Category Archives: Bible Questions

Bible Q&A – Was Cornelius a Proselyte?

Question: Was Cornelius a Proselyte? – Anonymous

It is asserted by some that Cornelius, because he feared, worshiped, and prayed to God—the God of Israel—that he must be a proselyte [a convert] to Judaism. Some make the claim that he was a partial proselyte, a “proselyte of the gate,” that kept the Jewish customs and feasts, but who had not been circumcised. But can either of these claims be proven?

First, there is nothing in the text of Acts 10-11 (the only places in which Cornelius is mentioned) to indicate that Cornelius was anything other than a Gentile. Even the passage that speaks of what kind of man he was—one that worshiped and served God—says nothing about Jews, Judaism, Israel, or the Law of Moses.

Second, in light of this, we should also note that there were others in the Bible who worshiped and served God, yet who were not attempting to follow the Law of Moses. Abel, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Melchizedek, and others were all people who worshiped and served God without ever knowing anything about the Law of Moses and Judaism. These men were all Gentiles—non-Jews, and worshiped God under what we’ve come to describe as the Patriarchal law. This law was exclusive to the Gentiles, and was never rescinded until the gospel began to be taken to the Gentiles in the book of Acts.

Third, had Cornelius been a “proselyte of the gate,” such a fact would have been ammunition for the Judaizing teachers who demanded obedience to the Law of Moses prior to becoming a Christian. It would have been brought up by those who were trying to keep the Gentiles from entering the church as Gentiles. But this concept—that Cornelius was somehow a Jew in actions, though not in circumcision—is foreign to all the biblical evidence.

Fourth, If Cornelius was a proselyte, then the Bible is a lie. The conversion of Cornelius and his family is the record of the first Gentile converts. This fact is made clear throughout chapters ten, eleven, and even in chapter fifteen (see 15:7). Yet, in Acts 6, we read of a well-regarded Christian named Nicholas, and one of the few things we know about him is that he was a proselyte—that is, a Gentile who converted to Judaism. Therefore, if Cornelius was a proselyte one of the following must be true:

  • Peter, the apostles, and the inspired author of Acts were all mistaken in saying that Cornelius and his family were the first Gentile converts—Nicholas pre-dates him.
  • Peter, the apostles, and the inspired author of Acts were all mistaken in saying that Cornelius and his family were the first Gentile converts—they were proselytes, and therefore no longer classed as Gentiles.

These are the only two options if Cornelius was a proselyte. The true option is this:

Cornelius and his family were Gentiles—not proselytes to Judaism in any way, shape, or form. This matches perfectly with what is said about them in Acts. This matches perfectly with the attitude of the Jews in going into his house. This matches perfectly with the attitude of the other Jews who heard about it. This harmonizes perfectly with the fact that a proselyte named Nicholas was already a Christian—he wasn’t counted as a Gentile anymore.

Was Cornelius a proselyte? No. He was a Gentile—the first Gentile to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Bible Q&A – Prayer to Jesus?

Question: I’ve heard a lot of people recently addressing their prayers to Jesus. When I asked them about it, they said that we’re supposed to pray to God, and Jesus is God, therefore we can pray to Jesus. On the surface, that sounds good, but I’m still bothered by it. Can you help me understand this?—“Confused,” in Oklahoma.

Thanks for writing. I understand your concern, and I think it’s great that you want to know for sure what the right thing to do is. Before we answer this question, I want you to realize that there’s no way to deal with this completely in one article. Entire books have been written on this topic (from both sides of the debate).

To get the answer to this question, we have to turn to the Bible. One thing that bothers me is that the specific people you mentioned did not show you from the Bible where they get their doctrine, but they tried to prove it by human reasoning. Even if they are correct in their belief, the argument they gave you is not proof. After all, here is the exact same argument, applied to something else.

Jesus died on the cross. Jesus is God. Therefore God died on the cross. And since the Holy Spirit and the Father are both God, that means that the Father died on the cross, as did the Holy Spirit.

What is true of one person of the Godhead is not always true for the rest of them. Regardless of whether prayer can be offered to Jesus, the “Jesus is God, therefore we can pray to Him” argument isn’t proof at all.

Let’s look at the evidence:

What did Jesus Say?

Therefore, pray after this manner [or, in this way]: “Our Father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9).

Jesus is the Son of God, and is deity in His very nature. However, when He was giving instructions about the one people were to pray to, he specifically stated prayer is to be directed to “the Father.”

…That whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you (John 15:16).

Jesus, speaking to His apostles, is preparing them for His departure. And He tells them that whatever they ask of the Father, He would give to them.

