Category Archives: Bible Questions

Notes on 2 John 4-7 (Comments and Critiques are Welcome!)

Walking in the Truth (4-6)

(4) I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.

I rejoiced greatly

John frequently speaks of rejoicing. This fact alone should make us examine our lives. Are we the joyful people we should be? Do we rejoice in suffering (Acts 5:41)? Do we rejoice when we learn the truth (Acts 8:39)? Do we rejoice when we read the eyewitness accounts in the Scriptures, knowing we can have confidence in their accuracy and truthfulness (I John 1:1-4)? Do we rejoice when we hear about other Christians remaining faithful (III John 4)? Christians should be the most joyful people on the planet!

I rejoiced…that I found your children walking in truth

John’s specific reason for rejoicing is Christians were continuing to live faithfully. People frequently drift away from God’s word and place their opinions as the standard. Whether those opinions are binding where God never bound or loosing where God never loosed, or completely changing the message—either one means that person is no longer “walking in truth.”

Walking in truth is the same as “walking in the light” (I John 1:7). The inspired Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). It means you, dear reader, must base your life upon God’s precepts.

One man described it this way: God’s word lights the one and only path leading to heaven. You are wandering about in a world of darkness. Then you see this one lighted path. In that path is safety. In that path, you can see where you are going. It is a difficult path, to be sure, but it is well-lit. The light is God’s word. Walking in the truth or the light is the equivalent of following God’s commands from the heart. Only by that path can anyone reach the Promised Land of heaven. Why is it so many people choose to stay in darkness?

Why did this cause John to rejoice? When someone is “walking in the light” (I John 1:7) or “walking in truth,” he can have full assurance of heaven because all of his sins are forgiven him. John is rejoicing because he knows they will be in heaven! Wasn’t the entire point of the apostles’ mission to “go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15)?

The word found is the Greek word euraka (we get our word eureka from this). With all the people who had been falling away (see 2 Timothy 1:15), John rejoiced to hear of Christians remaining faithful.

Walking in truth…as a commandment of the Father

Walking in truth is not just something we should do; it is something we are commanded to do. John says walking in truth is a “commandment from the Father.” This should come as no surprise. It has been this way since the beginning. Adam and Eve were commanded to obey (Genesis 2:17). David said God’s grace is upon those who “walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). There must be a renewed emphasis on teaching others about the necessity of obedience. That does not mean we will ever obey perfectly; but if we do not obey at all, we are not walking in the light. If we are not walking in the light, our sins are not forgiven (I John 1:7). If our sins are not forgiven, we have no hope of going to heaven.

(5) And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.

I beseech thee

To beseech is to beg, to plead, or to urge someone to do something. It is not a commandment, as can be seen from Philemon 8-9, but instead an earnest request. It is interesting to see John begging them to keep the commandment of Jesus Christ: to love one another. He’s not commanding them to obey Jesus, but begging them to.

Not…a new commandment

John is not revealing something new to them. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, there were not new commandments for the Israelites to obey, but instead they were reminded to “remember the Law of Moses” (Malachi 4:4). In this letter from John to Christians, he is not giving them some new commandments, but telling them to “remember the law of Christ.”

From the beginning

This language is very similar to 1 John 2:7, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning…”

Here in this passage, john says this commandment is something we (John, as well as the Christians he’s writing to) have had from the beginning. The Old Testament gave the command to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). This command also became part of the New Testament. This one statement summarizes many of the Ten Commandments (Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14). James called this the “royal law” (James 2:8).

This commandment was heavily emphasized in Jesus’ ministry. However, when Jesus gave this commandment, He called it a “new commandment” (John 13:34). The reason is, it is an even deeper, more powerful love commanded. Jesus said to “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Instead of just treating others the way you want to be treated, this new commandment was “be willing to die for each other.” Most people would not willingly die for a friend, let alone a total stranger. But this is the kind of love Jesus commands His disciples to show for each other.

John said which you had from the beginning, and he’s referring to either (1) the beginning of their Christian walk, (2) the beginning of Christianity itself, or (3) the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. The gist of his saying this, though, is to tell them this isn’t something new to them. It’s something they should already be doing, because they already knew it.

Love one another

As stated above, this commandment isn’t new, but is found clearly stated in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18) and intensified in the New Testament. Jesus made this the badge of a true disciple (John 13:34-35). If one does not love his brother, he cannot honestly claim to love God (I John 4:20). Love for other Christians was also emphasized by John in verse 1 (see notes there).

(6) And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

This is love

The word “love” here is agape, a Greek word which describes sacrificial love, a mindful love. Agape doesn’t describe warm, fuzzy feelings towards someone else. Instead, it describes the conscious decision to put someone else first no matter what may come. John frequently writes about love, and every time, it has reference to putting someone else ahead of you.

That we walk after His commandments

Jesus clearly stated, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Many in the world of so-called “Christendom” claim all you have to do is accept Jesus into your heart and then you are saved forever. Will Jesus save someone who refuses to keep His commandments? If you love Jesus, you will keep His commandments. If you don’t keep His commandments, then you hate Him. There is no third option.

Many people want to show the world how “loving” they are by accepting everyone and everything, and never speaking out against sinfulness or against those who are not in obedience to Christ’s commands. However, the Bible defines love as keeping the commandments. In Mark 10:21, Jesus looked at the rich young ruler; and the Scriptures plainly state Jesus “loved him.”  As a result of loving this man, Jesus pointed out where he needed to change. Love will not accept people in their sins, but will point out their sins so they can change. If we love others, we will point them to the truth and the need to obey His commandments.

That, as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.

