Teaching Children in Terms They Can Understand

Following the Great Commandment of Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (ESV),  God instructs his people to teach these commands to their children.  Deuteronomy 6:7 says, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (ESV). 

Many of the churches in America seem to have missed this instruction.  Go to most churches on Sunday and you will find parents who joyfully drop their children off in the children's ministry, grab a cup of coffee, and do their own thing in their time of freedom without children.  They hope to have some distraction-free time so they can chat with other adults and learn the Word of God, oh, and maybe it would be nice if the kids learned something too.  Often the parents care very little who is teaching their children.  Little to no attention is given to handouts or activities to do later at home.  And in many cases, children spend as little time learning God's Word throughout the week as their parents.

Sadly, it seems the most important thing for many children and youth ministries is that the kids have fun, even at the cost of learning more about God and loving him greatly. 

The problem thrives through out the week as well. Many mid-week community groups and Bible studies strive to be child-free.  They have childcare or some other plan to keep the children completely removed from the community.  Certainly there's a time to spend with adults, but how does removing children from the equation as often as is possible fulfill the instruction of Deuteronomy 6:7?  

Some parents however, feel the great failure of the Church in regard to teaching children God's Word and are making their best effort at home.  I hope I might be counted among these parents.  The challenge however, is what to do?  All too often, the Church is also falling short in the area of equipping parents to teach their children, leaving parents to rely entirely on talking vegetables to do this important job.

What is a parent to do?

For starters, parents should be praying for their children, and praying with them.  Praying with your kids should go beyond meal and the same nightly bedtime time prayers.  Let them see you pray often and honestly.  And it's never to early to start.

Next, children need to understand God's Word in terms they can understand, it a format that is most appropriate for their level of thinking and reading.  Little children should start with a picture-book Bible.  This will simply help them get accustomed to some of the biblical characters and provide them with a joy found in reading the Bible.  As they grow, you can graduate them up to a higher-level children's Bible.  It's important that these Bibles help demonstrate the big idea of the Bible.  (See some children's Bible's I recommend here.)  The same is even true of adults.  I often recommend that new believers and Christians who have never seen the big story of the Bible (also called the meta-narrative) read the Jesus Storybook Bible so he or she can quickly grasp the big picture of God's redemption plan and know where they're at in The Story when reading a full Bible.

But at some point it will be time to graduate to a full Bible (for some this may be around pre-school or kindergarten, for others around first or second grade depending upon the child's reading level and the child's understanding of the gospel).  This Bible will allow you to direct them to specific passages, study, and even start memorizing verses.  But the Bible is a big book, full of big words.  What should a parent do with the big words?

One approach--with which I disagree--would be like that held by Trevin Wax.  In his book, Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture, Wax explains that he prays the Lord's prayer with his children.  He know that words like hallowed, kingdom, debts, and temptation are lost on his little ones.  He writes, "I'm praying my daughter grows up into those words.  I look at her the same way I look at my kid trying on Mama's shoes.  The feet are too small and the shoes are too big, but one of these days, she'll grow up and they'll fit" (B&H, 2013, page 73).

Using Wax's analogy, I wonder why the child would not have her own shoes that fit properly?  Is the expectation that a child can only wear adult shoes?  By no means, and the same is true of the Bible! Children need not move from the Jesus Storybook Bible to the ESV, HCSB, KJV or any other adult English translation any more than a new Christian should immediately starting reading the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek.  Translations are tools that help, and a child should have a translation that actually helps.  The beautify of it is that there are translations with children in mind so they don't have to slosh around in Mama's big adult Bible translation.

Parents, get your child a full Bible that's translated in terms your child can understand.  Being able to discuss God's Word and diligently teach it as you're together in your home, when you're driving from place to place, and in the evening when it's time for bed is how your little one will learn to love God with all his or her heart and soul.  Then, as he or she grows, your kiddo can graduate again into an adult Bible.  But in the meantime, how about communicating in terms she can understand rather than waiting for her to one day learn the terms with which you're trying to communicate? 

* Photo ID 20834 is a United Nations Photo and is used with permission.

How Much Should I Pray?

How much should I pray?  Should my morning prayer time be 30 minutes or an hour?  How much is enough prayer?  There are books that try to answer this question as if there's a special formula, but the book that we should use as a guide is the Bible.  The funny thing however, is that these are not the questions the Bible answers because these are the wrong questions.

There is no formula.  It's not about time or quantity or fulfilling a requirement of length or brevity.  It's about a natural relationship and a longing to spend personal time with our Creator.

So as you examine your prayer life, it may be best to examine your relationship with God first. Then the rest of the questions will probably answer themselves.

Saul Consults a Necromancer? - 1 Samuel 28

Christians in the West are often slow to credit any kind of spiritual power behind witchcraft or mediums or necromancers or the like.  While this credit belongs not with God and is certainly not positive, it is power even if demonic power.   It almost seems as if we say, "these things hold no power, demonic or otherwise," so as to undercut the legs of the spiritual warfare happening around us.  But when we do this we're wrong!  Saying there's nothing behind the medium, witchdoctor, or practitioner of the demonic is not to see the situation for what it is.  Saying there's nothing behind the practice neglects the words of Paul to the Corinthians when he writes, "I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20, ESV).  There is indeed a demonic power of some sort behind these practices today just as the pagan sacrifices  in Corinth were demonic.

In light of our feelings surrounding witchcraft and talking with the dead, we tend to be a bit shocked when we come across 1 Samuel 28.  Here, Saul consults a medium in an effort to hear the Word of the Lord through Samuel, who had passed away.   Saul is in direct disobedience to God's Law that says explicitly not to consult mediums (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12).  In addition, in 1 Samuel 28:3 we see that Saul himself had put the mediums out of the land and even had to travel by night to En-dor in disguise because he knew he was doing wrong.

The necromancer is concerned that she will be in trouble by practicing this evil behavior for Saul, but Saul assures her that it will be okay and then emphatically pleads with her to raise Samuel so he can talk with him.  At one point in the chapter, it seems that Samuel is raised, although the text really only demonstrates that Saul believed he was talking with Samuel.  (Scholars disagree as to whether this character was actually Samuel, some kind of demon, or some sort of messenger of God.)

The point of this chapter however, is not to get into the hows and whys of witchcraft, but instead demonstrate the distress Saul is in and his subsequent misbehavior as he demanded to hear from God concerning his own glory and well-being.  It only stands to further show the depths of Saul's rebellion and even provides support for God's tearing the kingdom from Saul and giving it to David, a man after God's own heart. As is always the case, it is important to see this text in light of the context and primary point.  That being said, I'd like to encourage you to pick up your Bible and check out 1 Samuel 28.  In addition, Jared Jenkins and I discuss this particular text as one of our "Tough Text" series topics.  You can listen to that 20-minute podcast or subscribe to Salty Believer Unscripted for many other unscripted discussions.

*Photo of Lassa witch doctors was taken and used by the CDC.  It is presently in the public domain.

Hebrews Relationship with the Old Testament


It is difficult for a student of the New Testament to miss the significance of the Old Testament. These two sections of the Canon are like two acts of a play that depend upon each other for the proper presentation of the plot, conflict, and resolution. Character development—a necessary tool for any successful play—usually spans from the first raised curtain to the final curtain call. To properly understand the conclusion, one must understand the beginning. Like the two-act play, the New Testament depends upon the foundations set in the first act, which is typically called the Old Testament. Hebrews, probably more so than any other New Testament book is a second-act book that is highly dependent upon the first act. Its author demands that the reader know the Old Testament in order to fully understand the claims made by the book.

Hebrews, written to an audience with an old covenant background, makes heavy use of the Old Testament. George Guthrie writes of the book, “Thirty-five quotations from the Greek translation of the Old Testament and thirty-four allusions work to support the development of Hebrew’s argument. In addition, the writer offers nineteen summaries of Old Testament material, and thirteen times he mentions an Old Testament name or topic, often without reference to specific context.”[1] Carson and Moo write, “[T]he author cites the Greek Old Testament as if he assumes his readers will recognize its authority.”[2] Clements believes that the original readers are “men and woman who are assumed to be fully familiar with the scriptures of the Old Testament, although they themselves are Christian.”[3] Regardless of the exact identity of the original readers (which will be discussed below), George Guthrie argues, “The author assumes his audience has an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. Of all the writings of the New Testament, none is more saturated with overt references to the Old Testament. The author so filled his discourse with Old Testament thoughts and passages that they permeate every chapter.”[4]

The Hebrews author exhorts that the new is better than the old. “His line of approach,” according to Donald Guthrie, “was that everything in fact was better – a better sanctuary, a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. Indeed, he aims to show that there is a theological reason for the absence of the old ritual, glorious as it may have seemed to the Jews.”[5] And Scott contends, “The Epistle to the Hebrews clearly affirms that because the final age (‘these last days,’ Hebrews 1:2) is present, the new covenant has made the former obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear; (Hebrews 8:13).”[6] Thus, to understand the thing that is better, it seems that the reader must have some familiarity with the former.

In an effort to understand the exhortation of author of Hebrews, this post will examine the author’s of use of the Old Testament. First, a brief discussion of the potential identity of the author and the most likely original audience should serve to provide an appropriated backdrop for the author’s Old Testament usage. Once the background is set, specific passages will be explored; however, for the scope of this post, not every reference to the Old Testament will be mined for additional understanding. In concluding this post, attempts will be made to understand how dependent the book of Hebrews is upon the Old Testament. Can the key points of Hebrews be understood by a reader with no previous knowledge of the Old Testament passages cited or alluded to in Hebrews? Does Hebrews require further study of the old covenant or does the author provide enough background information that right new covenant understanding can come from the book of Hebrews alone? How should a present-day teacher or preacher approach Hebrews in light of the examination of this post?

The author of Hebrews is a mystery. Most introductions contain convincing arguments on why the author was not likely Paul, who wrote Romans and many other Epistles, despite that P46 places Hebrews behind Romans in the Pauline corpus.[7] And it may have been an Eastern Church belief that Hebrews was associated with Paul that allowed it its inclusion in the Canon. Even with the support of Jerome and Augustine, after the forth and early fifth centuries the idea of a Pauline authorship was drawing fire.[8] Today, Carson and Moo write, “The Greek of Hebrews is more polished than that of Paul, and the consistent quality of the rhetoric is quite remarkable.”[9] Hagner points to Hebrews 2:3 as proof that Hebrews was not written by Paul because the author claims to have only second-hand knowledge of the gospel but in passages like Galatians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul claims to have learned directly from God.[10] And Davies contents, “It would be very unusual to find a modern scholar holding this view, for there are no positive reasons for it, and strong reasons against it.”[11] But if Paul is not that author, who might the author be?

Luther first proposed that Apollos might be the author. Hagner provides a case for this authorship pointing to Acts 18:24, which states that Apollos was a “learned man” and held a “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” And Apollos would know Timothy enough to reference his release from prison (Hebrews 13:23).[12] Tertullian supported Barnabas as the author. Hagner lists that Barnabas was a Levite and would be interested in the livitical system, he was from Cyprus, and was likely influenced by Hellenistic culture.[13] Other suggested authors include Clement of Rome, Priscilla, Jude, Philip, and Silvanus.[14] Presently however, only aspects of the author can be gleaned from the text but there is still no clear evidence—internal or external—that leaves scholars with any solid suspects.