In that day, you will ask me nothing. But whatever you shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you (John 16:23).

Jesus has just finished telling His apostles that He will be leaving them. He will die and later ascend to heaven. And after He left, He would send the Comforter, that is the Holy Spirit, to guide them into all truth (16:12-15). That’s important to keep in mind, because here Jesus says, “in that day, you will ask me nothing.” When is Jesus speaking about? He’s talking about the time after His ascension. From that point on, Jesus says, they won’t ask Him anything. Instead, they will be asking the Father.

To Whom did Jesus Pray?

This may seem like an ignorant question, but it’s worth answering. Nowhere did Jesus pray to Himself. But just as important, there is no record of Jesus praying to the Holy Spirit either. And if praying to Jesus is permissible based on the fact that He is God, then why didn’t Jesus ever pray to the Holy Spirit—who is also called “God” (Acts 5:3-4)?

“Father, the hour is come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may also glorify you” (John 17:1).

We could put the entire prayer of John 17 here, and it would be abundantly clear who Jesus addressed His prayers to. Look at verses 1, 5, 21, 24, and 25 of that chapter and you’ll see that Jesus continually addresses His prayer to the Father.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)

At His death, His prayer was to the Father—and to no one else.

To Whom did the Apostles Pray?

They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “Lord, you are God who has made heaven and earth and the seas and all that is in them….For of a truth, against your holy child Jesus, whom you have anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were gathered together…” (Acts 4:24, 28).

It should be obvious from this passage that the apostles were praying to the Father, since they were speaking to the one who had a child named Jesus. Thus, this passage shows them praying to the Father.

What were the Apostles’ Commands?

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you (Colossians 1:3).

The one they give thanks to and pray to, is identified as the Father.

Giving thanks to the Father… (Colossians 1:12).

Paul repeats his previous statement about the one to whom prayers of thanks are offered.

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17).

To whom did the inspired apostle Paul direct Christians to pray and give thanks? The Father.

Giving thanks always for all things unto God the Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20).

We are to always and in all things give thanks to the Father. That covers every prayer of thankfulness. There are no prayers of thankfulness, then, that are to be directed anywhere else. They belong only to the Father.

Be anxious for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:6-7).

Paul says that in everything—nothing is left out—requests are to be made known unto God. And lest anyone argue that this could mean Christ, Paul continues and shows that he is speaking of the Father, and not Jesus Christ as “God” in this passage.

In everything, prayers and supplications and thanksgiving are to be directed to the Father.

Objections?

In the light of this clear, direct, and blunt evidence, there are still those who object and argue that prayer can be directed towards Jesus. We will, Lord willing, consider their arguments in a later article.

 -Bradley S. Cobb

Bible Q&A – Jesus the Only Speaking God?

Question: I read an article recently in a brotherhood paper which said that it was Jesus, not the Father, who was “walking and talking” with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. His reasoning was that “A Spirit does not have feet and a voice …” And since Jesus is the only one from the Godhead who was said to become “flesh,” it must have been Him in the garden, and not the Father. This is confusing to me. Can you shed some light on the matter?—G.J.R., Oklahoma.

I have read the article that you refer to, and while I don’t necessarily have an issue with his conclusion, the arguments that he uses to get there are not valid.

The article is on the question “Where art thou?” from Genesis 3:9. This question was spoken by “The LORD God,” but as the person who wrote the article showed, the Godhead is comprised of more than one entity. And to quote the article, “therefore the phrase ‘Lord God’ does not ‘definitively’ answer the question!” To this, we fully agree. Just because something is said to be done by God doesn’t show us exactly which member(s) of the Godhead were the doers. For example, Genesis 1:1 says God created the heavens and the earth, but John 1:1-3 shows us that it was “the Word” [Jesus] who did the actual work of creating.

The article makes the statement that “the Father is the planner,” and gives some passages which show the Father is the one who planned and purposed the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:23, Ephesians 3:11). The article then states that Jesus is the “Executor,” that is, the one who actually does the doing of things. There is nothing in the article to pinpoint the Holy Spirit’s role is in the Godhead.

While we gladly admit that these statements are often the case, they are not always the case. They are not absolutes. We will show this to be the case momentarily.

The article, however, assumes that these distinctions are true 100% of the time, with no variation, and that therefore the Father is only ever the planner, and never the “executor” or doer of His will. Therefore, Jesus [the Word] is the only “Executor” or doer, and that everything that is actively done by God can only be done by Jesus.

Using these two descriptions as absolutes, the article proceeds to reason from them and apply them to Genesis 3:9. The exact quotation is:

[W]hen it is observed that “The Word/Logos” is the “Executor” and He created all things, it is correctly deduced that it was “The Word”, who became “flesh” (John 1:14) “walking and talking” in the Garden.