This walk is not a one-time event. It is a continuous lifestyle of obedience to Jesus Christ. All those who become Christians do so after hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17). But every New Testament writer emphasizes the necessity of continuing to obey. 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus Christ…cleanses us from all sin.” Literally, it says “if we are walking [presently, continually] in the light…the blood of Jesus Christ…is cleansing us [presently, continually] from all sin.”

These Christians (and all Christians) heard these things from the beginning of their conversion. All Christians must continue to walk in these commandments if they expect to have their sins forgiven.

Notes on 2 John 1-3 (your comments and critiques welcome!)

Salutation (verses 1-3)

(1) The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;

The Elder

The apostle John here does not identify himself by name. This follows the pattern laid out in the other writings which we call by his name (the Gospel of John, I-III John). Instead, he refers to himself as “the elder.” Some have taken this to mean John was old when he wrote this letter. In the first century, people were considered “aged” when they were in their 60s (see Philemon, verse 9). It is also possible John means he holds the office of an elder. He was, after all, a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1, 9). Peter, who was also mentioned as a pillar in the church in Jerusalem, later called himself “an elder” (I Peter 5:1). While it may indeed reference the age of the apostle, we should not ignore that John may have been an elder in the church in Jerusalem and identified himself as such.

The Elect Lady and her children

“The elect lady” has been the subject of some debate over the years. Who exactly is this elect lady? Is she a literal woman? Or is it a figurative way of describing the church? The most prominent possibilities, along with the pros and cons, are listed below.

Possibility #1: The elect lady is Mary, the mother of Jesus. This option obviously assumes the “elect [literally “chosen”] lady” is a literal woman. Mary was indeed chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-28). First, given the timeframe of writing (67-69 AD), Mary would be over 80 years old if she is still alive at all. Secondly, John had taken Mary in as his own mother according to Jesus’ wishes from the cross (John 19:26-27), so it seems strange that he would write a letter to someone he was caring for. Also, John mentions everyone who has known the truth loves both her and her children. One would be hard pressed to prove everyone who became a Christian even knew about all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, let alone loved them. It is unlikely Mary is the one under consideration.

Possibility #2: The elect lady is some prominent Christian woman who John knew in the first century. Some say her name was Kuria or Kyria (the Greek word translated “lady”). Some have pointed out Kuria is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Martha” and suggest that as her name. It is difficult to believe some woman, unknown to us today, could be so prominent that every single Christian not only knew of, but loved her and her children. If such a woman existed, she and her children surely would have been mentioned in Scriptures.

Possibility #3: The elect lady is the bride of Christ, the church (Ephesians 5:25). In this understanding, the children would be the members of the church. In the Old Testament, Jerusalem was often pictured as a woman (Jeremiah 3:1 Ezekiel 16:30-32), and the inhabitants were described as her children (Joel 3:19, Jeremiah 3:14). The church is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-10), so it makes sense if the church is referred to as a lady and her inhabitants as her children. Every single person who knows the truth should love the church (collectively) and the members (individually). Opponents of this view point to the “children of thy elect sister” (verse 13). This leads us to the next option.

Possibility #4: The elect lady is an individual congregation of the Lord’s church. Her children, then, would be the members of that congregation. The question, then, would have to be, “What congregation was so well-known John could say every single Christian loved it and the members thereof?” Some have suggested the church in Jerusalem, with the apostles as members, would fit the bill. Others suggest the mission-minded congregation at Antioch. Still others suggest Ephesus. This would also help to explain John’s closing statement, “the children of thy elect sister greet thee” as being the congregation with whom John was worshiping. If one specific congregation is under consideration (and it seems to be the case, because John wishes to speak to them face to face), it is impossible to know exactly which one it is without knowing where John was writing from.

This writer holds that the letter was addressed to a specific congregation (like most of Paul’s letters), but was intended to have a widespread distribution, and thus was also applicable to all congregations. Thus, it was both written to a specific congregation and the church in general at the same time. So, the best option seems to be a combination of numbers 3 and 4 above.

The Truth

Something often overlooked in this verse is this: John clearly states it is possible to know the truth. It seems everywhere you look, people say you cannot know anything for sure about God or the Bible (or anything else, for that matter). But the Bible tells us, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). If it is not possible to know the truth, then it must follow that it is impossible to be free.

We should take great comfort in knowing God has made His truth available through His word, the Bible. God wants us to know the truth. God made it possible for us to know the truth. That should give us great cause to rejoice! On the opposite side of the coin, however, it also places a responsibility upon us to seek the truth, read the truth, and obey the truth. Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). The truth is not going to just magically get zapped into your head. You have to actively look for it in God’s word.

But as you seek for God’s truth in His word (John 17:17), you can rest in confident assurance—knowing the truth is possible!

(2) For the truth’s sake, which dwells in us, and shall be with us forever.

For the truth’s sake

It is for the sake of the truth (or because of the truth) that all Christians should love the church (as a whole) and the members thereof (individually). Because Christ died for all of us, purchasing the church with his own blood, we should place great value on each Christian as well as the church itself as an entity.

What is “the truth” spoken of in these verses? Is it the truth that the earth is round? Is it the truth that the world was created in six literal days? What truth is being spoken of when John says “the truth”?

The truth is God’s word. Specifically, John has reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is to be obeyed (Galatians 3:1). It includes those things placing one into Christ (faith – Hebrews 11:6, repentance – Acts 2:38, and baptism – Romans 6:3). But also, it includes those things which one must continually do after becoming a Christian. Stated concisely, the truth is the commands of Jesus Christ which must be followed from the heart and which will result in a home in heaven. The commands are all summed up in the phrase, “walk in the light” (I John 1:7).

