Tag Archives: Bible

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Three)

Introduction

Easily one of the most confusing passages in the New Testament regarding the role of women in worship is found in 1 Corinthians 11.  Some people avoid it like the plague.  Others, however, flock to it to try to make it prove their side of the argument.  The funny part about it is that those who go to one extreme (women preachers) will hold this passage up as evidence; while those who are on the other side (women can’t speak, and they also have to have their heads covered) also hold this passage up as evidence.  What are we to make of this?

Turn to 1 Corinthians 11, and we will look to see what this passage has to say for us today, as well as how it fits into the question about the role of women in worship.

I Praise You…But (1 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and (that you) keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.  But, I desire you to know that the head of ever male is Christ; and the head of the female is the male; and the head of Christ is God.

Ordinances

The word “ordinances” is usually translated “traditions,” and while it usually refers to the traditions of men, Paul uses the word to refer to the things taught by the apostles.  But in every case, it describes an act that was done for a religious purpose.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, either by word or by epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Though it probably didn’t need to be said, we’ll say it anyway: Paul is speaking to Christians in 1 Corinthians 11, describing the things which he taught them to observe in religious service to God.  So, the context that we are looking at has to do with obeying that which is taught by God through the apostles in religious service to God.  This is why it is pretty much universally agreed that the context here has something to do with worship assemblies.

But…

Even though the Christians in Corinth (for the most part) were keeping the ordinances, there were some things that they didn’t understand.  The biggest problem with the Corinthian Christians was not lack of knowledge about the actions they were supposed to engage in, but the attitude behind it (see their treatment of the Lord’s Supper, and their desire to brag because of certain spiritual gifts).

The head of every man is Christ

Paul here immediately puts all the men (literally, males) in their place by saying that it is not up to them on how things are to be done in worship to God.  All Christian males are under the authority of Jesus Christ, and must answer to Him.  Just because a man may lead in an aspect of worship does not mean that he has the authority to change God’s divine pattern.

Paul is appealing to a higher authority than man—He is appealing to Jesus Christ.

The head of the woman is the man

One person told me that this is a universal law to be applied everywhere.  The conclusion to that doctrine is that, men, the most depraved man in the penitentiary is the head of your wife and daughters.  Not only does that violate the context, it also violates common sense.

It has been argued that this phrase should be translated “the head of the wife is the husband.”  And while that expresses a truth, it doesn’t fit the context.  And in addition to that, the same word “man” (Greek aner) is used twice in this verse.  If we are supposed to translate it as “husband” in one part, by what logic does the exact same word get translated differently in the exact same verse?  Look at the verse.  If we insert “husband,” then we would have to make the verse say, “The head of every husband is Christ…” which means that Christ isn’t the head of unmarried Christian men.  This cannot be the right interpretation, either.  And if we make this say “wife,” then we are forced into the conclusion that nothing in verses 3-16 applies to an unmarried woman or a widow—and by extension, that there is nothing in this passage that speaks to an unmarried man or a widower.

Remember the context in which this is spoken: in keeping the “ordinances” (religious directions) that had been delivered to them.  Thus, this is in the context of the church, when the religious directions were being observed.  In other words, this is during the worship assembly.  The Christian woman, in the worship assembly of the church, is to be in submission to the Christian males who are leading (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11-12).

The head of Christ is God

Just in case there were those in Corinth who wanted to question Jesus’ authority to make commands regarding the worship of His people, Paul informs them that the authority which comes from Christ originates with the Father.  In other words, these points are not up for debate or discussion—they come from the ultimate Judge and Lawgiver, God.

Praying and Prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)

Most sermons and studies on this passage focus on the head “covering,” and often the writers and speakers gloss over (or completely ignore, in some cases) the idea of “praying and prophesying.”  But it must be addressed, for this is one of the passages that those who wish to promote women preachers cling to.  Are they right in saying this passage authorizes women to lead in public worship?

Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head.

Literally, Paul says “having down (from) head,” but it is not specified whether it is his hair or if it is a veil.  The purpose, though, for Paul mentioning this is that if he has his head covered (in whichever way it may be) in worship, it is a sign that he has a different spiritual head (authority) than Christ.

I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that the head covering was something cultural for the Christians in Corinth, and since the focus of this lesson is not on the head-covering, but on the “praying and prophesying” aspect, we aren’t going to dwell a lot on the covering in this lesson.

The word “praying” is the general word for such, and is the same word found in 1 Timothy 2:8—”I desire that males pray everywhere…”

The word “prophesying” is the same one used in chapter 14, and is a reference to miraculous speaking for God, or speaking words from God.

But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

Before we get into this, it needs to be said up-front that the exact same words are used for “prays” and “prophesies” in this verse as in the last verse.  In fact, this verse should be translated, “But every woman, praying or prophesying…”  So there’s nothing in these words themselves that make a distinction between the male and female.

But note that Paul tells the Christian women in Corinth that they are required to have their head covered so that they do not dishonor her head (the man/men leading in the worship).  This is a symbol of submission, of being under the authority of someone else.  I used to think this was talking about husbands and wives, and that a wedding ring was the same kind of thing, but I do not believe the context supports that conclusion.

So, how exactly is the Christian woman to engage in “praying and prophesying” while yet being in submission to the one leading in worship?  Let’s make some specific points very clear:

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself, for it is inspired by God.
  2. If an interpretation of a difficult passage of Scripture clearly violates the teaching found in an easy-to-understand passage of Scripture (in the same covenant), then that interpretation is false.
  3. This is even more clearly true when it is the same writer dealing with the same issue—and even more abundantly true when it is written to the same people…in the same letter.

There are those who point to this passage and say “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly, based on Paul’s words here.”

How does that match up with those three points we mentioned just a second ago?

  1. The Bible does not contradict itself—so if this passage teaches that women can lead in prayer and preaching in the worship assembly of the church, then we shouldn’t find anywhere in the New Testament that says otherwise.
  2. The Bible teaches plainly that it is only male Christians who are to lead in prayer in the church (1 Timothy 2:8); and that Christian women are not permitted to teach (this would include preaching) or to exercise authority over a Christian men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12, 3:15). Therefore, the interpretation that “women have the right to pray and preach in the public worship assembly” is false, because both points are contradicted in easy-to-understand passages of the same covenant.
  3. That passage (1 Timothy 2:8-12) is written by the same author, making it even clearer. But let’s make it abundantly clear by looking at not only the same author, but the same letter!  1 Corinthians 14:34, in the context of speaking miraculously (prayer and prophesying are both mentioned in this chapter), says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also says the law.”

Therefore, if our passage (1 Corinthians 11:5) permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then the Bible contains contradictions and cannot be trusted.

But suppose you don’t want to go that far; then how about this: If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then Paul was wrong (thus, uninspired) when he wrote 1 Timothy, as well as just a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14; thereby throwing everything Paul wrote into question and leaving us with the impossible task of determining which letters are inspired and which parts are not.

But suppose you aren’t willing to even go that far (though those are the required conclusions to this doctrine).  If this passage permits women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly, then you can’t even know which parts of even this one letter are inspired—especially when Paul himself said that the command for women to keep silent was “the commandment of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

To take that interpretation of the passage destroys the entire credibility of the Bible.  But let’s, for a moment, pretend that such an interpretation is accurate.  Pretend for a moment that it isn’t a contradiction of other Bible passages.  Look at the verse again and see what would be required for the women to lead in prayer or to prophesy (preach) in the worship assembly.

Every woman, praying and prophesying with her head uncovered, dishonors her (spiritual) head: for that is even all one as if she were shaved.

If we pretended that their interpretation is correct, then the text requires that the woman only does it when her head is covered, showing her submission to the Christian men who are leading in the “ordinances” … or else she is supposed to be shaved bald (a symbol of shame).  No one who argues for women to be able to preach and lead prayer in the assembly would ever suggest that she is supposed to show a sign of submission to the Christian men leading in the worship—How dare you even suggest such a thing!  You note the hypocrisy there, I hope, that they want to take half of the verse and shove the other half as far away as possible.

I would love to see someone try to explain how one can be in submission to someone during the teaching, yet still be the authoritative teacher over that person.  It cannot be done!

So what does this verse mean/permit?

There are some different interpretations regarding these two verses that attempt to reconcile Paul’s wording (praying and prophesying) with the specific commands regarding Christian women keeping silence in the church (in regards to leading in worship).

The first interpretation is that Paul is speaking about women praying and prophesying, but not in a mixed assembly, that is, in a women’s-only gathering (ladies’ day, ladies’ class).  Some might claim there is no historical precedent for these kind of assemblies, but turn your attention to Exodus 15:20-21:

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances.  And Miriam answered them, “Sing out to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea!”

There, the prophetess went with the women only and spoke with them, leading them in worship to God.  That was around 1500 years prior to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, so there is indeed historical precedent for a women-only assembly worshiping God.

The problem with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 is that the context shows the men and women together (“the head of the woman is the man,” verse 3).  And what is the purpose of describing submission to the male Christians leading in worship if Paul’s describing a setting where no male Christians are present?

The second interpretation is that Paul is using the phrase “praying and prophesying” as a way to describe the worship service.  In other words, that all Paul is saying is, “But a woman, participating in the worship service…”  Most authors agree that “praying and prophesying” isn’t an exhaustive list, but includes everything that is done in the worship assembly—otherwise, you’d have the strange requirement that women in Corinth cover their heads only during certain parts of the worship (praying and proclaiming), but not others (like singing and the Lord’s Supper).

The idea, then, would be that Paul isn’t saying that the women lead in prayer or in prophesying (which would violate other passages), but that they participate in the worship by listening and assenting to the prayer and actively paying attention to the proclamation of God’s message.

David Lipscomb made a good point, which goes along with this idea (this is my paraphrase): Man cannot come to God without submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ (John 14:15).  In the same way, The Christian woman during the assembly cannot offer acceptable worship without submitting to the authority of the male Christians leading the worship.