The problem with this reasoning is that the roles of the Godhead in regards to “planner” and “Executor” are not absolutes. For example, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the Father (Acts 13:30, 37, Galatians 1:1). The Father planned it, and the Father executed His plan Himself.

The quotation continues (immediately following the above quote):

A Spirit does not have feet and voice that spake the world into existence, which asked the question, “Where art thou?”

It is this argument that I have the biggest problem with. While it might sound good on the surface, the necessary conclusions from this statement violate Scripture. And if the necessary conclusions violate Scripture, then the statement itself must be wrong. The article argues that only one who “became flesh” can be “walking and talking” because “A Spirit does not have feet and voice that spake the world into existence.”

Here, we offer our objections:

(1) If it requires flesh to do “walking and talking,” then that demands that before the world could be spoken into existence, one of the Godhead had to become flesh. The writer states that a Spirit does not have a voice; therefore the necessary conclusion is that one of the Godhead had to be flesh before creation.

(2) Jesus is the only one of the Godhead who is said to have been “made flesh.” If it requires flesh for God to speak, the necessary conclusion is that every time we see God talking in the Bible, it’s actually Jesus speaking. This makes for a very interesting conundrum, because when Jesus was raised up out of the water after being baptized, a voice [God] spoke from heaven, saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Are we really to believe that Jesus (the only member of the Godhead who was ever in the flesh) was speaking to Himself from heaven, calling Himself His own Son?

(3) The Holy Spirit—one of the Godhead that did not become flesh—can speak (Acts 10:19-20).

There are other instances that could be used, but we believe these are sufficient to show that these arguments used in this article are not valid.

Please note: the article was written by a good, faithful gospel preacher. This response was written merely to bring to light some issues that the brother probably did not consider in his arguments. His conclusion, that it was Jesus who asked the question to Adam and Eve, is his opinion, and could possibly be the correct one. My problem was not with the conclusion, but with the reasoning used to get there.

———-

Because this question is now before us, I will present the evidence that I believe might point to a different conclusion.

When people read Genesis 3:8, they make an assumption that God Himself is “walking” in the Garden when this event took place. As in, this is God in human form, literally walking with human feet through the foliage. If that’s what Genesis 3:8 said, I’d stop right there and say, “that might be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus.” But that’s not what the text actually says.

Genesis 3:8 says “They heard the voice of God walking in the Garden.” It’s not God walking through the Garden; it’s God’s voice “walking” through the Garden. You might ask, “How does a voice walk?” The word which is translated “walking” is usually translated as went or go (or a variation of these two words). Thus, they heard the voice of God going through the Garden. They didn’t hear God Himself in human flesh walking through the Garden of Eden; they heard His voice as it went through the Garden.

Luke 3, in giving the complete genealogy of Jesus, states that Adam is the son of God (Luke 3:38). The member of the Godhead that Adam would have interacted with, it seems, would have been his “Father.”

We’ve already shown from the incident at Jesus’ baptism (and to that, we could add the Transfiguration) that the Father is fully capable of speaking to humans in a voice they can understand.

These arguments are not definitive in answering the question, but they absolutely show that the Father could easily have been the one whose voice went through the Garden of Eden, asking Adam and Eve “Where art thou?”

-Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – Did Paul Receive the Holy Spirit by the Laying on of Hands?

Question: Ananias was sent to Damascus in Acts 9 to lay hands on Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul).  One of the reasons he came was so that Saul could “receive the Holy Spirit.”  So, did Saul receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands?–L.F.

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 Iconium disciples (Acts 13:52-14:1).

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 (Acts 9). 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 (Acts 22:12-13).

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 he is 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 (Acts 2:17-18, 5:32).[1]

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” (II Corinthians 12:12). 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” (Galatians 1:1). All of the apostles received their miraculous ability direct from heaven (Acts 2:1-4, 4:29-31). 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 did not 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 we’ve seen from other passages in Acts (2:17-18, 5:32), 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.

[1] The example of Cornelius, who was a faithful servant of God under the Patriarchal Law, will be dealt with in the notes on chapters ten and eleven.

[NOTE: the answer given above is taken from our upcoming book, The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts]

-Bradley S. Cobb

Bible Q&A – What About the Holman Christian Standard Bible?

Brother Cobb, I was given a really nice Bible, but it’s the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  I’ve never heard of this before.  Is it reliable?–Mrs. Cole, An Inmate in Oklahoma.

