Bible Study


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When it comes to the practice of homosexuality, knowing what to say is not all that difficult if one believes the Bible. It pretty clearly says, from “Genesis to the maps,” as one of my professors used to say, that

  • Men having sex with men is wrong
  • Women having sex with women is wrong
  • Humans having sex with animals is wrong
  • People having sex with other people’s spouses is wrong
  • People having sex with close family members is wrong

In other words, the Bible pretty clearly lays out the boundaries of human sexuality from God’s perspective. Just as it lays out all kinds of other limits on what we can and cannot do.

From a Bible-believer’s perspective, God created the world, God created us, and God created human sexuality. As the Creator, He gets to decide what is and what is not within His intent, purpose, and design for human sexuality.

From a non-Bible-believing perspective, there appear to be no limitations on what is acceptable. Who has the authority to make rules? Who gets to define right and wrong? No one.

That is why knowing how to say what we believe is extremely difficult. I never want to condemn, ridicule, insult, or even offend unnecessarily, do you?

But the more this issue comes to the forefront in our culture, and the more Bible-believing people try share their faith, the more difficult any kind of discussion is going to become. Why? Because the two “sides” come at the conversation from completely different perspectives. Consider this quote from Jeff Hood:

“I heard a really nasty hateful homophobic and bigoted statement this past week…it simply stated, ‘The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’” *

Think about the statement he is condemning: the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

  • The Bible condemns the practice of homosexuality. It is a sin. The only way around that is to find a way to get the Bible to say something other than what it clearly says.
  • Christian teaching is based upon the Bible.
  • Therefore, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

That is a perfectly valid, straightforward, neutral statement of truth.

And yet, to Mr. Hood and so many others in our culture, how is the statement characterized?

  •  Nasty.
  • Hateful.
  • Homophobic.
  • Bigoted.

I wonder how we are going to bridge this divide. How can I express what I hold to be a valid, non-judgmental, non-homophobic, non-bigoted statement of truth (i.e., the Bible says this, Christian teaching holds this, etc.) and not be characterized as hateful, nasty, homophobic, and bigoted?

* http://revjeffhood.com/phil-robertson-and-the-united-methodist-church/

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Stricken by Sin, Cured by Christ

There is much talk today about the Christian doctrine of sin. A new book has just been released:

  • Jesse Couenhoven, Stricken by Sin, Cured by Christ: Agency, Necessity, and Culpability in Augustinian Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

As a preacher in Churches of Christ, this book is a challenging read for me.

Many non-Christians in America are turned off by the Christian teaching on sin. Why would anyone want to go to church and sing about human failure, death, and dying?

Perhaps more surprising, however, is the fact that some Christians find the biblical depiction of human sin overly pessimistic.

  • When Scripture speaks of human corruption, some Christians speak of human potential.
  • When Scripture says “all have sinned,” some Christians say, “Yeah, but I have overcome all that now.”
  • When the Lord Himself says, “With men, [salvation] is impossible,” some Christians say, “Get over it—pull yourself up and let’s do this thing!”

In Churches of Christ, a movement born on the American western frontier and steeped in the rationalism of the Enlightenment, as well as the views of John Locke and Scottish Common Sense Realism, we deny the traditional, orthodox Christian teaching on “original sin.”

Many of our critics accuse us of being “Pelagian” in our view of human sin. Right or wrong, our critics do point out a serious issue in our theology, in our view of the human condition after the Fall.

My question to our people is, “What do we believe about sin and its effects on the human condition?” What did we inherit from Adam, if anything? What were the effects of “sin entering the world” through Adam’s disobedience? What is Paul’s point in Romans 5:12-21?

As a man who makes his living preaching in and for Churches of Christ, I want to know what to teach about the ability of human beings to overcome sin by themselves. Do I go with Christian orthodoxy and risk losing my position of employment? Or do I go with the party line and, while retaining my job, run the risk of violating the overwhelming testimony of our Sacred Text? This presents quite a dilemma.

I have heard sermons within Churches of Christ, many sermons, which could be accurately characterized as Pelagian. According to these sermons, even after the Fall human beings at birth are, following the philosophical view of John Locke, a “clean slate.” According to these sermons, every human being born after the Fall is capable of living a perfect life. Our logic is, “Otherwise, God could not hold us accountable for sin.” Or, “How could God command us to keep a law that is impossible for human beings to keep?”