Obviously, if there are no men present, then that no longer applies.

There may be other interpretations of which I am not aware, but this second one, I believe, is rational, logical, and in perfect agreement with what is said on the topic elsewhere in Scriptures.

Conclusion

This is somewhat reminiscent of the issue of “baptism for the dead,” in that once we know what it can’t be (by process of elimination, Bible-style), we are left with what it must be.

God’s word does not contradict itself.  God does not permit something in one part of the New Testament, only to forbid it in another.  That would make God a liar—something which is impossible.  Instead, we must take the totality of what Scripture says, and interpret in a way that harmonizes all of the passages dealing with any given subject.

There is nothing more important to which this applies than in salvation.  We have all messed up in our lives.  We’ve ignored the commands of God, we’ve sinned, and as a result, we’ve aligned ourselves against Him and joined with His enemy, Satan.  Satan, however, isn’t as powerful as he lets on.  In fact, he’s already lost the war, even though he’s still trying to take down as many people as possible in the process—like a kamikaze.  My job, and the job of Christians everywhere, is to invite people to join the winning side, to avoid the destruction that will come as a result of being God’s enemy.  We are to tell them about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, so that they might have faith (Romans 10:17).  But though there are verses that talk about believing as a prerequisite to salvation, there are other passages as well—passages that do not in any way contradict the ones about belief—that show belief is just the first step in a proper response to the gospel.

One must also make the decision to change sides, to join Jesus Christ.  The person who makes that decision must state his belief in the Lord, and be immersed, baptized, by the authority of Jesus.  When that is done, the person has become a Christian.  Then comes the command to grow, to “study to show thyself approved to God,” to “walk in the light.”  We want to help you be right with Jesus Christ.  If we can help you, please let us know as we stand and sing.

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part Two)

Introduction

A Christian woman is a blessing to her family, to her friends, to her brethren, and to her Lord.  In the Bible, we can read of Christian women like Lydia, who showed hospitality to fellow-Christians (Acts 16); like Phoebe, who is called an “assistant” (Romans 16:2, MLV) or a “patroness” (Thayer) of the brethren; like Priscilla, who is called a “fellow-laborer” who had risked her own life for another Christian (Romans 16:3-4); like Lois and Eunice, who passed on their faith to a young man who became a missionary named Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5); and countless others whose names are not recorded in the Bible, but whose work helped to encourage and strengthen the saints, while also helping to convert sinners to Jesus Christ.

If not for the influence of Christian women, many of us in this room would not be here, meeting together, serving the Lord.

There are some, however, that would say, “That’s not good enough!”  Like Aaron and Miriam of old, there are those who try to argue that the ones leading have taken it all on themselves, and that they are just as qualified to lead.  These people run to Galatians 3:28 and say that “In Christ, there are no more male and female distinctions!”  Let’s take a look at that passage, and we’ll also look at some others as we consider the role of women in the church of Jesus Christ.

“Neither Male Nor Female…”

As is often the case, verses (or even phrases from inside a verse) are pulled from their context and applied to things that they were never meant to apply to.  We could mention several examples, but for the sake of staying on-topic, we’ll just stick with the point at hand.  Look with me at Galatians 3:26-29.

For you are all children (literally “sons”) of God by the faith in Christ Jesus, because as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Again, note verse 26, which literally says “sons” instead of “children.”  Under the Old Testament, it was the son—not the daughter—who received the inheritance.  Slaves did not receive inheritance.  Gentiles definitely did not receive the inheritance.  Yet, in Christ, all these groups have access to the inheritance through Jesus Christ.

Those who try to rip “there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” in order to “prove” that both genders are authorized to perform any and every role/function in the church miss the point.  Male and female absolutely still existed, literally, in the church.  Jew and Gentile absolutely still literally existed in the church.  Free men and slaves absolutely still existed literally in the church.  Therefore, Paul isn’t speaking about the literal distinctions being done away with.

What he’s saying is that in Christ, EVERYONE can be an heir of the promise made to Abraham.  He’s not talking about roles in the worship—otherwise he completely contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told Timothy that God placed the leadership in worship upon the shoulders of male Christians (1 Timothy 2).  He’s not talking about roles in the family—otherwise he contradicted himself 10 or so years later when he told wives to “submit” to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).  Just like becoming a Christian didn’t make a slave no longer a slave—see the book of Philemon—he still had a specific role to fulfill, being in submission to his owner (who might or might not have been a Christian).

When we consider the context in which Paul says “there is neither male nor female,” we are required to come to the conclusion that it means there are no class, gender, or race distinctions of any kind that would keep someone who has truly put on Christ in baptism from receiving the inheritance from God through Jesus Christ.

There is nothing at all in the context about worship roles in the church.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted for them to speak;

Turn to First Corinthians 14.  I realize that it’s 40 verses long, but read along with me through the whole chapter.

(Read entire chapter)

Now I want you to take notice of three main points throughout this text.  First, I want you to look at the context—what is it that Paul writes about here?  He writes about spiritual gifts (miraculous gifts) including prophecy (v 1 and others), speaking in tongues (v 2 and others), interpreting tongues (v 5, 13), revelation (v 6), miraculous knowledge (v 6), inspired teaching (v 6), praying in tongues (v 14), and leading a song (v 14, 26).  These are all roles of speaking in the worship assembly.  They are what is generally referred to as leadership positions in the worship.  This is the context.

Second, take special notice that it is specifically in reference to the assembly of the church, when it comes together for prayer, singing, teaching, and encouragement.  Verse 4 shows that the purpose of prophesying was to “edify the church.”  Verse 5 says that speaking in tongues, when there is an interpreter to relay the message, is so that “the church may receive the edifying.”  Verse 6, Paul says “brethren (Christians), if I come to you,” that is, to them all gathered together.  Verse 19 says “In the church…”  Verse 23, “if the whole church comes together in one place…”  Verse 26, “Brethren, when you come together…”  Verse 28, “if there is no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church…”  Verse 33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”  Verse 34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.”  Verse 35, “It is a shame for a women to speak in the church.”  The context is when Christians are gathered together for worship to God and receiving instruction from His word.

Third, I want you to, even more so than the others, pay super-special attention to this next point.  Paul says that the women are not permitted to “speak” in the church.  That word translated “speak” appears a whopping twenty-four times in this chapter.  Let’s look at them:

  • (verse 2) He that speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to men, but unto God: for no man understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks
  • (verse 3) He that prophesies speaks
  • (verse 4) He that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 5) I wish that you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you prophesied: for the one who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues…
  • (verse 6) brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
  • (verse 9) unless you utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For you shall speak into the air.
  • (verse 11) If I don’t know the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaks a barbarian, and he that speaks a barbarian to me.
  • (verse 13) Let him that speaks in an unknown tongue…
  • (verse 18) I thank my God that I speak with tongues…
  • (verse 19) In the church, I would rather speak five words with my understanding…
  • (verse 21) In the Law it is written, “With other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people…saith the Lord.”
  • (verse 23) …and all speak in tongues…
  • (verses 27-28) if any man speak in an unknown tongue…if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
  • (verse 29) Let the prophets speak
  • (verses 34-35) Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak, as also says the Law…it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
  • (verse 39) covet to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

Do you notice the trend there?  The same word is used over and over in this chapter, and it is a reference to speaking in front of the congregation by inspiration (tongues, prophecies, songs, revelations, etc.).

Now, it is quite possible God had given some of the female Christians in Corinth the ability to prophesy (perhaps referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:5, which we will deal with in another lesson), and Philip had four daughters who prophesied as well (Acts 21:8-9).  But even though they had the miraculous ability to do those things, God stated plainly that they were not permitted to use those gifts when the church was gathered together.  And if God was that strict on women speaking in the assembly when they had miraculous capabilities to do so, how can anyone possibly think that He’s lifted that restriction now that they don’t have the miraculous gifts?

Though the context is miraculous, the principle still remains (and fits perfectly with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2, that we looked at last week), women are not permitted to speak (that is, to lead in any aspect of the worship) in the church.

Now, look again with me at verses 27-28 of this chapter.

If any man speaks in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course (or, one at a time); and let one interpret.  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

Other than the him/her, this is the exact same wording as for the woman in the original.  Whatever it means for the man here, it means for the woman in verse 34.  This man is commanded to keep quiet from speaking in tongues if there is no interpreter.  It doesn’t mean he’s not permitted to lead a prayer in the normal language of the people at the close of the service; it’s talking about the speaking in tongues.  In short, THERE IS A CONTEXT!

So, when Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” he’s got reference to leading in worship.  The chapter gives all the different “speakings” that are under consideration—praying, preaching, teaching, interpreting, speaking in tongues, leading a song.  “Speaking” in the assembly is a role that God has placed upon the shoulders of male Christians.

But it’s almost as though Paul expected that statement about women exercising their gifts in the assembly to be taken badly by his readers, because right after saying it, he says:

What?  Did the word of God come out of you?  Or did it only come to you?  If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I am writing to you are the commandments of the Lord. 

Then he says, (KJV) “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”  A more literal translation might be, “If any man is actively ignorant (in this matter), do not recognize him.”

My brethren, those are some incredibly strong words from God.  Those who reject God’s commands regarding who is permitted to lead in the worship aren’t really spiritual; they are actively ignorant, rejecting the commands of the Lord; and they are not to be recognized as being right with God.

Invitation

Being right with God isn’t just something nice to be, it is absolutely essential to our holiness and happiness and hope.  You can’t be wrong with God here and expect to be right with God at judgment!  My friends, a home with God Himself is there for you if you will submit to His authority and do your best to follow His commands.  That might sound domineering, but it’s like saying “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  The law of God says that those who believe in Jesus have the power to become children of God (John 1:12).  These believers have to put their belief into action by repenting of their sins, confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and being baptized in submission to His will.  Only those who have done these things are made citizens of that heavenly kingdom!  And after you become a citizen, “just obey the law, and you’ll be fine.”  When you mess up, when you sin, when you fall away, God is merciful and will forgive you when you go to Him in prayer, confessing your sin and repenting of it.