Truth…which dwells in us

The truth dwells in us. At least it should. Since we have accepted the Bible as God’s word, we should constantly read it and apply it to our lives. The apostle Paul said, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).  When people cease reading and applying the Scriptures to themselves, they slowly slip away from being the follower of Christ they should be. Eventually they may find themselves one day completely away from Christ with no idea how they got there. Most people don’t get up one morning and decide, “I’m going to quit being a Christian.” Usually it is a gradual decline. That is the reason Paul reminded the Corinthians to “examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). Later on in this very book, John stresses the need to “look to yourselves” (II John 8).

Truth…shall be with us for ever

Truth is eternal. John says the truth shall be with us forever. There will never be a time when God’s word does not exist and apply. Jesus said heaven and earth would pass away, but his words would not pass away (Matthew 24:35).

(3) Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

Grace

This was the common Greek form of greeting during the first century. It was a wish of favor upon people. It is similar to saying, “good morning.” We may not think of it much, but we are wishing favor upon people when we say that. Grace is getting something good we don’t deserve or haven’t earned. Generally grace is described as “unmerited favor.”

Peace

This was the common Hebrew greeting. It is the word Shalom (or Salom, or Salem). It was common for Hebrews to include a wish of peace to those they met or corresponded with. This word was integrated into various names in the Old Testament.  Melchizedek was called the “King of Salem, which is, the King of Peace” (Hebrews 7:2). Jerusalem was originally called Jebu-Shalom, or “the peace of the Jebusites” who originally lived there. Absalom and Solomon both have this word as part of their names.

Mercy

Like Paul, John wishes the blessing of mercy upon those he writes to. Mercy is not receiving the bad things one deserves. In court cases, someone who is guilty may beg for the mercy of the court. That means, “Don’t give me what I deserve, please!” If we all got what we deserved, we’d all be struck dead like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

From God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father

While Grace and peace were common greetings, John doesn’t give them their common meaning. Instead, John is clear to say he was wishing them the grace, mercy, and peace that only comes from God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, John wishes God’s favor upon them. John wishes the mercy of God upon them. John wishes the peace of God upon them (see Philippians 4:7). The only source of true grace, mercy, and peace comes from the Father through the sacrifice of His Son.

John also makes a point to show the deity of Christ as “the Son of the Father.” Some religious groups (most notably the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses”) claim since Christ is the “Son of God,” He can’t be God, or be deity. However, He’s also the “Son of man.” Does that mean Jesus wasn’t a man? Of course not! The son of a human is a human. He will share completely in the nature of being human. The Son of God is also God, deity. The Son of God will share completely in the nature of being God.

In truth and love

As can be seen throughout this short letter, John emphasizes the importance of truth. This verse makes it very clear that the grace, mercy, and peace of God are found inside truth and love. Outside of the truth, these blessings of God cannot be found. Since the truth is to be obeyed (Galatians 3:1), these blessings cannot be found outside of obeying the truth. Ephesians 1:3 tells us all spiritual blessings are “in Christ.” That means there are no spiritual blessings outside of Christ. Jesus Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey him (Hebrews 5:9).

John goes on to say in this letter that love means keeping the commandments (II John 6). Some people wish to claim Jesus without following His words. They claim to love God, yet they live their life as though God doesn’t matter. Jesus said, “This people…honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). John, in this verse, makes it clear: love and truth are interconnected. And without both (the love of God and following the truth), there is no grace, mercy, or peace to be found.

A Reply to an Objection on “How Old Should an Elder Be?”

Occasionally, we get comments on older posts.  One of those came in last month, responding to my 2014 article, “How Old Should an Elder Be?” The comment read (in full):

So what you are saying is an unmarried man or a married man with no children can NEVER be an elder no matter his age. By this standard, Jesus Christ was not considered an elder nor qualified to Shepard a flock and many of his Apostles also were not qualified to Shepard the flicks and could not have been considered elders. I find your conclusions severely flawed.

Below is what I offered in reply:

So what you are saying is an unmarried man or a married man with no children can NEVER be an elder no matter his age.

First, let’s be honest with each other. It doesn’t matter what I say. It matters what God says. And God is the one who said an elder MUST (that is, it is a necessity, a non-negotiable) be the husband of one wife. So it is GOD who is saying an unmarried man can never be an elder. God is also the one who said an elder MUST have faithful children. So it is God who says a married man without children cannot be an elder.

Do you believe the words that God wrote?

By this standard, Jesus Christ was not considered an elder nor qualified to Shepard a flock and many of his Apostles also were not qualified to Shepard the flicks and could not have been considered elders.

Jesus wasn’t an elder. And it is His church, therefore His rules. He is the one who says an unmarried man cannot be an elder in the church.

All of the apostles, except for Paul, were married (1 Corinthians 9 says this). John was an elder, as was Peter. We aren’t told whether the others ever served in such a capacity. Paul is the one that wrote that an elder “MUST be the husband of one wife.” He understood the words he wrote down, as they are very clear and straight-forward.

Do you believe the words that God inspired Paul to write down regarding elders?

I find your conclusions severely flawed.

By that, I assume you mean you disagree with what God put in the Bible regarding an elder having a wife and children. I recommend you open up your Bible and read what is actually written in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Then ask yourself, did God mean what He said when He said an elder “MUST be the husband of one wife”?

Answers to Some Questions About the Word “Apostles”

ApostlesLogo

Recently, a friend of mine asked for permission to use some of the material we have posted here on the apostles to teach in the congregation he works with.  I told him that was fine with me, and so he began.  But he ran into some objections from the get-go regarding my definition of the word “apostle.”

Here’s the email I received:

So, I started to teach on the apostles and the congregation had some surprisingly not so positive feed back……..before we ever really got started on Epaphroditus

They were surprised by your definition of apostle being so broad.  

