neglect was considered a disgrace in Paul's day, so few if any families dared to be so cruel. Believers, on the other hand, had the church body to lean on for financial support in hard times, so if a family couldn’t afford to support a widow, the church might step into the gap. The church saw an opportunity to witness to the Lord of Christ by providing support to a believing widow rather than allowing a sister in the Lord to suffer.
Unfortunately, some believing families in Paul’s day were neglecting this responsibility to care for widows out a selfish desire to protect their own wealth. These families had the means to support their widows, yet they refused to do so expecting the church to provide for the widow instead. This is why Paul says such families were worse than unbelieving families. They weren’t willing to show the same common decency, love and selflessness that even unbelievers were willing to demonstrate for their families.
Secondly, Paul says if a widow is to receive support from the church body, the widow must be in good standing in the church body. If she is not living in a godly manner, than she has no right to expect the hard-working members of the body of Christ to sacrifice for her sake. This test of behavior is appropriate, since a church body would deeply resent being called to obey Christ by sacrificing to support a woman who was not herself seeking to be obedient to Christ.
What do we conclude from Paul’s teaching? In short, Christians must not neglect customary personal responsibilities even in cases where the church body is prepared to assume that responsibility for them. For example, if a Christian widow can afford to pay her bills, then she must do so. If a Christian retiree possess the ability to mow his own lawn, clean her own house, or do his own shopping, etc., then he or she should not lay those burdens on the church body instead.
The Lord has joined us to a church body so that we may serve and be served at times, but we must not abuse that relationship for our own advantage.
In your Revelation study, you give the meaning of the name Ephesus as "desirable." In my own research, I found the meaning of the word to be "permitted." Which is correct and how do we know?
Uncovering the etymology of ancient place names is an inexact science. In the case of Ephesus, the word itself has no specific meaning in Greek, but the word is close in pronunciation to other Greek words.
For example, ephesos (Ephesus) sounds similar to the Greek words arestos (desirable) and epitrepo (permitted). Therefore, scholars have proposed that the city may have originally been assigned one of these names, but then over time the pronunciation of the name changed to ephesos (Ephesus).
In light of the content of the letter to this church in Revelation 2, Pastor Armstrong favors the interpretation of desirable.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:15 that a Christian woman can be saved by bearing children. How can this be true?
That verse puzzles many people, because we lack an appreciation for the context of Paul's statement and because we judge Paul’s words by modern attitudes toward the role of women.
The verse reads in context:
First, notice the context. Paul is explaining the unique opportunities Christian men and women have for performing good works to “make a claim to godliness" (v.10). Godliness means displaying piety, so a claim to godliness refers to an outward display of our spiritual life intended to be noticed by the unbelieving world. In other words, God has ordained “proper” ways (i.e., ways that befit each gender) for men and women to reflect their godliness to the unsaved world.
Naturally, these good works must be countercultural (i.e., opposite from the world's ways) if they are to serve as an effective witness to the world. So Paul prescibes ways that men and women in the Church may behave to gain attention for the Gospel and for their relationship with the Lord. These behaviors are designed to reflects God’s word while repudiating the world’s thinking.
Turning to the instructions Paul gives to men, he wants men to gather in “every place” praying and lifting up holy hands without wrath or dissension. In the unsaved world (especially in Paul’s day), a large gathering of men anywhere in a city (apart from a work setting) was usually an occasion for trouble. Men would gather to commit lawlessness, immorality or for other conflict. Consequently, large gatherings of men were often outlawed or at least viewed with concern.
In contrast to the world, Paul says Christian men should gather in every place with “holy hands,” which means gathering without sinful intentions and with a holy purpose. Furthermore, they must not come together for the purpose of wrath or dissension, which is the world’s pattern. Instead, Christian men will come together to pray.
Obviously, such a gathering would be very countercultural. Imagine a large group of Christian men gathering on a street corner or in a marketplace praying together in unity. Observers would be amazed at the sight, and such a display could be used by God as a witness opportunity.
Turning to the women, Paul says Christian women should resist the worldly temptation to draw attention to themselves by adorning themselves in costly or excessive ways. From the dawn of time, women have adorned themselves in the hope of gaining the interest of a man or perhaps provoking jealousy in another woman. While men do similar things at times, the tendency toward excessive outward adornment is far more common among women. Ironically, such outward displays of beauty may conceal a heart of darkness.
Therefore, Paul asks Christian women to set a countercultural example by rejecting the world’s approach to beauty. Instead of favoring outward adornment over inward godliness, Christian women should dress modestly (though not necessarily in unflattering ways), while displaying inward godliness.
Furthermore, Christian women should receive instruction from church authorities with submissiveness. Here again, this is a countercultural behavior. Women generally do not view submission to male authority (in any context) to be necessary or desirable, and certainly the Bible does not require women to submit to men in all situations. In fact, Christians should champion the fair and equal treatment of women in every circumstance, including in the home, church and society. Nevertheless, God’s word specifically directs that men shall exercise authority over the family and over the body of Christ.
Therefore, Christian women are called to respect the authority of fathers and husbands in the home and of the male leaders in the church. Paul says women may not exercise authority over a man nor teach a man in the church, but rather they must receive instruction with “entire” submissiveness. Again, this behavior is the proper (i.e., fitting) countercultural way for Christian women to witness before the world.
When a woman submits willingly to a husband and to leaders in the church, she will draw the interest of unbelieving female friends and neighbors, who generally reject male headship in any context believing submission to be offensive. Certainly, we can understand why this particular type of witness is "fitting" for Christian women, since it clearly goes against cultural expectations.
Furthermore, when a Christian woman lives in this way, Paul says she witnesses to the truth of Genesis 3. In Genesis 3, Woman was deceived by Satan because she was vulnerable without the support and leadership of her husband. As a result, the Lord instituted male headship in the home and church as a defense against the enemy and as a memorial of the Fall. Christian women now witness to this truth in a countercultural way when they act in obedience to the word of God by submitting to male headship in the home and church.
Some women in the church may feel that forgoing leadership and teaching opportunities in the church leaves them with no opportunities to contribute to the work of the kingdom. Of course, this is not true as women have many ways to contribute apart from leading or teaching men. Nevertheless, to address these concerns Paul ends in v.15 by reminding women of a particularly unique way in which they contribute to the work of the Kingdom.
Paul says that women may be be “preserved” by child bearing. The word for preserved in Greek is sozo, which has a wide variety of meanings. The word can be used in the soteriological sense of salvation, but clearly in this context Paul is not talking about how a Christian woman can be saved from eternal punishment. So how is a woman preserved or saved by bearing children?
Given the context of this passage, preserved must refer to preserving her testimony of godliness. Once again, Paul is emphasizing a countercultural way a Christian woman can testify to the world through her Christian lifestyle. Rather than challenging her husband's authority or the authority of men in the church (which would damage her testimony of godliness), a Christian woman may preserve her testimony before the world by raising children who exhibit faith, love, sanctity (i.e., holiness) and self-restraint. These adjectives refer to the children's behavior, not to the woman's behavior, and therefore it's easy to see how bearing children with such qualities would preserve a Christian woman's testimony.