The audience on the other hand is shrouded in slightly less mystery. From Hebrews 10:23, it is fair to assume that the author had some specific people in mind when writing his Epistle.[15] There is silence on the temple, and the Old Testament is quoted from polished Greek, leaving one to conclude that either author or the audience did not know Hebrew. The audience was either not in Jerusalem or if in Jerusalem, they were most likely Greek-speaking expatriates.[16] And while there is no clear identification of who the original audience was, Hagner argues, “the early church was very probably correct in understanding the first readers to have been Jewish Christians. The vast majority of modern scholars have agreed with this conclusion from analysis of the content of the book.”[17]


As one tries to understand how the Hebrews author uses the Old Testament, one must first ask how the author viewed the Old Testament. Yisa believes that the author was not arguing against the Old Testament, but rather building upon his position with a strong trust and understanding of the Old Testament. He writes, “At surface level, it may seem that the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament in an allegorical and fanciful way. However, that is far from the truth. A closer examination of the book proves that the author shared the Jewish and early Christian presuppositions and exegetical principles of the literal and natural sense of the text, a high view of Scripture, and the divine inspiration of the Old Testament as the Word of God.”[18] Like Yisak who essentially argues that the author of Hebrews holds to a Christocentric hermeneutic, Hagner writes, “Christ is seen to be the key to the real meaning of the OT as it can now be understood in this era of fulfillment. From this point of view, all of the OT points directly or indirectly to Christ, who is by definition the telos (goal) of God’s saving purpose.”[19] And Yisak rightly points out, “[The author] intended to teach that Jesus is the unifying factor of Scriptures.”[20]

Also worth noting is the source (or sources) from where the author drew his information. “In quotations,” writes Hanger, “the author regularly follows the Greek (LXX) rather than the Hebrew (or Masoretic) text that has come down to us.”[21] Bruce identifies two Greek texts that are in agreement with the author’s quotations (Alexandrinus and Vaticanus), but twice as many quotes are in agreement with Alexandrinus than Vaticanus. Interestingly, some of the quotations agree with neither.[22] Bruce explains, “[The author] may have selected his variants (where he knew more readings than one) for interpretational suitability. These variants were sometimes borrowed from the other parts of the Greek Bible or from Philo, but appear for the most part to have been introduced on his own responsibility. It has been argued on the basis of his use of certain Old Testament quotations that he was familiar with the interpretations of Philo and used some quotations in such a way as to counter these interpretations.”[23] And it may even be argued (as Bruce does) that the author of Hebrews actually influenced other Greek texts.[24]

From the broad background, this post will now adjust the attention to some specific Old Testament passages found in Hebrews. One way to outline Hebrews by major themes is to look at Chapters 1-10 as an argument that Christ is superior. In nearly every case, the inferior items are something argued from the Old Testament. Christ is superior to angels, Moses, the previous priesthood, the previous sacrifices, and even the entire old covenant. The remaining three chapters are centered upon the necessity and superiority of faith. To understand the thing that is better there is a necessity to understand the previous thing, and the author often reminds his readers of the Old Testament to make his case. Examining the book of Hebrews in this fashion will not give equal treatment to every Old Testament quote and allusion found in Hebrews, and in fact, some quotations will be neglected all together; however, this approach should provide enough examples to support the thesis of this post.

Christ is superior to the angels. The book of Hebrews wastes no time with an introductory opening and is quickly arguing that Jesus is superior to the angels. To make this argument, the author appeals to Deuteronomy 32:43, 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 45:6-7, Psalm 102:25-27, and Psalm 110:1. Most of the entire first chapter is actually comprised of Old Testament quotes. Davies points out that all the Scripture appealed to in this specific argument is ascribed to God as the speaker, showing the author’s belief of divine authorship of the quoted passages.[25] Also worth noting is how short many of the quotations are. Most of them are one sentence, and of those, the first four quotes are rather short sentences. It is as if they are to serve as merely a reminder rather that a first-time presentation of the material. And the reader must already trust these statements as God’s Word, that is, divine Scripture, or there is no value in using the passages to support the argument for Christ.

Christ is superior to Moses. In Chapter 3, the author compares Jesus to Moses, saying, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses […].”[26] And while the author provides a little glimpse of who Moses was in verse 5 when he says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,” he provides very little about Moses the character. It is as if the reader must already be aware of Moses or the author wants to the reader to do some research. In providing commentary on this passage, Bruce discusses aspects of the golden calf, the relationship with Aaron, and even the unfavorable report from spies.[27] None of this is mentioned in the Hebrews passage, but Bruce seems to feel the need to express it to explain the comparison. Guthrie feels that he must do the same thing in order to explain the rebellion in verse 8.[28] In order to see a complete picture of Moses, one must read the Old Testament, and it seems the author understood this and expected it of his readers, just as Bruce, Guthrie and many others have done.

Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood. Much like the author’s argument about Jesus’ superiority to Moses, he also argues that Jesus is superior to any present priesthood system. This argument spans from the tail end of Chapter 4 through Chapter 7 with some minor breaks. For this argument, the author specifically only quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4, but he alludes to the order of the Melchizedek priesthood and even of the high priest system that his readers would likely be familiar with. But unlike the Moses argument, the author provides some background on the mysterious person called Melchizedek. It is as if he expects the readers to be slightly less informed of Melchizedek—maybe aware of the person but not the magnitude of meaning wrapped up in him— because Hebrews 7:1-10 offers an explanation of who Melchizedek was before the author compares Melchizedek and Jesus. One might point out that the author of Hebrews provides enough information that the reader may not need to do additional research to understand the comparison, and this is a valid observation. This demonstrates the author’s awareness of his original audience and his awareness of the common understanding of Moses compared to that of Melchizedek. When likened to the author’s treatment of Moses, there is an indication the author must teach where necessary but depend upon the audience’s knowledge of the Old Testament where he can afford to do so.

Christ is superior to the old covenant. In making the argument that Christ as the new covenant is better than the old covenant, the author appeals briefly to Exodus 25:40 and extensively to Jeremiah 31:31-34. In appealing to Jeremiah, the author cites what might be the largest quotation from the Old Testament found in Hebrews. Hagner suggests that this citation is “of major importance to the epistle,” and “the explicit reference to the new covenant in this text makes it ideal for his purpose.”[29] This Old Testament passage is so useful in the argument in fact, that is quoted again in Hebrews 10. And just as with the previous uses of the Old Testament, little is outlined or summarized of the old covenant. It seems that the original readers must already hold some understanding of the old covenant, or at least the author assumed they did. And there must be some foundational information the author is assuming because the author is making an appeal that Jesus is better than the thing the reader already knows. What is different here compared to previous passages is that the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that the new covenant is actually spoken of in the Old Testament. The new covenant is actually inline with previous writings and the author wants his readers to see what they may have missed.

Christ is superior than the old sacrifices. In Chapter 10, the author argues that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and writes, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”[30] Like the argument about the better covenant the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that his point has already been made in the Old Testament. The readers should have seen the perfect and final sacrifice in Jesus. In this section, the author turns to Psalm 40:6-8 and again to Jeremiah 31:33-34. Here, the Old Testament supports the displeasure of the old sacrifices and then commentary is offered by the author. He states, “[E]very priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”[31] The author finds not only support in the Old Testament, which is treated as if spoken by God, but also boldness from within God’s Word.

So great a cloud of witnesses. The latter portion of the book of Hebrews argues for the superiority of faith. While many Old Testament allusions and quotations may be examined here, the cloud of witnesses proves most interesting. In a single chapter, the author uses 16 characters from the Old Testament as examples of 14 faithful men and two faithful women. This “great cloud of witnesses” includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.[32] Some background is provided for some of these figures, but hardly more than a sentence. And Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel are lumped together in the explanation. Clearly, the author believes his readers know who these individuals were and need only a simple reminder. But to get a better understanding, the reader could consult Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ruth, where the accounts and writings of these individuals are found within the Old Testament. The author also includes many unnamed people who have suffered and then he said of them, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”[33] With the exception of the unnamed and more recent faithful witnesses, it is almost a requirement for one to know at least some of the names listed if one is to truly understand the better thing that God has in store. After all, how can one understand the thing that is better without first seeing the thing it is compared to?


John Patrick’s stage play, “The Hasty Heart” (1945), takes place in a World War II allied field hospital. In Act I, the hospital patients learn that a Scotsman named Corporal Lachlan "Lachie" MacLachlan is being transferred to the spare bed in their recovery area. Lachie sustained a wound to his kidney and had to have it removed; however, his other kidney is not functioning properly and within about four weeks, Lachie will die of the toxins in his own unfiltered blood. He has no family and he is a bitter, angry man. The commander in charge of the hospital felt that it would be best if Lachie did not know of his condition. While he informed the other patients in the hospital, he asked them to keep it a secret. He also asked the patients and floor nurse to befriend this lonely transfer patient in an effort to improve the quality of his short remaining life. The drama that unfolds shares a remarkable story of the condition of the heart. However, if a theatergoer were to enter and find her seat at intermission between the first and second acts, there is almost no way she would understand the activities playing out before her. In many ways, the play would make no sense. While many things could be learned about Lachie, Yank, and Sister Parker, the overarching plot and conflict would be rather hazy at best. The development of the characters would be only half the story. The same is true of many New Testament books, most especially the book of Hebrews.

As much as the author of Hebrews depends on the specific Old Testament passages, he depends even more upon the reader’s understanding of the scrolls from where those quotes were drawn. Like a playwright, the author is expressing the second act of a two-act play. This is where the conflict is resolved, the plot is concluded, and the character’s development is show to its full capacity.

Hebrews teaches the world much about Jesus; but if the student of the book is to gain the understanding the author intended, it is almost demanded of the student to turn back a few pages and examine the Old Testament. The student must see to what the author is alluding. He or she must observe what was before so there is a solid understand of what is better. In most cases, the author does not provide enough of a summary. The original readers were most likely Jewish Christians and it is assumed that they had the background knowledge of the material. This may not always be the case for modern-day readers; which is why pastors and teachers should be prepared to provide the summary that most students need in order to gain the two-act understanding.

Reading Hebrews a number of times and even studying the Old Testament verses will not fully plum the depths of this rich book. In its pages there is much to be learned, applied, and lived. There is an amazing Savior to be loved. Many commentaries provide additional insight into the author’s use of the Old Testament and these may serve as additional material for further study. However, it is the recommendation of this author that further study consist of starting with Hebrews 1:1 and reading line by line. At any point a quote or allusion to the Old Testament is presented, place a bookmark in Hebrews and explore the passage from where the quote came. Once the Old Testament passage has been read and studied to the point that a good understanding is achieved, turn back to Hebrews and continue where the reading left off. When the end of the book is reached, try it again and see what was not seen the first time. Chances are, this will take years and the journey will move the reader through much of the Old Testament. But the reward will be well worth the journey. It is the prayer of this author that this post is not where the investigation ends, but rather, this post has only served as an appetizer to such a rich reading of the book of Hebrews and even of the Old Testament upon which Hebrews depends.


Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised). The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.

Clements, Ronald E. "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews." Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1 (September 1, 1985): 36-45. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 23, 2011).

Davies, J. H. A Letter to Hebrews. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983.

Guthrie, George. Hebrews. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zonderan, 1998.

Hanger, Donald A. Hebrews. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.

Scott, Julius, J., Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995

Yisak, Suru. “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews.” Th.M. diss., (2007) Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line]. http://www.proquest.com (publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011).


1 George Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 19.

2 D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 610.

3 Ronald E. Clements, "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews" (Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1, September 1, 1985: 36-45, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost) [accessed April 23, 2011], 36.

4 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 19.

5 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 32-33.

6 J. Julius Scott Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapid, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995), 327.

7 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 600.

8 Donald A. Hanger, Hebrews, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Henderickson Publishers, 1990), 8-9.

9 Carson, An introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 601.

10 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 9.

11 J. H. Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 10.

12 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 10.

13 Ibid.

14 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 23.

15 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 608.

16 Ibid.

17 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 2.

18 Suru Yisak, “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews,” Th.M. diss., 2007 (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line. http://www.proquest.com, publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011), 83.

19 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

20 Yisak, 2007, 62.

21 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

22 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 26.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 27

25 Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, 1967, 22.

26 Hebrews 3:3a.

27 F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1990, 91-92.

28 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1983, 102-104.

29 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 122.