  • ‘Didn’t an apostle have to see Jesus, like it says when Matthias was chosen?’  
  • ‘I thought being an apostle meant you could do miracles and give the ability to do the miraculous to others?’   
  • ‘Using his definition, is there even a difference between disciple and apostle?  Or is it Apostle and apostle?’ 
  • ‘Where do we draw the line?  Does the fact that we help support _________ on missionary trips to Honduras make him an apostle since the church sent him on a mission?’
  • ‘Aren’t we all apostles then because we all have a message to take from Jesus himself: the Gospel?’

I was quite surprised by this resistance to how you presented it in your material.  I really didn’t have anything to answer other than this is how you had chose to tackle the subject.

Pretty sure this is not what you expected … but I promised them I would pass their questions along and see what you said about it.

So, in order to clarify, and to eliminate anymore possible difficulties with his using the material there, I sent the following letter as an answer to their questions.  I am posting it here, because perhaps some of you may have had the same thoughts as you read through the original introduction to this series… WAY back in January.  🙂

My brethren,

__________ wrote me and conveyed some concern that many of you had regarding my initial definition of the word “apostle.”  I appreciate the opportunity to try to clarify and hopefully dispel any worries that you might have with me (though we’ve never met) and the material.  With that in mind, I offer the following three points, followed by answers to some of the specific questions that were asked:

(1) The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word “apostolos,” which means “one sent [with a specific mission].”  It is said in many Bible dictionaries that by the time the New Testament was written, this word had taken on the sense of an emissary, a delegate for someone else.

God inspired the writers of the New Testament to use this word, in its many forms (noun, verb, singular, plural, etc.) to describe the fourteen men we consider to be “Apostles” (i.e., the original twelve plus Matthias and Paul).  However, this exact same Greek word is used in other places in the New Testament to describe people who weren’t of that number.  Since God inspired men to use this word to describe more than just the official “Apostles,” then we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that He used it in a broader sense than we’re used to.

*Webster’s 1828 Dictionary gave this as the definition of “Apostle”:
Apostle

APOS’TLE, n. [Gr. to send away, to sent.]

A person deputed to execute some important business; but appropriately, a disciple of Christ commissioned to preach the gospel. Twelve persons were selected by Christ for this purpose; and Judas, one of the number, proving an apostate, his place was supplied by Matthias. Acts 1.

The title of apostle is applied to Christ himself, Heb 3. In the primitive ages of the church, other ministers were called apostles, Rom 16; as were persons sent to carry alms from one church to another, Phil 2. This title was also given to persons who first planted the Christian faith. Thus Dionysius of Corinth is called the apostle of France; and the Jesuit Missionaries are called apostles.

Among the Jews, the title was given to officers who were sent into distant provinces, as visitors or commissioners, to see the laws observed.

*Smith’s Bible Dictionary start’s itsdefinition this way:

Apostle. (one sent forth). In the New Testament, originally the official name of those twelve of the disciples whom Jesus chose to send forth first to preach the gospel and to be with him during the course of his ministry on earth. The word also appears to have been used in a non-official sense to designate a much wider circle of Christian messengers and teachers.  See 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25.

*Fausset’s Dictionary includes this sentence in its article on “Apostle”:

“Apostle” is used in a vaguer sense of “messengers of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).

(2) There is a difference between an “apostle” [a “sent one”] and someone who wore the title or held the official office of an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  Epaphroditus was said to be an “apostle” of the church (the KJV says “messenger,” though it is the exact same word as what is translated “apostle” in the NT).  Jesus Christ was called an Apostle–because He was sent by God with a mission.  James, the brother of the Lord, is called an “apostle.” Barnabas is called an “apostle.”  But none of these men wore the title, or held the office of “Apostle.”  Only Paul and the “twelve” could lay claim to that.  These others were simply ones who were sent by someone with a specific mission–the actual meaning of the word “Apostle.”

A similar case exists with the word “elder.”  There is a difference between someone who holds the title/office of “elder” in the church, and someone who is just an “elder” — an older person (as in 1 Tim 5:1-2).

(3) If we wish to use Bible words in the way the Bible uses them, then we could say that a missionary sent out by the congregation is an “apostle” of that congregation–but given the way denominations have twisted and tortured the word in applying it to offices within their ranks, as well as the exclusive way we’ve traditionally used “apostle” to refer only to the twelve and Paul, it wouldn’t be very expedient to do that; in fact, it would be downright confusing.

Questions:
1. Didn’t an apostle have to see Jesus, like is says when Matthias was chosen?
  In order to hold the office of an apostle, to be one of the specific twelve men that Jesus chose to be his miracle-working and miracle-giving representatives to the world, then yes, absolutely he had to see Jesus.  But this was not a requirement for someone to be called an “apostle” in the general sense of the word.

2. I thought being an apostle meant you could do miracles and give the ability to do the miraculous to others? That is 100% true, so long as we are talking about the office or title of “apostle,” which was only held by fourteen men (the twelve, plus Matthias, plus Paul).  There are other men who were called “apostles” in a general sense (Barnabas was called an apostle in Acts 14:14), but who are distinguished from those who held the office of an “apostle” (Barnabas was not a member of “THE apostles,” Acts 4:36, 9:27).

3. Using his definition, is there even a difference between disciple and apostle?  Or is it Apostle and apostle? A disciple is a follower, and a learner from someone else.  An apostle (in the general sense of the word) is someone who is sent away with a mission from someone else.  Not all disciples of Jesus were mature enough or trusted enough to be sent by Him as His delegate.  Even when the Bible speaks of Epaphroditus, who Paul calls “your messenger” (the Greek word is apostolos), it shows that he was someone who was mature and trusted by the congregation to be sent on their behalf to help Paul.  So, there is a difference between disciple and apostle.  I think that the second half of the question really gets the emphasis: Apostle (as a proper name, a title, the name of an office in the first-century church) is something describing the “twelve” and Paul; apostle is the general sense of the word, meaning anyone who was sent away with a specific mission.