Simply put, there is no more powerful testimony of godliness for a Christian woman than the legacy of children who exhibit godliness themselves. In fact, raising godly children for the body of Christ is the single most important (and unique) contribution any woman can make for the Kingdom, since women alone bear children. Not only are godly children a powerful testimony to a world raising ungodly children, but they hold tremendous potential for impacting the kingdom.
A Christian woman will only achieve so much for the kingdom in her own lifetime, yet imagine how much more she can accomplish through the godly lives of her children? A legacy of godly children can be a significant part of any Christian woman's testimony, while it also serves as a countercultural witness to the fallen world. Therefore, the Christian woman who accepts her God-given place in the home and church living a quiet life, obeying and submitting to her husband and to the leadership of the church, while raising a family of faithful, loving, self-restrained and godly children is preserving a great testimony of Christ to the world.
What is the meaning of “faith without works is dead”?
In the second chapter of James’ letter, He writes:
Notice in v.20 James declares that a life of faith absent good works is “useless.” He then cites the example of Abraham. Abraham was declared righteous by faith in chapter 15 of Genesis, but he did no good work in keeping with his faith until chapter 22, when he attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac as God required.
We know that Abraham was saved by his faith alone in chapter 15 (as Paul confirms in Romans 4), and yet James says Abraham needed to perform the good works of chapter 22 before scripture was “fulfilled" in his life. James’ point is subtle and easy to miss, but Abraham’s example helps to ground and guide our interpretation. Whatever James is saying about faith and works must be consistent with what we know to be true for Abraham.
What do we know about Abraham? Was he declared to be righteous by doing good works? No, for Paul says:
Therefore, we know James was not saying that Abraham was made righteous by his good works. He was righteous by his faith alone.
Furthermore, Abraham was declared righteous in chapter 15. Are we to conclude that Abraham was somehow less “saved" prior to his good works in chapter 22? In other words, is James saying that until Abraham did good works his confession of faith was invalid or inadequate?
Once again, the answer must be no, because Paul quotes from Genesis 15 in Romans 4 when he says that Abraham was righteous by faith. Consequently, Abraham was no less righteous in Genesis 15 than he was in Genesis 22. So now we know that Abraham was saved by faith alone well before he did good works, so what was James’ point in referencing Abrahams good works
His point was that until Abraham did the good works that his faith expected, Abraham had yet to fulfill his purpose in being made righteous by God. In the years between Genesis 15 and Genesis 22, Abraham made many mistakes and acted in ways that were contrary to his faith. He lied about his wife and agreed to marry a concubine to make an heir. These were not actions consistent with faith.
James says in v.23 that scripture was “fulfilled" when Abraham obeyed God in Genesis 22. James means that God’s declaration that Abraham was righteous in Genesis 15 was fulfilled in his actions in Genesis 22. What was already true in Heaven in Genesis 15 (i.e., that Abraham was justified by faith) became evident on earth in Genesis 22 when Abraham acted in righteous ways.
James’ message to the believer is that we are saved for the purpose of doing good works, but if we fail to pursue good works, our faith is useless to God and to us. That faith is no less real, and therefore we are no less saved, but we will not have fulfilled (i.e., lived up to) the righteousness we have been given by our faith in Jesus Christ.
That’s the meaning of v.22 when James says that faith is “perfected” by our works. In this context, perfected means to fulfill its purpose in our life. God has granted us faith in His Son so that we would be saved and so that we might bring Him glory by our good works, as Jesus says:
When we do the good works expected of us, we perfect or fulfill the purpose of our faith in God’s plan. When we fail to accomplish the good works God intends, our faith still saves us yet it is useless otherwise. Earlier in James 2 the writer says:
Once again, James acknowledges the presence of faith in the believer. He says that faith is by itself, not invalid or absent. Nevertheless, James says it is “dead” because it exists without works which denies faith its purpose in glorifying God. In this context the word dead means faith that is like a corpse in that it lacks activity or energy.
James does not mean that the faith is false or nonexistent. Once again, whatever is true for Abraham must be true for us. Was Abraham’s faith nonexistent prior to his good works in Genesis 22? No, and therefore we must make the same conclusion concerning the believer today who has placed faith in Christ but has not yet perfected his faith (i.e., produced the good works expected by God).
That is James’ chief concern for the church, that believers would live according to their faith so as to produce good works. Earlier in the chapter, James had chastised the church for failing to show charity to fellow believers:
In v.14 James asks if a faith that does not produce good works can “save” a person? In this context, the word save doesn’t mean yield salvation. We know this because to interpret it otherwise would suggest that good works play a role in our salvation, which the Bible clearly and repeated states is not true.
Therefore, we must consider alternate meanings for the word “saved” in this context. The Greek word (sozo) has a range of meaning to include salvation but also other earthly forms of saving like being healed or being rescued. In this context, James is alluding to the judgment that believers face for their works. Believers are saved by faith alone from the penalty of their sin, but we are judged according to our works for eternal rewards (see 1Cor 3). So James asks can a life of faith without good works “save” or preserve the believer from the poor outcome that awaits him at the Judgment Seat of Christ?
Therefore, the phrase “faith without works is dead” refers to a believer living without a desire to accomplish good works for God. Such a person is still saved by their faith, just as Abraham was, but their faith is useless to God in that it produces no glory for Him. In that sense the faith is “dead’ because it is inactive and without purpose.
For a complete explanation of the book of James, please consult our entire James study, which is available here for free here.
Why do some people call Christianity the "slave master religion" and what evidence can I present to help people understand that true Christianity is the opposite of this false doctrine?
True Christianity preaches the opposite of racism, slavery, and hatred. True Christians acknowledge that all mankind was made from one blood (Acts 17:26), and therefore dividing humanity according to physical features (i.e., race) is not a biblical concept. In fact, the concept of race itself is a manmade distinction intended to provide support for human prejudice.
In truth, the color of human skin, as well as other physical features like the color of human hair, eyes, and other features all, vary along a spectrum that God designed. God never assigns any meaning to these differences, and therefore we should enjoy the diversity of human appearance in the same way we enjoy the variety of flowers or foods or sounds in nature. Only human sin is responsible for turning mankind's natural physical differences into a justification for prejudice, mistreatment and even slavery. Neither Christianity nor the Bible advocates or even support such sin.
Therefore, those who would suggest that Christianity must be rejected on the basis of race concerns or historical prejudice are disingenuous or deceived. We suspect many are likely unbelievers looking for a cause to insult Christ and reject the Gospel, especially those who also promote pagan religions or the occult as an option to faith in Christ.
Therefore, you counter such teaching simply by preaching the Gospel, since those who say such things are most likely ignorant of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Paul said himself about reaching pagans with the truth:
Since God said "Do not murder", isn't the death penalty immoral?
The sixth commandment's prohibition against murder doesn't preclude taking any life under all circumstances. Murder means the unlawful taking of life. In the commandment against murder in Exodus 20, the Bible intentionally uses the Hebrew word ratzach, which means murder, rather than the Hebrew word for kill, harag. Therefore, the sixth commandment forbids unlawful killing, not all killing.
God granted mankind the right to take life as a penalty for murder or other serious crimes. God granted this right after the flood:
Later, God incorporated the death penalty into His law given to Israel, and numerous crimes carried the death penalty. In the New Testament, Paul reminds the church that God instituted the death penalty for the good of all men to give mankind incentive to do right:
Paul says that every person is expected to live in subjection to government because all governments trace their authority to God Himself. Human government will never be perfect, since all men are sinful. In fact, some governments are very corrupt and cruel, nevertheless we must respect these institutions simply because we trust the Lord’s choice to allow them and to work through them over time.