30 Hebrews 10:18.

31 Hebrews 10:11.

32 Hebrews 12:1.

33 Hebrews 11:39-40.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Into the Hands of the Living God: An Examination of Hebrews 10:26-31

The author of Hebrews offers some frightening language in the tenth chapter, verses 26-31. Here, the author states that if we continue to sin, deliberately, after receiving the knowledge of truth, the consequences on the Day of Judgment are extreme. Few commentators argue with the severity in which God punishes those who sin yet do not, through grace, have upon themselves Christ’s blood of his merciful atonement. However, this passage raises both alarm and debate about both the identity of who this deliberate sinner might be and the nature of the sin committed. Is this one who at some point embraced and accepted Christ as his or her savior and now rejects that grace? Or has then person never been a regenerate believer. Or maybe this passage is this about post-baptism sin? The author of Hebrews says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth. . . .”1 Does the word “we” refer to the possibility of the audience and even the author? Clearly, this passage could have serious ramifications on one’s understanding of the security of the believer. And it may shape one's thoughts about unpardonable sin. There are many differences of opinion regarding this passage. Therefore, this post will merely scratch the surface in an attempt to examine the passage as well as the views of Donald Hangner, F. F. Bruce, and George Guthrie.

Verse 26 serves to introduce the subject and action in question. The author writes, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth. . . .”2 The subject is simply 'we' and the action is the willful engagement of sin after the deliberate sinner has received a knowledge of the Truth. For this, the author says there is no sacrifice to cover the sin, and in fact, all this person has to expect on the Day of Judgment3 is a “fury of fire.”4 In addition, this punishment is even worse than if the deliberately sinning person had violated the Law of Moses. “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of who or three witnesses,” writes the author, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”5 It seems this deliberate sin after the receipt of Truth and in some way is spurns or tramples upon Jesus and the the new covenant, and a greatly angers the Spirit of grace. The specifics of this sin raise many questions, but it seems clear that 'deliberate' and 'after' are significant to this problem. To strike fear in his readers, the author quotes portions of Deuteronomy 32:34 and 35. It might be worth noting that in the same manner earlier in the chapter, the author quotes two passages from Jeremiah regarding the new covenant where the law will be written on his peoples' hearts and God will remember their sin no more. The paragraph concludes with the statement, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”6

There are many aspects of this passage that shape how one views the remainder of the text. Hagner's primary avenue of approach is via sin nature, which in this case specifically includes a falling away.7 He sees the deliberate sinner as an apostate, or one that once had the knowledge of Truth. “But,” writes Hagner, “for those who have turned their backs on the sacrifice of Christ—the sacrifice to which all other sacrifices pointed and upon which they depended for their temporary efficacy—then no sacrifice for sins is left. One who rejects the sacrifice of Christ (v. 29) will find no other answer to the problem of sin.”8 Significant in his statement is that he holds that these individuals once depended upon Christ's sacrifice, suggesting that he concludes that these deliberate sinners were once believers. Taking this further it seems that Hagnar holds that there is a way for a believer to fall away so far that for them there is no longer any hope of salvation. Hagner states, “With resources exhausted, such a person must face the prospect of God's wrath against sin (cf. 2 Pet. 2:21).”9
Hagner makes it clear that rejecting the Law of Moses is serious; “But transgressing the law of Moses, grievous though that may be,” he argues, “is not as serious an offense as rejecting the work of Christ, once a person has received it as the truth.”10 This is so serious in fact, that Hagner argues that it is the unforgivable sin mentioned in Matthew 12:31ff. It is apostasy, which he points to the Scripture to say that this sin deserves to be punished more severely than any of the punishments found within Mosaic Law.11 And it is in this severe punishment that one might see and understand why the author of Hebrews would say that it is fearful to fall into the hands of the living God.

Bruce examines what he sees as the early incorrect understanding of this passage. Post-baptism is a problematic consequence of miss interpretation and Bruce appears rather concerned. Where Hagner only includes a post note on the topic of post-baptism sin, Bruce uses a large portion of his commentary of this specific text to deal with the matter. “This passage,” writes Bruce, “was destine to have repercussions in Christian history beyond what our author could have foreseen.”12 Walking through some early history, Bruce explains that eventually, some came to understand this passage as dealing with sin after baptism. However, in light of other teaching in the book of Hebrews, Bruce argues that the author “would probably have thought it preposterous that his stern words of warning should in due course give rise to a penitential procedure so similar to that which he dismisses as forever superseded.”13
For Bruce, like Hagner, this passage deals with outright apostasy, that is, the deliberately abandoning reliance upon the perfect sacrifice of Christ.14 The sin here is not merely sin, or even sin after baptism, it is like the egregious act of sinning with a high hand, which Bruce points out there is no pardon. “To have received the knowledge of the truth and then reject it,” argues Bruce,” is to give up the only way of salvation.”15 Once a believer has done such a thing, there is no further option and no other source for salvation. Much like Hagner, Bruce sees this passage as dealing with the regenerate believer who fell to the point of outright rejecting Jesus, having flagrant contempt for him to the point of spurning or trampling Jesus and the new covenant he ushered in. Bruce states, “The author is not given to wild exaggeration,” so when the authors says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, the deliberate sinner should be highly concerned.

Where Hagner and Bruce are in agreement as to the identity and nature of the deliberate sinner, Guthrie starts from a different approach. For Guthrie, the issue appears to be the meaning of receiving the knowledge of Truth. Guthrie makes light of this stern warning, seeing the idea of receiving not as some kind of full acceptance and taking upon, but instead he sees it as “receiving a knowledge of the gospel's truth.”16 Therefore, the deliberate sinner was never a believer in the first place, but instead one who heard the gospel message and rejected it. “What the author has in mind,” writes Guthrie, “is a deliberate, sinful lifestyle of high-handed rebellion against the gospel,” but this gives no indication of the salvation state of the person in rebellion. The only difference for Guthrie is between one who has never heard the gospel and one who has, with both cases focused upon the unregenerate person. Guthrie continues, “The distinction between those who sin in ignorance, wandering off the path (5:2), and those who radically rebel against the Word of God may be seen in Numbers 15:27-31, where the latter course is said to be blasphemy.”17 Guthrie does not address the “we” in verse 26.
Starting from a position that the deliberate sinner was never a believer directs the rest of the interpretation toward the idea that the deliberate sinner will have a greater punishment than any other sinner who never comes to a position of repentance and acceptance with Jesus, but both will receive punishment. This deliberate sinner has no sacrifice that saves because Jesus is the only sacrifice with the power to save.18 Guthrie says that those who have turned away from the new covenant are worse off than the apostates of the Old Testament, but he never addresses those who may have accepted the new covenant only to later turn away and greatly, deliberately reject. It is almost as if this is not an option that Guthrie would consider. At one point, he states, “Inherent to the argument is the assumption that those who have heard the message of the gospel have had a greater opportunity and greater resources for a response of obedience (2:3-4).”19 He also argues with examples of those that rejected Jesus during Christ's earthly ministry. And for those who rejected Jesus, and maybe even attributed his power to Satan, Guthrie stipulates that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit by denying the gospel's true origin and importance. In doing this, according to Guthrie, “They have committed a sin with eternal implications.”20 And it is for this reason that they should be fearful to fall into the hands of the living God.

If one were to interpret the willful sinning in verse 26 as anything other than a complete rejection of Christ and his saving power, it is easy to see the slippery slope that may develop. If this is passage is warning of one kind of sin (other than apostasy), why might it not be another? There is no indication of degree, so might it be any sin? Once the first step is taken, one should be able to see how the idea of unforgivable post-baptism sin might have crept into the Church. We should have sympathy for those who desired to delay their baptism21 out of fear of eternal damnation. Just one sin could do a believer in. However, Bruce makes a sound argument against this incorrect understanding of Hebrews 10:26-31. Clearly the author of Hebrews is not discussing just any sin, but the willful or deliberate act of sin. And it seems that the committing an undefined sin is the problem, but rather the sin is the act of spurning or trampling on the saving power of Jesus. The author seems to identify the sin as profaning the blood covenant. The blasphemy is found in the apostasy. This is where it seems Hagner and Bruce are in agreement. 

Guthrie on the other hand, seems to see any sin without the salvation of Christ as the topic of the warning for those who have heard and rejected the gospel message. He neglects that the author hints that the readers (presumably believers) and even the author him or herself could fall into the scenario of which the author warns. But what Guthrie fails to address is why this warning is any different than any other call to repentance and faith in Jesus for salvation. Why the purpose for the passage at this point in the book? And what happens to one who turns away from Jesus after accepting the salvation found only in the gospel of Christ. Guthrie, it seems has skirted the bigger questions by way of making this passage about non-believers. 

As difficult as it may be, this passage appears to discuss deliberate sin so serious that it warrants the wrath of God, for which there is no sacrifice left. There is a suggestion of the unpardonable violation in the Law of Moses that was total rebellion or apostasy. And apostasy is not simply a rejection of something one does not have, but a falling away of something already obtained. It seems this warning is directed to the believer. In this regard, it seems Hagner and Bruce do a better job approaching this difficult passage. Guthrie seems to have missed something in the interpretation, causing his approach to view such a stern warning written to believers something of which they need not worry. This author agrees with the compelling approach of Hagner and Bruce. 

For believers this is a serious matter. The warning is dramatic and serious and should not be taken lightly. That being said, there is more than one way to view this passage. Careful consideration and prayer should be dedicated to this text if understanding is to be found. There are many other commentaries and journal articles written on this topic, some very technical, some more pastoral. It is the hope and prayer of this author that the Scripture is examined in greater detail and additional commentaries are consulted before conclusions are drawn. This author recommends, William Lane's technical work on Hebrews as well as that of Paul Ellingworth, and for a pastoral perspective Leon Morris's work found in the expositor's bible Commentary is worth consultation.


Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. The new international commentary on the New
Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990.

Guthrie, George H., Hebrews. The NIV application commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich:
Zondervan, 1998.

Hagner, Donald A. Hebrews. New international Biblical commentary. Peabody, Mass:
Hendrickson, 1983.

1 Hebrews 10:26a, English Standard Version (ESV). Italics added for effect. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotation will be taken from the English Standard Version.

2 Hebrews 10:26a.
3 Hanger asserts that “the Day” in verse 25 “naturally leads to future judgment.” Donald Hagner, Hebrews, New international Biblical commentary (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1983), 169.

4 Hebrews 10:27.

5 Hebrews 10:28-29.

6 Hebrews 10:31.

7 Hanger 1983, 169.

8 Hagner 1989, 169.

9 Hagner 1989, 169.

10 Hagner 1989, 170.

11 Hagner 1989, 170.
12 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The new international commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990), 261.

13 Bruce 1990, 264.

14 Bruce 1990, 261.

15 Bruce 1990, 261.
16 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV application commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 355.

17 Guthrie 1998, 355.

18 Guthrie 1998, 356.

19 Guthrie 1998, 357.

20 Guthrie 1998, 357.

21 Hagner 1989, 171.

* Photo by Thomas Hank is licensed under a Creative Commons License. 
** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Don't Neglect Salvation? Hebrews 2 & 3

Hebrews 2:2-3 provides a warning against neglecting such a great salvation, that is, neglecting the great message the author and his readers have heard, which is being introduced in the previous chapter of Hebrews. This is the message of the gospel and the author of Hebrews says, “don’t overlook it.” The word the ESV translates as ‘neglecting’ comes from the Greek word amelesantes (a transliteration), which is derived from ameleo (also a transliteration). Strong’s states that its meaning is to neglect, make light of, ignore, and even be negligent of (Strongs 2001, 1590). The word appears four times in the New Testament—in Matthew 22:5, 1 Timothy 4:14, Hebrews 2:3, and again in Hebrews 8:9.

In 1 Timothy 4:14, the warning is to avoid neglecting the gift that was given to the reader. In Hebrews 8:9 the neglect or ignorance was God’s approach to the people of the exodus who did not continue in his covenant. Matthew 22:5 however, seems to shed some light on the Hebrews 2:3 passage where there is a picture of a neglectful attitude toward salvation. In this passage, Jesus shares a parable of a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Everything was ready, but when the servants went out with the invitation, the people paid them no attention—the messengers were rejected, turned away, treated poorly, and in some cases even killed. The king was angered by this reaction so he sent his troops to kill those who murdered his messengers and then he had their cities burned. Eventually, the king sent his messengers into the streets to invite anybody the messengers could find.