Thanks for that question.  It’s great that you want to know about the Bible version you’re reading.  In order to get a decent answer, we have to first look at the background of this Bible version.

Initial History

The education wing of the Southern Baptist Convention had signed an exclusive contract to use only the New International Version (NIV) in their Sunday School curriculum. When that contract was nearing an end, the Baptists engaged the services of Arthur Farstad, who had been one of the lead translators of the New King James Version (NKJV) to help them make their own version. The reasons for wanting to stop using the NIV and make their own version came down to these main points:

  • Broadman and Holman is the publishing wing of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • They were having to pay a lot of money to publish curriculum using the NIV, which is owned by Zondervan Publishing (one of their competitors).
  • There was a revision of the NIV which was forthcoming at the time, which sought to incorporate gender-neutral language (to appease feminists).
  • They sought to buy the rights to the New American Standard Bible (NASB), but to no avail.
  • They wanted a Bible that they could control any and all revisions on.

Initially, the plan was to use a Greek text close to that used by the King James and New King James, but when Mr. Farstad passed away, they decided to instead use the Greek text employed by the NIV, American Standard Version, and practically all newer translations. While this may not seem noteworthy, there are some large differences: multiple verses that are found in the KJV and NKJV are absent from these Bibles (Acts 8:37 is one such example). The HCSB includes these verses, but places them in large black brackets to alert the reader that they do not believe those verses belong in the Bible.  However, in over 1500 instances, various words and phrases are just missing from the HCSB. One example of a phrase missing from the HCSB is, “and whosoever marries her which is put away commits adultery” from Matthew 19:9.

It’s not the leaving out of the verses that causes me the most concern.  Most newer translations do that anyway, it’s the extremely arbitrary way they put some parts in brackets as “not part of the original,” but then leave others completely out without even a note.

The 2009 Revision

The HCSB was released in 2004, and a revised edition was released in 2009. Some changes are as follows:

  • In the original 2004 edition, any words added by the translators (usually for clarity’s sake) were placed in brackets [like this] so the reader would know those words were not in the original Greek. In the 2009 edition, there is nothing to alert the reader to these additions because the brackets have all been removed. So it is possible that they have added words which change the meaning, but you would not be able to tell from just reading their Bible. The KJV and NKJV both place added words in italics to alert the reader that these words have been added.
  • The King James Version translated the name of God (YHVH in Hebrew) as “the LORD” in the Old Testament (except in 4 instances where it is translated “Jehovah”). Most English Bibles follow this same practice. The name of God appears 6,828 times in the Old Testament. The HCSB translated it “Yahweh” (which some believe is a more accurate pronunciation than Jehovah) 75 times in the original edition, but almost 500 times in the revised edition.

Translation Issues

There are some questionable translations within this version of the Bible, and the following are a sampling:

  • Micah 5:2 – The KJV says of Christ that His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. The HCSB says that Christ’s “ORIGIN is from antiquity, from eternity.” The KJV says that Jesus is eternal; the HCSB says that Jesus had a beginning, an origin.
  • John 1:14, 3:16 – the KJV says Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. The HCSB says that Jesus is the “one and only” Son of God. But the Bible says all Christians are children of God (Galatians 3:26-27). If Jesus is the only Son of God, then we cannot be sons of God.
  • I Samuel 6:19 – the King James says 50,070 people died. The HCSB says that seventy of the city of 50,000 died. No other translation of the Bible agrees with the HCSB in this reading.

The HCSB sought to create a conservative translation of the Bible that was readable, but still true to the original. As such, they did not try to translate word-for-word (as does the KJV, NKJV, ASV, and NASB). This version is only slightly more literal than the NIV.

Things to Understand About This Version Before Putting Your Trust in It:

  • This version was translated exclusively for the Southern Baptist convention.
  • This version was paid for by the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Though some of the Old Testament was translated by other denominations, the New Testament was exclusively translated by Baptists.
  • It is owned, 100%, by the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Part of the motivation for creating this translation was $$$$.
  • In many instances, it does not give a translation, but their interpretation of the text.

Conclusion

The people who oversaw the creation of this new translation sought to create a conservative version that they could own and edit as they see fit. Though it may be easier to read than some other versions, one must be careful in trusting it completely. When translators decide to give their interpretation of God’s word instead of translating it, it stops being God’s word and becomes their own commentary and opinion.

Right or wrong, when a religious group—motivated by money—creates their own translation of the Bible, it will be viewed suspiciously by others. This translation is useful for comparative purposes, but this writer would not make it his primary Bible from which to read and study.

–Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – Why Did God Create Us If He Knew We Were Going To Sin?