In general, when we respect government and obey it, we will see greater peace in our lives. Conversely, Paul says in v.2 that when we resist the authority of government, we bring condemnation upon ourselves. So when we do good, the government will (generally) praise us, and when we do evil, then we should expect the government to retaliate against us. This is God’s design to incentivize all men to do good.
In v.4 Paul says the government is a minister (i.e., servant) of God for the purpose of encouraging good. If a person chooses to do evil, such a person should be afraid, because the government doesn’t bear the sword for nothing. The phrase “bear the sword” was a Roman term meaning the right to condemn a criminal to execution.
In Romans 13 Paul is acknowledging that all government has a God-given right to “bear the sword” (i.e., to employ the death penalty) against those who commit evil. The government's right to take life for serious crimes is a minister of God, Paul says in v.4, acting as God’s personal avenger against those who commit evil.
While many governments today choose not to apply the death penalty, nevertheless the right to do so remains. Therefore, it is incorrect for any government or individual to declare that the death penalty is wrong or immoral. On the contrary, the Lord has granted human government the right to take life for the good of all society in controlling evil.
You also may find the related questions helpful.
In Matthew 27, we hear of saints raised from the tombs at the moment of Jesus' death. Was this the moment Old Testament saints were released from Abaraham's Bosom in Sheol or something else?
In Matthew 27, we read about miracles that accompanied the moment of Jesus' death:
The people raised from the tombs at Jesus' death were Old Testament saints, Jews who believed in Jesus Christ as Messiah prior to His death. Following Jesus’ death, some of the tombs in Jerusalem were “opened” by God, and the bodies that had been buried in those particular tombs were raised.
This was a resurrection, but the individuals did not receive new, eternal bodies. They were returned to their original bodies for a temporary time. These resurrections were similar to one Jesus performed on Lazarus in John 11. At some point thereafter, these saints died again just as Lazarus did. They were allowed a brief time to live again on earth so their resurrection could serve as a testimony to Jesus’ claims.
These people raised at Jesus’ death were not the “captives” set free from Abraham’s Bosom, as described by Paul in Ephesians 4. The moment Paul describes happend three days after Jesus' death. When Jesus died He descended into Sheol and spent three days in the holding place of the dead.
At His resurrection on the third day, Jesus departed Sheol and brought with him the souls of those Old Testament saints who died in faith awaiting Jesus’ appearing. The souls of these saints were not resurrected into bodies but only taken to Heaven. Even today, all Old testament saints remain without bodies waiting for their resurrection at Jesus’ Second Coming.
So the people who were resurrected at the moment of Jesus’ death in Matthew 27 were souls brought up from Sheol and returned to their original bodies. God’s purpose in raising these bodies was so they could provide a testimony to Jesus as Messiah. Therefore, it was necessary that these people be recently deceased individuals who would be easily recognized by their families, so that when they reappeared in the city, their families would recognize them and authenticate the miracle.
Those who were raised in this way had to die (again) at some point and were buried (again). After they died, their souls went to be with Christ in Heaven since it was no longer necessary to spend time in Sheol.
If unregenerate man can never seek God according to Romans 3, how could Adam respond to God's questions in the Garden following the Fall (Genesis 3)?
We suspect you have misunderstood the biblical principle of total depravity. The theological principle of total depravity holds that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin as a result of their fallen nature and, apart from the grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.
On the other hand, the doctrine of total depravity does not deny God’s ability to interact with fallen man. God may reveal Himself to fallen man without also regenerating a man’s soul, so that the unregenerate man still acknowledges and responds to God without necessarily coming to a saving knowledge and trust in God.
God is often seen in scripture to interact with fallen man either by theophanies or through His prophets. These encounters do not necessarily require that God regenerating the person as a result of this contact. Examples in scripture include Cain, Hagar and Ishmael, the Pharaoh, Cyrus of Persia, Nebuchadnezzar, the kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel and others.
Though God made Himself known to these unbelieving people, nevertheless there is no indication they repented and came to saving faith. Though God made Himself known to their flesh, He did not apparently make Himself known to their spirit so as to bring them to faith (though argue Hagar and Nebuchadnezzar were regenerated).
When God encountered Adam in the Garden, He spoke to Adam as a fallen, depraved man, and Adam responded as a sinful man – not in repentance but by blaming God and Woman for his own sin. Nevertheless, God in His grace chose to regenerate Adam as evidenced by Adam’s repentance (listen to Lesson 3D of our Genesis Bible study to understand how we know Adam was regenerated).
Even after the Fall, God was still interacting with an unbelieving Cain in Genesis 4, and even though Cain responded to God, nevertheless God left Cain in his sin. Though Cain spoke with God, he never gained saving faith. As Paul explains in Romans 1, original sin blinded Cain to the truth of God such that Cain could acknowledge God’s existence while never trusting in God’s promises, as Paul explains in Romans:
Therefore, unregenerate man is capable of experiencing an encounter with God when God chooses to reveal Himself (as in the case of Cain), but such an experience does not necessarily lead to regeneration. Even after such an encounter, the person may remain spiritually dead in their sins. As James says, simply acknowledging God’s existence is not equal to regeneration:
Therefore, God may reveal Himself to fallen man in a limited sense from time to time yet still leave the person lost in their sin.
In John's Gospel, we're told that John the Baptist didn't know that Jesus was the Messiah until after he baptised Jesus, but in Matthew's Gospel we're told that John was hesitant to baptize Jesus in the beginning because John recognized Jesus was his superior. Isn't this a contradition in scripture?
In John 1, John the Baptist is quoted as saying:
Notice John the Baptist himself says that he did not recognize Jesus nor did he know Jesus’ identity as Messiah until after he saw the Spirit descending and remaining on Jesus following Jesus’ baptism. Based on John’s own testimony, we must conclude that he didn’t know Jesus’ identity as Messiah until after he had baptized Jesus.
On the other hand, in Matthew’s Gospel we read:
Matthew’s account records that John the Baptist hesitated to baptize Jesus in the beginning because John recognized Jesus’ superior position. John said Jesus should baptize him instead, implying John knew Jesus was the Messiah. Is this a contradiction with John’s account?
No, there is no contradiction. First, notice that Matthew’s account never says specifically what John knew of Jesus’ identity. Matthew’s account only indicates that John had great respect for Jesus’ righteousness. John was baptizing for the forgiveness of sins, so when John says, “I have need to be baptized by you,” he was simply acknowledging Jesus’ superior position in terms of righteousness. This acknowledgement doesn’t necessarily mean John knew Jesus to be the Messiah prior to His baptism.
Remember, John and Jesus were cousins born six months apart and likely grew up together, so Jesus’ superior righteousness must have been evident to John. Therefore, as John stood in the wilderness calling sinners to receive a water baptism for the repentance of sins, surely he would have been surprised to see his righteous cousin coming to him for such a baptism. John understood that Jesus was far more righteous than he, which explains why John exclaimed that Jesus should baptism him instead.