Fair enough, at least according to “common sense.” But what about Paul’s clear teaching–teaching inspired by God’s Holy Spirit–that it is humanly IMPOSSIBLE to keep the Law, or any law, perfectly? What about Paul’s teaching that it was never the purpose of the Law, or law, to produce righteousness but, rather, to expose human sin?

Furthermore, the other side of the question is, “If every human being born after the Fall is capable of living a perfect life, why did it take the miraculous birth of Christ—the incarnation of God Himself—to produce a human being who could actually accomplish that feat?” Surely if it were possible for every human being to live a perfect life, there would be at least one example from history. Heaven knows many have tried. The problem is that each and every one who has tried has failed, most failing miserably–except One, and He was God-in-the-flesh.

My present sermon series is an expository journey through Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. In this hard-hitting letter, Paul is attacking the human tendency toward self-reliance head on. He is intense, he is angry, and he is pulling no punches. Why? Because Paul has discovered hope—true hope for the human condition.

And true hope does not come from the power of positive thinking. No! True hope comes from “the truth of the gospel,” which is: Christ and Him crucified is the ONLY cure for human sin. This truth is pessimistic to some, but liberating to those who see its power.

In his new book, Jesse Couenhoven makes some very insightful observations:

  • The Christian teaching on sin seems pessimistic only to those who think we ought to be able to justify ourselves, by ourselves.
  • The view that we can justify ourselves degrades the Bible’s teaching on human sin.
  • The belief that we participate in—or even contribute to—making ourselves righteous offends God’s claim that righteousness (justification, salvation) is a free gift, given by grace.
  • The Bible’s teaching that we are not masters of our own goodness and cannot justify ourselves is not a counsel of despair but testimony to our only true hope—Christ and Him crucified.
  • Freedom is NOT an autonomous achievement but, rather, a free gift. One that we ought to receive joyfully.

I am still wrestling with this mystery. Regardless of which view one takes, there remain unanswered questions. It seems to be impossible to tie up all the loose ends in this challenging debate.

After more than three decades of struggle, however, my conclusion is this: Regardless of “who made me do it,” I have personally participated in Adam’s rebellion—I am guilty of sin.

And so I do not need a self-help remedy for my sin problem. I need a Savior.

Praise God that He has provided One for me—and for everyone else who comes to Him in humility, repentance, and submission.

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Hand me a photograph with 100 people in it and what do I immediately do? Look for my ugly mug!

The shiniest (most used) key on my keyboard is the letter “I.”

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Why don’t they think of me? Because they are just like me—they are thinking of themselves instead!

This tendency of our fallen nature carries over into our understanding of salvation. Allow me one example that has always bothered me:

  • We sing the song, Create in Me a Clean Heart, especially at youth events.
  • The song is based on Psalm 51 and was originally composed by Keith Green.
  • Following his premature death in an airplane crash in 1982, Green’s widow Melody pulled together several previously unpublished songs composed by Green and released them on the 1984 album, Jesus Commands Us to Go! This song was included in that release.
  • We do not sing Green’s version of the song, however. The version that we most often sing was arranged by Kenny Lewis. Although I mean no disrespect to Kenny Lewis, I must assume that it was Lewis who changed the wording.
  • When we sing the now-popular version of this gorgeous song, what do we say about salvation?
  • “Restore unto me the joy of MY salvation” (emphasis added).
  • That is my point – everything is about me, even salvation!
  • When Keith Green originally wrote the song, he followed the wording of the Hebrew Bible. Green had a Jewish background; his wife Melody was also Jewish and converted to Christianity.
  • What did Green’s song originally say about salvation?
  • Precisely what the Hebrew Scripture says about salvation: “Restore unto me the joy of THY salvation” (emphasis added).
  • That is the point of our sacred text – everything is about God, especially salvation!