Question: If God knew we were going to sin before He ever created us, why did He even bother? He could have spared Jesus’ life by just not creating us in the first place. –M.P.

I read something recently that a preacher wrote on this topic, and it—well, frankly it irritated me. He basically said “It doesn’t matter why He did it. He just did it, so accept it and move on.” Like many other people in the world, I don’t just want to know what is or isn’t true, I want to know why it is true.

Obviously, there are some things that we will never know or understand this side of eternity. And it is also true that there are some things that God did not see fit to reveal to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).

But does God really leave the question of why we were created unanswered? This is one of the biggest, most important questions that can be asked. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? These are just different ways of asking the same question: why did God create us?

And God did not leave this all-encompassing question unanswered.

But before we attempt to answer this question, let’s establish a couple points.

God knew mankind would sin before He created Adam.

Jehovah once staked His entire claim to being God on His ability to accurately know and foretell things which were in the future (Isaiah 41:22-24). If He did not know in advance that mankind would sin, then Jehovah is not God.

The necessity of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was known by God before He created the universe (I Peter 1:21). God had already decided on His plan of salvation and who would be saved before He created the universe (Ephesians 1:4).

So, without a doubt, before creation, God knew that mankind would sin.

But He created man anyway.

Everything God does has a purpose.

Every animal of the field, every plant, every star, every cloud, even the very molecules that we are made with all have a purpose. Every command of God has a purpose—none of them are arbitrary. Every verse of the Bible has a purpose—none of them are there just for the fun of it.

When God blesses His people, it has a purpose. When God punishes His people, it has a purpose.

And when God created mankind, He had a purpose in mind for it.

Why did God create us, since He knew we would sin?

The Bible gives us some very important pieces of information, as well as a very clear-cut statement that answers this question for us.

There is a war going on between God and Satan. You see it from Genesis all the way through Revelation. And it’s played out on the battlefield of humanity. With each moment, with each choice, individuals choose the winner in their own lives. When we choose to do righteousness, God is victorious. When we choose to do evil, we have given Satan the victory in that battle.

Nowhere perhaps is this shown more clearly than in the first two chapters of the book of Job. God and Satan are at odds with each other, with Satan claiming victory—he has influence even on God’s people, and basically claims he goes anywhere he wants whenever he wants to (1:6-7). God stops Satan and says, “have you considered my servant Job? There is none like him in the earth: a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God and eschews [avoids] evil” (Job 1:8).

And from there, the battle gets fiercer as Satan destroys Job’s riches, his servants, and his family in an effort to get him to turn against God. Everything that happened to Job was a result of the battle between God and Satan. In this battle, Job chose to serve God—and Satan lost.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Outside of those who are mentally incapable of making a decision between good and evil, every person on earth has chosen to give Satan the victory in at least one battle. Even if that person repents and lives a life of faithfulness, the fact remains that it was still not a complete victory for God, since that person chose to sin at various points in his life.

All have sinned—except for one: Jesus the Christ. The Scriptures repeatedly state that Jesus “knew no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21), or “did no sin” (I Peter 2:22). He lived a perfect life—one that gave God a complete victory over Satan. When Jesus died on the cross, it sealed the greatest victory possible (Hebrews 2:14-15). Satan’s claim to power had been proven wrong because Jesus Christ did not sin.

Jesus was made to die the most horrible, agonizing death known to mankind after undergoing a severe beating—yet through all of this, he still did not sin. Satan pulled out all the stops to try to get Jesus to relent, to sin just once, but it didn’t work.

Let’s hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The Bible tells us that the meaning of life—the meaning of our very existence—is to fear God and keep His commandments. That is what life is all about. This is what we were created for!

As each of us makes the choice to follow God in our lives, we give Him another victory. As we choose to sin, we give Satan the upper hand in this battle. We determine the outcome in the individual battle between God and Satan in our lives.

Since we were created for the purpose of serving God and obeying Him, what do we deserve when disobey? If you had a tool, designed to do a specific job, and that tool wouldn’t do what it was designed for, what would you do? After a while, you’d probably throw it away. Now imagine that tool has a mind of its own and though it can do the job it’s designed for, it refuses to do it. So, you try to encourage it and coax it. It works for a little while, but then refuses again. So you coax it some more, but it still won’t listen. So you give it a warning, still little changes. You punish it to try to get it to work, but that only works for a little while (if at all). This tool is stubborn and refuses to work. Finally, your patience is at an end and you burn it.

We are that tool. We were designed for a specific job: fear God and keep His commandments. As we do what we’re designed for, God gets the glory. But what’s so amazing about God is this: when we do what we’re designed to do—serving Him—we will get to share in His glory. We will be partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). We will be able to spend eternity in the presence of God Himself. We will be victorious soldiers shouting victory forever with our King, Jesus the Christ!