4. Where do we draw the line?  Does the fact that we help support ________ on missionary trips to Honduras make him an apostle since the church sent him on a mission? I’ll answer the second part first.  From a strict definition of the word “apostle,” then yes, one could call Tony an “apostle” of the church there where you meet.  In fact, the Bible uses it that way in 2 Cor 8:23.  Titus and his companions were called “messengers (Greek, apostolos) of the churches.  However, using it that way today would get confusing as all get-out to people–both in the church and out of it–because of how we’ve traditionally understood the word “apostle” (referring to the twelve and Paul), and because of how some denominations have perverted the word to refer to their leaders (i.e., the Mormons and others).  The line between an “apostle” in the general sense and an “apostle” in the sense of people like Peter, Andrew, James, and John is this: Jesus selected twelve men to be called (or given the title of) “apostles.”  Judas fell by transgression, and God chose Matthias to be his replacement so that there were again “twelve” on the Day of Pentecost.  Paul repeatedly lays claim to the title of “apostle” and says that he is not one whit behind the other apostles.  Peter calls Paul’s writings Scripture (2 Peter 3), so we know that Paul was also among this group.  There is where the line is drawn.  No one outside of those fourteen men were ever “called” (or given the title of) an “apostle.”

5. Aren’t we all apostles then, because we all have a message to take from Jesus himself: the gospel?  The idea of an “apostle” is that a person is sent away from somewhere.  The men called “apostles” in the Bible (in either the general sense or the specific sense of the twelve plus Paul) all left their homes and went somewhere else to carry out the mission in other cities or areas.  Jesus (called an apostle in Hebrews) left heaven and came to earth.  Paul left Tarsus and Jerusalem and traveled the whole Roman Empire.  Peter preached in many places within Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.  John did the same thing, as well as spreading God’s word from Patmos (an island west of Asia Minor).  We’re not given the travels of the other apostles in the Scriptures, but they all stayed in Jerusalem for a time, which was not their home–they were all from Galilee (see Acts 2).  So, in answer to the question, while we have been given a message to spread, the gospel, we haven’t been called to leave our home behind and personally go and take the gospel to other lands.  We are not apostles in either sense of the word.

In conclusion, there are THE apostles (the twelve plus Paul) and then there are “apostles” in the general sense of the word.  The purpose of the material I’ve written is to look at the Christians whom God saw fit to call “apostles” (apostolos) in the Bible.  We first look at the ones who are not part of THE apostles (though they all almost certainly were able to perform miracles after having hands laid on them by one of the twelve or Paul).  Then we look at the “Twelve” (including Matthias), and finally, Paul.

If you have any specific questions or desire clarification on a specific point, feel free to email me or send a question through __________ and he will get it to me.  I will answer it as promptly (and with biblical support) as I can.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Was Lot Really Righteous?

Question: How could Peter call Lot a “righteous man” when Genesis 19 presents him as anything but righteous?

Turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, [God] condemned them with an overthrow, having made an example out of them to those that are about to be living ungodly;  And delivered righteous Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) –2 Peter 2:6-8

Three times in this passage, Peter—by inspiration—calls Lot “righteous.”  This is not the impression one gets when reading Genesis 19.  In that chapter, Lot was willing to give up his two virgin daughters to a crowd of angry men wanting to fulfill their sexual urges.  He did not leave Sodom willingly: the angels of God had to grab him and his family and basically drag them out of the city.  He was commanded to go to the mountains to be safe, but he said that he’d be killed if he went in the mountains, showing an incredible lack of faith.  He got so drunk, he didn’t even realize his daughters had sexual relations with him.

But God calls him “righteous” three times.

Some have said that Lot was only righteous by comparison.  While Lot comes out looking good when you compare the two, I don’t think that is what we are to get out of this passage, because Peter goes on to explain Lot’s righteousness as something that existed before the events of Genesis 19 (from day to day).

Lot’s offering of his daughters is, to the modern reader, inexcusable.  Many have said that it was a cultural thing, where daughters were viewed less as family and more as property.  Some of the same people emphasize the idea of hospitality—that taking someone into your house meant that you would do anything to protect them.  Those may be the case, though I personally cannot wrap my mind around offering up my own daughters to a crowd of men.

But perhaps what we are to learn from God using the word “righteous” three times to describe Lot is that even righteous people stumble and fall sometimes, but God knows the hearts.  How would you react if you were told to hurry up and run out of the city?  Would you hesitate?  How would you react if you were told to run to the mountain—a place perhaps known as being unsafe?  Would you be scared?  How would you react if your wife, your sons, some of your daughters, and your home were all destroyed?  Do you think you might be tempted to drink away your sorrows?

God said Lot was a righteous man, and even righteous men can have their moments of weakness.  I think that is part of the lesson to be learned here.

Lot was called “righteous” because the sins of the people around him troubled him greatly.  He hated seeing the sinfulness, the debauchery, the unbridled wickedness that the city was known for.  For us to be righteous, we must also be troubled by sin.  It’s when we get so used to sin that it doesn’t bother us anymore that we are in trouble.

-Bradley Cobb

 

Did Paul Receive the Holy Spirit by the Laying on of Hands?

Question: The book of Acts says that Ananias came and laid hands on Paul so that he would “receive the Holy Spirit.”  Does that mean that he had the Holy Spirit before he was baptized? –F.B.U.

To answer this question, we need to look at the text that it comes from:

Acts 9:17-18

And Ananias went his way and entered into the house. And putting his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus that appeared to you in the way as you came has sent me so that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales, and he received sight immediately, and arose, and was baptized.