God loves you and wants you to be saved. He’s giving you an opportunity right now to do it.  Won’t you do it now?

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Role of Women in the Church (Part One)

Introduction:

The Bible is, and will always be, the rule of faith and practice for God’s people.  We know from its pages, from the words of Jesus Christ, from the examples of the Christians in Act, from the letters God inspired to be written to Christians, how we are to live our lives, and what God desires from us in our worship.

His Divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that has called us to glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).

All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, so that the person of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The question that we must ask ourselves is: “Do we believe that?”  Some people don’t.  Some people in the church don’t believe it!  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ll say they believe it, but then they will do things, promote things, preach about things in such a way that they’re only paying lip-service to God’s word.

Let’s consider those two passages again.  Peter says that the Divine power has given (past tense) us all things that pertain to life (spiritual life) and godliness (literally, the word is “good-worship”).  If we have been given everything that has to do with spiritual life and true reverence and worship to God, then that means if we can’t find it in the Bible, it doesn’t pertain to spiritual life or to godliness/good-worship.  In other words, if it’s not found in the Word of God, then it is a commandment of men, an unauthorized addition which results in worthless worship (“In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” – Matthew 15:9)

Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures were sufficient to make someone perfect or complete, and to equip that person for every good work.  If it isn’t from the Bible (whether by precept or principle), then it isn’t a good work.

Lately, I’ve heard of several Christians who are trying to push the idea that there are no gender roles in the church: that whatever a man is authorized to do in worship, the woman is as well.  Since God has given us everything necessary for godliness (and remember that word in Greek literally means “worship”), we ought to be able to find either (1) examples, (2) commands, or (3) principles that permit such a thing—if such a thing is truly permitted.

I was requested to do a series of lessons on this topic, and my prayer is that they will be clear, understandable, and in keeping with God’s word.  Please, turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 2.

“Let the woman learn in silence”

First Timothy, chapter 2, describes worship in the church.  There are some of our brethren who disagree with that, and so let’s just prove it real quick.  In the next chapter, Paul tells Timothy what the whole purpose of this letter is:

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you shortly, but if I delay long, that you might know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14).

The instructions given in First Timothy are about matters in the church.  But let’s go a little further in proving the point.  Look, now, at chapter 2.  Verse eight helps prove the point:

I desire that men [males] pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

The command of God from Paul is that males are to pray everywhere.  If, as some brethren contend, this chapter isn’t about the church, then that means women are forbidden to pray anywhere—ever—because only men are allowed to pray.  This is speaking about when the church is gathered together.  Paul used the phrase “everywhere” in 1 Corinthians 4:17, and clarified that by “everywhere,” he meant “in every church.”  Coupling this with what we read from elsewhere in the same letter to Timothy, we have conclusive proof that Paul is giving instructions relating to things “in the church,” or to say it another way, “when the church is gathered together.”

We might also add to this list of evidence the fact that Paul say women aren’t allowed to teach a man, yet we have an approved example of a woman assisting her husband in teaching a man—outside of the assembly (Acts 18, Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos).  Thus, this command obviously doesn’t apply to teaching outside the assembly—only inside the assembly.

So, in 1 Timothy 2:8, we have divine instruction that only males are to lead in prayer when the church is gathered together.  Obviously, God is not authorizing just any male to lead prayer, but only a Christian male—since this is speaking about things “in the church.”  This is important to remember as we get further in the chapter.

Having thus shown that the context is about the assembly of the church, let’s look at verses 11-12:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

First, consider that in verses 9-10, Paul instructs women to dress and behave in such a way as to not draw attention to themselves (modest apparel, not expensive flashy jewelry, but instead clothing themselves with good works).  Likewise, then, women are not to draw attention to themselves in the assembly by seeking to be in a position of authority.

Second, look at the word “silence.”  The word here is not a prohibition of all sound, but a quiet, humble attitude that recognizes that she is not in authority in the worship of God.  The word only appears four times in the New Testament: twice here (1 Timothy 2:11-12), once in Acts 22:2 and in 2 Thessalonians 3:12.  In Acts 22:2, Paul began speaking to the crowd of Jews in Hebrew, which surprised them, and they became quiet so they could hear him.  But in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12, Paul chastises the busybodies, telling them to work with “quietness.”  It’s not that they aren’t allowed to ever utter a word, but they are to cease from gossiping, being meddlers in other men’s matters.  They are to be quiet in regards to those things.  In the same way, the women are commanded to be silent in regards to (1) praying, (2) teaching over a man, and (3) taking authority over a man in the assembly.  In other words, they are not to take any kind of leadership role in the worship of the church.

Women don’t have to be completely without sound in the assembly—all saints are commanded to sing, “speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).  “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16).

The phrase “with all subjection” teaches us that in the worship assembly, the woman is to be in submission, or under the authority, of the men who are leading in the worship.  The woman doesn’t preach the lesson, lead the singing, lead the prayers.  She sits and accepts that these are roles which have been given to male Christians by God.

“I do not permit a woman to teach…”

Some people have taken this phrase and ignored the context, trying to make it say something that it was never meant to say.  I’ve had discussions with men who believe that having a Bible class is sinful, and as evidence, they say “women aren’t permitted to teach.”  But look at the verse.  Paul says that a woman is not to teach…a man.  This doesn’t say she’s not allowed to teach at all (Titus 2:3-5 actually commands the older women to teach the younger women), it says she’s not allowed to teach a man.  And it’s not just any man.  Go back to verse 8.  Who is that “man,” that “male,” that is under consideration?  It’s a Christian male.  That is the only male in the context.

What God, through Paul, is forbidding here is not a woman teaching children, nor is it a woman teaching male children, nor is it a woman teaching adult males outside of the assembly.  What God has strictly forbidden is Christian women teaching Christian men in the assembly.

But we also need to couple this with the next phrase Paul uses:

“I do not permit a woman…to usurp authority over the man.”

I’ve heard the argument more times than I care to remember: “She’s not usurping the authority if the elders give it to her to teach/pray/preach/etc…”  The word translated “usurp authority” means “exercise authority” or “have authority” over someone.  Some translations render it “have dominion” over a man.  Basically, then, what this means is that the Christian woman is not permitted to have, to use, or to exert any authority over Christian males in the assembly.

Oh, it is said, but if she doesn’t usurp the authority, it’s okay.  The elders don’t have the right to give a woman authority in the assembly.  It’s not up to them!  This is something that GOD HIMSELF has set in place—He is the one who determined who has authority, who leads in the worship assembly when the church gathers together.  Even if a group of elders decides they’ll let a woman preach, teach, lead prayer, lead singing, or anything else that is a position of leadership in the assembly, GOD has said that women are to “learn in silence, with all subjection.”  Note that clearly!  God says “ALL subjection.”  He doesn’t say, “with SOME subjection,” but “with ALL subjection”!  That means that Christian women, in the assembly, are not permitted by God to have any authoritative role that would make a Christian male to have to show some kind of submission to her.

Teaching (which would include preaching) is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:12).  Leading in prayer is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:8).  Anything that would make the woman the leader is explicitly forbidden (1 Timothy 2:12)—that includes serving at the Lord’s Table, even if she isn’t saying the prayer, because the woman would be in front of everyone, and would be exercising authority in passing around the Lord’s Supper and collecting the funds contributed.  Leading in singing is also forbidden explicitly in 1 Corinthians 14 (but we’ll look at that later).

Paul concludes that thought by repeating that the Christian woman, during the assembly, is “to be in silence.”  Again, the “silence” is limited by the context to (1) praying, (2) teaching, and (3) anything that would put her in a position of authority over a Christian man.

What About Speaking in a Bible Class?

It has been argued that women are not permitted to speak up in a Bible class, because when they speak in class, they are teaching, and that they are commanded to be in silence.

Jesus Himself led His disciples around, and was their teacher.  They spoke to Him quite frequently during these teaching sessions, asking questions, making observations, showing their agreement or disagreement.  But did they ever become the teacher?  Was there ever a time during these teachings that Jesus ceased to be the teacher, and ceased to have authority?  Of course not.  To ask questions during a Bible class is not the same thing as teaching or having authority.  To make observations during Bible class is not the same thing as teaching or having authority.  If a non-Christian male came into the Bible class and asked questions or made an observation, we wouldn’t for a moment accuse him of “teaching” and “usurping authority” over the teacher of the class.  Why, then, would we make that same accusation when a woman does it?

Can there come a time when a Christian woman might talk so much, in effect filibustering the class, that she’s taking it over?  Yes, of course, and such is wrong and condemned by 1 Timothy 2:12.  But simply speaking up in class is not “teaching” or otherwise “exercising authority” over Christian males.

Some will appeal to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, saying “Let your women keep silence in the churches…if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.”  We will deal with that passage more in-depth in another lesson, but the answer to their objection is the context!  The context of the entire chapter is public leadership roles when the church is gathered together.  Prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting, leading singing, praying—these are the items under consideration.  And it is in this context that women are told to be silent.

What About Teaching a Bible Class?

God gave some women in the first century miraculous abilities (and we’ll deal with that in a later lesson), which included being able to prophesy (Philip had four daughters who did just that).  Yet they were not permitted to use that ability when the church gathered together to worship (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).  God wouldn’t give them that ability and then not permit them to ever use it.  Thus, they would have been able to use it in teaching non-Christians (primarily women, but in private they could also teach non-Christian men), or other Christian women, or even children.