So, why did God create us, knowing ahead of time that we would sin?

Because it is through mankind that God wins the victory over Satan. Without a human living a perfect life, there was no true victory. In our lives, it’s like a boxing match that goes twelve rounds with each side winning some rounds and losing others. One side won at the end, but it wasn’t the complete victory. In Jesus’ life, it was a first-round knock-out.

But in order to have that complete victory which destroyed Satan’s power, it had to be a human who lived sinless. Mankind was created because it was through mankind (specifically Jesus Christ) that God won the ultimate victory over Satan.

-Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – What About the Thousand-Year Reign?

Question: A man was talking to me today about the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, and he said that some people don’t believe it will happen. Why would people ignore such a clear Bible doctrine?—Jack T., Oklahoma.

The main reason some people (like myself) deny the doctrine of a thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth is because it’s not in the Bible.

I’ll wait a second for you to calm back down before I continue. 🙂

There are several problems with the idea of a “1,000-year reign,” and we’ll only be able to deal with them briefly. The primary issue with each of them is that people have started assuming things that aren’t actually in the text, and then they’ve made them into doctrine.

The only place that mentions a thousand-year reign is in Revelation 20, and so it is to there we must go for our answers.

1. Jesus isn’t the one reigning for 1,000 years.

Let’s look at the text:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4).

The subject of this verse is not Jesus. The subjects of this verse are those who had been martyred for the cause of Christ. It is they, not Jesus, who are said to reign a thousand years.

I’m sure that right now, you think I’m grasping at straws here, but let’s prove this assertion by way of an illustration.

Imagine you have lost your job and you need a place to live. So, I invite you to come live in my house. Now, let’s say you live there for almost three years (let’s say 1,000 days). I would say that you lived with me in my house for 1,000 days. Does this information tell you how long I lived in my house? No, it doesn’t. It only tells you how long you lived in my house with me.

Revelation 20:4 says nothing about how long Christ reigns. It only tells how long the martyred saints reigned with Him. The fact is, The Bible states that Jesus began reigning in the first century (Acts 2:32-33; Revelation 1:9; Colossians 1:13).

2. This verse is not literal.

How can you say that? Of course it’s literal! There’s nothing in the verse to make us think otherwise!!!

If this verse is to be taken literally (as is claimed by many well-meaning believers), then you have a really sticky problem:

Jesus has to die again.

Most people focus on the reigning part of this verse, and tend to ignore the living part. If the thousand years is literal, then that means Christ ceases to reign at the end of the thousand years—but more than that, Christ must also cease living.

Let’s also look at another problem this verse presents, if we are to take it literally. The only ones who are allowed to live and reign with Christ are the ones who have no head, and who were killed for the faith. That means that if you died a natural death, you can’t live or reign with Christ. This also means that if you were killed for the faith, but by some way other than beheading, you cannot live or reign with Christ.

And one more problem presented by taking this verse literally: the only ones allowed to live and reign with Christ are the ones who had already been beheaded for the faith when John wrote this down. This is written in past tense, speaking of something that had already happened.

So, if we take this verse literally, no one today (or for the past 1900 years) has any hope of living and reigning with Christ—and Christ has to die again. These conclusions are demanded if we take this verse literally. And these conclusions contradict other passages of the New Testament.

Therefore this verse is not meant to be taken literally.

3. This reigning is not on earth.

Go ahead and read all of chapter twenty. Nowhere in that chapter does it place Jesus Christ on earth, let alone Jerusalem. With so many doctrines existing about Jesus reigning on a literal throne in literal Jerusalem on the literal earth, you’d think those items would be mentioned here—but they’re not.

The kingdom of Jesus Christ existed during the first century. The apostle John said he was a part of it while he was alive in the first century (Revelation 1:9). The apostle Paul said that Christians had been (past tense) translated into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). There can be no kingdom without a king. Since Jesus’ kingdom existed in the first century, Jesus was already a king in the first century.

Since Jesus was already a king 2,000 years ago, that means He’s been reigning over His kingdom for close to 2,000 years already. And He’s been doing it from the throne in heaven (Acts 2:32-33).

4. Revelation isn’t about things which haven’t happened.

The most common assertion about Revelation is that it is describing something that hasn’t happened yet. But that view contradicts what the Bible says about the book of Revelation.

God makes it extremely obvious that the things which are in Revelation are things that were “at hand” and “shortly come to pass” when John wrote itin the first century! The book opens with those statements (1:1, 3). The book closes with those statements (22:6, 10). It is the bold man indeed who calls God a liar by saying the things in Revelation are about things that were 2,000+ years away from the lifetime of the original readers.