Nevertheless, Jesus insisted on receiving baptism from John, and thereafter the Spirit descended on Jesus leading John to understand why Jesus was so righteous. John came to understand that Jesus was Messiah!
Therefore, John’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel agree. John the Baptist didn’t know Jesus was Messiah until after the baptism, yet before that time John saw Jesus as the more righteous between them. We can see John’s words in Matthew 3 to be a testimony to us that Jesus did, in fact, live a sinless life.
What do we mean when we say the Bible is without error (i.e. inerrant)?
No doubt you’ve heard critics of the Bible claiming the Bible is full of errors and can’t be trusted. Maybe as a new Christian you had doubts about the trustworthiness of the Bible. Such doubts are not only natural, but they're also good in a way. We should always test what people tell us about the way of salvation. Given all the false religions in the world, knowing that we can trust our Bible is no small matter.
To understand the trustworthiness of scripture, we first need to define inerrancy. To say the Bible is inerrant, we mean it is free from error; it is completely truthful. Paul Feinberg has a good working definition:
Christians often will add that the Bible is “infallible," and they may use the term interchangeably with the term inerrant. The Bible is both infallible and inerrant, but it’s helpful to understand the differences between the two terms. The difference between infallible and inerrant is that one is hypothetical while one is actual. As R.C. Sproul points out, infallible is a broader term than inerrant in that it speaks to ability or potential. If something is infallible, it is unable to make a mistake or to err. If something is inerrant, it does not contain error.
The distinction is that something can be fallible (able to err) but still be inerrant. For example, we know that humans err, but we are also capable of being inerrant. We can write a book that is completely factual and true, or we can make true statements even if we do not do so all the time. If something is infallible, however, it is never able to err. Thus, humans are not infallible, but they can be inerrant (at times).
So, if something is infallible it must be, by definition, inerrant. If something is inerrant, it may or may not be infallible. Since all scripture is God-breathed, and since God is infallible, perfect and true, then by necessity the scriptures are both infallible and inerrant. We hold this position because scripture is “God-breathed." Paul says in 2Timothy 3:16:
The Greek word translated “inspired” is theopneustos, which means God-breathed, as in coming directly out of God. If one believes that God is perfect and infallible (and He must be or He is not God), then by logical extension all scripture must also be infallible and thus inerrant.
At this point, it’s important to note that when we say the Bible is infallible and inerrant, this always refers only to the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek writings created by the original authors (e.g., Moses, David, Paul, Peter, etc.). While we don’t possess the original works today, we do possess thousands of carefully made copies (called manuscripts).
These ancient copies may contain minor errors resulting from a copyist's mistake, but because we possess a comprehensive collection of ancient manuscripts (tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts have been preserved), we can compare them with one another to identify copyist errors. These ancient manuscripts are remarkably consistent with each other, demonstrating the trustworthiness of the copy process. For example, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s, these first-century copies were compared to other manuscripts and found to be 99.9% accurate.
Since most people can't read ancient Hebrew and Greek, the original manuscripts must be translated into modern languages like English. By definition, a translation of scripture is not considered inerrant, since the translation process itself must alter the original words. There are many English translations of the Bible (e.g., NIV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, etc.), and each of these translations renders the text of scripture slightly differently.
Due to the differences in vocabulary and syntax between human language, translations fail to convey the original meaning perfectly. While some translations are deemed more faithful than others, in general, all scholarly translations communicate the meaning of scripture honestly and accurately. It's important to note that no copyist errors nor translation errors (among the scholarly translations) have ever altered essential doctrines of our faith.
We may ask why God did not preserve the original manuscripts? After all, if He had the power to inspire them in the first place, then certainly He has the power to preserve them. For example, God went so far as to preserve the clothing of the Jews wandering in the desert for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:4), so why did God permit the originals copies of His word to disappear?
James Montgomery Boice offers a possible answer:
Knowing human nature, it is reasonable to suppose that if we had supernaturally preserved copies of the biblical manuscripts (or perhaps even the originals themselves), men and women would tend to worship them rather than the God who gave them. We remember the bronze serpent that God gave in Moses' time. Later it was worshiped (2 Kings 18:4). How much likelier is it that people would end up worshiping the manuscripts of the Bible rather than the Lord?
With this as a background, let’s consider some of the practical aspects of inerrancy.
All historical accounts in scripture are accurate, including dates and locations. The names of kings, when they ruled, the age of the earth and places that existed in the past, etc. are all recorded accurately in scripture. Recalling the definition of inerrancy above, we often say that “when all the facts become known” we will see the Bible was correct. This statement is especially true when speaking about our understanding of historical people and events.
For example, the Bible describes certain people and places for which we have no independent record, leading some to criticize the Bible as untrustworthy. Nevertheless, later an archeological exploration or historical discovery will yield evidence that these people or places did, in fact, exist just as the Bible reported (e.g., the Behistun Rock inscription). These finds demonstrate that the Bible is historically accurate.
New Testament scripture often quotes from Old Testament passages differently than how those passages read in the Old Testament. These differences reflect the differences between the ancient translation of scripture. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, while the New Testament was written in Greek.
When a New Testament author quotes the Old Testament, the writer translates the Hebrew Old Testament text into Greek, which does not have a perfect word-for-word meaning. Then our English Bible must translate the Greek text into English. Therefore, the New Testament quote has moved from Hebrew to Greek and then to English, while the original Old Testament text moved directly from Hebrew to English.
The variances introduced by this extra step of translation can lead to slightly different wording in the New Testament when compared to the original Old Testament quote. Nevertheless, the principle of inerrancy means that even this difference in wording is inspired by the Spirit and thus inerrant. The two renditions of the Old Testament quote will stand together equally to compliment (not contradict) each other in conveying God's intended meaning.
Just as we use figurative language in our writing to convey meaning, God does the same in scripture. The Lord uses many literary forms in scripture, including generalities, hyperbole, metaphors, and symbolism. The Bible describes God as possessing "wings," a "heart," and "arms," but scripture also says God is all Spirit and not a man. Therefore, we understand such descriptions to be a type of euphemism called an anthropomorphism.
Figurative language like anthropomorphisms is often better at conveying a thought than literal language, so the scripture's reliance on figurative language isn't just cause to reject inerrancy. When we interpret the meaning of scripture's figures and symbols accurately, the result will always be inerrant.
Clearly, many words and concepts we have today did not exist when scripture was originally written, especially words used in modern science. Therefore, we must allow literary license to the authors of scripture when they use inexact language to describe a process we understand more precisely today.
For example, scripture often speaks of the "rising" and "setting" of the sun, though we know the sun does not truly rise or set. Scientifically-speaking, the earth turns on its axis producing the appearance of a rising or setting sun. Discrepancies of this type are not examples of error, no more than when we use similar figurative language today.
The Lord understands how His creation works, since He is the Author of science, yet He communicates spiritual truth from a perspectives men can understand, which may require using scientifically inexact language from time to time. Despite the use of such inexact language, the underlying message remains inerrant.
Bible critics will point to differences in the details of the gospel accounts as proof the Bible isn't trustworthy. For example, Matthew says one angel met the women who came to Jesus’ grave after He had risen, while Luke reports there were two angels. Is one account wrong? No. Each writer highlighted different details in their account, so though Matthew only mentions one angel, this doesn't mean Matthew was contradicting Luke's account (or vice versa).