For the last several weeks I have been preaching a series of sermons on human justification—how does a sinner become righteous? This debate goes way back. In its present form, it began in earnest with the Protestant Reformation:

  • The Roman Catholic Church taught (teaches?) that salvation does depend on me to a certain extent—on my “works” if you will (I realize this is a gross oversimplification but I am trying to make a point so please indulge me here for the sake of clarity).
  • The Protestant Reformation responded, as is often the case in these types of debates, by swinging the pendulum to the opposite extreme:  I am saved my faith and my faith ALONE. Works are completely irrelevant, including Christian baptism. (Allow me one more indulgence here please. Martin Luther DID NOT jettison baptism from the process of salvation. With the exception of his view of infant baptism, I dare say that most of us within the Restoration Movement agree with what Luther taught about Christian Baptism. If you are interested, see my sermon below entitled, “My Baptism – Christ’s Act” in which I quote Luther extensively on his view of baptism.)
  • The Restoration Movement, of which I am a part, tried to navigate some middle ground I suppose but still allows the emphasis to remain on the human side of the equation. In our tradition, “God’s Plan of Salvation” says very little about God at all! Instead, God’s plan of salvation is about me hearing, me believing, me repenting, me confessing, me being baptized, me doing church correctly for the rest of my days, etc.

In the last two series of sermons I have preached, I have tried to illuminate the emphasis that God’s word places on Salvation—how a sinner becomes righteous (is justified). Here is my summary in bullet points. I invite you to think about this and, if you have questions, to listen to my sermons on the subject.

  • I am NOT saved (justified, made righteous) by my works. This is an absolute no brainer. The only possible issue I face in adhering to this obvious biblical truth is knowing how to properly handle James 2:14-26.
  • I am NOT saved (justified, made righteous) by my faith.

This second statement is the sticking point for so many people. I have been studying this issue for over three decades and I am absolutely convinced that what the Bible is telling us, through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul, is that

  •  I AM saved (justified, made righteous) by the faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16, 3:22; Philippians 3:9).
  • To see the point I am making, you will need to read these passages either in the original Greek or in the King James Version. Most modern English translations obscure the subtle distinction being made in Paul’s theology of justification by faith. As I see it, there are two “kinds” of faith in Paul’s teaching: the faith of Jesus Christ and the faith of a penitent sinner.
  • Here is my summary of what Paul is teaching. I challenge you to study it for yourself and see if it makes sense:
  • The faith of Jesus Christ is what “reveals” God’s righteousness—makes it available to sinners, enables God to keep the promise He made to Abraham, to impute righteousness to rebellious human beings, etc.
  • My faith moves me “into Christ” where Christ’s faith makes me righteous.
  • Specifically, my faith moves me to repent, confess, and be immersed “into Christ” where God places my sins upon His cross, me into Him, and His righteousness into me.

Again, all of this is elaborated upon in two sermon series that I have preached in the last several weeks. Copies of these sermons are available on my church’s web page at http://www.3chopt.org – click on “messages” and look for the following sermons:

One Righteous Act:

  1. Love Me; Obey Me; May 5, 2013; John 14:23-24.
  2. My Baptism – Christ’s Act; May 12, 2013; Romans 5:18-19.
  3. The Exchanged Life (Part One); May 19, 2013; Romans 8:12-17.
  4. The Exchanged Life (Part Two); May 26, 2013; John 15:1-4.
  5. Moving From Head to Heart; June 2, 2013; Ephesians 1:15-23.

Freedom – Studies in Galatians:

  1. Freedom – An Urgent Plea; June 16, 2013; Galatians 1:1-10.
  2. Freedom – Ordained by God; June 30, 2013; Galatians 1:11 – 2:14.
  3. Freedom – The Grand Proposition; July 7, 2013; Galatians 2:15-21.*
  4. Freedom – It Comes Apart from Law; July 14, 2013; Galatians 3:1-18.
  5. Freedom – It is Lived Out in Christ; July 21, 2013; Galatians 3:19-21.
  6. Freedom – From Faith Unto Faith; July 28, 2013; Galatians 3:22-29.*

All of the sermons are addressing the question: how does a sinner become righteous. In other words, they are all addressing the issue of “justification” directly and only discussing “sanctification” secondarily. In all of them, I try to move the emphasis off of me and onto Christ.

In the two sermons marked with an asterisk (*), I deal specifically with Paul’s statement “the faith of Jesus Christ” and its implications for answering the question: how does a sinner become righteous?

In the sermons dealing with the faith of Christ, I mention an enormous body of literature on the subject. I have uploaded a Bibliography to this blog site that gives you the sources I have found that discuss and participate in this fascinating debate. You can find the link on the “Pages” section to the right.

I also refer to a “cheat sheet” that I created that quotes the eight Pauline passages that have this unique phrase. I have also uploaded this document for your use. You can find the link on the “Pages” section to the right.