Conclusion:

Jack, I do hope this helps you understand the topic better. The reason why some people (including myself) deny that there will be a literal reign of Jesus Christ on earth for a literal thousand years is that the Bible doesn’t teach it. Christ has been reigning from His throne in heaven for almost 2,000 years already. And the verses that people go to in order to “prove” the thousand-year reign don’t actually say what they claim.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Bible Q&A – Why Are Some Congregations Doing Away With Deacons?

Question: I am a member of the church and I’m starting to see where many in the brotherhood are doing away with the role of Deacon. I know that other than the qualification of Deacon, deacon/deaconess is not mentioned much in the Bible. I would love your thoughts on this. I think the role of deacon needs to stay in the church and I’m not liking what I’m seeing or hearing. Thanks, Mark D.

Thanks for writing. I, too, have seen this trend taking place in some congregations across the country. There’s really several points to consider when looking at this topic. Let’s look at some possibilities (some valid, some not).

Some congregations might be doing away with their deacons because they aren’t qualified.

Sometimes congregations get in a hurry to select elders or deacons and don’t concentrate as much as they should on whether or not the people are qualified. The Bible does indeed give qualifications for a deacon, and if a man doesn’t meet those qualifications, he has no business fulfilling that role.

Deacons likewise must be honorable, not double-tongued, not giving-heed to much wine, not covetous; holding the mystery of the faith in a clean conscience. And also, let these first be proved; then let them minister, if they are irreproachable. Their wives likewise must be honorable, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of one wife, governing their children and their own houses well. For* those who have ministered well acquire for themselves a good grade and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 3:8-13, Modern Literal Version)

Some congregations might be doing away with the deacons because there is no work for them to do.

The word deacon means a servant, but it stresses his role, work, or function. The root of the word comes from an old Greek word which means “to run an errand.” When there is no specific work for a deacon, you have a servant with no role. Some smaller congregations had a deacon whose role was to take care of the educational material for the children’s classes. But what happens when there are no more children? When something like this is the case, it wouldn’t be wrong for that person to no longer have the title of deacon because he’s no longer got a specific job to fulfill (outside of the roles that are universal to every Christian).

Some congregations are doing away with their deacons because they think deacons are not necessary.

Unlike the first two, this isn’t a valid reason to do away with deacons in a congregation. God divinely ordained that congregations should have deacons (literally, servants or ministers). The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Phillipi “with the elders and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). He also was inspired by God to give qualifications for deacons—something God wouldn’t have given if deacons are unnecessary.

Some congregations are doing away with their deacons to circumvent the Scriptures.

There are some congregations that have several women “ministers” on staff. At one point, some of these same congregations were pushing for deaconesses—women deacons. But the firestorm of controversy erupted, and most of them backed off. Instead, they just started hiring women staff members and called them things like “children’s education minister” or “senior members’ minister” or something like that. Remember what the word “deacon” actually means? It’s a servant or a minister with a specific job/role/function apart from the normal Christians’ work.

In order to try to stop the controversy, some congregations have dropped the title “deacon” completely from their work. Each person who would normally be called a “deacon” is now called a specialized “minister.” This way, they figure, no one can say that they’ve got female deacons because they don’t have any deacons at all—at least, they don’t use the word deacon. Even though it’s the same thing.

Some congregations have stopped using the word elders, in favor of the word shepherds. There’s nothing wrong with this, just like there’s nothing wrong with using the word ministers instead of deacons. But let’s not do it with the purpose of trying to circumvent God’s word. Having female ministers in the church is the same as having deaconesses in the church—changing the name you use doesn’t somehow make it right in God’s eyes.

Bible Q&A – Did the Apostles Expect Christ to Return During Their Lifetime?

Question: A man I was talking with told me that the Bible isn’t true because it shows the Apostles thought Jesus’ return would be during their lifetime. And that, since Jesus didn’t come back when they expected it (and still hasn’t), they obviously didn’t have any idea what they were talking about. Can you help me?–C.F. from Indiana.

Thank you for asking such a great question. Believe it or not, this is actually a common attack against the Bible. Unfortunately, though, many people who try to defend the Bible answer this attack in ways that are actually self-defeating. By that, I mean many of the answers that Christians give to this attack are actually in favor of the attacker!

Let me give you some examples. These are not quotes, but paraphrases of what some Christians have said in the past to answer this attack.

  • When they said that the coming of Jesus was “at hand” (that is, very close), the Apostles were just saying that we should live like Christ could come in our lifetimes.