The ones who are so opposed to Bible classes say “You let women teach Bible classes, so you’re in sin!”  But remember what we said earlier: the prohibition on women teaching was “over a man”—that is, over a Christian man.  When God gives a specific command, we have no right to expand that command to include things that God didn’t.  So it is wrong to say this verse prohibits women from teaching a Bible class with babies, or children, or Christian young women.  The only prohibition was against a Christian women teaching Christian men.

One Final Example: Jezebel

Lord willing, we will be able to continue this study and deal with several passages that help us understand the role of women in the church.  But for tonight, we will just look at one last passage briefly: Revelation 2:18-23.

To the messenger of the church in Thyatira, write: “These things says the Son of God, who has His eyes like to a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass: I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your patience, and your works; and the last more than the first.  Notwithstanding, I have a few things against you because you permit that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she did not repent.  Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.  And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works.

Jesus condemns this loving church, this working church, this serving church because of two things: (1) they permit that woman to teach, and (2) they permit that woman to seduce servants of God to sin.  The second one is bad, but so is the first one.  They were condemned because they were allowing a woman to teach in the church.  The fact that she was seducing Christians to sin makes it even worse, but in the Greek, they are two separate things: (1) teaching and (2) seducing Christians to do evil.

My brethren, if Jesus Christ would condemn a loving, working, serving church because they allowed a woman to teach in the church, that means He would do the same to us as well if we permit such things to happen here!

Invitation

Here’s the deal: we have been given everything we need for spiritual life and for proper worship.  We don’t go by feelings or by I think; we go by God said.  This principle, when followed, guarantees us a home eternal with the Lord Jesus Christ.  This principle applies not just to the role of women in the church, but also to salvation.

We were listening to “Adventures in Odyssey” yesterday (which is produced by Baptists, if I’m not mistaken), and one of the characters was questioning her salvation, saying “Did I not say the prayer right?”  She’d been taught that salvation comes from uttering a “Lord, come into my heart” prayer that isn’t found in the Bible—nowhere is a non-Christian told to pray in order to be saved.  There are those who use what they call the “mourner’s bench,” where you go up front to this bench, agonize over your sins, while everyone else tries to pray until you are “prayed through,” and have this feeling of relief, which they take as a sign that you’ve been saved.  This is trying to rely on feelings instead of God’s word!

God only gave one gospel, and it is spelled out for us in the Bible.  There is no salvation apart from obedience to His commands regarding how to get into Christ.

-Bradley S. Cobb

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Four)

ApostlesLogo

Saul’s Early Christian Experiences

After obeying the gospel, having his sins washed away, and ridding himself of the guilt over what he had done to the church, Saul of Tarsus began to meet with the disciples in Damascus.  One can only imagine what the reaction was among those Christians when they first heard about Saul’s conversion.  Many of them were probably like those in Jerusalem, who didn’t believe he was really converted.  However, it is almost guaranteed that Ananias spoke up on his behalf, explaining his own part in Saul’s conversion to the truth.

Somewhere around this time (the Bible isn’t clear on exactly when it took place), Saul traveled to Arabia, before returning to Damascus.1  How long he was there, what happened while he was there, or even exactly where there is—all of these are questions to which we are simply not given the answer.2  Some have suggested that it was in Arabia that Saul was baptized with the Holy Spirit, receiving his apostolic orders and the ability to pass on miraculous abilities.3

During his time in Damascus, Saul started preaching in the synagogues, gathering the evidence from the Scriptures and putting it all together, showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.4  By doing this, he stirred up the Jews, causing them great confusion and aggravation (something he was going to experience for the rest of his life); and he also amazed all those who heard him because of his complete change of heart.  “Isn’t this he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and came here for the same purpose, that he might bring them tied up to the ruling priests?”5

The Christians were being encouraged, and it is probable that several of the Jews obeyed the gospel during those days.  But after “many days” passed (most likely three years since his conversion), the Jews decided they’d had enough and plotted together to kill him.  They watched the city gates day and night, waiting for the opportunity to grab him and kill him6—they didn’t take kindly to traitors, especially because his change was a condemnation of their own practices.

However, Saul was aware of their plot, and after discussing it with the other Christians in the city, it was decided that they would take him at night, put him in a basket, and lower him down the wall of the city so he could escape.  From there, he traveled south, back to the city where he had been hailed as a hero by the Jews, and feared by a struggling and decimated Christian population—Jerusalem.7

Once Saul arrived, he located some of the Christians (having persecuted them heavily, he would have had a good idea where many of them lived or met), and tried to join them.  Saul’s history in the city, his reputation as a murderer of Christians, was still fresh in their minds, and they rejected his attempts, believing that Saul was lying about having been converted.  It’s not a stretch to imagine them running, hiding, locking their doors, having private meetings with other Christians who were all afraid that Saul had come back home.

However, Barnabas learned about Saul’s conversion (whether he simply believed Saul or it was revealed to him by inspiration, we are not told),8 and took it upon himself to bridge the gap that separated Saul from the Jerusalem Christians.  He took Saul to the apostles9 and declared to them how Jesus had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and had spoken to him.  He certainly would have told them about his baptism.  Then he added how Saul had boldly preached the name of Jesus in the synagogues at Damascus.  Barnabas’ words held a great influence, and the apostles and Christians in Jerusalem forgave Saul for his persecution, and welcomed him as a faithful brother in Jesus Christ.10

As a member of the church in Jerusalem, Saul was very active in publicly proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ.  He even debated against the Hellenistic Jews,11 frustrating them so much that they tried to kill him.12  Like in Damascus, when the brethren discovered what was happening, they sent Saul away for his safety, as well as their own.  They took him to Caesarea, on the western coast of Judea, and sent him (most likely by ship) to his hometown of Tarsus.13

With Saul gone, the fires of controversy mellowed, and the churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had rest, and the church grew.14

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Galatians 1:17

2 In Galatians 1:17-18, Paul mentions “after three years,” but that phrase comes after he mentioned the return to Damascus—and that time period might encompass the entire time since his conversion.  So the only thing it tells us about the length of his Arabian stay is that it must have been less than three years—and most likely it wasn’t a long stay at all, since Luke didn’t see fit to even mention it, even in passing.  Regarding where this Arabia was, we shall quote from Vincent’s Word Studies on Galatians 1:17: “It is entirely impossible to decide what Paul means by this term, since the word was so loosely used and so variously applied. Many think the Sinaitic peninsula is meant (Stanley, Farrar, Matheson, Lightfoot). Others, the district of Auranitis near Damascus (Lipsius, Conybeare and Howson, Lewin, McGiffert). Others again the district of Arabia Petraea.”

3 It is never said in the Scriptures that Saul/Paul ever received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  However, there must have been some point in time where he received the miraculous abilities direct from heaven, for only an apostle could pass on the miraculous gifts (which Paul could do, see Acts 19:1-7), and Paul declared that his apostleship did not come from man, but from God (Galatians 1:1).  Since Luke doesn’t reveal it to us (Saul/Paul is first recorded to have done a miracle in chapter 13), we are left to guess.

4 Acts 9:20-22.  The word “proving” (KJV, verse 22) literally means “to put together.”  Thus, Saul was presenting the evidence and showing how it all fit together to prove that Jesus is that Christ they had been waiting for.

5 Acts 9:21.

6 Acts 9:23-24.

7 Acts 9:24-26a.

8 Barnabas was a prophet (Acts 13:1), so receiving the message directly from God wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

9 At this point, there are some difficulties.  According to Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 1:17-19, when he went to Jerusalem, he met with Peter, but saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother (see chapter on him for more details on his status as an “apostle”).  Yet Luke says that Barnabas took him before “the apostles.”  Vincent suggests that this visit was just before Peter and James, seeking to harmonize the two passages.  It is possible that the Jerusalem visit of Galatians 1:17-21 is a different one from Acts 9, though both chapters record him traveling to Cilicia afterwards, which seems to indicate that they are the same event (Acts 9:30, Galatians 1:21).  Ultimately, Vincent’s suggestion, though not thoroughly satisfactory, seems to be the most likely explanation.

10 Acts 9:26-28.

11 Acts 9:29.  The ASV has “Grecian Jews,” which is a more explanatory translation.  The word “Hellenist” describes Jews who spoke Greek, and were not fluent in Hebrew/Aramaic—if they spoke it at all.  These Jews did not reside in the Promised Land (Judea, Samaria, Galilee), but in other areas of the Roman Empire.  See also Acts 6:1.

12 Acts 9:29.  There was a class/racial divide among the Hellenistic Jews and the Jews from Judea.  The Hellenists in general viewed themselves as more educated than their Judean counterparts.  Meanwhile, the Judean Jews viewed themselves as more faithful to God because they could still speak Hebrew/Aramaic.  Saul is placed in an interesting position, because he was not born in Judea, but was fluent in both Greek and Hebrew.  His education (and likely inspiration as well) made him too great of a challenge for the “educated” Hellenists.  Thus, these factors all worked together to make them want him gone.

13 Acts 9:30.

14 Acts 9:31.  It is interesting that Luke records Saul’s departure as one of the things that brought peace and growth to the churches in that area.  While Saul had the best of intentions, and was forcibly proving his case, his tactics may have been closing people’s minds to the truth instead of opening them.  Let us at least consider that as a possibility and think about the way we come across to others.

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved – The Life of the Apostle John (part 5)

John as an Author

It is often argued that the writings of John (the Gospel, his three letters, and Revelation) were the last ones to be written, and are to be dated between AD 90-100.1 It is more in keeping with the biblical information to place his writings before AD 70.2  By this time, John was an older man3 who was writing to Christians to warn them about apostasy,4 to remind them to stay faithful,5 to encourage downhearted Christians,6 to remind them about the words of the Lord in regards to the overthrow of Judaism,7 and to comfort them with the knowledge that their persecutors will be overthrown.8

The Gospel According to John

By this point, three other gospel accounts had already been written,9 so there was no need for John to write one unless he had information that needed to be presented that wasn’t in the other accounts.