Putting his hands on him…”Brother Saul…receive your sight…”

Here we see the miracle of Saul’s sight being restored. Verse 18 makes it clear that was the result of Ananias’ laying hands on him. That much is clear and undisputed by anyone who believes the Bible.

The question now, though, is what do we make of the phrase “be filled with the Holy Spirit”?

Jesus…has sent me so that you might…be filled with the Holy Spirit.

There are several opinions from scholars as to what this means. Some insist that it is the literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit being given to Saul of Tarsus—prior to baptism—by Ananias laying hands on him. Others say basically the same thing, except they say it was the gift of miracles being given to Saul prior to his baptism by Ananias laying hands on him.

When Luke uses the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” or “full of the Holy Spirit,” miracles (usually inspiration) are always under consideration. Examine them for yourself: John the Immerser (Luke 1:15), John’s mother, Elisabeth (Luke 1:41-45), John’s father, Zacharias (Luke 1:67-79), the apostles (Acts 2:4), the apostles again (Acts 4:31), Stephen (Acts 6:5, 7:55-56), Barnabas (Acts 11:22-24), Paul (Acts 13:9-11), and the disciples of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14, 51-52).

Understanding this, let’s now look at the evidence to come to a rational, biblical conclusion to this potential conundrum.

First, Jesus said that the purpose of Ananias’ laying hands on Saul was so he would receive his sight. That was seen in verse 12 of this same chapter. There was no indication in Jesus’ words that Ananias was going to give Saul the Holy Spirit.

Second, the only result of this event shown in the Bible is that Saul received his sight. After he put his hands on Saul, the Bible only records that Saul received his sight. It says nothing about him receiving the Holy Spirit. If we look at Acts 22, where Saul (who is also called Paul) is telling about this very event, we see that he doesn’t even mention the Holy Spirit at all—but he does mention receiving his sight again.[1]

Third, the ability to pass on the Holy Spirit was only available to the apostles. This is shown in chapter 8, verses 14-18. Ananias was not an apostle, and so—unless someone wishes to argue that Ananias should be classed as an apostle—the evidence is against his being able to pass on this gift.

Fourth, Saul was lost in his sins when Ananias laid his hands on him, and was not a candidate to receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not been baptized. This principle is seen in Acts 8:15-16. Acts 22:12-16 shows that he was still lost in sins after Ananias laid his hands on him. The Holy Spirit was promised only to those who were the obedient servants of God.[2]

Fifth, Paul makes it very clear throughout his life that he did not receive his apostleship from any man. Miracles (the gift of the Holy Spirit) and the ability to pass them on were “the signs of an apostle.”[3] Paul states that he was “an apostle—not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.”[4] All of the apostles received their miraculous ability direct from heaven.[5] Paul would be no different.

Sixth, we see no record of Saul performing miracles until years later. The first time we read of Saul (now called Paul) doing any miracle is in Acts 13:9-11. This is the first time where Paul is said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Now, this does not mean that Paul was unable to perform miracles prior to Acts 13, but it is supportive evidence that he didn’t receive the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him. There is no evidence that Saul was able to work miracles before that event.

Seventh, it took the testimony of Barnabas to convince the apostles that Saul was really a disciple of Jesus Christ. You might ask, What does that have to do with anything? If Saul of Tarsus had the miraculous abilities given by the Holy Spirit at this point, it would have been very simple for him to prove to the apostles and other disciples that he was a Christian. But instead, it took Barnabas speaking on his behalf. Though not conclusive, this evidence seems to indicate that at this point Saul did not have the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit.

Since the evidence implies that Saul did not receive the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him, what exactly did he mean when he told Saul “Jesus…has sent me so that you might…be filled with the Holy Spirit”?

Ananias’ mission was to heal and baptize Saul; to bring him into the family of God and Christ. As you can see from other passages in Acts,[6] the Holy Spirit was only given to those who were servants of God, and who obey Him. Ananias came to help Saul become spiritually acceptable before God, and thus also help him become a candidate for the reception of the Holy Spirit. It was preparatory work.

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] Acts 22:12-13

[2] Acts 2:17-18, 5:32

[3] II Corinthians 12:12

[4] Galatians 1:1

[5] Acts 2:1-4, 4:29-31

[6] Acts 2:17-18, 5:32

Is the Lord’s Supper the most important part of worship?

 

Question: Is the Lord’s Supper more important than the other actions in the worship service? –B.C., Indiana.

Thanks for the question. There are many sincere brethren who believe that the Lord’s Supper is the central element of our worship, and there are many other sincere brethren who believe it is exactly of equal importance with the other areas of worship and dedication to God that take place in the assembly. But the question is this: What does the Bible say?

First, notice Acts 20:7. The apostle Paul had spent a full week in Troas just so he could assemble with the saints on the Lord’s Day. But Luke describes the assembly this way: “The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread.” This isn’t talking about a common meal. Paul could have had a common meal with the saints any day of the week. Especially consider that during Paul’s time, Sundays were work days. This verse is a reference, not to a regular meal, but to the Lord’s Supper.

According to Luke, the inspired historian and writer of Acts, the main reason the disciples came together was to take the Lord’s Supper. Was it the only reason? Of course not. Paul preached to them all night long, and though the text doesn’t say it, we can safely surmise that they also sang and prayed as well.

Second, Christians in the Bible were criticized because they weren’t focusing on the Lord’s Supper when they came together. Look at 1 Corinthians 11: “…I am not praising you, because you are not coming together for the better, but for the worse. … When you come together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.”

