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]. (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., 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.

Theology of Missions

The Church today, at least in America, is conflicted about missions. Distinctions are argued between the terms, “mission” and “missions.”[1] In their book, Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One, Roxburgh and Boren spend an entire chapter explaining how and why the term “missional” cannot be defined.2 Some argue that the American Church is becoming inward focused, moving away from local and overseas missions in both sending qualified people and support. Many Christians avoid sharing their faith at home, let alone engage in missionary work beyond the borders of their suburbs. Could a move away from missionary work throughout the world be a result of the Church simply checking out of these theoretical and philosophical arguments? Or might it be that the Body of Christ in the United States is not educated about God’s Word regarding missions? This paper will argue that the problem is a checking out due to a lack of understanding. Therefore, a survey of missions found in the Old and New Testaments will precede a discussion of the theology of missions

The Church’s mission, or the idea that God’s people are to engage in missions,3 finds it start the moment Adam and Eve (after listening to the serpent) decided to rebel against God’s single prohibition in the Garden of Eden.4 As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee state, “As a result of their blatant denial of respect for their creator; God judges them and the serpent.”[5] God’s instruction to Adam (written in Genesis 2:17) indicated that the consequence of violating God’s command was death that very day. Yet, when the first sin accrued, neither Adam nor Eve fell down physically dead. Neither does God completely cast off humanity in judgment without a picture of his love for future humankind or his plan of redemption. On this matter Calvin writes, “For then was Adam consigned to death, and death began its reign in him, until supervening grace should bring a remedy.”[6] Genesis provides the first hint of this supervening grace when God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[7] Moreau, Corwin, and McGee call this hint the “initial promise of salvation, knows as the protoevangelium.”[8]

As the meta-narrative advances deeper into the Old Testament, God calls upon Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 records this contact, which ends with an indication of the necessity of missions and a forthcoming redemption. Verse 3 states in part, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[9] While not entirely clear at that point how all the families of the earth would be blessed, New Testament readers sit at a vantage point that affords them the ability to see this promise come to fruition. On numerous occasions, Old Testament writers look forward to this redemption, but they also serve as God’s agents to bring about his revelation of himself to other people groups. Leviticus 19:33 indicates that decedents of Abraham, the Israelites, were to love foreigners as much as the loved themselves. Kings 8:41-43 outlines how the Israelites were to share the revelation of God to foreigners and allow them to worship him in the temple. The key running through the passage is that “all the peoples of the earth” may know God’s name and worship him.[10] In prophesying the restoration of Israel, Amos declares that all nations called by God will take part in that restoration.[11] And Isaiah 56 shows that salvation is soon coming available to all people.

In light of Old Testament passages that show God’s love for all nations, it is important to see the role of the Israelites in God’s plan of redemption for all people. Too often, new students of the Bible will feel that God’s chosen people were the only ones he loved or blessed; but in fact, God’s people were and are actually called to be his missionaries and servants to the rest of the world. For example, Isaiah says that God has called his people, among other things, to be a light to the gentiles.[12] “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”[13] And in fact, Old Testament readers will find that Jonah—unwilling, but still under the command of God—went on a missionary journey to the gentiles in Nineveh. Ester too seems to demonstrate her God’s glory in a foreign land, as do Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego). As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee conclude, “Mission in the Old Testament involves the individual and the community of God’s people cooperating with God in his work of reversing what took place as a result of the fall.”[14]

The New Testament—coming by way of the fulfillment of promises made many years earlier—is not only the good news of Jesus’ gospel, it is also the call to missions. Even before Christ went to the cross, he presented a picture of a people reaching out to the world in order to proclaim the good news of salvation. Much of the New Testament implores the Church and the individual believers to engage in mission and live sent. Jesus tells his disciples that just as the father sent him, he is sending them; and to help them, Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.[15] On numerous occasions throughout the gospels, Jesus is shown going throughout the towns and villages, teaching, healing, forgiving sins, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The woman who met Jesus outside Samaria at the well became a missionary to the entire town, of which “many Samaritans from that town believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony.”[16] Jesus sent out his disciples, after saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”[17] And Jesus continually preaches that his people must be a light unto the world.[18] Even John’s Gospel was written with a missionary/evangelistic purpose. John writes, “but these [signs in the presence of the disciples] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[19]