Matthew wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and thus focused on Old Testament prophecies, starting with the birth of Jesus.  Mark wrote to convince the Roman readers that Jesus was a powerful leader who died for them, beginning with the herald announcing His coming.  Luke wrote to show the humanity of Jesus in precise historical terms.  By the time John wrote, however, a large contingent of Jewish Christians were leaving the faith, going back into Judaism.10 By doing this, they were denying the power of Christ.  So, when John wrote, his focus was to show the origin, power, and authority of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was [in His very nature] God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and apart from Him, nothing was made that was made. … He came to His own [people] and His own [people] did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become children of God, believers into His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the desires of the flesh, nor of the desires of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us (and we admired His glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.11

John repeatedly stresses the deity of Jesus throughout his gospel account.  John 1:1, 14 shows us that the Word which became flesh is, by His very nature, God.12  Several times, John records Jesus applying the words “I AM” (which the Jews would have understood as a reference to Jehovah) to Himself.13  John says an Old Testament vision of Jehovah was actually a vision of Jesus.14  In short, John wrote to prove the deity of Jesus and to show that it is only through Jesus that eternal life can be gained.15  This is quite powerful when you consider that Jewish Christians were leaving Christianity in large numbers at the time it was written—this book would have been quite timely.16

The Letters of John

Like Peter did in his second letter, John stressed the reality of Jesus Christ by appealing to himself as not only an eye-witness, but also an ear-witness, and one who studied and touched Jesus while He was here on earth.17  He also made it a point to remind them of what they possessed through Jesus Christ: (1) the forgiveness of sins, (2) the knowledge of God/Christ, (3) overcoming Satan, and (4) strength.18  He also forcefully stated that just because someone is a Christian doesn’t mean they are incapable of sinning—in fact, far from it:

If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.19

He focuses on the importance of love quite as bit as well, telling them what they are supposed to love (each other),20 and what they are not to love (the world, neither the things of the world).21  And he also shows his care for the faithful,22 while also showing his frustration with and repudiation of false teachers23 and those who tried to rule the church.24

Like Paul, John’s wrote both to individuals and to congregations (with benefit to the universal church).25 And thank God that he wrote these letters, because they contain wonderful comforting information about salvation, both then and now.26

Revelation

While John was on Patmos, an island which was a “rock quarry…used as a place of banishment for certain types of offenders,”27 he received a revelation from Jesus Christ.  It’s generally assumed that he was exiled to Patmos by the Roman Emperor,28 but that’s not explicitly stated.  It might be that he was evangelizing.29

In writing the Revelation, John simply wrote what he saw and how he reacted to it.  He was overwhelmed by all that he saw, at one point fainting,30 at another point breaking into tears,31 and then worshiping the angel who delivered the message to him.32

This book was written to encourage faithfulness,33 to foretell the vindication of Christ and His apostles,34 to describe the glorious church,35 and to comfort first-century Christians with the promise of the destruction of their persecutors.36

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 See Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1989[?]pages 18-19, and Woods’ A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and James, Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1963[?], pages 206-207.

2 The promise of miracles from God in the church (including inspiration) was limited to the time between the death of Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem (see Zechariah 12:10-14:2, especially noting 13:2), a 40-year period (see Micah 7:15), which would take place during the “last days” of Judah and Jerusalem (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:16-21, Isaiah 2:1-2).  When the completed word of God came, the miracles would cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).  Since, according to the Bible,  miracles ended in AD 70, then the completed word of God also had to be finished by that time as well.  For a much more in-depth explanation of this topic, see the Appendix, “The End of Miracles” in this author’s book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

3 2 John 1.

4 2 John 7-11.

5 2 John 8.

6 3 John.

7 1 John 2:18 (see especially in Greek, where John says “it is the final hour, and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists: therefore we know it is the final hour,” and compare it with what Jesus said in Matthew 24:24 in regards to the signs preceding the final overthrow of the Jews and the Jewish system).

8 See the entire book of Revelation.  The persecutors who will be overthrown by God in Revelation are the Jews.  Compare Matthew 23:34-39 with Revelation 18:10-19:2.  See also Arthur Ogden’s fantastic work, The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets, and this author’s work, Things Which Came to Pass: A Study of Revelation, Class Handouts, Cobb Publishing, 2014 (As of this writing, the commentary/teacher’s guide, Things Which Came to Pass: A Study of Revelation, is still being prepared).

9 Matthew was written first, around AD 40 (see chapter on Matthew for more information), while Mark and Luke were written in the mid to late 50s.  Since Luke doesn’t include any of the information from John’s gospel (except that which is also found in Matthew), yet claims that he “traced accurately” (implying that he did much research) the things which he wrote.  The only logical, biblical conclusion that can be drawn from this is that Luke wrote his gospel prior to John writing his.  Since Acts (Luke’s sequel to the gospel) was written around AD 62, it is no stretch to say that the gospel could easily have been written by AD 58.  For more information on the dating of the New Testament writings, see Redating the New Testament by J.A.T. Robinson.

10 See the entire book of Hebrews.

11 John 1:1-3, 11-14.

12 The arrangement of the words in Greek, as well as the lack of the definite article in Greek before “God” at the end of John 1:1 shows that what is under consideration is the nature or character of the Word.  Jesus Christ is, in His nature, God.  He is distinguished from God, when it is a reference to the Father, but He shares of the same nature.  What God is, the Word is.  See the New English Translation (NET) at this verse.

13 John 6:35, 48, 51; 8:16, 23-24, 28, 58; 9:5, 9; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:6, 8.

14 John 12:39-41, a reference to Isaiah 6:10 where the word “Jehovah” is used.

15 John 20:30-31.

16 Certainly there are other reasons John wrote, and many other things we could mention that are unique to John’s gospel account, but these will suffice for our purpose.  For more study on the uniqueness of John’s gospel, see the introduction to Guy N. Woods’ Commentary on John.  Most commentaries on John’s gospel will include mention and elaboration on these points.

17 Compare 2 Peter 1:15-19 with 1 John 1:1-4.  Since they are dealing with the same problem (people denying the reality of Jesus Christ), it make no sense to say (as some do) that John’s first letter couldn’t have been written until AD 90 because he is supposedly dealing with Gnostic teachings which didn’t arise until very late in the first century.  It’s universally agreed that Peter was killed during the reign of Nero, yet he dealt with the same issues, so this “proof” for a late date for First John is ridiculous.

18 See 1 John 1:12-14.

19 1 John 1:8-10.

20 1 John 2:10, 2 John 5-6.  It’s worth noting here that, according to John, the command to love one another also includes walking in the commandments of Jesus Christ.

21 1 John 2:15.

22 3 John 1-4.

23 2 John 7-11.

24 3 John 9-11.

25 3 John was written to Gaius.  2 John was written to “the elect lady and her children,” which is most likely a reference to the church in Jerusalem and the members thereof.  It cannot be that John is writing about a specific individual woman, for this “lady and her children” are said to be known and loved by “all them that have known the truth.”  There was no woman that well-known.  But the church in Jerusalem was known to all Christians (what Christian hasn’t heard about Pentecost and the Jerusalem church in the book of Acts?).  It is also possible that this is speaking of the church universal, but that makes John’s closing statement in 2 John very confusing.  If the “elect lady” is the universal church, who is her sister?

26 1 John 1:7, 9; 5:13.

27 Burton Coffman, commentary notes on Revelation 1:9.

28 Among the early writings that take this position, there is not agreement about which emperor banished him there.  Many claim Domitian, and thus some expositors take the position that it had to have been written around AD 95-96.  John A.T. Robinson (in Redating the New Testament) says that Domitian acted as emperor (even calling himself the emperor) prior to Vespasian’s arrival in Rome to take the throne, and so it could have taken place around AD 70.  However, there are very early Bible translations (second century) which include in the title of the final book of the New Testament, “…when he was exiled to Patmos by Nero.”

29 Foy E. Wallace argues that John went to Patmos for the purpose of receiving the Revelation and evangelizing.  See his The Book of Revelation, notes on Revelation 1:9.

30 Revelation 1:17.

31 Revelation 5:4.

32 Revelation 19:10.

33 Revelation 1:3, 2:10.

34 Revelation chapters 18-19.

35 Revelation 21.

36 The entire book of Acts shows that the primary persecutors of Christianity in the first century were the Jews.  It is their overthrow that is pictured in the book of Revelation.  For more details, see Things Which Came to Pass: A Study of Revelation by this author.

Contradictions in the Bible?

Introduction

All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).  If God is as the Bible presents Him, as an all-knowing, infinite Being who cannot lie, then when we read the word of God, we should be able to find no contradictions, no mistakes in the Scriptures.

Atheists and others who want to tear down the credibility of the Bible will scour its pages looking for passages that seem to disagree with each other, and will proudly pronounce, “Here is a contradiction!”  And when they present these potential problems, they proclaim the Bible to be a fraud, uninspired, and worthless.  By doing so, they have actually overturned the faith of some, causing them to deny the Lord who bought them with His own blood.

It’s easy to understand an atheist or someone like him trying to take things out of context to try to show supposed contradictions in God’s word.  But there are times when an honest, sincere Christian will read passages of Scripture and honestly has a difficult time reconciling perhaps two different records of the same event which don’t seem to agree with each other, or worse yet, some which seem to completely oppose each other.

What is a Christian to do when faced with what looks like a contradiction in the Bible?

What is a Contradiction?

It’s extremely important that we understand what a contradiction is and what it is not.  When we grasp the true meaning of what a contradiction is, and what it is not, most of the so-called “contradictions” of the Bible disappear.

A contradiction only exists when two (or more) statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same manner.  For example: (1) My only pets are two cats. (2) I own a dog.  These two statements are a contradiction, for if my only pets are cats, then I cannot own a dog.