The inspired apostle Paul told the Christians in Corinth that they were sinning, coming together for the worse, because their coming together wasn’t to eat the Lord’s Supper. Sure, they literally ate the unleavened bread and drank the fruit of the vine, but they didn’t treat it as the sacred, Jesus-instituted meal that it was meant to be.

Other passages in the same book show us that they also prayed and sang when they came together, as well as exhorted and instructed one another with preaching (see chapter 14). The Lord’s Supper was not the only reason they were to come together, to be certain. But Paul uses soul-condemning language in regards to their lack of focus on the Lord’s Supper (see 11:29), but doesn’t use that language when talking about their improper singing and speaking in the assembly.

Third, the Lord’s Supper is the only part of the assembly that was actually ordained specifically by Jesus Christ. Think about it for a moment: singing, praying, preaching, and giving were all things done throughout the Old Testament. But the Passover was a special event, one with great depth of meaning; one that was a memorial of what God had done for Israel; one that held a place of prominence over the regular temple worship.

In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is a special event; one with great depth of meaning; one that is a memorial of what God (through Jesus Christ) has done for us. It is given prominence by God through His inspired writers. It is the part of worship that Jesus Himself commanded His followers to practice to remember Him and His death.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Singing and praying, preaching and giving, they are all commanded by God, and are therefore important.  But there is a focus, an emphasis given to the Lord’s Supper that puts it above the rest.

Final Thoughts

Christians have been done a disservice by hearing preachers, elders, and members talk of the Lord’s Supper as “an important part, but not the most important part of our worship.” The Lord’s Supper has been relegated to a five-minute snack with little to no spiritual reflection offered by the ones serving at the Lord’s table.

If you were to ask most Christians what they remembered about the worship period last Sunday, they’d probably tell you about the sermon, perhaps the song leading, and maybe a prayer that stuck out in their mind.

The Lord’s Supper was the primary reason the early church gathered together. Don’t you think it’s time we got back to doing that?

-Bradley Cobb

Are Preaching Schools Authorized?

Are Preaching Schools authorized in the Bible? Should a church be paying teachers there and/or paying students to go to school? Thank you in advance for your thoughts on this.—James D.

Thanks for writing. In order to discover the answer to your question, we need to go to the Scripture and notice certain things. We must also keep in mind that if God gives a command, but doesn’t tell us how we are to carry it out, then the how is left to our own judgment (so long as it doesn’t violate another command of God). For example, Jesus said to “go teach all nations.” He said to go and to teach, but He didn’t say how we were to go—it could be on foot, by car, airplane, by horse, etc… He also didn’t say how we were to teach all nations—it could be in person, via correspondence courses, books, DVDs, television/radio, over the phone, etc… This is an important principle to keep in mind as we look at this question.

First, the command to teach men is found in 2 Timothy 2:2. This is Timothy teaching men (plural). Paul doesn’t say, “teach men in your house.” He doesn’t say, “Teach them at the church building.” He says simply to teach them. The specifics (time, place, length, setting, etc…) are not given, thus Timothy had liberty to do the teaching where and when he saw fit. If Timothy had set up his own “School of Preaching,” he would have not added nor taken away from the command given, nor would he have violated it at all—it would simply have been an expedient to obey the command to teach men.

We, therefore, have Scriptural authority for an individual Christian teaching others in whatever way is deemed expedient. But what about a congregation? After all (in case you are unaware), every school of preaching is the work of a specific congregation.

The purpose of a “school of preaching” is to build up Christians so that they will be able to go out and teach others (see Hebrews 5:12). This is something to be done individually (II Timothy 4:2) but also collectively as a congregation (Ephesians 4:12, 16). The specifics of where, what time, setting, etc… are not given, and thus the HOW of the “building up” of the saints, helping them to grow as they are taught, is a matter of opinion/expediency.

These above things being true, a congregation can set up a school of preaching to teach men, and they have not violated any command of the Scriptures.

Second, regarding the funding aspect—The apostle Paul received financial aid from several congregations in order for him to preach the gospel to the lost, but also to help Christians become grounded in the faith and to be prepared to teach others. Thus we have a divinely approved example of a preacher/teacher being supported by other congregations while he works to build up the saints.  The ones being taught in a preacher training school are saints, thus it follows this divinely approved example.

Third, regarding supporting students—you’re not paying them to go to school. That is a misnomer. You’re sending money so that they can live WHILE going to school. Several congregations gathered money and sent it to the poor saints in Jerusalem so that they could live. This money was collected by one trustworthy person who wasn’t a part of their congregations, and taken to be left with the church in Jerusalem for the elders there to disperse as needed. If it is permissible—and even commanded—for congregations to send money to help Christians who needed it to be able to eat and live, then it is permissible to do the exact same thing for Christians today who have dedicated themselves to the study and spread of God’s word.

Though some people are opposed to the idea of preaching schools, the Bible gives authority for these works to exist.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Bible Q&A – Will the Wicked Be Resurrected Too?

Question: When the final judgment takes place, will the wicked be raised too? I’ve been reading several books lately, and some of them say that the wicked will simply be destroyed and cease to exist. What are your thoughts? – W.A.A., California.

Thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate your writing to get my thoughts, but I’m sure that you’ll agree that what’s really important is what the Bible says on the matter.

The doctrine that you have read about is generally called annihilationism. That is, the belief that the wicked, instead of being sent to a place of torment, will simply be annihilated—being completely removed from existence. Their punishment, according to this belief, would be that they simply cease to exist. This view is held by the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it has also been advocated by respected men in the church like Homer Hailey.

But again, the question is: what does the Bible say?

First, we can look at the teaching of Jesus about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 15:19-31). In that teaching, whether you call it a parable or not, Jesus teaches the reality of torment for the wicked after death. This is a conscious torment—the rich man was very much aware of his pain and anguish. He was not annihilated at the point of his physical death.