Instead, each gospel account compliments the others by recording the same event from a different perspective. In this case, Matthew chose to mention only one angel, while Luke explained there were two angels present. By combining these two accounts (along with the gospels of Mark and John) we gain a full understanding of the event. In this case, we understand that there were two angels at the tomb, though Matthew chose to mention only one.
Once again, such differences are inspired by the Spirit to authenticate the author's testimony. Ironically, if all four Gospel accounts were identical in every detail, such unnatural consistency would only serve to argue against the trustworthiness of the accounts.
At time, the Bible incorporates non-Biblical material (e.g., Acts 17, Jude). When non-inspired works are quoted in scripture, the quote itself becomes inerrant, however the work from which it originated is not considered inerrant in total. Every human written work may contain truth to some degree, but only scripture is entirely without error. So when authors of scripture quote from nonbiblical sources, they do so under inspiration, therefore the quoted material is without error.
Finally, some may say, "I don’t believe that all the Bible is inerrant, but I believe most of it is inerrant." Is such a view consistent with salvation? That is, can a believer hold to the view that the Bible isn't inerrant?
Certainly, holding to the inerrancy of the Bible is not necessary to being a Christian. Christians are those who believe in the resurrected Christ as their Savior. Nothing more than faith in Jesus Christ is required to be saved, but Christians will be drawn by the Spirit to a greater understanding, appreciation and trust in scripture. Therefore, a confidence in the inerrancy of scripture should be the testimony of every believer.
Furthermore, scripture itself testifies that it is God-breathed, which means it is logically impossible for a Christian to hold to a "partially-inerrant" position concerning scripture. Scripture is either inspired or not, and if it is inspired, then it testifies to itself that it is all from God. Paul's letters or Moses' writings were not merely their personal opinions; they were God's thoughts or else they were nothing.
Over the course of the history of the church, every generation has struggled against those who would lower the bar on the trustworthiness of scripture. Whenever the Church has departed from a view of scripture as literal and inerrant, the Church has slid into apostasy or worse. Today, we believe the church once again becoming apostate as a result of abandoning a high view of scripture. In place of scripture, men always substitute their thoughts and desires, which lead to destruction.
Denying inerrancy is rejecting that God authored scripture, which in turn questions God's character, purpose, and sovereign power. How can we trust a God for salvation Who cannot even preserve the integrity of His word, or worse, Who deceives us into thinking scripture is inerrant when it isn't? In short, if scripture isn't 100% inerrant, then it must be 100% meaningless.
As a footnote, it's worth noting that the church throughout history has held to the principle of inerrancy. Challenging the inerrancy of scripture is a relatively new tactic of the enemy, but Peter warned this day would come with mockers challenging what is written. Therefore, 1 Peter 3:15 says we must be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for the hope that is in us.
Our defense of the truth can never be simply we had a “burning in the bosom" or some strong other feeling or experience that convinced us Jesus is Lord. Our faith is based on a certain knowledge of God as revealed by Him in His scriptures, and therefore our defense of the truth must be based in a confidence in the scriptures. In short, the Bible declares it is the revealed word of God given to mankind so we may know of the salvation that is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
How can we give this defense if we hold that scripture is trustworthy only in part or not at all? Thanks be to God He has provided for us His word which is as infallible and inerrant as its Author.
May a Christian be a freemason? Are the practices of Freemasonry compatible with Christianity?
Freemasonry is a quasi-religious, fraternal organization dating back to medieval times. The organization began as an association of stonemason trade craftsmen, but today local lodges operate more like civic or social clubs.
Members are admitted to membership through initiation rites and often must make certain pledges to the lodge. Freemasons are encouraged to pursue multi-level “degrees” by mastering an understanding of freemasonry’s mystical symbolism which borrows heavily from Jewish and Christian Gnosticism.
In general, this organization presents a serious threat to the spiritual life of a believer. Freemasons promote personal belief in "diety" but they accept that all diety are equally valid and must be respected. Freemasons hold that non-Christian may enter Heaven, and therefore a freemason must not attempt to convert members to one's religion. Since members agree to be bound by these rules, a Christian who joins the Freemasons must pledge to respect the belief that Jesus Christ to just another "god" and must agree to disobey Christ's command for all believers to share the Gospel with the world.
Furthermore, the organization's members are invited to participate in rituals and recitations that closely mirror traditional pagan and occultic practices, which clearly violates scripture’s command to avoid such things. Freemasons are called to profess the "secret name" of God, as explained by Masonic writer Albert Pike in his writing, Book of the Words, and local lodges may conduct ancient rites of worship to invoke the worship of this name.
Even the more sedated local lodges still compromise a Christian's walk by pressuring members to pledge various oaths in violation of scripture (see Matt 5:24), to accomplish goods works as part of a works-salvation theology (Pike's book, a common handbook used in lodge, states that salvation must include works), and various other compromises.
Many believers who participate in Freemasonry are ignorant to the organization's dangers, since each lodge operates independently and may follow only a few of these practices. Nevertheless, the organization is not harmless, and in time the believer will likely be exposed to dangerous heresy and pagan practices.
We strongly urge any believer caught up in Freemasonry to leave the organization. The Church body is the best place to find fellowship and community to which to minister.
Is the Orthodox Church (i.e., Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox) a true Christian church? Are their beliefs consistent with the Bible?
The Orthodox Church is an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church. Though the Orthodox Church does not recognize the authority of the Roman pope and rejects various Catholic practices (notably celibacy for priests), nevertheless the church holds many of the same doctrine and beliefs as Catholicism, including a false gospel preaching mysticism and human works as the means to salvation in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Specifically, the Orthodox church believes that salvation is by faith in Christ, but they teach that faith in Christ alone is not sufficient to receive eternal life. Like Catholicism, the Orthodox church holds that other requirements (i.e., good works) are required for salvation. Essentially, the Orthodox church teaching on salvation is the same as Catholic teaching in this area.
Secondly, the Orthodox church venerates Mary as do Catholics, calling her the "Most Holy Mother of God." Mary is praised in their hymns as "more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim," suggesting that Mary (a human being) is higher than angels, which directly contradicts scripture (see Psalm 8:4-5).
Going even further, the church says Mary is the "Mother of the Church — it is in Her person that the Church glorifies motherhood.” Notice they even capitalize any pronoun referring to Mary as if Mary were equal with deity. To glorify Mary in this way is nothing short of blasphemy, as God does not share His glory with anyone (see Isaiah 42:8). Again, this is very Catholic.
The Orthodox church equates church tradition with scripture, including erroneously holding that water baptism washes away our sins, at least initially. To quote official church teaching:
Finally, the Orthodox church venerates (i.e., assigns spiritual power to) the dead, calling them "saints" and praying to them for spiritual blessing. As with Catholics, this practice is blaspheme and contrary to scripture.
There are other similarities with Catholic doctrinal, but these serious departures from scripture are certainly sufficient for us to conclude that the Orthodox church is a false church teaching a false Gospel that cannot save.
We must allow for the possibility that from time-to-time true Christians may be found attending the Orthodox Church. Like the Catholic Church the Orthodox Church does not preach the true Gospel nor does it practice biblical Christianity, but that does not mean God's Spirit is incapable of bringing true faith to someone within this community. Nevertheless, should a member of the Orthodox Church come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, we can only say that the person was born again despite the church's negative influence, not because of the church.