Of course, I would love to discuss this further, as long as we can do that civilly and in a Christian way, either on this blog site or via email.

For two quarters, I have been teaching the Book of Isaiah to the adult Bible class. I covered the entire 66 chapters in one quarter and then rotated classrooms and repeated the same 13 lessons to a different group of adults. It has been a tremendous learning experience.

People unfamiliar with the nuances of the biblical text are often surprised at what the text actually says and does. Take Isaiah for example:

  • In chapters 1-39 we are rolling along discussing the world in the 8th century B.C. (740-701). Assyria is threatening, Israel is falling, Judah is being sacked.
  • In chapter 40 we are suddenly transported 200 years into the future. Babylon has conquered the world, the Jewish people are at the end of their captivity, and Cyrus, king of Persia, is about to take over the world.

What is amazing is that the text does not bat an eye. It simply makes the shift and assumes the reader will come along for the ride with no question.

However, careful modern readers have many questions. First, what happened and why was I not warned of this sudden shift in time and space?

Second, now that you have rocked my world, why is there no explanation of what just happened?

Third, how is it possible that the person who was alive to witness and report the events of chapters 1-39 now appears to be alive and reporting on events that are happening 200 year later?

To add to the mystery, Jesus cites Isaiah chapter 40, which is reporting events that are happening around 540 B.C., and ascribes that writing to “the prophet Isaiah” (Matthew 3:3). Is this the same Isaiah who wrote chapters 1-39, which describe events occurring 200 years earlier? How is that possible?

I am confused. Very confused.

More than confused, I am afraid to even ask the question. Why? Because I’ve seen people who point out these nuances of our sacred text accused of “not believing the Bible.”

Huh. I believe the Bible. I devoted my life to teaching and preaching our sacred text. I just believe the Bible is filled with mysteries that cannot be explained away with a simple, “says what it means and means what it says.”

It says a lot. It does a lot. And it does not always make perfect sense to my little pea brain. I have lots of questions – sometimes more questions than answers. But my questions relate to the nuances and mysteries of the sacred text, not the God who inspired the text.

The God who inspired the Bible is a glorious and worthy God. He has gone to extreme lengths to rescue me from my confusion and distress. He rescued Israel by sending His Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12) to accomplish His mission. And that rescue mission was for more than just the people of Israel – it was for everyone, me included!

For that I will always serve Him. I will always preach and teach His holy word. But be warned, as I labor in this earthly vessel, I may not be able to fully explain everything I know about the nuances of our sacred text.

This Sunday (10/28/12) I will preach my final sermon from John’s Apocalypse—the Book of Revelation.[1] We will cover chapters 21-22. This will be the ninth sermon in this series. I covered the entire apocalypse, with the exception of chapters 15-16, in just nine sermons. Wow. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did.

Upon careful scrutiny, the artistic beauty and structural genius of John’s masterpiece come to the forefront. It truly is a magnificent work of art. Here is a look at the structure of the drama:

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Act One:

1. The Prologue, 1:1-20.

2. Scene One: The Church in Imperfection – The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, 2:1 – 3:22.

3. Scene Two: The Authority of God over Evil Explained – The Seven Seals on the Scroll, 4:1 – 8:6.

4. Scene Three: The Warning Judgments – The Seven Trumpets, 8:1 – 11:19.

Act Two:

* Center Scene: The Lamb, God’s Answer to Evil – The Seven Unnumbered Figures and Angelic Messages, 12:1 – 14:20.

4. Scene One: The Consummated Judgments – The Seven Bowls of Wrath, 15:1 – 16:21.

3. Scene two: The Authority of God over Evil Exercised – 7 Descriptions of God’s Authority, 17:1 – 20:15.

2. Scene Three: The Church in Perfection, 21:1 – 22:5.

1. The Epilogue, 22:6-21.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

I can’t get the editor on this blog page to cooperate, but if I could, I would progressively indent each scene in the two acts so that you would notice that the structural frame forms the left-hand side of the letter “X.” This is called chiasm, from the Greek word for the letter “X” – chi. John has created a chiasmus with the structure of his apocalypse.

The drama is presented in two acts: act one is comprised of chapters 1-11; act two is comprised of chapters 12-22.

Notice how each scene in act one moves us toward the center scene—chapters 12-14. This is the center of the drama and the heart of John’s message: the Lamb of God is God’s answer to evil.