The author of Hebrews is cautioning his readers not to neglect this message for he knows the consequences are grave. But he is not acting as if he has received this invitation and that is the end of it. He includes himself in the warning saying, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1, ESV). It seems that paying much closer attention is to understand the details. And it also seems that we need to follow this warning to the extent that the author takes it, later writing, “Take care, brothers, lest there be any of you of an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-3, ESV). Paying much closer attention would appear to be an ongoing thing; and being an ongoing thing, it seems that neglecting the message of salvation and the blessing that come from it is a very serious matter.

This warning in Hebrews 3:12, is a warning to be cautious and even avoid having an unbelieving heart. This unbelieving heart the author warns about, it seems, is evil and can cause one to fall away from, or even rebel against the Living God. In verse 13, the reader is encouraged to exhort one another daily to avoid the hardening of the heart caused by sin. Genesis 8:21 says, “ the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (ESV) and Deuteronomy 11:6 warns “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (ESV). Therefore, it seems that the default or natural desire of the human heart is toward this hardened state, and this hardness causes our faith in, and love for God to be less than our 'all' as Deuteronomy 6, 10, 13, and 30 instruct (which Jesus teaches as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)

Hebrews 3:13 shows that the way to avoid this frightful hardening is to engage in daily exhortation with, and among other Christian believers of the living God. (In light of Hebrews 1 and 2, this faith should be in Jesus, to be more specific.) It is a daily effort in study, prayer, discussion, openness, honesty, and accountability with the other believers that fights the natural desire of the ever-hardening, sinful heart. This will hopefully help the reader follow the instruction of Hebrews 3:14 to “hold our original confidence firm to the end” (ESV).

In addition, this message was written to believers so while it could be a discussion about completely forfeiting salvation after one is regenerated (or born again), it is a strong possibly that is is about missing out on the many good things God has for his people.

While verses 12 and 13 are counted in Chapter 3, they seem to fit better heading into Chapter 4 because the call to take courage and keep the heart soft and faithful is compared to God’s people who stepped in faith to leave Egypt but eventually sinned by turning from God. They eventually took their faith and placed it elsewhere, in other words, they allowed their hearts to return to the default hardness and unbelief of all God was doing for them. While they still counted themselves as God's people, they did not trust that he had their best interests in mind. The result of this sin was a prohibition of the blessings and rest found in the Promised Land. The author continues to compare rest (or lack thereof) to the condition of the heart, and those with no rest had hard hearts. The author is encouraging the readers (then and now) to take caution and avoid the same pitfalls of those who did not remain completely faithful to the end.

Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, James A. Swanson, and James Strong. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 3)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Rob Bell explores his thoughts about hell in the third chapter of his book, Love Wins.  With a part of this chapter he challenges the traditional Christian view of a place of punishment, sorrow, and anguish, and it also seems that he is laying the ground work for a future argument about the everlasting aspects of the biblical hell.  But Bell also uses this chapter to present an idea of hell on earth, maybe something like his ideas of heaven on earth. However, this twisted idea of hell that Bell shares speaks against the Gospel of Christ and against the biblical idea of hell; it is a heretical argument and a tragic concept with the potential for epic devastation, a message which no Christian preacher should ever suggest, preach, or teach.

Bell argues that hell on earth is for victims. 

How can this be good news?

(At this point, I realize that readers who love and support Bell and his book will be tempted to stop reading this review, and that's okay.  But it is my hope that those readers remember arguments that they themselves might have made.  "Don't pass judgment," they might have argued, "and don't form an opinion until you've read the book."  Some also argued that I would have to get to the end of the book to see the entire picture.  So if this is you, I hope you continue reading this review.  I hope you are willing to see it through to the end. I invite comments and questions via e-mail or in person.  Please feel free to contact me. And I realize I have just leveled some serious claims about Bell's ideas; so Mr. Bell, I invite you to contact me to discuss your ideas so I can better understand. Come out to Salt Lake so we can discuss this over a cup of coffee.)

In this chapter, Bell shares some of his observations and experiences he has had as a pastor--a trip to Rwanda, a time sitting with a rape victim, a question from a boy about his father who had just committed suicide, the look of a cocaine addict, the ripples of a marital affair, and a cruel dead man.

When Bell was in Rwanda, he witnessed many teenagers missing hands and legs.  They were victims of brutal treatment, forced upon them by no fault of their own. Bell says this was a tactic of a person's enemy.  Cutting off your enemy's hand or leg leaves a brutal reminder of what you did to him.  He is reminded of you every time he looks at his child.  To this, Bells says, "Do I believe in a literal hell?  Of course. Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs" (71).

Bell also asks if his readers have ever sat with a woman as she described what it was like when she was raped.  In another question he asks, "How does a person describe what it's like to hear a five-year-old boy whose father has just committed suicide ask, 'When is daddy coming home?'" (71).   

But here's the problem with these examples.  In the common vernacular, one might suggest that a hot stone massage is "heavenly" or maybe it's a piece of chocolate cake the warrants such a high description.  I even remember once buying a honey-baked ham from a company called Heavenly Ham, but I really don't think I bought a ham from heaven, not even heaven on earth.  This is metaphorical hyperbole.  Heaven is the greatest thing one can think of so we use it to describe great things, as if to say there is nothing better.  But in reality, the biblical heaven is not a hot stone massage or a piece of cake or a ham or even the commercial building where I bought the ham.  That's not what these kinds of statements are attempting to say.  We use the word and idea of hell in much the same way.  Hell is the worst thing we can think of so we make statements like, "War is hell."  We want to dramatically declare that it just doesn't get any worse than this.  So in that usage, armless, legless boys and rape victims and mothers who hear very difficult questions could easily say, "This is hell;" but that would not be the hell described in the bible.

What these horrific examples demonstrate is sin, or rather, the effects of sin.  See, the teens in Rwanda and the raped woman are the victims of sinful acts thrust upon them.  These are examples of sin in motion, the sin of humans; it's sin in the fallen world in which we live.  However, in the model Bell gives us, Abel would have been in hell during the few moments while Cain was murdering him (Genesis 4).  Stephen would have been in hell as he was being stoned to death, despite that the Bible says that he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man was standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7).  In this model, it seems that the early Saints were passing into a hell on earth while Saul was ravishing the Church (Acts 8).

And let us take a look at a parable Jesus shared about a rich man who died and was in Hades. (Bell also examines this parable, but for a much different reason.)  Luke 16:19-31 tells us a parable of this unnamed rich man and a poor begger named Lazarus.  Lazarus sat out side the rich man's gates starving.  Dogs licked Lazurus' sores, while the rich man did nothing for him.  In the parable, Lazarus ends up in heaven while the rich man ends up in hell.  There is a chasm between the two that does not allow anyone to pass from one place to the other (Luke 16:26).  But looking through the paradigm Rob Bell is giving us, it seems that before the two died, Lazarus was in hell, not the rich man.

In this parable, the dead rich man calls out to Abraham (who is with Lazarus) for mercy, but Abraham reminds the suffering man, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received the good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25, ESV).  And even later, the rich man begs that his brothers be warned so that they may repent (Luke 16:30) and avoid this . . . this what?  The rich man says "agony." Agony for what?  Could it be punishment?  But punishment for what?  His sin.  Maybe for neglecting the poor; maybe neglecting Jesus as Jesus discussed in Matthew 25 (another passage Bell examines for entirely different purposes in the previous chapter about heaven).  Doesn't this make sense in light of Romans 6:23 which states that the wages of sin is death?  Doesn't this make the gospel, that is, that Christ created a bridge across this chasm, seem like amazing news!  The painting that was so frightful to Bell is the bridge, and the reason it is a cross is because that is how Jesus made the bridge.

As I thought about those Rwandan teens, I couldn't help but think about the people inflicting "hell" upon these children.  They may have actually lived rather well, like the rich man.  And what about the rapist? And what about the religious people who stoned Stephen to death?  What about Saul?  It doesn't seem that there was a punishment or agonizing hell on earth for them.  Bell's hell on earth seems only to be agony and suffering for the victims.  Does the Bible really teach that the victims suffer hell on earth, a biblical hell, for the sins committed against them?  Or as with the rich man, does it seem that this judgment and punishment comes in the afterlife?

And what about the feelings and experiences of a cocaine addict or how the suffering a man might feel after he has sinned by having a marital affair?  Has God cast any of these living people in to hell, or at least a hell on earth? (And again, we can't say Mahatma Gandhi is in hell but it's okay to declare that these living people could be in hell?)  The answer is no, God has not cast these living people into hell on earth.  For the victims, we might think of this suffering in light of 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Romans 8:28.  These victims are not cast away from God.  And for the perpetrators who are suffering as a result of their own sin, we might call this conviction in some cases, or it may be that the law is acting like a schoolmaster (Galatians 3), all for the benefit of their salvation.  God may feel distant to them, but only because they have pushed him away, done as an act of their own self punishment.  But God has not cast them to the burning trash heap of hell, not yet anyway.  God is not neglecting them; he loves them and desires good things for them.

It may seem that the Bible only talks of hell as a garbage dump as Bell tries to present it.  (He says that the only mention of hell is the Greek word gehenna. But even staying on the surface of semantics, this argument neglects 2 Peter 2:4's use of the word tartaroō.)  And of course it would seem that there are very little mentions of hell or any kind of punishment if we only look for the word gehenna.  And if we neglect Jesus' parables and much of the symbolic hints of punishment and reward, and even much of the direct statements about a punishment for sin after death, we might think that hell is not that big of a deal.  We could falsely draw the conclusion that Jesus wasn't that concerned about hell.  But that would be a mistake.  Before you incorrectly draw that conclusion, read some passages in the Bible again, without anybody's commentary.  Here are just a few examples; there are many more: Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; Numbers 16:30, 33; Deuteronomy 32:22; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Samuel 22:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 11:8; 14:13; 17:13, 16; 21:13; 24:19; 26:6; Psalms 6:5; 9:17; Matthew 3:12; 5:22, 29–30; 7:23; 10:28; 11:23; 13:24-30, 42-43, 47-50; 16:18; 18:9; 23:15, 33; 25:32-33; Mark 9:43–47; Luke 3:17; 10:15; 12:5; 16:23; John 15:6; Acts 2:27, 31; James 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 9:2; 14:9-11; 18:8; 19:20; and 20:13–15

And I propose that if we are to look for any example of hell on earth we must look to the specific moment while Christ was on the cross as a propitiation for our sins; that is, taking on the sins of the world which were laid upon him (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).  In that moment, when it appeared that Jesus was isolated from the Father, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).  In that moment, Jesus was making a way for us.  And if anything were going to make an argument for hell on earth, it must be this moment.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 4)."

* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.
** Photo of "The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door" by James Joseph Jacques Tissot is used with permission from the Brooklyn Museum.

Light in a Dark Time: Hope at the Funeral

Jesus was dead and his body had been laid in a tomb. On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, James’ mother, and some other women came to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ dead body and morn. When they arrived, they found that the stone was rolled away from the tomb door and there were two angels there. The angels said to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen” (Luke 24:5-6, ESV). It is only in Christ’s resurrection that hope is found. As one sits at a funeral before a dead loved one, he or she must realize that we are all dead in our trespasses; we have all committed high treason against God, punishable by death. But the good news of the gospel is the hope found in Christ. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and every one who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26, ESV). Romans 6:4-5 paints a beautiful picture of this death-resurrection relationship, reading, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like this, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (ESV). Therefore, if the loved one believed in Christ, there should be joy because of Christ. The one who believes should cling to this hope, and those who are simply dead without hope, must hear the gospel. A funeral should honor the dead, but it is of little value if there is no message of hope, no message of the gospel.