Furthermore, we encourage all born-again Christians to seek fellowship in churches that hold to the true Gospel. Remaining closely tied to a false church can have serious negative influences on the believer's walk of faith.
Does the Bible specify how a Christian must be buried? I've heard it taught that believers should be buried with our feet facing East and our head facing West, since West is the direction of holiness, but I can't find this in the Bible.
As you mentioned, East and West can have associated meanings in eastern philosophy and in scripture. In the Bible, East is often associated with Satan, sin, judgment and the fallen world, while West is associated with the opposite concepts of God, holiness, salvation, and Heaven.
Perhaps for this reason, the practice of burying the dead with feet facing east has become a long-standing tradition crossing many religions and cultures, though it is not universally practiced. For example, many pagan cultures worshiped the sun in some form, therefore facing the direction of the rising sun (i.e., East) was the preferred burial position for ancient pagans.
On the other hand, Jews typically buried their dead facing west, because the tabernacle design required approaching the glory of God in the Holy of Holies by entering the tabernacle from east to west.
Christians adopted a practice of burying their dead facing east because the scripture teaches that at the Messiah's Second Coming into Jerusalem, He will approach from the East (see Isa 63:1; Zech 14:4; Matt 24:27). Therefore, Christians who believed they would be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ gave instructions to have their bodies buried facing East so they might greet Jesus face-to-face at His Second Coming.
All of these practices are based in superstition and faulty theology, not on the Bible. Regarding Christian practice, there is no prescribed method for burial in the Bible nor even was the tradition consistent with scripture. The Bible teaches that believers will be resurrected at the Coming of the Lord for the Church (commonly called the Rapture), not at Christ's Second Coming to Earth. (For a complete explanation of the rapture, please listen to our Revelation Bible study.
Secondly, at our death our spirit goes to be with Christ, so our conscious self is not “in the grave” awaiting Christ’s return. Instead, we live with Him in the Heavenly realm while we wait for the resurrection:
Paul contrasts being “at home in the body” with being “at home with the Lord.” Being at home in the body means being alive on the earth, while being at home with Christ means our body having died and our spirit having gone to be at Christ’s side in Heaven. According to Paul, when a believer dies his spirit goes into the presence of the Lord, while his earthly body remains behind buried.
Therefore, there we will not experience our future resurrection from the perspective of an earthly body lying in the grave. On the contrary, we will experience it from Heaven, as our spirit accompanies Christ back to the clouds, as Paul described above in 1Th 4:15-17. We will witness our own resurrection from the perspective of our spirit in the clouds.
Thirdly, those who do remain alive on earth awaiting the resurrection do not meet Christ on earth in a cardinal direction. Rather, scripture teaches that at the resurrection believers remaining on earth are "caught up" to meet Jesus in the clouds:
Therefore, the direction of movement to Jesus is upward, not East or West.
Finally, the new body isn’t constructed using the material of our original earthly bodies. Paul says that our new bodies will be constructed from entirely new materials:
Paul says that our second body will be of a “heavenly” material rather than an earthly material. This change is necessary because the earth is under a curse (see Genesis 3). Therefore, the positioning of our earthly body in the grave (or even if we are cremated) will have no bearing whatsoever on our eventual resurrection.
In summary, burial traditions are based in superstition, not a proper view of scripture. For the Christian, we have liberty to dispose of our earthly body as we desire. The direction of burial is irrelevant. At death our current body returns to dust, while our spirit lives on in the company of Jesus. One day we will receive a new eternal body, but our new body won't originate from the burial location or material of our old body. The Lord creates a new heavenly body for us.
My ancestors were not Christian like me, but I still hope I can see them again. Will it be possible that I see them in the after-life, or can they be saved after they die?
The Bible is clear that only by faith in Jesus Christ may someone enter into Heaven:
Therefore, if someone dies without confessing faith in Jesus Christ, nothing can save them from eternal judgment. This is the testimony of the Bible, and we must not compromise on this truth. If this truth is unacceptable to a person or even leads them to reject the salvation offered by Christ, then there is no other option for them. They too will perish:
While we may wish we could see our unbelieving relatives, we will never know them again. Instead, we will receive a new eternal family which are all believers united by faith into one family:
When Jesus says "you" are the salt of the Earth, does He mean believers or unbelievers? I wonder because nowhere else in the New Testament do we find believers called "salt."
The reference you quoted comes from a discourse from Jesus called the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:
When Jesus says a person is to be "salt" of the earth, He means a person is to stand out from the world by giving distinction to God’s truth and thereby bringing life to the world. He uses the metaphor of salt, because salt gives distinction to the taste of food and is a necessary element for sustaining the life of the body.
The passage above is taken from a much longer discourse running from Matthew 5:1–7:27. By the rules of interpretation, we must consider this entire discourse to be spoken to the same audience without interruption unless the text itself indicates that Jesus’ words were taken from different conversations or moment. In this case, we see no such interruption, and therefore the same audience heard all the words Jesus spoke during this discussion.
As we read the entire discourse, we see clearly that Jesus' audience were His disciples gathered around Him, not unbelievers. Therefore, we must conclude that these words were intended to describe the believer, not an unbeliever. Furthermore, the meaning of Jesus' statement only makes sense when applied to a believer. A believer is to stand out from the rest of the unbelieving world, to remain distinct like salt. This is not possible for an unbeliever, since by definition an unbeliever is the world.
Therefore, just as the nation of Israel was called to be a light in their day, likewise the Church is now called to be salt (and light) by bringing God’s truth to a world that does not know Him.
In the sixth seal judgment of Tribulation, the sun goes dark and the moon turns to blood. Are these the same signs Joel is writing about in Joel 2?
Joel's prophecy in chapter 2 describes events during Tribulation, and some sound very similar to those described in the sixth seal judgment of Tribulation, but these are actually different judgments. In Revelation 6 we read:
These events take place in the first half of the Tribulation. Joel describes similar events:
The book of Joel describes events during Tribulation, and like in Revelation, Joel describes moments of God's wrath when the sun is darkened and other signs appear in the sky. Nevertheless, these signs are not the same as those described in Revelation 6 because the context of the two passages does not match.
In Revelation 6, the events of the seal judgments occur at the very beginning of the seven-year Tribulation, while the events described in Joel are associated with the very end of Tribulation. In Joel 2:32 we read that the signs in the sky will immediately precede the rescue of Israel, but the rescue of Israel occurs at the very end of the Tribulation, according to Zechariah 12-14. Therefore, the signs in the sky in Revelation 6 are different than the ones that are described in Joel 2.
In fact, these types of signs do appear numerous times during Tribulation. Across the Old Testament prophets and in the book of Revelation, we can find at least four separate occasions when blackouts or other signs in the sky occur during Tribulation. The book of Joel describes two such occasions, one in chapter 2 and another in chapter 3.
Therefore, the blackout described in Joel 2 is the blackout associated with the fifth bowl judgment near the end of Tribulation. Soon thereafter, the nation of Israel will be saved as described in Zechariah 12. The blackout of the sixth seal judgment is an earlier moment in Tribulation.
Is the New Jerusalem found on earth, and will we see the Father there?