Then notice how each scene in act two mirrors—in reverse order—each scene in act one. Again, this is artistic genius at its finest.

Recognizing this structure helps in the interpretation of the work. For example, much debate and speculation surrounds chapters 21-22. There John describes the holy city with its gates of pearl and its streets of gold (21:21).[2]

Is this a description of heaven? Many people believe so. I have sung many songs about heaven’s streets of gold and I have heard many jokes that begin at the “pearly gates” of heaven. Saint Peter is there with the keys into heaven and the authority to allow us in or deny us access.

But if this is a description of heaven, then it is a very awkward one. Why? Because the city John describes is “coming down out of heaven” (21:2). How is that possible?

And, this city is referred to as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). That sounds like the church, doesn’t it?[3]

So is this a description of heaven or is it a description of the church? Which is it?

I am convinced that it is the church, not heaven. How can I be so sure? By carefully looking at the structure of John’s work.

In act one, scene one (chapters 2-3), what is John talking about? The church. No question about that.

Now look at the scene in act two that mirrors act one, scene one. Remember, act two progresses in reverse order; therefore, the corresponding scene in act two will be the final scene—chapters 21-22.

What is John talking about in the final scene of act two? Well, maybe heaven and maybe the church, for many it is not 100% clear. There are arguments that cut both ways.

But for my thinking, examining John’s structure removes any ambiguity. In both acts John is talking about the church. In act one, he is talking about the church in a state of imperfection; in act two, he is talking about the church in its perfection. Any ambiguity is eliminated once John’s structural framework is brought to bear on the question.


[1] The title is singular, Revelation, not plural, Revelations. Sorry, just a minor, technical pet peeve of mine.

[2] In fact, John says that there is only one street—singular—that is made of gold. He doesn’t mention any other streets.

[3] See Matthew 9:15, John 3:29, Romans 7:4, 1 Corinthians 6:15, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-33 for examples of Jesus being referred to as the “bridegroom” and his people, the church, being called his “bride.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

Lucifer image copyright @ Caelicorn

Much of what the early church believed about God it learned from Judaism. Likewise, her beliefs about Satan flowed out of the same mindset.

Today, much of what we believe about Satan does not come directly from clear explanations of the origin of Satan found in the Bible. Instead, it comes from tradition, both Christian and Jewish, inferences from a smattering of passages, and from a strange exegesis of some passages in the Hebrew Bible, namely: Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. The exegesis of these passages is strange because neither is referring to Satan, the Devil, or even anything supernatural. Both are specifically referring to human beings. Isaiah is addressing the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the king of Tyre.

General Discussion of Isaiah 14:12-17.

  • Isaiah 14:12-17 has been used to explain the origin of Satan since the second century AD.[1]
  • The Hebrew phrase הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן־שָׁ֑חַר  (Helel ben Shahar) found in Isaiah 14:12 is notoriously difficult to translate. It seems to mean:
  • Helel – “The Shining One” or “The Bright One” (derivative of the verb hll, “to shine”).
  • Ben-Shahar – “son of the dawn” or “son of the morning.”
  • It seems to refer to the morning star—the first “star” visible in the morning, Venus (technically a planet).
  • The Greek uses ἑωσφόρος (heosphoros – phosphorus), which means “light carrier.”
  • The Latin word for the Greek heosphoros is lucifer, which was used in the Latin Vulgate, the foundational text for the King James Version in English. Hence, the KJV renders Isaiah 14:12 thus: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (notice the capitalization of the word, making it a proper name).

Christian Evolution of the Understanding of Satan (the Devil).

  • The idea of Satan has evolved within Christianity and Judaism through the centuries.
  • Many argue that not all of this evolution is the result of sound exegesis of Scripture, particularly when various Old Testament passages are applied to Satan.
  • Regardless, the following appears to be the basic Christian understanding of Satan and his origins (again, not every assertion can be clearly established by Scripture):
  • Satan was originally an angel, created by God and serving God in heaven, whose name was Lucifer (from Isaiah 14:12).
  • Lucifer was perhaps the greatest, most beautiful angel God had created—“the brightest in the sky” (again from Isaiah 14:12).
  • But, his pride led him to refuse to bow to God, as all the other angels did.
  • In his self-worship, Lucifer sought to rule heaven himself and rebelled against God.
  • Other angels followed Lucifer in this rebellion against God.
  • This understanding is derived in part from the following passage in Ezekiel:

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. 18 By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. 19 All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’” (Ezekiel 28:12-19, NIV).[2]

  • Following his fall from heaven, Lucifer took on other names and identities:
  • The Devil. This term comes from the Greek διάβολος (diablos), which means slanderer or accuser.
  • Satan. In the New Testament, “Satan” occurs 35 times in 33 different verses.[3] In Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 the terms are used side-by-side and refer to the same being, hence, the Devil is Satan, the accuser.
  • Beelzebub.The New Testament uses the name Beelzebub seven times.[4] This is a contemptuous name given to a Philistine god whose original name has been reconstructed as most probably “Ba’al Zabul,” meaning “Baal the Prince.” He was the head of the house, the lord of the house, or the “master of the house” (Matthew 10:25). However, the house over which he was master was demonic; hence he is the prince of the demons. His household was also considered to be made up of garbage or, worse, flies and so he is known as “The Lord of the Flies.”
  • The Serpent. Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 refer to Satan, the Devil, as that ancient serpent.
  • The Deceiver.Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as “the Deceiver.” Hence, it is assumed that Satan is also the serpent in the Garden of Eden who deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.
  • The Prince of this World.John 12:31, 14:30 (prince of the world), 16:11.
  • Prince of the Powers of the Air. Ephesians 2:2 (the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience (ASV)).
  • The god of this World. 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • The Accuser of the Brethren. Revelation 12:10.

Popular, Non-Biblical Works that Contribute to Our Understanding of the Devil.

Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost“ by Gustave Doré, 1866

Several popular works have contributed to our understanding of the Devil, Satan. It is often difficult to discern which of our beliefs come from the Bible and which come from these popular works. Here is an abbreviated list of the most influential:

  • Dante Alighieri, Inferno (1321).
  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1604).
  • Joost van den Vondel, Lucifer (1654).
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667).
  • C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942).

Satan in the Hebrew Bible.

  • The Hebrew word satan occurs over 30 times in the Hebrew Bible.[5]
  • It means adversary or one who opposes.
  • When the New Testament links Satan with the Devil, it is clear then that he becomes the accuser (See Revelation 12:10).
  • Sixteen times[6]the word “satan” appears in the Hebrew Bible with the definite article.
  • Standard rules of grammar would normally require these passages to be rendered, “the satan,” the adversary, or the one who opposes.
  • However, the direct article in these passages has been omitted and the term satan has been capitalized (Satan), thus leading to the conclusion that a specific person is being indicated.
  • For example, Job 1:6 reads in English: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.”
  • It seems clear, however, that these texts are referring to a role being played or a function being carried out rather than the proper name of a specific being.
  • Based on this data, most biblical scholars assert that, “Nowhere in the [Hebrew Bible] does Satan appear as a distinctive demonic figure, opposed to God and responsible for all evil.”[7]
  • According to this view, the present understanding of Satan as a distinctive person did not develop until the inter-testamentary period.[8]

Summary of My Understanding of the Development of Our Understanding of Satan.

  • I agree that neither Zechariah nor Job refer to Satan as a specific, known person.
  • Instead, they both indicate that a role of an Accuser existed within the divine council.
  • By the time of the New Testament it is obvious that there is one person who fills that role—the person to whom we refer as Satan.
  • Many biblical scholars argue that this conception of Satan did not develop until inter-testamentary period.
  • I disagree. I assert that the Hebrew Bible contains evidence that this conception of Satan developed before the inter-testamentary period.
  • Specifically, this conception of Satan was in the mind of the Chronicler when he revised Israel’s history for the post-exilic community. He inserted a specific reference to the person Satan, the archenemy of Yahweh, by clearly using his proper name in 1 Chronicles 21:1.

[1] Such early interpreters as Origen (184/185 – 253/254 AD), Tertullian, (160 – 225 AD) and Augustine (354 – 430 AD) used the text in this way.

[2] As mentioned, the king of Tyre is being addressed in this passage.

[3] Matthew 4:10, 12:26 (twice), 16:23; Mark 1:13, 3:23 (twice), 26, 4:15, 8:33; Luke 10:18, 11:18, 13:16, 22:3, 31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3, 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5, 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:15; Revelation 2:9, 13, 24, 3:9, 12:9, 20:2, 7.

[4] Matthew 10:25, 12:24, 27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15, 18-19.