“There is no pastoral ministry,” writes Criswell, “that offers the open door of spiritual opportunity as does the presence of death in the home. [. . .] This is the hour when the loving and caring pastor is needed most” (Criswell 1980, 295). It is in the difficult time of death when the living are grasping for something of God. It may be that they have questions, or it could be that they—now being faced with death—are looking for some kind of hope. They not only expect the pastor to know how to find the hope that overcomes death, but they expect him to share it. Tragedy would be to remain silent or go the way of secular morning. A funeral that only serves to honor the dead does nothing to serve the living, but the funeral that shares the message can honor the dead and care for the living.

Funerals are discussed throughout the Bible, but little is said of the funeral itself. Genesis 50 states that Joseph’s father was embalmed and the Egyptians mourned for him for seventy days. There was a precession of chariots. Israel was buried. Deuteronomy 14:1 prohibited the Israelites from mutilating themselves or shaving their heads as a form of morning through funeral rites. There was often a special dress for the funeral, typically sackcloth, and sometimes even ashes or dirt on the head (see Isaiah 32:11 for example). Luke, chapter 7 tells of a funeral procession that Jesus came across in Nain. It is written that a “considerable crowd from the town was with her [the mother of the dead son]” (Luke 7:12, ESV), suggesting that some funerals were well attended. And devout men, those who knew and understood the hope for Stephen, still wept for him at his funeral (Acts 8:2).

Today funerals are diverse. Some funerals are well organized with rehearsed benedictions and eulogies, while others are haphazard, allowing any in attendance to say a few words. Sometimes there is music, sometimes poetry reading. Special ceremonial honors are bestowed on some based of factors such as military or police service. But the most important aspect of the funeral is the message of hope. Without it, death abounds; but with it, the dead may leave the funeral with hope, alive in Christ.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

* This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.  
** Painting: "Dead Christ" by Mantegna Andrea, in the public domain. Photo by Beverly and Pack is registered under a Creative Commons License. 

Children's Ministries

The church of tomorrow is seen in the children of today. Beyond the reality that a church that tends well to children will draw more families to their congregation, the church leaders must be cultivating and training children if they hope to invest in the future of the Church. A good children’s ministry is a necessity to any church reaching an area where children are present. Children’s ministry is a strong tool to help teaching and guide mothers and fathers in their role as parents. Jesus demonstrated a strong passion and love for the care of children, and the Bible dictates that parents and communities have a responsibility to train and correct children if they are to be brought up right in Christ.

What is Children’s Ministry and Why
Children’s ministry is any organized effort to minister to and train children. They can be found in many forms, but they must have a correct focus and purpose. Criswell says, “All the programs for children in the church ought to have an outreaching, evangelistic appeal. Everything done ought to mean something for Christ” (Criswell 1980, 258). Children’s ministry programs should understand and come under the teaching of the Bible. Much of the teaching is directed at parents, but the church can be a service to both the child and the parent if guidance comes from Scripture.

In Matthew 18, Jesus is asked who the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is. He calls to himself a child and says,
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes on of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:3-6, ESV).
This passage shows that Christ cares for children and loves their humility. But in addition, he charges those present (and by extension, the student of the Bible today) to receive children and keep them from sinning. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 demonstrates God’s desire that the children be taught Scripture and the ways of God. And when Paul writes to encourage Timothy he says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:14-15, ESV, emphasis added). This passage clearly demonstrates that Timothy new the Scriptures from his youth, and it is from those Scriptures that he learned and knows of the salvation through Christ. While not prescriptive, it does show the value of teaching children of Scripture, salvation, and of Jesus Christ.

Examples of Children’s Ministry 
The most common from of children’s ministry is found in Sunday school. Criswell argues this is the most important and it has a great value because it works in conjunction with the entire family as each member has something for him or her at church on Sunday (Criswell 1980, 258). Sunday school for children generally offers the ability for children to socialize with one another, but it also includes some age-appropriate worship and teaching. In addition to Sunday school, mid week programs can serve children well. MOPS, that is Mothers of Pre-Schoolers is another opportunity to minister to children and train and teach mothers.

Something else to consider is the single parent environment become prevalent in many communities. Clinton and Hawkins claim, “40 percent of American children are being raised in homes where no father is present. These children have more physical, emotional, and behavioral problems than children whose father is present, and it is more likely that they will be incarcerated” (Clinton and Hawkins 2009, 182). This certainly does not mean that the church is solely responsible to fill the void of a missing father; however, a children’s ministry program might have an opportunity to provide a child aspects missing in his or her life, as well as continually introduce the child to Jesus. Regardless of the program, the key is for a pastor to see the need and generate programs for children that will fill that need in a Christ-centered way.

Clinton, Timothy E., and Ronald E. Hawkins. The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical
Counseling: Personal and Emotional Issues. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.
*Photo property of D Sharon Pruitt and used by permission. 

Deuteronomy 22:1-4, Helping your Neighbor

Jesus instructed his followers to love their neighbors (Mark 12:28-31, John 13:34-35).  What does loving your neighbor look like?  It could be something like caring for the mugged Samaritan man (which today might look something more like caring for an illegal immigrant in need). It could be something as simple as taking your neighbors a meal when they are ill or have faced a disaster, or it might be sharing the gospel and praying for them.  There are many ways to show love for your neighbor.  In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells us one way to care for our neighbors:    

“You shall not see your brother's* ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. [2] And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him.  [3] And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother's, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. [4] You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again."  [Deuteronomy 22:1-4, ESV]

So keep an eye out.  Your neighbor probably doesn't own any farm animals, but look for ways to help care for your neighbor's stuff.  Maybe he left his lights on--save him from a dead battery in the morning.  Maybe it's raining and the UPS driver left a package out where it can get wet.  Maybe you've found the neighbor's family dog that has gotten out.  Helping your neighbor in a time of need may provide a great opportunity for you get to know him or her better; and it's a great way to show love as Christ instructed us to do.

*On a technical note, there's some discussion as to the word translated as 'brother' in the ESV version above.  The Hebrew word can mean brother or kinsman or potentially even neighbor. Some argue that this level of care should be reserved for family; however, I would argue that the familial use of brother is not the best way to think about brother in this passage. Look at verse 2.  Notice that there is a possibility that you might now know the owner of the ox or sheep.  Therefore, you are told to care for the animal until the owner is determined.  It would be challenging to reserve this kind of care to family if you don't even know who the owner of the animal is.  I would think then, this passage is calling us to help all those around us, potentially everybody we come in contact with.

**Photo is registered under a creative commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/ / CC BY 2.0

Tithing: It's About Heart

Introduction.  In First Corinthians, Paul writes (in part) to the church in Corinth about a collection that is being taken up (16:1-4).  The money will support and care for the believers in Jerusalem who were likely in hiding during a time of persecution.  Malachi 3:10a says “Bring the full tithe to the storehouse.”  Twice Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, that “you shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading the grain” (ESV), and in his first letter to Timothy he says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (ESV), making an argument that ministers of the gospel should be paid.  While all of these passages are used in support of giving or tithing to God through the Church, the means of ministry funds is not what God is after.  God, as the Bible teaches, is after the believer’s affection.   Giving the first fruits, be it money or otherwise, is more a work happening within the believer than anything else.

God does not NEED your money It is a mistake to think the work of God’s desire will not happen if we, the Church, do not raise the money for his will.  While reflecting on God and his own life, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21, ESV).  Job understood that he came into the world with nothing.  All that he had and all that he lost was a blessing from God, but he did not have a greater claim than God to any of it because it was all God’s to give and take.  Leviticus 27:30 teaches that every tithe, whether it is willfully given to God or not belongs to God, and the rest of Malachi 3:10 says that withholding this tithe is actually stealing from God.  Psalm 50:8-12 reads, "I have not complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer.  But I do not the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens.  For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it" (NLT).
When the King Ahasuerus’ edict demanded to have all the Jews killed, Mordecai asked Esther to appeal to her husband, the king, in order to save the Jews from genocide.  In verses 4:13-14, Mordecai says to Ester, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish.  And who knows whether your have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  (Esther 4:13-14, ESV, emphasis added)  Mordecai understood that God will have it his way whether it works through Esther or through some other avenue or person, but Esther had the opportunity in that moment to be faithful and obedient to God.  Giving to the Church is much the same way—we can be obedient to the Bible and give or not, but our disobedience will not keep our Sovereign from accomplishing his will.  However, this is not a reason not to give our tithes and offering to God as he as instructed. 
It is about the heart.  In the 18th chapter of Luke (also Matthew 19 and Mark 10), a rich man asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus asked him if was he had kept the last five Commandments.  The man had since his youth.  But then Jesus went after the real issue—the man's idol, that is, the love of his great wealth.  The rich man had placed his love of money above his love of God, thus violating the First Commandment.  Every sin we commit can generally be tied back to placing something above God, worshiping an idol rather than the living God.  One of the most prevalent idols in the West today is money. 
Money itself is not bad; but both Hebrews 13:5 and First Timothy 6:10 say that the love of it is.  Like the rich man, the believer must strip away the idolatry and the love of money if he is going to follow Christ.  This, at times, comes with resistance.  Criswell writes, “The true gospel preacher is confronted today by a new-time antinomian. . . . Where stewardship of money is concerned they are antinomians; elsewhere they are satisfied to preach the moral code of Jehovah” (Criswell 1980, 148-149).  However, the gospel preacher must continue to call men and woman to give cheerfully, not because God needs the money, because God wants the heart. 

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

*Photo is licensed under a creative commons license.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

One Christian on Capital Punishment and Abortion (Part II)

In an earlier post, I introduced a  question:  How can a Christian be against abortion but in favor of capital punishment?  In Part I, I explained that I am against both, and I discussed what the Bible has to say about the issue of capital punishment.  In this post, I am shifting to the topic of abortion.  I admit that neither Part I or Part II are exhaustive discussions on the matter, but hopefully they contribute to the conversation and offer some food for thought and encouragement toward further study.

Before I get started, I should offer my bias and position right up front.  I am against abortion.  I'm against the practice and I do not approve of the US government supporting or funding the practice.  In addition, my wife and I tried to conceive a child for many years.  The one time we did conceive resulted in a miscarriage, which greatly shaped the way I think about life and children prior to birth.  We have since adopted two boys who I love very much.  Although I do not have biological children and really can't know for sure, there is no way I could love children who share my DNA any differently then I do these two boys. 

My wife's miscarriage was extremely hard on she and I, but the reality is that miscarriages have been around almost as long as pregnancies.  Sadly, miscarriages were not a foreign concept in the Old Testament (see Job 3:10-11 or Exodus 22:26 for examples). I believe the miscarriage might be a part of the curse of sin that came with the fall of man in Genesis 3.  In verse 16, God said to Eve, the woman, "I will surely multiply your  pain in childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children" (ESV).  It is often thought that this in reference to the birth process itself, which it probably is, but it can also be all the other pain women feel for children, born or unborn.  But what about the intentional termination of a viable pregnancy?  (For the purposes of this post, I will use this as the definition of 'abortion.')  It seems that this idea--although not appearing as a medical service preformed by people in scrubs and white lab coats--was not foreign either.  In the book of Jeremiah, the author's lament seems to suggest that his life could have been intentionally ended in the womb.  Jeremiah 20:14-18 reads,
[14] Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!   [15] Cursed by the man who brought the news to my father, 'A son is born to you,'  making him very glad. [16] Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, [17] because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. [18] Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
In Exodus 20:22-25, the legal code made provision for the event of a pregnant woman getting hit in such a way that labor is induced or the baby is lost.  The punishment for the loss of the unborn child's life would result in a penalty of death for the person who struck the woman.   (It's interesting to note that verse 23 reads, "But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life," indicating that the unborn child was a life.)  Now, in fairness, it could be argued that this passage assumes that the mother and father want the baby opposed to the idea that the mother desiring to terminate the pregnancy.  In response, we should start not with the desires of the mother and father to have a child, but instead ask what is life and when does it begin? 