Secondly, and perhaps most convincingly, are the words of Paul from Acts 24:14-15. “[I am] believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets, and have hope towards God…that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”

Thirdly, the Scriptures teach that at the judgment, all men will have to answer for the things done in the body, whether they be good or evil (II Corinthians 5:10). This shows that everyone will be present at the final judgment—not just the saints.

Fourthly, Jesus constantly speaks of a place of constant torment for the wicked. He calls it “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He calls it the place where the fire is never quenched and the worm doesn’t die. He also calls it “hell.” There is no need for such a place if the wicked simply cease to exist. Since there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in that place, that means there will be people there—the wicked people.

The Scriptures are pretty clear that the wicked will be raised and stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. After their sentence, they will be sent to hell-a place of constant conscious torment.

That’s not my opinion—that’s what the Bible says.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Bible Q&A – How did Jude Get Enoch’s Prophecy?

Question: How did Jude get Enoch’s prophecy, since it isn’t recorded in the Old Testament? Is the “Book of Enoch” inspired? And if so, why isn’t it in the Bible?—S.P.

Thanks for writing. This section of Jude (that is, verses 14-15) has caused perhaps the most discussion and confusion of any section of the entire letter. Is Jude endorsing an apocryphal book as being from God? If so, why isn’t it included in our Bibles today? Is Jude using an uninspired document as proof of what he’s been speaking? If so, how can we have any confidence of what is inspired and what isn’t? Is it possible that Jude is quoting something that truly happened, but just wasn’t recorded for us? There are so many questions, and each of them deserves to be answered.

So, let’s look at the text and answer the questions:

(14) And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,

Enoch

There are a few things that Enoch is known for in the Scriptures. First, he was taken by God and did not see death. Elijah is the only other on in Scripture that was taken by God without having to suffer physical death. Second, he “walked with God” or “pleased God,” which is the reason why he did not see death (Gen. 5:22, 24, Heb. 11:5). Third, he was the father of Methuselah (Gen. 5:22).

So far as the Scriptures outside of Jude are concerned, this is basically all we know about Enoch.

The seventh from Adam

If there was any doubt about the one who gave the prophecy, Jude eliminates it here. The prophecy he is about to quote came from Enoch, the seventh in chronology, starting with Adam. In order, they are: (1) Adam, (2) Seth, (3) Enos, (4) Cainan, (5) Mahaleel, (6) Jared, and (7) Enoch.

Enoch…prophesied

This is extremely important to understand, because Jude is saying without a doubt, that this prophecy is from the Enoch mentioned in Genesis 5. And because Jude was written by inspiration of God, we can know that this prophecy was indeed given by the real Enoch who was taken by God before the flood.

Why is this important? It is important for multiple reasons:

First, there is no such prophecy recorded in Scripture.

Some people, in trying to explain how Jude could quote a prophecy that isn’t recorded, have said that perhaps Jude is quoting from some other Enoch. But Jude makes it clear that the Enoch he is quoting is the seventh from Adam. That objection is thrown out.

Second, because Jude has been accused of quoting an uninspired book as Scripture.

The Book of Enoch 1:9 says:

“And behold! He cometh
with ten thousands of [His] holy ones
To execute judgment upon all,
And to destroy [all] the ungodly:

And to convict all flesh
Of all the works [of their ungodliness]
which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things
which ungodly sinners [have spoken] against Him.

If you read Jude 14-15, you will see a striking similarity between the two passages.

It has become fashionable to say that Jude is quoting from this uninspired book. But given that no one can pinpoint the date in which it was written (with guesses ranging from 200 BC to AD 200), it is just as likely that whoever wrote “the Book of Enoch” was quoting from Jude.

If Jude was quoting from the Book of Enoch, then he lied when he said he was quoting from the real “Enoch, the seventh from Adam.” Hopefully, you can see that the charge leveled against Jude is a serious one. If Jude was quoting from the “Book of Enoch”—written no earlier than 200 BC—then the book of Jude cannot be inspired, for it would be speaking a lie as though it were truth—proving it was not from God.

So, how this all be settled? Where did the information come from? Why is Jude 14-15 so similar to Enoch 1:9?

Here are some plausible possibilities.

Possibility #1: There was an oral tradition that Enoch had given this prophecy, though it was not ever written down in the Old Testament Scriptures. If indeed this is the case, then the prophecy of Enoch was passed down by word of mouth accurately for over 2500 years. While it is possible, it seems very unlikely that any oral tradition could be passed down for 2500+ years and remain anything close to accurate. However, if there was an oral tradition to this effect, then Jude was confirming its authenticity and application (by inspiration), and there would be no surprise that the so-called “Book of Enoch” would have included it.

Possibility #2: Jude was given this information directly by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This possibility assumes there was no oral tradition, but instead that Jude was given information that wasn’t in the Old Testament record. This should not be a surprise, because the apostle Paul was given the names of two Egyptian magicians who withstood Moses—even though those two men were never named in the Old Testament (see 2Ti. 3:8). This was information given by inspiration without any reliance on an outside source.

Possibility #3: The Book of Enoch, though uninspired, contained an accurate quote of Enoch which was afterwards affirmed by God through Jude. What must be kept in mind is that this does not mean that everything in the Book of Enoch is accurate. This is just like when Paul quoted from two uninspired poets. He was only saying that the part he quoted was accurate—nothing more (see Act. 17:28, Tit. 1:12). The problem with this is again that no one knows when Enoch was written (some guesses are as late as the second century AD—long after Jude was written).

Of the three, I am convinced that the second is the most likely, though the other two are possible.

-Bradley S. Cobb

(Note: the above information comes from our book, “Fight for the Faith: A Study of the Letter from Jude”)