[5] According to my research in the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word satan occurs 33 times, in 6 different forms, in 28 verses as follows: Numbers 22:22, 32, 1 Samuel 29:4, 2 Samuel 19:23 (19:22 in English), 1 Kings 5:18 (5:4 in English), 11:14, 23, 25, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7, Psalm 38:21, 71:13, 109:4, 6, 20, 29, Zechariah 3:1 (twice), and 3:2 (twice).

[6] Job 1:6, 7 (twice), 8, 9, 12 (twice), 2:1, 2 (twice), 3, 4, 6, 7; Zechariah 3:2 (twice).

[7] T. H. Gaster, “Satan,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (New York, New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 224.

[8]  Ibid., 1377. “The earliest texts that indisputably contain the proper name Satan date to the second century BCE.” The texts that do contain such references are The Assumption of Moses 10:1, Jubilee 23:29, and possibly Sirach21:27, all of which are clearly dated within the inter-testamentary period.

Inside the New Jerusalem

My preaching ministry has me in the middle of a nine-sermon series from John’s Apocalypse–the Book of Revelation. My teaching ministry has me teaching Isaiah for the second quarter in a row.

Obviously, I have run up against the biblical teaching on “last things”–eschatology for the theologians and seminarians.

Many scholars assert that the Bible does not present a consistent picture of what will happen at the end of time.

  • Some argue that the gospels do not coincide with what Paul presents.
  • Others claim that John is in opposition to Paul.
  • Some even argue that Paul is not consistent with Paul! (e.g., his eschatology in 1 Thessalonians is different from his eschatology in 2 Thessalonians).

I can’t sort out all the nuances of each school of thought but this is clear: no consensus exists among biblical scholars regarding Scripture’s presentation of the end of time.

And this is equally clear: the average person sitting on the pew thinks very little about the nuances of the issue. The basic understanding of many Christians seems to be:

  1.  Christ will return,
  2. The dead in Christ will rise first,
  3. Then those who are left alive will be gathered together
  4. And all will be taken up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1Thessalonians 4:17, NIV).

End of story. Seems pretty clear. What’s the problem?

Jesus confirms this in John 14:1-3 when he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Finally, Peter weighs in on the conversation to tell us what will become of the earth: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10, ASV).

So Plato and all those Greek philosophers were correct. Our bodies die, decay, and are never more. Our souls go to heaven to live with Jesus forever and this nasty ol’ material creation is disposed of as it should be. End of story; what’s the problem?

Well, the biblical story is not that clear cut.

First, according to the New Testament, our physical bodies are going to be raised from death, just as Jesus’ physical body was raised (1 Corinthians 15). Second, there are a number of passages that talk about a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Take the 2 Peter passage as an example—the classic proof-text for a “the world is going to be burned up” position on the matter. If we keep reading, just two verses later we see that “according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13, ASV).

Isaiah talks about a new heaven and new earth that follows God’s judgment (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).

John does too in his Apocalypse. In fact, the new heaven and the new earth is the precise climax to which John leads the reader of Revelation (see Revelation 21).

According to these passages, the hope we have is not to wind up floating around the clouds in a vaporous realm in the sweet by and by, but rather an entirely new creation in which God’s perfection finally prevails (“wherein dwelleth righteousness,” to quote Peter again).

So where do a new body, a new heaven, and a new earth fit into the mainstream Christian understanding that at the end of time our bodies go into the ground, our souls go to heaven, and all matter will be destroyed? That we go to live with God in a non-material realm and leave this terrible place in the far reaches of our memories?

And what exactly does Paul mean when he says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”? (Romans 8:19-21, NIV).

That sounds a whole lot like a new earth following God’s judgment, which would be consistent with other passages on the subject.

At this point I have more questions than answers. And I have a much deeper appreciation for those scholars who wrestle with this and come away scratching their heads.

I remember a Bible teacher many years ago telling us his view:

  1. We will get new bodies at the resurrection
  2. In those bodies we will go to heaven to live with God forever
  3. God will then re-create the earth
  4. So we can all sit around in heaven and watch re-runs.

At the time I thought he was joking. Now I’m thinking, “Maybe not. Maybe he is on to something.”

Artwork by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. From the series “Revelation Illustrated.” Used by permission. It is available in fine art prints and visual teaching materials. Call 1-800-327-7330 for a free brochure or visit her web site at http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

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