What is life? This is a fairly large discussion, but I'll boil it down to some simple points.  First, God  is the source and creator of life.  We can see this in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2; but another example is found in 1 Samuel 2:6 that says, "The LORD kills and brings to life" (ESV), and Deuteronomy 32:39 in part says "I kill and make alive" (ESV).  Job 1:21 quotes Job saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (ESV).  Job, in 10:8 says to God, "Your hands fashioned me." Isaiah 68:8 says, "But now O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand" (ESV).

Second, we have a general understanding of what is alive and what is not.  Plants--alive.  Rocks--not alive.  Dinosaur  bones--once living tissue, but now, not alive. Of course we can draw a distinction between living tissue and 'life.'  Skin is made of living tissue but we are more likely to see it as part of a system that requires other tissues.  We can look at skin cells under a microscope and see that there's some kind of life activity there, but we don't tend to think of skin as a stand-alone life. However, there is a difference between a single skin cell and a single-cell organism.  That single-cell organism is life.  If we find it on Mars, we will declare that there is life on Mars; but if we find a skin cell we will say we've found evidence of life (and then declare there is life on Mars anyway).  So life, it seems, is a living system, be it one cell, a plant, an animal, a human. Where this gets really interesting is when we think of a seed.  It might be dry and appear dead, but in the right conditions it shifts from that dead-looking thing to life.  If I crushed a seed nobody would say I killed it, but if it had a little white or green shoot growing from it and I failed to give it water or if I put it out in too much sun and it dried up and withered, you would say I killed it. To kill it, it must have had life.

In the debate on the legality of abortion, one issue of contention is the parents' right (specifically the woman's right) to terminate life, if indeed there is any agreement that an unborn child is life, that is, a thing in the womb that can be killed.  I will deal with this more in a moment.  

When does life begin? This is the other issue where a difficulty of the abortion debate resides. This, like the right to terminate life, is the other big question item where differences are found.

Luke, a first-century doctor and writer of one of the four gospel accounts, made a detailed investigation in order to write his Gospel.  In the opening of the book, he records a fascinating event. When Elizabeth greeted Mary (both of whom were pregnant), the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped.  Elizabeth, being filled with the Spirit, understood this to be caused by the presence of the baby in Mary's womb and proclaimed,
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." Luke 1:42-43, ESV.
While we don't know exactly how far along either of these women were in their pregnancies, this passage suggests that it was more than just developing cells void of life in their wombs.  The Greek word used for these babies in utereo is berphos, which we is translated 'child.' Twice Luke uses the same word for the baby Jesus (post birth) in chapter 2.  I think in today's society, we would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that life starts at the point of the doctor's spanking that gets the baby to cry.  I can think of nobody that would say a baby that has been in the womb for 9 months and is making his or her way down the birth canal is not life. Anyone, myself included, that's seen and heard the heartbeat on the monitor is overwhelmed by the awe of life there in the womb.  Where the challenge comes is in answering the question, when (maybe even before the heartbeat) does life begin? 

If we back up to the point of a sperm cell and an egg, we see that we have cells that seem to be more a part of a system than a single-celled, stand-alone organism.  After these to come together, an interesting thing starts to happen.  The little glob of sperm and egg create a cell that can divide and multiply.  Soon, there's an 8 celled organism, then 16, then 32, and so-on.  Is this life?  Maybe.  Is this like the little plant shoot that I killed earlier in this discussion?

God had us in mind before the creation of the world (but do not confuse this with the idea that we were all created and stored in some "pre-existence" before the creation of the universe), but this doctrine does not give us a practical answer as to the moment life begins in the womb.  Some argue at conception, some at the first heartbeat, and some even at viability outside the womb.  The first two arguments bear weight, but the viability argument is greatly flawed.  Here's why:  What is viability?  A full-term baby cannot survive, free of help and care, outside the womb for long on his or her birthday.  If we start looking at 'viability' being earlier and earlier in the pregnancy we have to start looking at the technology that aids in keeping the baby alive.  Therefore, our definition of the beginning of life under the viability definition seems dependent upon outside technology.  This would mean that we define the start of life by our advancements in medicine.

The other two arguments, that is, at conception or at the first heartbeat seem compelling.  No matter how much I think about it, I struggle with the idea of life beginning at the moment of conception.  It seems a little like the seed. There's  something there, but it doesn't seem like life. . . but I am willing to be wrong.  And I'll admit, it is spectacular that something (or more rightly, someone) gets the heart pumping.  That first beat seems like a magic moment for an organism that requires a heartbeat as a sign of life.  The reality however, is that it could be at either of these moments or at some point in between.  The Bible does not clearly identify at what moment  life begins, so I argue it is probably better to lean on the side of caution, closer, much closer to conception.

So, what about the practice of abortion?

We have two issues in tension when it comes to abortion: when life begins and the right, as an individual, to terminate life.  I would like to argue that in practice, the point when life begins is almost irrelevant with the exception of specific types of birth control such as the morning after pill.  To the best of our ability, we should err on the side of caution.  The real issue at hand is the attitude the leads one to have an abortion.

If we can agree that at some point, either at conception or at the heartbeat, life has begun, it seems that terminating that life is killing the life; it's murdering another human being.  "But wait, what about capital punishment?" you might ask.  There are two differences.  The first is that capital punishment is administered by the state, not an individual.  The second is that the life in the womb has not violated a law of the state.  (If for some reason being conceived was against the law, this law would be unjust in that the violator, in his or her very creation, would have absolutely no ability to not violate the law.  The violation and punishment should really fall upon the man and woman who conceive the child.)       

When a woman learns that she is pregnant, time has already passed.  We are now flirting with the very real reality that was is growing in the womb is life, more specifically, a human being.  So to think that one has the ability and right to terminate this life, especially out of mere convenience, is a serious act of self-worship, placing oneself in the position of God.  It says "my rights are more important that the rights and sanctity of the life I'm carrying."  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us (especially those who are in Christ) that we are not our own; our bodies are not ours because we were bought with a price.  We, to include our bodies, belong to Christ.  This runs into direct conflict with the argument that a pregnant woman has the right to terminate a life simply because she is not ready to care for an image barer of God.  

The truth is we do not clearly know the exact moment life begins, so there is the very real potential that an abortion at any point after conception is killing a life.  Abortion is wrong.  The attitude that typically drives abortion is wrong.  And to celebrate abortion as some kind of family planning tool is akin to spitting on the very face of God's creation.

If you would like to leave a public comment, you may do so here.  If you would like to contact me privately, click here.

* Photo/drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is in the public domain.

Four Views of Hell edited by William Crockett and Stanley Gundry

 Critical Review
FOUR VIEWS OF HELL, edited by William Crockett and Stanley N. Gundry

Four Views on Hell, of the Bible & Theology Counterpoints series, offers the arguments and counterarguments of four scholars on the topic of hell.  The question is not whether hell exists, but what the Bible says about it.  Is hell literal or metaphorical; everlasting or does it have an end?  John F. Walvoord argues for the literal view, William V. Crockett for the metaphorical view, Zachary J. Hayes for the purgatorial view, and Clark H. Pinnock for the conditional immortality, or annihilationist view.  Subsequently, Walvoord and Crockett subscribe to an eternal position of their respective views; whereas, Hayes and Pinnock’s views have an end although for different reasons.  Although certainly some more than others, each view point is supported by scriptural references.  Therefore, it is not a matter of arguing for what the Bible teaches, but rather, each author attempts to present compelling arguments for his understanding and interpretation of the biblical teaching.  This critique will examine each argument, at times contrasting them against one, two or all three positions of the other writers in an effort to identify the most compelling of the four views. 
Brief Summary
            In contending for the literal view of hell, Walvoord implies an argument for a strictly literal interpretation of all material in the Bible.  Laying the foundation of his position, he says, “For those who believe in the genuineness of biblical revelation and accept the inerrancy of Scripture, the problem is one of understanding of what Scripture teaches.”[1]  He then hints that those who feel eternal punishment does not exist—as Hayes and Pinnock believe—have no problem with this belief if they also deny the inerrancy of Scripture.[2]  Walvord points to both Old and New Testament Scripture to argue that hell is everlasting and that it is a literal place of fire.  While much of his argument is spent advancing the idea of an eternal hell, he does state, “There is sufficient evidence that the fire is literal.”[3]  His primary evidence is the “frequent mention of fire in connection with eternal punishment.”[4]

            Crockett takes little issue with Walvord’s position that hell is eternal, but he sharply disagrees with the Walvord’s view of a literal hell made of an everlasting fire and smoke.[5]  “And herein lies the problem of the literal view:” writes Crockett, “In its desire to be faithful to the Bible, it makes the Bible say too much.  The truth is we do not know what kind of punishment will be meted out to the wicked.”[6]  Instead, Crockett suggests that much of the biblical language is “rabbinic hyperbole” and should be read as such.[7]  Crockett then argues that the literal language seems to contradict itself, and therefore should be seen as a metaphorical representation of hell—not necessarily any less horrific than the literal view, just not actually fire, smoke, and darkness.[8] 

            Hayes, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach, describing an intermediate place between heaven and hell called purgatory.  It is not that Hayes believes purgatory is hell, but a temporary place of purification in preparation of an eternal life in the presence of God.  At the time of judgment, purgatory will cease to exist, leaving only heaven and hell.[9]  However, in no way is purgatory hell, nor will it become hell.  Hayes’ Roman Catholic argument is well written; however, Hayes dedicates his chapter to purgatory and not hell, so (as Pinnock rightly articulates), Hayes’ argument is not in line with the topic of the book, that is the biblical view of hell.[10]

            Pinnock, being one who supports an emphasis for the profitability of Scripture over inerrancy,[11] suggests that an alternative interpretation of hell is needed, one that does not paint God as one who would condemn the wicked to an everlasting torment.  Pinnock argues the case of the conditional immortality view, which is often referred to as annihilation.  Annihilation, as Pinnock describes, is the idea that those in hell do not suffer forever but instead eventually go out of existence.[12]  He writes, “Being unable to discount the possibility of hell as a final irreversible condition, I am forced to choose between two interpretations of hell: Do the finally impenitent suffer everlasting, conscious punishment (in body and soul, either literally or metaphorically), or do they go out of existence in the second death?  I contend that God does not grant immortality to the wicked to inflict endless pain but will allow them to finally perish.”[13]  Although not necessary for his view, Pinnock appears to find favor with a metaphorical view like that of Crockett; except that in Pinnock’s idea of hell, there is an end and the suffers are snuffed out completely, potentially by fire or some other metaphorical punishment.

Critical interaction with the authors’ work
            As the reader delves into the four views presented in Four Views on Hell, it becomes apparent that it is not the view of hell that is most significant, but instead how each writer treats Scripture.  At stake for Walvoord, is the idea that anything in the Bible could potentially be seen as metaphorical.  He starts by identifying how the people of the Old Testament, inter testamental period, and the New Testament understood words and concepts such as shoel, and hades.  However, to use these descriptions to support a literal view, one must also accept the earlier understanding of shoel and hades as literal.  Crockett challenges this thinking saying, “. . . in ancient times teachers often used words symbolically to underscore their points (rabbinic hyperbole, as we now call it.)”[14] Crockett sites the biblical examples of Luke 14:26 were Jesus calls his disciples to hate their mothers and fathers, Matthew 5:29 were Jesus tells his followers to gouge out their eyes if they cause them to sin, and Luke 9:60 explaining that the dead should bury their own dead.[15]  If indeed these statements were to be taken literally, it would stand to reason that either the disciples recorded in the remainder of the Bible were sinless or they had gouged their eyes out.  Yet, we do not see anything written about the disciples’ self-inflicted blindness, lending support to Crockett’s point.  Crockett also argues (against Walvoord) that the Jewish writers were seeking vivid images that were mostly symbolic.  He writes, “The object was to paint the most awful picture possible, no matter how incompatible the images.”[16] 

            In countering Crockett and the metaphorical view of Scripture, Walvoord suggests, “If prophecy cannot be interpreted literally, as they believe, it raises important questions about the literalness of hell itself and, in large measure, determines the view of eternal punishment that the individual may take.”[17]  He further states that those who do not view prophecy literally, take this position because they do not want to accept what the Bible teaches about the future, especially about hell and punishment.[18]  Walvoord offers support for a literal view of prophecy and by extension, hell, stating that over fifty percent of all prophecies have been fulfilled.  “In fact, it is difficult to find a single fulfilled prophecy that was fulfilled in other than a literal fashion.”[19]  However, a survey of the symbolic dreams of Genesis 40 and 41, which were interpreted by Joseph, lend more support for Crockett’s view over Walvoord’s. [20]  Despite his potential overstatement, Walvoord raises a valid question: What should be treated literally and what metaphorically? Walvoord’s approach removes the questions all together by treating everything literally.