The New Jerusalem is described beginning in Revelation 21:
This scene from Revelation 21 takes place after the end of the 1,000-year Kingdom on earth. At the end of chapter 20, we’re told that our present creation will be completely destroyed and will be found no more.
In its place, the Lord will make a new heavens and earth. This new creation described in Revelation 21 completely replaces the original earth and universe. Notice in v.1 we’re told that the original earth and heavens (i.e., the universe) have passed away. In its place, a new creation called the “new Jerusalem” descends out of God’s dwelling place in Heaven. This is an entirely new creation to replace our existing one.
Secondly, the Father will be in that place, as John says later in chapter 21:
Early in v.3 John writes that God will tabernacle with men in this new age. God, in this case. means all three Persons of the Godhead, as Paul explains in 1Corinthians 15:
Paul explains that when the end of the Kingdom comes, Jesus will hand all rule and authority over to the Father so that the Godhead will become “all in all,” Paul says. This implies that the Three Persons of the Godhead will work as One in this age, though the meaning of Paul’s words is unclear.
Nevertheless, the arrival of the Father does not mean we will "see" Him, as the Bible says He cannot be seen by His Creation:
For a complete explanation of these things, please consult our Revelation study.
The parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and the parable of the Minas in Luke 19 seem so similar, and yet many details don't line up. Are they teaching about the same thing or different things? Can you explain these parables?
Both the parable of the Talents and the parable of the Minas teach that believers (i.e., the slaves) are called to serve Christ (i.e., the master) in His absence, and upon His return, Jesus will reward us. As you observed, the parables are not identical, because they are teaching two different aspects of the Kingdom reward system.
First, in Matthew 25 we read:
In the parable, a master gives his slaves “talents" to steward during His absence. A talent in Jesus’ day was a measure of weight of about 130 lb or nearly 60 kg. A talent of silver was equal to 9 years salary for a laborer, so even a single talent represented considerable personal resources. In fact, our modern meaning of the word “talent” finds its origins in this parable.
The three slaves received differing amounts of wealth based on their ability. Evidently, the master recognized the abilities and limitations of each servant, so he assigned responsibility to each accordingly. Regardless of the degree of responsibility, each slave was expected to devote his full time and attention to managing the talent(s) he was given. Even the slave who received only one talent still had a significant responsibility in light of the high value of a talent. Therefore, all slaves must serve faithfully in the master's absence.
At the end of the parable, the master returns and evaluates each slave’s service seeking to know if the slave had been faithful in discharging his duty. The first slave doubled his five talents as did the slave given two talents, so both slaves received the same commendation from the master.
Even though the master assigned a different degree of responsibility to each slave, he did so understanding each slave’s ability, therefore when both slaves performed faithfully, the master awarded each slave equally. The master’s commendation to each slave in v.21 and v.23 was identical and emphasized each slave's faithful service rather than the magnitude of his achievement. Only the third slave received a rebuke for failing to provide faithful service to his master.
Based on these details, we see Jesus is describing a reward system for believers. Christ (i.e., our master) invites every believer (i.e., His slaves) to serve Him during His absence. A talent in the parable symbolizes a believer’s duty to serve the Lord faithfully in some important and challenging way, and the way we are called to serve the Lord will vary in keeping with our abilities.
Jesus calls some believers to assume greater burdens than others. Some believers must bear greater burdens in serving Christ’s (i.e., five talents), while other believers are asked to make fewer sacrifices in serving the Lord (i.e., two talents). Nevertheless, all believers are expected to demonstrate faithfulness so as to receive an equal inheritance.
A faithful servant's reward is a share of Christ's inheritance in the Kingdom. The Bible teaches explicitly that believers will receive a portion of Christ's inheritance on the Earth to enjoy during the 1,000-year Kingdom:
The parable is focused on Christ's inheritance as seen in v.14 by the way the parable opens speaking about the master’s “possessions." In fact, notice how each faithful slave was permitted to keep the additional talents he earned during the master's absence. In a sense, we can say the slaves stored up wealth for themselves by their faithful service to the master. Scripture commands the believer to do this very thing:
We store up treasure by faithfulness to our assigned duties in service to Christ, not the magnitude of our accomplishments. Christ may assign us lesser opportunities to serve Him, but our assignment does not limit our potential inheritance. For example, a pastor serving faithfully in a small church and a Christian mother serving faithfully in her home may be rewarded equally with the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther, assuming equal faithfulness.
In a related parable, Jesus addresses the criteria for assigning material reward in the Kingdom:
This parable in Matthew 20 confirms that faithful service earns a material reward in the Kingdom, and all believers who serve the Lord faithfully will receive an equal inheritance regardless of when we were “hired.” Even those assigned the least role to serve Christ (i.e., the one receiving only a single talent) are still expected to rise to the challenge and demonstrate faithfulness, and if they do they will receive an equal reward.
Finally, the third servant who produced no return received no reward at all. In the parable, Jesus says the slave was “afraid” of the master and “went away” after the master departed, which indicates the slave did not love the master nor did he wish to remain in the house serving him. When the master returns, he calls this slave “wicked” and “lazy.” The slave is sent to "outer darkness." In other words, the slave's faithlessness demonstrated he was truly no servant at all, which resulted in the master putting him out of the home.
The Bible teaches that without faith it is impossible to please God, and so this final slave was included in the parable to reinforce the necessity of faith before reward. The slave’s unwillingness to serve his master was proof that he was faithless. He was never truly a disciple, so he was sent to outer darkness, which pictures the disposition of unbelievers (i.e., hell).
In summary, Matthew’s parable teaches that faithfulness in service to Christ will determine our inheritance in the Kingdom. Believers may be assigned different opportunities to serve Christ, but faithful service will be rewarded equally. As Jesus said elsewhere:
Moving to Luke 19, Jesus teaches a similar parable yet with significant differences:
Here we find a story that's familiar in the broad outline, yet numerous details differ from the parable in Matthew. Let's focus on the differences in Luke's parable.
First, a master departs again with the intent to return. He leaves to receive a new kingdom. As the master goes, he leaves ten slaves behind commanding them to "do business" until he returns. The Greek word for "do business" (pragmateuomai) means to keep occupied, to busy oneself. So the slaves are expected simply to pursue everyday life, not some special project or task.
Secondly, the unit of weight in this parable has changed from a talent to a mina. In Jesus’ day one mina was equal to 1/60th of a talent, so a mina represented considerably less value than a talent. Once again, the relatively modest payment to each slave is consistent with the master's charge to "do business."
Thirdly, every slave received the same number of minas. No slave was given an advantage in this assignment since all had the equal task of doing business.
Fourth, when the master returned he assigned rewards proportional to each slave's performance. Those who accomplished more with their minas received a proportionally greater reward.
Finally and most significantly, the form of the reward was not more wealth but authority over cities. Since the master had received a new kingdom, he needed men to assist him in ruling this new territory, so he assigned responsibility in the new kingdom according to each slave's performance in everyday matters. The slaves who went about everyday business more effectively were deemed worthy of greater responsibility in managing the new kingdom.
These differences in Luke's parable lead us to conclude that Jesus was teaching on a second kind of Kingdom reward system. While Matthew’s parable taught how believers receive material wealth in the Kingdom, Luke’s parable teaches how the Lord will assign believers responsibility to rule in the Kingdom.