As the gospels end, Jesus gives the Church what is commonly known as the Great Commission, the very mission and duty of the Church. Jesus says to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[20] In Acts and the epistles that follow, the very setting is within the backdrop of Christ’s commission for his Church. Paul and others are continually seen journeying to other lands and other peoples, faithfully preaching the gospel. Indeed, these texts provide the models after which most present-day missionaries and church planters structure their missions and church plants. However, it would seem that at times the Church reads over the many calls to missionary work throughout the New Testament. Duffield and Van Cleave remind their readers, “The Church has frequently needed special urging to get on with her assigned task.”[21] But for those who engage in missions, the hope that the biblical meta-narrative points to, which believes long for, is the picture seen in Revelation 7; that is, a multitude from every tribe, people, and language continually worshiping the Lamb of God.

Mission theology is essentially a biblical understanding of evangelistic outreach to the world. It addresses the questions of what does the Bible say about mission, missions, and the Missio Dei, and how these ideas are to be carried out in practical application. Like most aspects of theology, there are internal arguments about the answers to these questions. Theologians and missionaries struggle to land on single definitions. In part, it is the objective of this paper to avoid the minor details of these debates. Instead, this section, in light of the previously offered biblical survey of missions, will address how the nature of God relates to the mission of his Church, how mission theology fits within the broader systematic theology, and some motifs and themes running through mission theology today.

From the highest perspective, God’s people reach out to the lost because we are reflecting God’s desire for the redemption of his creation. This should be only natural for the regenerate believer being made in the image of God. As seen throughout the Old and New Testaments, the believer is sent—from the moment of conversion—on mission for the gospel. Therefore, it is important to understand other theology through the idea of mission. Moreau, Corwin, and McGee argue, “If Gods’ concern is truly that all nations be called to worship him [...], then it is natural to build a theology of mission at the core of all theological studies.”[22]

Balancing various other theologies with mission theology tends to be simple in areas dealing with creation, sin, and the fall of man. It gets difficult in soteriology or the order of salvation for example. Does God’s sovereignty even require missions? This question is sometimes asked specifically by Neo-Calvinist; however, the Bible clearly demonstrates God’s people on mission. Although there are some differences in the theology of the Calvinist and Arminian or Reformed and Free-will camps, there is no doubt that believers in Jesus are to be reaching others, living sent. Packer specifically address this issue in his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, writing, “Always and everywhere the servants of Christ are under orders to evangelize[...].”[23] Paul also speaks of this matter, writing to Timothy, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”[24] If Paul understood the elect like those doubting the need for missions today, why would he “endure everything”? Grudem, a theologian of a Calvinist/reformed position explains it like this: “It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, ‘I guarantee that you will catch some fish—they are hungry and waiting.’”[25] Notice that Grudem’s statement still requires one to engage in the act of fishing, guarantee or no.

Even still, important questions have to be asked even in areas of missiology. Does one work to reach the lost close to home or should the Church still engage in overseas missions? Traditional missions or church planting? Long-term or short-term missions? There are no simple answers, and the Bible demonstrates a variety of different models for mission work. That being said, it is important that those asking the questions spend much time in the Word of God and equally as much time in prayer. Ideally, like for Paul, the Holy Spirit will be the guide and helper.[26]

Primary dependence upon on the Holy Spirit’s lead is one motif or theme of mission theology. Moreau, Corwin, and McGee define motif as “a recurring pattern or element that reinforces the central guiding theme for the house.”[27] Motif is the look or feel that dictates other choices such as furniture style and paint colors. Among mission theology, Moreau, Corwin, and McGee identify a variety of motifs, that is, mission theology preferences. As already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is one motif. Those that gravitate to this theme tend to place the Holy Spirit in the guiding position of all that they do. Another motif is the Kingdom of God, which deals with the paradoxes of the Bible and tends to be driven by the idea of the coming Kingdom in and beyond the end times. The Jesus motif sees the Great Commission as the command and example of Christ. With this motif, Jesus is the absolute focal point and driving force behind missions. With the myriad of books publishing recently on the function of the local church and church planting, there is a high likelihood that the Church motif will also gain in popularity. The purpose and role of the church, in this motif, becomes the primary theme one views mission theology through. This motif seems much more community driven than some of the others and the church—having a strong purpose in this theology—plays a strong role. The Shalom motif tends to place a high priority on the peace of Jesus in world thrust in the conflict between Christ and Satan. And finally, the Return of Jesus is motivated by a strong leaning toward Eschatology. “The coming of Christ,” according to Moreau, Corwin, and McGee, “motivates Christians to be preservers in the lost world.”[28]