            Crockett, who incidentally also edited the book, treats the specific scriptures that call for an eternal punishment as literal but the ones that suggest a fiery and black hell as figurative.  He suggests that the literal view is an embarrassment to Christian doctrine,[21] hinting that this may be the motivating factor for his interpretation.  (Pinnock also holds that this doctrine is troubling for Christianity, although he does not use the word ‘embarrassment.’)  Most of Crockett’s argument hinges two issues.  First, is the idea that other biblical passages are metaphorical, or “rabbinic hyperbole,” and therefore it stands to reason that the same is true regarding the passages explaining hell.  And second, is that the idea that the described fire does not conform to the physical attributes of fire on earth, therefore it must be symbolic and not actual fire.  To support his first point, Crockett uses much of Jesus’ words including examples previously mentioned as well as Matthew 7:5, 19:24, and Mark 6:23 among many others.  In support of rabbinic hyperbole, Crockett cites a number of extra-biblical documents written around the same period.  The Old Testament is used to make the same point of fire, showing that God is a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24), sitting on a throne “flaming with fire,” from which a “river of fire” flows (Dan. 7:9-10).[22]  Crockett also uses the New Testament’s use of fire.  But the most telling argument is Crockett’s use of hell’s opposite—heaven.  Discussing what the Bible says about heaven and why it is reasonable to think that it is metaphorical (but still great) he implies that the description of hell is also metaphorical (but still horrific.)[23]  To make his second major point, Crockett writes, “The strongest reason for taking them as metaphors is the conflicting language used in the New Testament to describe hell.”[24]  He takes issues with the idea that hell could be a place of fire and darkness when fire produces light.[25]  He cannot understand how spiritual beings could feel the pain without nerve endings.[26]  His first point is rather convincing; his second requires that one accept that hell conforms to the earthly rules of physics.

            Because Hayes placed his focus on the Roman Catholic view of purgatory rather than hell, his view does not fit within the scope of the book’s objective.  Hayes, like Pinnock, has the deepest desire to believe that the previous two arguments—both of which stand on the interpretation of eternal punishment—is too harsh of a loving God.  However, unlike Pinnock’s view of annihilation, purgatory is where those who die with unfinished lives can be purified.[27]  Hayes still argues that this purification is by no means pleasant but not eternal, and his Roman Catholic theology dictates that it is not the final destination.  Unfortunately, much support for his stance must come from Apocryphal writings and Catholic tradition rather than the Cannon accepted by the protestant faith.
            Pinnock’s argument, while interesting and compassionate, offers the greatest threat to the traditional view of hell and, more significantly, the approach to scriptural interpretation and generally accepted theological methods.  He seems ready to look for the most acceptable view rather than the one most fully supported by Scripture.  At one point, he writes, “Unfortunately, according to these doughty Princetonians, millions still get tortured forever even under their generous scenario.  We need something better than that.”[28]  At another point, Pinnock says, “Theology sometimes needs reforming; maybe it needs reforming in the matter that lies before us.  I believe it does and invite the reader to consider the possibility as a thought experiment.”[29]  He even asks, “Why do evangelicals who freely changed old traditions in the name of the Bible refuse to adamantly even to consider changing this one?”[30]  Pinnock’s concern is that people are not reading their Bibles because of the doctrine of hell, and therefore the doctrine is becoming a stumbling block.[31] He sees a non-profitable doctrine that needs an overhaul to regain a comfortable position again.  He writes,
 It is conceivable that the position I am advancing on the nature of hell is most adequate not only in terms of exegesis and theological, rational coherence, as I hope to prove, but also better in its potential actually to preserve the doctrine of hell for Christian eschatology.  For given the silence attending the traditional view today even among its supporters, the whole idea of hell may be about to disappear unless a better interpretation can be offered about its nature.[32]
       So, if given the opportunity to revise the doctrine of hell, what is it that Pinnock is proposing?  Using a short-supply of biblical passages, some extra-biblical religious writing, and the work of a number of church fathers, Pinnock argues for a hell where people suffer and are punished but eventually are extinguished.  This, he contends, is more in line with a god of love.[33]  While the counterarguments of the three other positions hold a great deal of respect for Pinnock’s view, they still content that it fails to take into consideration the larger body of biblical evidence.

            While Hayes and Pinnock hold a deep desire to see mercy and love in God’s justice (a desire we should all hold), their views are the farthest from the mainline and evangelical Christian views.  This alone is not a sufficient reason to discredit their views; however, of the four views, these two rely the least on the Bible, utilizing extra-biblical texts, reason, or simply their desire to see something other than biblical teaching.  However, this author believes the Bible, not tradition or desire to see something better should be used to determine the truth.  Walvoord and Crockett draw their ideas from the Bible and yet they come to different conclusions.  Walvoord holds to a literal view of hell and takes a literal view to the entire Bible.  Crockett’s argument does a nice job of demonstrating the error in Walvoord’s approach in laying out what turns out to be the most convincing of the four views.  However, Crockett’s view, that is, that hell is everlasting and awful but not necessarily fire and smoke, must be approached with great caution as well.  Surely not every item in the Bible can be seen as metaphorical, but from his approach, Crockett does not identify a method to determine what is literal and what is rabbinic hyperbole.  He only holds that hell is not literal.

Crockett, William V. and Stanley N. Gundry. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1996.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2001.

     [1] William V. Crockett and Stanley N. Gundry, Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), 12.
     [2] Ibid.
     [3] Ibid., 28.
     [4] Ibid.
     [5] Ibid., 29-31, 43-76.
     [6] Ibid., 54.
     [7] Ibid., 50.
     [8] Ibid., 30-31, 49-50.
     [9] Ibid., 93.
     [10] Ibid., 127.
     [11] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001), 927.
     [12] Crockett, 142.
     [13] Ibid., 142-143.
     [14] Ibid., 30.
     [15] Ibid.
     [16] Ibid., 30-31.
     [17] Ibid., 78-79.
     [18] Ibid. 79.
     [19] Crockett, 79.
     [20] Walvoord states that he has written an exposition on every prophecy of the Bible although he does not state whether that includes the dreams of Genesis 40 and 41.
     [21] Crockett, 43-44.
     [22] Ibid., 53.
     [23] Ibid., 55-61.
     [24] Ibid., 59.
     [25] Ibid.
     [26] Ibid., 30.
     [27] Ibid., 96-97.
     [28] Ibid., 150.
     [29] Ibid., 143.
     [30] Ibid., 160.
     [31] Ibid., 136,  148.
     [32] Ibid., 137.
     [33] Ibid., 151-153, 165.

 *I have no material connection to this book.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

Army Chaplain: Worship, Counseling, Visitation, and Wartime Readiness

             Just before entering the Promised Land, Moses preached to the Israelites in Arabah.  Among Moses’ many directives were instructional laws for warfare.  He said, “And when you draw near to battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: Let not your heart faint.  Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory” (Deut. 20:2-5, ESV).  Priests spoke first, then the commanders.  At Jericho, the priests blew the trumpets that led the people to shout and bring the wall down (Josh. 6).  These are but two examples of how God used priests among the Israelite warriors.  The chaplains of the modern American Army are not used in the same manner as the Israelite priests, but they still play a vital role to the force through offering worship services, counseling, visitation, and wartime readiness preparedness.  

            The mission of the Army Chaplaincy, in part, is to “Provide religious support to America’s Army across the full spectrum of operations” (U. S. Chaplaincy Corp 2009, Sec 2:1).  It is for this reason that the chaplain prepares worship services in both peace and wartime, in the garrison and on the battlefield.  On occasion, the chaplain must work outside what would be considered typical for clergy.  Rabbi Max Wall serves as a great example, having provided an Easter service in Bavaria at the conclusion of World War II (Bergen 2004, 210-211).  Indeed, in an Army rapidly growing more religiously diverse and serving in atypical missions throughout the world, the ability for a chaplain to remain flexible without violating his or her own religious tenants is paramount. 

            In recent years, counseling has moved up to a top priority of the chaplain corp.  Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey Jr. says,
After seven years of continuous combat however, our Army is out-of-balance.  The stress on Soldiers and Families has had an impact across the force.  Yet our Values remain non-negotiable.  Precisely for this reason, the Chaplain Corps’ mission of providing spiritual, moral, and ethical counseling is critically important (U. S. Chaplaincy Corp 2009, Sec 1:i).
In an effort to keep “spiritual, moral, and ethical counseling” in a position of high importance, the Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014 requires the strengthening of existing support programs and the creation of more of them; in addition to recruiting higher caliber chaplains and opening more opportunities for soldier and family counseling.  Chaplains regularly find themselves counseling wounded warriors and their families, soldiers transitioning out of the Army, and career soldiers enduring multiple extended deployments.  Suicide rates are higher among soldiers than the rest of the population, and chaplains are serving on the forward front in efforts to prevent future suicides as well as other physical, mental, and spiritual hardships of the suffering soldier.

            Finally, to accomplish the first two primary areas of the Army chaplaincy—worship and counseling—the chaplain must put a greater effort into visitation.  It is the ministry of presence that allows the chaplain to serve the soldier’s needs, psychically, morally, and spiritually.   Hospital visits are just as important as meeting each solider on the battlefield as is time with the troops in garrison and training.  Presently, the chaplain must go to the soldier, no matter where his or she is, because it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the soldier will come to the chaplain.

            And through out all of the chaplain’s efforts, the reality of war must remain in the forefront of planning and training.  Not only must Army chaplains help prepare soldiers and their families for wartime, they themselves must be ready.  The Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014 has come to realize that chaplains too must be ready to go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, at any time.  Without a doubt, in the face of a changing world, the Army chaplaincy must be changing too.

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004.

U. S. Army, Chaplain Corp. 2009.  The Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014. http://www.chapnet.army.mil/ (Accessed February 28, 2009)

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright

A Critical Review of
Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright
            Dr. Christopher J. H. Wright is a scholar of Old Testament ethics (Ph. D., Cambridge).  For five years, he taught at Union Biblical Seminary (1983-1988) and served as Principal of All Nations Christian College from 1993-2001.  Presently, he is the director of international ministries with the Langham Partnership International and he, as an ordained Anglican, is on staff at All Souls Church, Langham Place in London, England.  Wright has also authored dozens of books including Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament (IVP Academic, 2007), Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament (IVP Academic, 2006), and the subject of this review, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (IVP Academic, 1992) (InterVarsity Press).  Wright’s central purpose of Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament is to stress the importance of the Old Testament as a valuable key to understanding who Jesus was and how Jesus understood himself.