The Manner

It is not a contradiction if two statements, which might seem contradictory, are true in a different manner.  For example: (1) I am a father. (2) I am a son.  These are referring to two different relationships, and so they are both true at the same time.  If I were to say (pointing to a man), “I am his son,” and then (pointing to the same man) say, “I am his father,” it would be a contradiction if it was speaking of only physical relationship, for both statements could not be true at the same time and in the same manner.  But I have heard of a man who converted his father to Christ.  So, in that instance, his dad could point to him and say, “I am his father, but I am his son in the faith.”

There are examples of Jesus using language that would seem contradictory until you understand that He is describing physical things in one place and spiritual things in another.  For example, Jesus says “He that lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26), but then tells Peter, “Verily, verily I say to you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked wherever you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you do not want to go.”  He spoke this signifying by what death [Peter] should glorify God (John 21:18-19).  Jesus said the faithful would never die spiritually, and that Peter would die physically.

The Time

It is not a contradiction if two statements, which might seem contradictory, are true at different times.  According to George DeHoff, some skeptics of the Bible use Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good,” and 6:6, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.”  They claim that these two statements are contradictory, but there are over a thousand years of history that have passed between the two statements.  Each of them was true when it was spoken, but after the fall of man and the continual thoughts of evil that gripped all of mankind—except for Noah—it was no longer “very good.”

For the one who believes in God, we must never just accept someone’s word on something being a contradiction without a thorough investigation.  We must remember some principles as well that, when put into practice, answer most—if not all—of the allegations of contradiction.

The Translation Issue

Some supposed contradictions are a result of the translation(s) one uses.  If you use the King James Version, Galatians 6:2 and 5 seem to be a contradiction: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” vs. “For every man shall bear his own burden.”  Well which one is it?  Are we to bear one another’s burdens or are they supposed to bear their own burdens?  The answer is that there are two different Greek words translated “burden” in those passages.  One of them is personal responsibility, while the other one is struggles, trials, difficulties that come upon someone.

The same thing could be said for Galatians 1:1:6-7: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ into another gospel which is not another…”  Is it another gospel or is it not?  Again, the problem here is eliminated by knowing that there are two different words translated “another” in that passage.  Paul says, literally, “into a different gospel [one of a different type], which is not another [one of the same type].”

The solution when you come some apparent contradictions is to consult some other translations and see how they translated it.  It is possible that the contradiction is one created by the word choice of the translators, and not in the text itself.

The Audience Issue

Some people have alleged that the Bible contains contradictions because in answer to the same question, different responses are given.  For example, when the question “What must I do to be saved?” or one that means the same thing is asked, there are different answers given.  The people on the Day of Pentecost were told “repent and be baptized,” but the Philippian Jailor was told, “only believe” (no mention of repentance of baptism in their answer), and Saul of Tarsus was told, “Go into the city…” where Ananias told him, “arise and be baptized” (but there was no mention of belief or repentance.

The answer to this allegation and others like it is that there is a difference in the audience.  Each of the ones being spoken to were at different levels of understanding, and at different points in their journey towards salvation.  The Philippian jailor in Acts 16 was not willing to believe in Jesus Christ until after the earthquake that opened all the prison doors, yet none of the prisoners fled.  He realized that Paul and Silas were sent by the most powerful God, and he wanted to be right with them and with the Lord.  So the response that Paul gave him was the first thing he needed to do: believe.  They then taught him what he needed to believe (which, incidentally, included the urgency of baptism), and went from there.

The people on the Day of Pentecost already believed in God, and by the time they asked their question, “What shall we do?” they believed that Jesus was the Christ.  So Peter had no need to tell them to “believe,” since they were already at that point.  He gave them what they needed for where they were in their journey: repent and be baptized.

Saul of Tarsus believed in Jesus by the time Ananias got to him; and Saul had been fasting for three days and prayed—showing he had already repented.  So Ananias told him what he needed to do next: arise and be baptized, wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.  There was no need to tell Saul to believe or to repent, because those had already been done.

Some call it a contradiction, but it isn’t, because these statements were made to different people at different stages in their journey to salvation.

The Covenant Issue

Closely connected with the difference in audience is the statements made to people under different covenants.  The most famous one is the thief on the cross vs. the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  It is alleged that the example of the thief trumps (i.e., contradicts) the commands given on Pentecost.  But that ignores that the people lived under two totally different covenants.

The thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament.  Baptism was never a part of the Old Testament commands for salvation or forgiveness.  Baptism into Christ was something that was ordained by the Lord after His death, burial, and resurrection—that is, under the New Testament (see Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:19).  Since the thief on the cross never lived under the New Testament, he was never answerable to the command to “repent and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”  He, like David, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and literally millions of other Jews before him, lived and died under the Old Testament, and were never under the command to be baptized into Christ.

As a side note, we can also add to this example that when Jesus was on earth, He could do whatever He wanted regarding the forgiveness of sins.  But since He has ascended, His written covenant is what we have to guide us.  And His written covenant—His will—says “repent and be baptized.”

The Author Issue

Some skeptics have claimed that since the Gospel writers place events in different orders, they can’t be inspired.  The problem here is one that arises from the author and the author’s purpose.  Only one of the gospel writers makes the claim that he was giving events in chronological order, and that is Luke, who wrote as a detailed historian (see Luke 1:3).  Matthew’s purpose was not to give a strictly chronological sequence of events, but to show that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.  As such, he often groups similar events (miracles, parables) together.  We do the same thing today on occasion, telling people things we remember which remind us of other similar stories.  Then we might go on to some other things that took place between the stories, or even before.  In short, Matthew wasn’t concerned with strict chronology.  Mark was the same way, grouping some events together because there were similarities (see Mark 3:20-35, whereas they appear in Luke three chapters apart, and in different order).  John’s account was written to show the deity of Christ and to cause people to believe.

One of the examples of a supposed contradiction in chronology comes from the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.  Matthew 4 records them in this order: (1) turn the stones to bread, (2) jump off the temple, (3) bow down and worship me.  Luke’s record switches the second and third ones.  It’s not a contradiction, for both writers agree the same things happened, and Matthew made no claim that he was giving everything in a strictly chronological order.

The Complementary Issue

Most of the alleged contradictions come from incidents where one writer gives details that others don’t.  One of the best illustrations of this is found in Jesus’ speaking to Peter about his impending denial of the Lord.

Matthew, Luke, and John all record Jesus saying, in essence, “Before the cock crows, you shall deny me thrice.”  But Mark 14:30 adds a detail, “Before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me thrice.”  And in case someone wondered if the inclusion of that word was a mistake, verse 72 repeats it.  It’s not a contradiction, for Mark just gives Jesus’ statement in a bit fuller detail than the other writers did.  Matthew, Luke, and John each gave a slightly more summarized version.

Another example of this kind of supposed contradiction is found in the number of women at the cross.  Matthew 27:56 mentions only three specific women, Mark mentions three, Luke mentions none specifically, and John mentions four.  John just goes into more detail than the other writers at this point.

The Same Words, Different Meanings Issue

Just like in English, there are Greek words that have different meanings, depending on how the writer or speaker was using them.  The word “spirit” is a prime example, for it can mean “breath,” “attitude,” “the Holy Spirit,” “the human spirit,” or even “wind.”

I read a debate (read it free HERE) between a preacher of the gospel and a Mormon (one of the “seventy”), and in order to cast doubt on the validity of the Bible, the Mormon said that Acts 9:7 and 22:9 showed that there were contradictions in the Bible.  In the first passage, Luke tells us “the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.”  In the second passage, Paul (relating the same event) says, “they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of Him that spoke with me.”

In this instance, it’s not the fault of the translators.  It’s not being said differently because of a different audience, a different covenant, or because the accounts are complementary to each other.  Luke uses the words “hearing (ἀκούω) a voice (φωνή),” and Paul uses the same words, “they heard (ἀκούω) not the voice (φωνή) of Him who spoke to me.”

The word φωνή “voice” can also be translated “sound,” and is indeed translated that way several times in the New Testament.  It is possible, then, that Luke meant that the men heard a sound when he used the word in Acts 9, but not necessarily the voice of Jesus.

In the same way, the word ἀκούω, “hearing,” can also carry the meaning of “understanding” or “comprehending,” like when Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Jesus doesn’t mean just recognize that there is a sound, but to understand the words.  So it is legitimate to have Paul, in chapter 22, saying that the men didn’t understand the voice of Jesus.  Certainly they heard something, according to chapter nine, but that doesn’t mean they understood it.

There is an incident elsewhere in the Bible which sheds some light on this as well: John 12:20-29.  Some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, and Philip and Andrew went to Jesus to let Him know.  Then Jesus prayed a prayer which ended with the words, “Father, glorify thy name.”  Then there came a voice from heaven, saying “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  Then John says, “the people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said an angel spoke to Him.”

These people “heard” (ἀκούω) the “voice” (φωνή) from heaven, but to some, it was a sound, a noise like thunder, and not an actual understandable voice.

So back to the supposed contradiction in Acts 9 and 22.  In chapter nine, Luke said they heard a sound, but in chapter twenty-two, Paul is saying that they didn’t understand the voice of Jesus.  Both Paul and Luke used the same words, but they had slightly different meanings when they used them.

Conclusion

There are many other places that atheists and others like them point to as contradictions in the Bible, and if there is interest in looking at these, showing how they can be easily explained, we will do more lessons like this in the future.