Regardless of the motif one’s mission theology might prefer, it is important that one have a mission theology that leads them to live sent, on biblical mission. Considering that God’s mission is assigned upon conversion, it applies to the missionary, church leader, and layperson alike. This paper only offers a brief survey of the vast material in mission theology, most of which is worth further exploration. However, one most eventually leave the theoretical and engage in the practical, as did the many missionaries of the Bible.

Calvin, John. Translated by John King. Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol 1., Genesis. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Moreau, A. Scott, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Encountering mission. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004.
Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Roxburgh, Alan J. and M. Scott Boren. Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

1. Scott A. Moreau, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, Encountering mission (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.
2. Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 27-45.
3. It is not the intention of the author to differentiate between the terms mission, missions, or missional in this paper. Therefore, the terms will be used interchangeably and simply mean the intentional effort to share the gospel with others in the vain of Matthew 28:19-20.
4. Genesis 3.
5. Moreau, 30.
6. John Calvin, translated by John King, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol 1., Genesis (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 128.
7. Genesis 3:16, ESV.
8. Moreau, 30.
9. Genesis 12:3b, ESV.
10. Kings 8:43, ESV.
11. Amos 9:11-12.
12. Isaiah 42:6.
13. Isaiah 49:6, ESV.
14. Moreau, 37.
15. John 20:21.
16. John 4:39, ESV.
17. Luke 10:2, ESV.
18. See Luke 8:16-18 for just one example.
19. John 20:31.
20. Matthew 28:19-20.
21. Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008), 440.
22. Moreau, 75.
23. J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 13.
24. 2 Timothy 2:10, ESV.
25. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 674.
26. For examples, see Acts 13:2, 16:6, 20:23, and 21:11.
27. Moreau, 79.
28. Moreau, 85.

* 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. 

** Photo by Seth Anderson, registered under a creative commons license.

One Christian on Capital Punishment and Abortion (Part I)

I was recently asked how Christians can take a position against abortion and stand in favor of capital punishment.  I found this question rather interesting considering that I’m a Christian and I’m against both abortion and capital punishment.  However, I thought this would be a good opportunity to look at these issues in light of what the Bible has to say. 

This is a large subject so I’ll be dealing with it in two parts.   Let’s start with capital punishment.

There are three key issues that I’d like to address.  The first issue is the government’s right to administer capital punishment—and I do believe governments have the authority to administer a death penalty.  The next issue is how this right fits within the 6th commandment found in Exodus 20:13, “thou shall not kill” (KJV). And the final issue is the citizen’s responsibility within his or her government, specifically in the United States.

Paul, writing during a time of Roman oppression (and possibly great persecution) tells the Christians in Rome that they are to submit to the civil authorities because God installed those authorities to this position.  In Romans 13:1-7, he writes,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  [2] Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  [3] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for his is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, and avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  [6] For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to who revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:1-7, ESV).
His readers probably didn’t like taxes or oppression or the political opinions of the dictator in charge, and they lived under harsh and corrupt circumstances the like we Americans have never known.  Much can be said here, but my point is that God installs the civil governments of the world and expects that we will submit to them.  (Now, there are exceptions.  For more on the exceptions read the book of Daniel.)

Civil governments, it seems, are given the ability to create laws and keep order.  Even Jesus was subject to these laws when he was tried under Pilot, the Roman official who ordered his crucifixion.  We never see Jesus argue that the law that sentenced him and the two criminals next to him to death was unjust.  Jesus was innocent of the charges but the authority of Pilot to order his execution is never challenged.  In addition, we find many instances where God’s law for the Hebrews includes a physical death penalty.  It is part of the covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:6.  In Exodus 21 (the chapter after God gives the 10 Commandments), God lays out some laws for the Hebrew people, giving a number of crimes that will result in a penalty of death (see Exodus 21:12-28).  This is seen throughout the Books of the Law (that is, the first 5 books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch).  Therefore, given that God installs governments and gives them the right to administer laws, and even that in the laws God gave to the Hebrews capital punishment existed, and considering that the New Testament doesn’t challenge the existing civil laws of the day, I believe that governments today have the right to administer capital punishment.  Now, you might be asking why I’m opposed to capital punishment considering what I’ve just presented.  I’ll get to that in a moment. 