            According to Wright, the Old Testament offers a rewarding illumination of the Messiah.  “In short,” says Wright, “the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus” (Wright, ix).  However, Wright is not making the argument that the Old Testament points to Jesus, but rather, that the Old Testament pointed Jesus to who he was to become.  Upfront, we writes,
For these are the words he read. These are the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission (Wright, ix).
In order to point to specific Old Testament clues about the character, authority, mission, and purpose of the Messiah, Wright must first build the foundation upon which he will frame his argument.  This foundation consists of an overview of the Old Testament as the first act of a two-act narrative, or more specifically, “salvation history” (Wright, 30-54).  The stories are not simply children’s Bible stories; they are accounts of real events.  One such key event, according to Wright, is the covenant made with Abraham.  Genesis 12:3 is a focal point of Wright’s foundation, suggesting that all the people of the earth will be blessed through Abraham and by extension, the nation of Israel, and by further extension, Jesus (a Jew), who became the Messiah of the Jews, Gentiles, and all peoples of the earth.  From this covenant with Abraham to David, to the exile, to Jesus, Wright suggests that the genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17 is designed to remind the Jewish reader of the historical story of the entire Old Testament and the original covenants with Abraham and David.  Then, standing on Galatians 3:39, which reads, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (ESV), Wright suggests that this Old Testament narrative is the story of all believers, not simply the story of the Israelites.  “One people, one story,” says Wright.  “The fact is, that whether we read Matthew 1:1-17 in our Christmas carol service or not, that story is our story as much as it is the story of Jesus.  For through him, we have come to be, like him, the descendants of Abraham” (Wright, 54).
            From his foundation, Wright moves to the framework of his argument—the fulfillment of promise.  First, using a horse/motorcar analogy, he suggests that as situations change, the details of God’s promise (or covenant) change; however, the original intent of the fulfillment remains the same.  Then, switching analogies, Wright constructs a model of the promise/fulfillment—promise/fresh fulfillment cycle.  In this model, each promise is partially fulfilled and then a new promise gives energy and amplification to both the original promise and the new promise for a future fulfillment, eventually leading to a total fulfillment in Jesus Christ that needs no additional promise.  “Like some science-fiction, time traveling rocket,” states Wright, “the promise is launched, returning to earth at some later point of history in a partial fulfillment, only to be relaunched with a fresh load of fuel and cargo for yet another historical destination, and so on” (Wright, 72).  A significant amount of ink is then spent reinforcing the frame, explaining the significance of the various covenants to not just the Jewish people, but the entire world, building to the final covenant of Christ that would not need a relaunch (Wright, 55-102).

            Once the foundation is firmly set and the frame is standing, Wright hangs his argument.  Leading up to Jesus’ baptism, contends Wright, Jesus was diligently reading the Old Testament and coming to understand his role as the Messiah.  Defending himself from Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, Jesus uses Old Testament scripture.  Sparing with the Phrases, he depends on this scriptural knowledge and understanding.  And most importantly, Jesus the Christ is the fulfilling second act of the story.  He is expanding upon the Old Testament law and bringing greater clarification to the narratives that came before him.  The many similarities of the characters of the Old Testament didn’t foretell of the coming Messiah, suggests Wright, instead they defined him (Wright, 103-252).

            While Wright argues that the narrative started in the Old Testament and completed in the New must be viewed in its entirety in order to grasp who Jesus was (and is), he greatly narrows the scope of the Old Testament.  Understandably, in order to articulate his point and make a case for Christ as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, Wright must keep a narrow focus; however, because of his narrow approach to the covenants of the Old Testament, he glosses over the other elements of each individual covenant and the specific fulfillments of each for a real people of a historical time.  Wright completely ignores the Noahic Covenant, likely because this promise from God has no need for a future fulfillment in Christ.  And by focusing only on the portion of the Abrahamic Covenant that promises that the nation born of Abraham’s line will become a blessing to all people, Wright pays little attention to the promise of land and the fact that this covenant first promises that the line will become a great nation before it will be a blessing to all people.  Wright gives little attention to the Mosaic Covenant other than that it is a refueling and relaunching pad on the course for the bigger promise.  “Launched from Mount Sinai,” says Wright of the covenant renewal, “the people of promise head for its next stage of fulfillment – the gift of land” (Wright, 73).  The series of “next stages” provides a troubling idea that these promises were merely all one promise, with the details changing as the situation changed.  At the Davidic Covenant launching pad, Wright zeros in on 2 Samuel 7:16, which says, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever” (ESV).  But this focus pushes aside the portion of the covenant that promises blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience.  The foundation built by Wright provides strong support of the final completion of portions of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants; yet, the same foundation, which glosses over some of the specific details and fulfillments of the Old Testament covenants weakens his argument that the Old Testament is a book of real people and events that Christians should be reading and understanding.  Indeed, his strong ties that draw today’s believers to the Old Testament narrative, also serve to diminish the importance of the Old Testament Israelite people.  While, this reviewer is somewhat critical of Wright’s foundation, I do believe Wright paints a nice picture of the ultimate fulfillment of portions of the covenants.  In addition, Wright’s approach being neither from a fully dispensational theology or fully covenant theology does provide a fresh perspective from which to view the progression of the promises.

            There is little biblical evidence that disputes Wright’s claim that the Old Testament scriptures and songs not only shaped Jesus character, but also helped him understand who he was.  In fact, the Luke 2 story of Jesus as a boy in the temple lends more support to his argument, specifically verse 52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (ESV).  If Jesus is increasing in knowledge, it only makes sense that some, if not all of this knowledge would be in the scriptures.  Wright spend considerable time expanding on Jesus’ use of scripture—in thwarting off Satan’s tempting efforts, in explaining who he is, in teaching, and in expanding and simplifying the law.  However, Wright’s argument allows for the challenge that Jesus may have merely studied the scriptures and fit the pieces together in order that he may become the Messiah and fulfill the prophecy.  (Although this challenge would struggle to stand against the various miracles, healings, signs, and resurrection of Christ.)  In addition, this challenge could assert that the writers of the New Testament crafted Jesus’ life to fulfill the Old Testament covenants.  Although clearly not his intention to suggest the authors inappropriately drew connections, Wright himself suggests that the New Testament authors contrasted what they witnessed to what they knew before recording the Gospels.  Wright states,
So, when the writers of the New Testament witnessed God’s climactic discharge of that commitment to humanity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, they checked what they had experienced with what they already knew through their Hebrew scriptures. They looked at all the events surrounding Jesus, and they understood them, illuminated them, explained and finally recorded them, all in the light of the whole sweep of Old Testament promise (Wright, 102).
In addition to paving an avenue for critical attack, Wright’s efforts to demonstrate that Jesus was a real man, specifically a Jewish rabbi, in a real time, flirts dangerously close to stripping the deity from Jesus and leaving him an ordinary man.  For example, Wright states,
...it was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus.  Who did he think he was?  What did he think he was to do?  The answers came from his Bible, the Hebrew scriptures in which he found a rich tapestry of figures, historical persons, prophetic pictures and symbols of worship.  And in this tapestry, where others saw only a fragmented collection of various figures and hopes, Jesus saw his own face.  His Hebrew Bible provided the shape of his own identity (Wright, 108).
And only a page later, Wright says, “Here we have an adult man, at one level indistinguishable among the crowds of those who flocked to John for baptism and in any case otherwise unknown except as a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, who takes upon himself a staggering identity with awesome personal consequences” (Wright, 109, emphasis added).  From other passages, it would seem that Wright does indeed believe Jesus is the Son of God, yet some of his wording, intentional or unintentional, suggests Christ was more ordinary man than God. 

However, Wright’s effort to show the importance of the Old Testament provides an outstanding demonstration of Jesus’ knowledge and use of scripture.  Academic discussion may center on whether or not the Old Testament scriptures shaped Jesus’ self-awareness; but in the practical arena of ministry, it is clear that Jesus knew and used the scriptures.  Jesus himself points to Deuteronomy 8:3, which states, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD(ESV, emphasis added).  Pastors and teachers should be in agreement with Wright regarding Jesus’ example, and therefore teach that Christians should learn from Christ’s example and feast on the Word of God. 

            Of the few reviews of Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament this reviewer found (none of which are academic, but rather commercial in nature), most, if not all were in complete agreement with Wright; although a couple including one by Brian Tubbs (2007) focus on Wright’s meandering through his argument, “taking longer than necessary to make some of [his] points” (suite101.com).  This reviewer agrees.  Additionally, most articles regarding Jesus and Old Testament scripture argue something similar to the typology that Wright argues against (Wright, 114-116).  If they are not arguing a typology, they remain focused on the same prophecies that Wright argues Jesus used to shape who he was.  Michael Rydelnik’s “What Does the Hebrew Bible Say About the Coming Messiah?” serves as a good representation of all of these kinds of articles with one exception—like Wright, Rydelnik points to the Hebrew bible in its entirety rather than simply as specific scriptures treated as stand-alone narratives (Rydelnik 2007, 1351-1352).  

             In conclusion, this reviewer found Wright’s purpose—“the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus” (Wright, ix)—compelling.  His intent is encouraging.  However, the foundation and framework of his argument are built on a narrow focus, which leads to a challenging premise of the progression of Old Testament covenants from the Lord.  In addition, Wright’s detailed work demonstrating Jesus’ use and knowledge of the scriptures is outstanding; however, I struggle to fully agree with Wright because his argument all but suggests that the Old Testament didn’t foretell the coming of the Messiah, but instead shaped the very character of Jesus as the Messiah.  
Reference List
InterVarsity Press. “Christopher J. H. Wright.” http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/author.pl/author_id=343 (accessed February 21, 2009).

Rydelnik, Michael. 2007. “What Does the Hebrew Bible Say About the Coming Messiah?” In The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith Ed. Ted Cabal, 1351-1352. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers.

Tubbs, Brian. Suite101.com “Jesus and the Old Testament A Review of Christopher J.H. Wright's Book on Jesus in the OT” 2007. http://protestantism.suite101.com/article.cfm/jesus_and_the_old_testament (accessed February 20, 2009).

Wright, Christopher J. H. 1992. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.  

*I have no material connection to this book.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

The Word of God, Hebrews 4:12

A deist is one who believes that God created the world and set it in motion, but does not interact with his creation; or if there is interaction, it is extremely rare, and only in the miraculous. The analogy of the clockmaker is often used; that is, that God is like a clockmaker that created a clock, wound it up, and then set it on a shelf never to touch it again. But the Bible does not teach that God has walked away from his creation, uninterested.  In fact, there are hundreds of stories, thousands of scriptures, that demonstrate the opposite. And while we could look at many, many scriptures, today we'll examine Hebrews 4:12.
 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
Here, we see that the Word of God is alive and doing something in this world, in us.  In this verse, the Word is dividing "soul and spirit" and "discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." The NIV translation says "it judges the the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12, NIV). But what is the Word of God that is alive and active?

The "Word of God" has several different meanings throughout the Bible.  The word "word" is translated from the Greek word (the language the New Testament was originally written in) logos.  The word itself has many possible meanings, which is why the phrase can carry multiple meanings.  The Word of God could mean the speech of God or maybe God's decrees (Genesis 1:3, for example).  It could be the actual words spoken to a person or people, like when God spoke to Moses (Exodus 20:1-3) or when God spoke to the crowd at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17).  There are many Old Testament instances of God speaking through a human prophet; Deuteronomy 18:18-20 explains how God spoke through these men.  And of course the Word of God can mean the written scriptures, that is, the Bible.  (Please see Joshua 24:26 or 1 Corinthians 14:37.) And there are rare Scriptures that indicate that the Word of God is also Jesus Christ.
(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, ESV)
Here we clearly see that the Word was with God but was also God.  The reference to "the beginning" is a reference to Genesis 1:1 when God was creating the world. This is not simply spoken words or the Scriptures.  And we see that all of creation was made through the Word.  But what or who is this Word.  John 1:14 gives us the answer:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)
Clearly this Word is not like the aloof clockmaker; this God entered flesh and walked among the creation.

Getting back to Hebrews 4:12, it is most likely that the Word of God is the Scriptures (although it is beautiful to see the deeper connection between the Scriptures and the Christ).  Often the Holy Spirit uses what is written to convict us, to show us where we have blemishes in our intentions and attitudes.  And through this conviction we find we can turn to Jesus Christ, who has made a way for us to escape the punishment of sin and dwell with God eternally.  If, however, God is like the clockmaker, why do our thoughts and attitudes need investigation?  Why even leave man with the living and active Word of God at all? No, this God is not like the clockmaker.  This God is living and active in the lives of his creation.