The main point to remember throughout all of this, however, is that the Bible is trustworthy.  If just one mistake, one contradiction was made in the original writings of the apostles and prophets, then the Bible isn’t inspired by God.  It’s that simple.  But my friends, there are no contradictions in the word of God.  Not one.  This book is given by the inspiration of God and is able to make us “perfect” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), because He has given us everything regarding “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

He’s given us the answer to the most important question we could possibly ask: what must I do to be saved?  The Philippian jailor, one who was not a believer and who had not heard the gospel before, was told to “believe” and then the gospel was preached to him, which resulted in his being baptized that very night!  The people on the day of Pentecost believed the gospel, so when they asked “men and brethren, what shall we do?” the answer was “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

You have to believe in Jesus Christ, repent of your rebellion against God, acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, and submit to His command to be baptized in order to be forgiven of your sins.  We ask that you would please make the decision to do that today if you haven’t already.

-Bradley S. Cobb

What Baptism is For (A Reply to a Baptist)

One day, several years ago, a preacher by the name of Moses E. Lard received a letter, which said:

Mr. Lard:
DEAR SIR:—Will you have the courtesy to state explicitly whether the body of the people with whom you stand connected hold that baptism is for, that is, in order to remission of sins? I have no motive in putting this question but to collect Information.
Very respectfully yours,
A BAPTIST.

Lard

This question was answered in a series of eight letters, appearing over the span of a year or more.

Lard goes into more detail and more depth in answering this question than anything I’ve ever read before, often using textual arguments that (while close to 200 years old) were new to me.

If you want a deep study of baptism and what it is for, according to the Scriptures, take a look at this relatively short book (just 36 pages), which is today’s addition to the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary!

To read it online, or to download it to your device for later viewing, just click the link below.  And as always, we’ve gone through it, fixing any typos we found, and reformatting the whole thing to make for a pleasant reading experience.

What Baptism is For (Moses E. Lard)

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Life and Death of Judas Iscariot (Part 1)

The twelve men chosen by Jesus to be His apostles all had the potential to do great work for the Lord, to make an incredible impact for good, for God, and to go down in history among the most influential men the world has ever seen.  Most of them worked hard for the Lord to fulfill this potential; one, however, lost his way and instead of being remembered for good, his name has gone down in history as the greatest traitor to ever live.

Judas Iscariot

The origin of the name “Iscariot” is uncertain, though most agree that it is a reference to the hometown of Judas and his family.  Most likely it means “man of Kerioth,”1 a small town in the south of Judea.2  This town was mentioned in Joshua 15:25 as part of Judah’s inheritance.  Amos and Jeremiah3 both mention another city called “Kerioth,” which archaeologists believe was another name for their capital city.4

Some, however, give the name “Iscariot” a different meaning.  Some say it means “a man of murder” or “a hireling.”5  The most interesting (though not likely) suggestion is that it means “man of the Sicarii.”6  The Sicarii was a band of assassins, seemingly a sub-group of the Jewish Zealots, whose goal was to remove Roman officials from power by murdering them.  The originator of this group was a man named Judas of Galilee, who Gamaliel mentions in Acts 5:37.7

The name “Iscariot,” however, is not given just to Judas, but also to his father, Simon.  John 6:71 and John 13:26, literally from the Greek, says “Judas, of Simon Iscariot.”8  So whatever it means for Judas, it also means for his father.  It is because of this that their hometown is probably what is under consideration.

Judas the Disciple

Judas was a religious man.  He had to be in order to follow Jesus.  It’s most likely that he was either one of the multitude that went out to hear John the Baptizer preach, or one of the ones baptized by Jesus’ disciples in Judea.9  We aren’t told by the biblical writers when it was that Judas decided to start following Jesus, but they do tell us in no uncertain terms that Judas was a disciple of Jesus.

When it was day, [Jesus] called His disciples; and from them, He chose twelve, whom he also named “apostles.”10

One of those disciples who Jesus made an apostle was Judas Iscariot.11  Some have suggested that Judas was never really a disciple of Jesus, but just pretended to be; but God’s inspired writers say otherwise.  Luke literally says “Judas Iscariot, who also became the traitor,”12 showing that he wasn’t a traitor when he was chosen.  At the beginning, Judas was a faithful follower of Jesus.13

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Iscariot.”  See also Thayer’s definition.

2 James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Judas Iscariot.”  See also Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Judas Iscariot” for manuscript evidence that supports this belief.

3 Amos 2:2; Jeremiah 48:24.

4 See James Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, “Judas Iscariot,” for more information.

5 Hitchcock’s New and Complete Analysis of the Holy Bible, “Iscariot.”

6 This word is used in Acts 21:38, and is defined by Thayer as “an assassin.  One who carries a short sword under his clothing, that he may kill secretly and treacherously any one he wishes to.”  Strong says “a dagger man or assassin; a freebooter (Jewish fanatic outlawed by the Romans).  See McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, “Sicarii” (in Vol. 9, page 726).

7 Judas of Galilee’s “revolt had a theocratic character, the watchword of which was ‘We have no lord nor master but God,’ and he boldly denounced the payment of tribute to Caesar, and all acknowledgement of foreign authority, as treason against the principles of the Mosaic constitution, and signifying nothing short of downright slavery.  His fiery eloquence and the popularity of his doctrines drew vast numbers to his standard, by many of whom he was regarded as the Messiah.” (McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 9, page 726.

8 The ASV translates John 6:71 and 13:26 as “Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot,” though similar language used in 13:2 they translate as “Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.”  Manuscript evidence is divided in these passages, though the general consensus is that Judas’ father is called “Simon Iscariot” at least once.

9 It is generally agreed by scholars that Judas was from Judea, thus a call from Galilee isn’t likely.  See Mark 1:5 and John 3:22, 4:1-2.

10 Luke 6:13.

11 Luke 6:16.

12 Luke 6:16.  It is a form of the word “ginomai,” which means “to become.”  Therefore, Judas was not a traitor from the beginning, but later became a traitor.  You cannot become what you already are.

13 The gospel writers do not try to build suspense and make mysteries out of who was going to betray Jesus.  They point out at the first mention of Judas’ name that he is the one who would eventually betray Jesus.  See Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16; and John 6:71.

The Coming of the King

Sermon 2: The Coming of the King

Text: Mark 1:2-11 – As it is written in the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!’”  John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.  And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and those of Jerusalem, and were all immersed by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.  And John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a belt of leather around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, “There comes one mightier than I, after me, the laces of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I indeed have immersed you in water: but He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.

And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was immersed by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him.  And there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Introduction

Mark wrote to a Roman audience; an audience that grew up hearing the stories about various gods, hearing the legends about the children of the gods, and even tales about prophesies regarding these various supposed deities coming to earth.  But if they started reading the gospel that Mark wrote, they’d instantly be captivated by his statement that there is only one God (Mark 1:1 literally says that Jesus Christ is “Son of the God”).  And Mark follows that by quoting two prophecies that pointed to a theophany (appearance of deity on earth).

The Text, part 1 – The Prophecy (Mark 1:2-3)

(2a) As it is written in the prophets

With this statement, Mark subtly asserts the superiority of this prophecy to those supposed prophecies of Greek and Roman legends.  When “prophecies” appear in Greek and Roman myths, they’re almost always introduced in the same story where they are “fulfilled.”  That is to say, there are no examples of a “prophecy” being given in the name of Zeus or Hermes or whoever that was written down and then fulfilled at a later period of time.  All the “prophecies” appear for the first time in the stories that they supposedly point to.

Meanwhile, Mark starts off with “As it is written in the prophets…”  This bold statement invites his readers to do some research and look at the fact that these prophecies have been on record, foretelling a theophany, for hundreds of years!  This is a massive distinction made between the gods of Rome and the God of heaven whose Son is the subject of this short book.

Some translations follow a less-trustworthy Greek text and have the phrase “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” but the first quotation isn’t from Isaiah—it’s from Malachi.

(2b) Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, which shall prepare the way before You

If one of the Roman readers of this book were to take Mark’s challenge and look for this prophecy, he’d find it in the book of Malachi, written about 450-500 years before Mark wrote his book.  While this prophecy foretells the work of John the Immerser (Jesus quotes it as such in Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27), its primary focus is on the coming (theophany) of the Lord.  Malachi 3:1 says “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before ME.”  If you continue reading that verse, you’ll see that it was spoken by the Lord (Jehovah).

Now, Mark knew that the majority of his original readers wouldn’t take the time to look up the original prophecies, and so—as the narrator—he only brings up three in his entire book, two of which are right here.  There are other Old Testament prophecies mentioned, but they are mentioned by Jesus, and Mark is simply quoting Him.

In the ancient times, when a king was going to visit a city, he would first send a messenger, a herald, first to announce his coming so that the people could be prepared.  Oftentimes this would be done months—sometimes over a year—in advance of his arrival.  The cities that received an arrival of the king were considered to be specially favored, because the king didn’t make trips to all the cities.  It was an incredible honor to have the king visit your city.

When it was announced that the king was coming, the people would work hard to beautify their city.  They would many times build new buildings, would repair older ones, painting them, repair the city streets, and anything else they could think of to make a good impression for the royalty that was blessing them with his presence.  It was the job of the messenger, the herald, to encourage the people to be ready.  He would point out the things that needed to be fixed in the city, and would give suggestions on how to best be prepared to welcome the king.

Since this was true of people preparing to meet a physical king, how much more should they be preparing when it is the God of heaven whose coming is being announced?  Since the great kings of the earth would announce their arrival months in advance, how much greater is the King whose coming was announced hundreds of years in advance?

(3a) The voice of one crying in the wilderness

This is an interesting contrast with the historical background.  A messenger would go into cities to announce a future visit of the king, but this messenger of prophecy would make his announcement in the “wilderness.”  This was another clue to the original readers that there was something different about this theophany, about this arrival of a monarch.

Verse 3 is a quotation from Isaiah 40:3.

(3b) Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight

In addition to beautifying the buildings and the city, prior to the arrival of the king, the inhabitants of the city would do road work.  They would smooth out bumpy roads, straighten out twisting roads, and not just inside the city.  They would work on the path to their city gates for several miles outside their town, just so the king’s journey to their city would be a pleasant one.