But first let’s deal with Exodus 20:13, the 6th Commandment. 

The translation of the Bible called the King James Version, translates Exodus 20:13 like this: “Thou shall not kill.”  This translation has filled our vernacular to the point that some people take this to mean not to kill in battle, and still others understand it as not to kill even animals for food.  But the problem is the word “kill.”  Our English meaning of this word is something to the effect of, ‘to cause the death of’ or, ‘to terminate the life function of.’  But that is not the meaning of the Hebrew word that the KJV translated.  In the Hebrew—the original language of the Old Testament—the word is ratsach, which is to murder.  In other uses of this word, including non-biblical uses found in ancient literature, this word is most used for intentional or negligent murder much like we would use the words murder or manslaughter today.  The Septuagint (LXX), which was the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek a couple hundred years before the incarnation of Christ, translated this word as phoneuo, which in the Greek also means murder or more specifically ‘to murder.’  This is the word used by Jesus when quoting the Old Testament when he gave is famous Sermon on the Mount.  Looking through many other translations, I’ve found Exodus 20:13 is almost always translated, “You shall not murder,” some simply say, “Do not murder.”

But just for a moment, let’s say all we have is the King James Version.  How can we understand what God is meaning by his command not to kill?  If we continue reading the conversation between God and Moses, we find that in just a few hundred words later, God gets into some specifics about this killing stuff.  In Exodus 21:12-28 (which I also mentioned above), God outlines when a person should be put to death for killing another and when that is not okay.  For example, if a man does not lie in wait, that is, he plans to kill another, but instead it is something of a fight gone bad, the killer should be allowed to live.  “But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning” says Exodus 21:14, “you shall take him from my alter, that he may die” (ESV).  Simply striking your parents was enough of a reason to face the death penalty, as was being in possession of an illegally gained (or kidnapped) slave.  And surely killing in battle must not be the same because thought out the Old Testament God orders his people to attack other nations.  He gives the faithful boy, David, the ability to kill the warrior, Goliath (1 Samuel 17), and David is highly honored and loved by God.  And if you were thinking about becoming a vegan based on the 6th Commandment, you should probably read the book of Leviticus first.  Leviticus outlines just how animals were to be slaughtered for sacrifices and feasts.  Obviously, even if we have a bad translation of the word ratsach (thank you KJV), we can see that this does not mean every form of the word ‘kill.’  Therefore, we must ask ourselves if capital punishment falls inside or outside the idea of the biblical discussion of murder.  It seems to me, that capital punishment, that is, execution administered by the state and regulated by the law, is not the same as murder.  The Bible is not against capital punishment. 

Yet, I am against capital punishment.  Why?

After working in the American legal system, I am concerned that we could get it wrong. Our society is such that we would rather let a guilty person go free than punish an innocent person.  This  idea echoes Exodus 23:7, which reads, "Be sure never to charge anyone falsely with evil.  Never sentence an innocent or blameless person to death, for I never declare a guilty person to be innocent" (ESV).  At times, I feel capital punishment does not reside in the spirit of this attitude, especially considering that we have seen new evidence overturn incorrect rulings.  Death is final.  There is no overturning capital punishment. 

But if the Bible is not against capital punishment and I feel God gives governments the right to administer the death penalty, how can I be against it? 

As Americans, we are a part of our government.  Actually, we are the government.  Our collective voice is intended to be what grants our various local, state, and federal governments the ability to make laws (This right is ultimately granted to us and other nations by God, as discussed above, and we should be thankful).  As citizens of the USA, our opinions matter and we vote to make our opinions known.  We can be opposed to, or in support of laws because our government system allows us to take part.  The Bible doesn’t say governments must to have capital punishment.  The governments of the Bible did, but while this punishment is allowable, it is not required. This is how I can say the Bible allows governments to engage in capital punishment but I don't want our government to do so.

In Part II, I will address the topic of abortion. Continue to Part II.

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 of "Old Sparky" is in the public domain. Photo of protesters is registered under a creative commons license: / CC BY-SA 2.0