Scripture teaches that in addition to receiving an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom, believers may also receive a place of ruling in Christ’s Kingdom government:
According to Luke 19, the Lord will use different criteria for assigning responsibility than for assigning wealth. What are the criteria for receiving responsibility in the Kingdom? Our first clue is the prominent repetition of the number ten in this parable. For example, the master initially calls ten slaves (though only three are judged), and each slave received ten minas.
The number ten in scripture signifies testimony or witness, indicating this parable is focused on a believer's testimony not his degree of service. Further reinforcing this conclusion, the slaves were told to do business, which means pursue everyday activities. A believer's good testimony is not a special work or short-term task. Rather, we are called to live our entire life as a daily testimony to our faith, as Paul says:
Our witness for Christ is accomplished through our good works as Jesus said:
The "good works" Jesus mentions in Matthew 5:16 are the works of sanctification, of shining our light before men, and when Paul says a believer must present his body as a living sacrifice to the Lord, he is speaking of crucifying the passions of our flesh and walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:24). Those who pursue sanctification in this way are producing good works and a good testimony. Those who live in their flesh are grieving the Holy Spirit and failing to produce a good testimony.
Just as every slave began with an equal number of minas, so every believer has an equal opportunity to yield a good testimony. The Lord does not “handicap” one believer over another in the call to be sanctified. Though our life's circumstances, spiritual gifts and mission may vary. Nevertheless every believer receives the same Spirit, has access to the same word of God and therefore must answer the same call to godliness. As Jesus said:
The test is whether we will obey this command as we do business on earth? The believer who yields a good testimony in this life is demonstrating to Christ he is worthy to be entrusted with greater responsibility in the Kingdom. Therefore, a believer's testimony of godliness will determine his or her ruling position in the Kingdom.
This judgment is proportional: a believer with a better testimony will be awarded a greater opportunity to serve in the Kingdom, while a believer with a poorer testimony will receive a lesser degree of authority in the Kingdom. Those believers who obey the Spirit in seeking sanctification by the washing of the water with the word (see Eph 5:26-27) will receive a reward of authority proportional to their obedience. Conversely, those who squander their opportunities to seek a good testimony will receive less opportunity to serve Christ in the Kingdom.
The Lord awards authority proportional to the quality of a believer's testimony, because spiritual maturity is an essential factor in competent spiritual leadership, therefore who better to receive greater authority in the Kingdom than the one who has achieved greater spiritual maturity during the present world? As Jesus said:
In the case of the slave who produced no results with his minas, the master’s judgment is a denial of reward just as it was in Matthew, but unlike in Matthew 25, this slave is not consigned to outer darkness. This distinction reflects how every believer has eternal security regardless of the degree of our sanctification. Faith is required for salvation but a good testimony is not. A believer with a poor testimony who fails to pursue sanctification will still saved by their faith and cannot be denied the Kingdom, as Paul says:
The Lord cannot deny Himself (i.e., His promises to the believer), so the Lord remains faithful. Nevertheless, a believer who denies Christ a testimony of sanctification will be denied an opportunity to reign with Christ in the kingdom, as Paul says in 2Tim 2:12.
It’s worth noting that Luke’s parable still includes the example of an unbeliever though the unbeliever in Luke's parable is called an "enemy," not a slave. This distinction makes sense, since Luke's parable isn’t focused on faithfulness but rather a testimony, and discussions of testimonies are only relevant for believers.
To summarize the differences between the two parables, faithful service leads to equal Inheritance (the talents), while better testimony leads to greater authority (the minas). Our inheritance in the Kingdom will be determined by what we do for Christ, while our authority in the Kingdom will be determined by who we become in Christ.
I had an encounter in a restaurant with a strange man who was clearly demon-possessed. He followed me and taunted me, but I didn't know how a Christian should respond in that situation. What does the Bible say?
Scripture tells us that the struggles we have in serving Christ and reaching the world with the Gospel always have a spiritual origin:
The enemy and his demons may inhabit the body of any unbeliever as the Lord permits, and by that indwelling may manipulate and control them causing them to do many violent and extreme things (usually attributed to mental illness by the unbelieving world). Even among those unbelievers who aren’t possessed directly, the enemy still maintains a degree of control through the fear of death. These are the ones Jesus came to free by faith:
By your testimony, we assume you have encountered demon-possessed individuals, and this is not uncommon. We believe there are many demon-possessed people around us in the world, though unbelievers and even many believers are unwilling to acknowledge this reality. We commend you for having the spiritual wisdom to recognize the situation accurately and to seek counsel on how best to respond.
First, a believer has no reason to fear the enemy, since the Holy Spirit in us has far greater power than does the enemy:
Our eternal fate is secure in Christ, so the enemy can do nothing greater than taking our earthly life, and scripture says that since our body will die one way or another, this is nothing important. Rather, we only live in fear of the Lord:
Furthermore, a believer cannot be indwelled by a demon, since the Holy Spirit's presence within the believer will not permit the enemy access. As Jesus taught by way of a parable:
In the parable, the evil spirits returned to the “empty” house (i.e., unbeliever's body) because nothing prevented them from returning, but if the house has been claimed during their absence (i.e., by the Holy Spirit as a result of faith in the Messiah), then the evil spirits would not have been able to reside again. Jesus was teaching this parable to make a point about the unbelief He encountered in Israel. Nevertheless, His message is equally relevant for us today. Once we are "occupied" by the Holy Spirit, the Lord hangs a "No Vacancy" sign outside our body denying demons entry.
Despite possessing the Holy Spirit, believers possess no special power over the enemy. Scripture tells us to understand that the enemy and his demons have real power and not to think ourselves greater than they:
The Bible teaches that we do not possess power over the devil, since God made angels more powerful than human beings. In fact, Peter teaches that the devil outranks even the most powerful angel, so certainly we should not expect to have power over him! Obviously, the Lord may permit us to prevail over the enemy in a given situation, but even then it is the Lord's power that overcomes the enemy, not our own. Conversely, when the enemy gains some measure of success against us (see the book of Job), we know the Lord has permitted this outcome for the purpose of strengthening us spiritually in the hope we might receive a blessing:
Therefore, the scripture never directs a believer to confront the enemy or his demons. Any such action is presumptuous on our part, since it assumes the Lord will always act on our behalf to give us victory against the enemy's schemes (which is not necessarily true...see Job again!). Unless the Lord has specifically directed us to confront the enemy's agents in some way, we should not venture to challenge the demonic realm. On the contrary, we respect their power, resist their attempts to tempt us into sin, and rest in the Lord's protection by His Spirit.
In fact, scripture promises that if we resist the enemy's efforts to lead us astray, he will eventually flee:
In light of the earlier scripture, we know that resisting the enemy doesn’t mean actively fighting him but rather it means not giving into his temptations.
In summary, we should not fear the enemy but neither should we imagine we have power against him. When we see someone possessed by the demonic realm, we should understand that the person is not our enemy, since our enemy is not flesh and blood. Nevertheless, we should not attempt to fight the power of the demon inside the person by our power. Should the Spirit direct us in some way against the person, then we should obey and operate in the Spirit. Otherwise, we should act wisely by resisting any temptation of the enemy to respond in anger, hatred or pride.
For more information on this topic, we recommend you take our Jude study.