Of course, Mark is about to drop a figurative bomb on his readers when he tells them that the preparation for this king has nothing to do with fixing roads and beautifying buildings.

The Text, part 2 – The Messenger (Mark 1:4-6)

Mark doesn’t dwell much on John the immerser—John is only a part of about 30 verses (less than 5% of the book of Mark).  The messenger was an envoy of the king, but everyone knew that while he was an important person, he was nothing compared to the one whose coming he announced.

(4) John did immerse in the wilderness, and did preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.

Mark began this section with the words “As it is written in the prophets…” or “Like it was written in the prophets…” and then gives the quotations.  But verse 4 is a continuation of that phrase.  “Like it was written in the prophets…John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach…”  Mark’s point in this verse is to show (1) the person—the messenger, John—who was foretold, (2) the place—the wilderness—that was foretold, and (3) the preparation—immersion of repentance for the remission of sins—that was foretold.

The preparation for the arrival of the great King—God in the flesh—didn’t involve fixing the streets or building new buildings.  It involved preparation of the people.  The Roman readers would have been perplexed by this.  “What kind of king seeks moral cleansing, spiritual betterment prior to His arrival instead of physical improvements?”

The work of the messenger, John, was to get the people to think about their spiritual condition, believing in the coming of the King, the Messiah, repenting, and being immersed for the remission of sins.  This is how the “way of the Lord” was being prepared.  This is how His “paths” were being made straight.  When the King arrived, He preached the same thing, and commanded that the same thing continue to be preached even after He left (Luke 24:47, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, etc.).

Because John’s work was one of spiritual preparation, his immersion was one with spiritual effects when coupled with repentance.  It had the same effect as the baptism commanded by the King (Jesus Christ), through Peter, on the Day of Pentecost three years later—the remission (removal, forgiveness) of sins.

(5) And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and those of Jerusalem, and were all immersed by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

The ancient heralds would go to the city gates or to public place inside the city to make their announcement, and all the people would come to hear it.  John made his announcement in the wilderness, but still all the people came to hear it.  He was (as seen in verse 7) announcing the coming of the King, and the people who believed him wanted to make themselves right in anticipation of His arrival.

(6) John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a belt of leather around his waist; and he ate locusts and wild honey.

Mark adds this information about the appearance and diet of John for a very important reason.  The heralds of kings in the ancient days would be clothed in fine clothing, expensive clothing, and would expect gifts of clothing from the people.  They also expected, as emissaries of the king, to be “wined and dined,” eating the best food that the city had to offer (without paying for it, of course).  Not all were like that, for certain, but it was common for the heralds of kings to take advantage of the people in the city, with the implication “I’d hate to have to tell the king you were uncooperative…”

In stark contrast to these well-dressed and well-fed men, John came dressed in camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist.  And he didn’t feast on the best the people had to offer—his diet consisted of things he could get for himself, provided by nature.

The thoughtful Roman reader couldn’t help but be struck by the imagery.  What kind of king sends his messenger dressed in poor man’s clothing and eating locusts?  But at the same time, they would have also had a level of admiration for the king whose messenger refused to use his position to line his own pockets and fill his own stomach.

The Text, part 3 – The Announcement (Mark 1:7-8)

The prophecies quoted by Mark for his readers started with the messenger, and Mark identified the messenger.  The prophecy then spoke of the preparation, and Mark described the preparation.  The prophecy spoke of the place where this work was to be done, and Mark showed the location.  The prophecy then gave the announcement—the Lord is coming!

(7) And he preached, saying “There comes one mightier than I after me, the laces of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

This is John being the herald, the messenger, announcing the coming of the King.  The people listening to his message didn’t know exactly who this King was yet (they knew He was the Messiah, but they didn’t know it was Jesus yet), but Mark’s readers were given the answer at the very beginning: Jesus Christ, Son of the God.

As important as the herald was, and as much respect as he was to be given, he was nothing compared to the King which would follow.  This is the imagery that Mark, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is presenting to his readers.  John, the messenger of the King who is the Son of the one and only God, should have been—by worldly standards—the most important herald in the history of mankind (and Jesus even said there was no man greater than John, Matthew 11:11).  But even the greatest messenger in the history of the world wasn’t worthy to touch the feet to untie the shoes of the King he was announcing.

How powerful and mighty must this King be!

(8) “I indeed have immersed you in water, but He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.”

This is a continuation of the announcement of the coming King and a description of His greatness and power.  John had immersed people in water—that common item that covers the majority of the globe.  And it wasn’t even pristine water, it was the not-exactly-clean water of the Jordan River, which was inferior to the rivers in Syria to the north (2 Kings 5:12).  The point is that John immersed people in a common element, but that the King who would come had the power to immerse people in power from heaven.  What an incredible contrast!

While John’s listeners were familiar with the Holy Spirit, Mark’s original readers probably weren’t.  And so it comes as no surprise that just a few verses later, Mark shows the source of the Spirit: God Himself!

The Text, part 4 – The King Arrives (Mark 1:9-11)

(9) And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was immersed by John in the Jordan River.

The reaction of the readers must have been much like the reaction of Nathanael, who said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  That is, if they’d even heard of Nazareth.  They had probably heard of Galilee, and that would probably have elicited a similar reaction.  Galilee was an insignificant area, so far as the Romans were concerned.

But they’ve already been told that Jesus is the Anointed One, son of the God (1:1), they’ve been shown the prophecy about the messenger announcing the arrival of this Lord (1:2-3), and they’ve read his might and power described (1:7-8).  So their expectations were probably something completely different from what happens in this verse.  It’s no surprise, since that’s what happened with the Jews as well.  They expected a Messiah much different than the one that God sent.

John described the coming King as someone who was so mighty that He had the powers of heaven at His command (will immerse you with the Holy Spirit), and so regal that John wasn’t even worthy to untie this King’s shoes.  The expectation, then, would be someone who thought of themselves as above everyone else, who couldn’t be bothered with the common person.  Yet here comes Jesus, going out into the wilderness, coming to the same person for baptism, going down into the same dirty, common waters of the Jordan River, allowing the one who wasn’t worthy to untie His shoes to immerse Him like he had done so many others.

This verse reveals Jesus as a King who is humble, not like the kings of this world.

(10) And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him.

Take a moment to picture this scene in your mind.  Jesus has come to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John.  Jesus steps into the water and stands next to the Immerser.  John then takes hold of Jesus, and plunges Him beneath the water’s surface before lifting Him back up.  And at that moment, the heavens open up.  Do you see the clouds parting in the sky?  Do you see a bright ray of sunlight shining down towards our Lord?  Don’t just read over this verse and miss the incredible scene that took place, because this is part of the proof of what Mark stated in the first verse: Jesus Christ, Son of the God.

Jesus, the King, was described as the one who would have the power over the Holy Spirit (baptizing people in the Holy Spirit—verse 8).  Now, in this verse, it is shown that the Holy Spirit comes from heaven—from God—and resides with Jesus.  Some view this event to be the moment when Jesus is anointed as King.

(11) And there came a voice from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Here is the public proclamation of Jesus as Son of the God.  The heavens have opened, the Spirit has descended, and now the voice from heaven itself—the realm of the one true God—speaks, announcing that Jesus of Nazareth is His Son.

Mark concludes the opening section of his account of the good news of Jesus by showing that Jesus is the Son of God, just like he stated in the first verse.

Application

The Old Testament was Written for our Learning.

If you look through the book of Acts, you’ll see that the apostles used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  While we do not live under the Old Testament (nor did the apostles after the Day of Pentecost), we can increase our faith and learn more about God by studying those writings.  Even though Mark doesn’t spend a lot of time bringing up the Old Testament prophecies, he does show that he is familiar with them, and that they can still be used to prove the truth of Jesus as the Christ.

The Messenger of God Cannot be Focused on Himself.

There was no one greater than John the Immerser, according to Jesus Christ, but John didn’t let that status, as the messenger of the King, go to his head.  He didn’t wear fancy clothes when he proclaimed his message—the Pharisees did, but John didn’t.  He was dressed in common clothing.  He didn’t try to abuse his role and make demands of people, catering to his whims and opinions.  Instead, the only demands he made of people were those that involved their spiritual condition (Luke records these in greater detail).  The ones who were trying to run others’ lives, he called a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7).  Likewise, if we are to truly be God’s messengers, we need to make sure we focus on making people spiritually prepared for the Lord’s coming.  Making an issue, demanding that someone cater to your opinion, is putting the focus on you and not on God.

Jesus was Humble, We must be Humble.

There are baptized believers who are arrogant instead of humble.  Sometimes it is seen in how they talk about those in denominations, as though they are so much smarter than those denominationalists because of a proper understanding of baptism—as though the denominationalists are intentionally keeping themselves out of heaven.  Other times it is seen in how they treat other Christians, specifically those who are struggling spiritually, as though they never have any spiritual struggles.  Jesus came to save the lost and to give us an example of the attitude we are to have towards others—brethren and non-brethren alike.  Jesus lived a life of humility, of humble service, not using His status as King to make people bow down to His every whim, but showing them the right way to live.  We need to follow that same example.

Baptism Involves being able to “come up out of the water.”

The largest religious denomination in the world teaches that sprinkling water on someone is considered baptism.  Others teach that pouring water on someone’s head constitutes baptism.  But when Jesus was baptized, He “came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10).  That means He first had to be “in” the water.  You can’t “come out of the water” after having some sprinkled on you.  You can’t “come out of the water” after having some poured on you.  But you have no choice but to “come out of the water” after you’ve been immersed in it.  Baptism is immersion.

Invitation

The King of kings, the Son of the one true God of heaven, did come to the earth to visit mankind.  When He did, He lived a life of perfect service and obedience to the Father, giving us an example to follow.  He gave those who believed in Him and wanted to be saved a very simple command: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins.”

Why don’t you come follow the King now?

-Bradley S. Cobb