Do you see that on one hand, these Christians acknowledge that the Bible says the coming of Christ was indeed “very close,” but then on the other hand, they deny what they just admitted.

  • The Apostles expected the coming of Jesus to be during their lifetime, but they were just humans and didn’t know everything. But that doesn’t affect the reliability of the Scriptures.

The problem with this argument is that by saying the apostles were mistaken, or just expressing their opinion on when Jesus would return, it calls the rest of the New Testament letters into question. After all, if a plain, direct statement such as “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8) was just an opinion, how many other things are actually just opinion? It undermines the credibility of the entire New Testament.

What is just as unfortunate is that these arguments are used in Bible classes to “explain” (or better stated, “explain away”) these statements about the coming of Christ.

Let’s look at two things which will answer the question.

The First Thing.

the New Testament writers absolutely stated (by inspiration) that Jesus would return during the first century. There is no sense in denying these clear Bible statements:

  • “Therefore, YOU [first century Christians] be patient unto the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7).
  • “The coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:9).
  • “The end of all things is at hand” (I Peter 4:7).
  • “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of THESE [first century false teachers], saying ‘Behold the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’ These [first century false teachers] are [present tense] murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaks great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jude 14-16).
  • “…Things which must shortly come to pass. …the time is at hand. …Behold He [Jesus] is coming [present tense] with clouds” (Revelation 1:1, 3, 7).

The New Testament writers believed Jesus would return very soon after they wrote. But this wasn’t just their guess or their opinion. This was an inspired message from the Holy Spirit! It was God Himself giving this message to the first-century Christians.

The Second Thing:

These statements of the imminent coming of Jesus Christ–the coming that the New Testament writers expected to come in the first century–weren’t about Jesus Christ coming at the end of time to destroy the universe. They were in regards to a different “coming” of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 24, Jesus Christ talks about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. He says that it will be the worst destruction to ever befall a nation in history. In fact He says there’s never going to be any national destruction worse than what would happen to Judah and Jerusalem (Matthew 24:21). Jesus also gives them a time-frame so they would know when to expect it: “this generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). This destruction, prophesied by Jesus, would come during the lifetime of some of those who were listening to Him.

You might ask Why is that important? It’s because of this: Jesus describes this destruction, this judgment on the Jewish nation, as “the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:27, 30).

This destruction, this coming of Jesus Christ in judgment on Jerusalem, happened in AD 70–and it is this coming of Jesus that the apostles spoke about as being imminent. This took place during the lifetime of some of Jesus’ original disciples.

The apostles knew what they were talking about, and they were right when they said that Jesus’ coming [in judgment on Jerusalem] was “at hand.”

When we understand that there’s more than one “coming” of Jesus Christ mentioned in the Bible (one of them imminent, the other one not imminent), this once-confusing “problem” disappears.

-Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – The Thief on the Cross–Does it Matter?

Question: Last week, you posted a question and showed that the thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament. My question is why does that even matter? Why post an entire article on something so trivial?–Anonymous.

First, thank you for taking the time to read our article. Second, thank you for taking the time to drop us a note asking this question. There’s two answers to your question: the short answer and the slightly longer answer.

The short answer:

Someone asked us the question, so we took the time to answer it.

The slightly longer answer:

The Bible states that we are to “rightly divide” or “handle properly” the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15). There are many good, sincere people who have mishandled the story of the thief on the cross–and some people will lose their souls over it!  This is not a trivial thing.

Let me explain.

There are several religious groups–prominent, well-known religious groups–that try to tell people that they can be saved just like the thief on the cross was: By simply acknowledging Jesus as the Christ.

When it’s pointed out that Jesus said “he that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), they frequently run to the thief on the cross, and say “He wasn’t baptized, therefore baptism isn’t required for salvation.” It doesn’t matter how many times baptism is shown in Scriptures to be connected with salvation and sin-removal (see I Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38, 22:16, and several others), they still point to the thief on the cross as their proof.

The problem with their stance–with their sincerely-held belief–is that the thief on the cross isn’t an example of someone being saved during the New Testament. The thief lived and died under the Old Testament. It’d be just as logical to appeal to the examples of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, and David for the answer to “what must I do to be saved” as it is to appeal to the example of the thief on the cross. All of them lived and died before the New Testament ever came into existence.

The thief on the cross lived and died during a time when forgiveness was based on obedience to the Law of Moses and the system of animal sacrifices. If we appeal to his being saved on the cross, then logically–to be consistent–we also have to argue that we can be forgiven today by means of animal sacrifices.

One other thing to consider regarding the thief on the cross is that his salvation, as promised by Jesus, was not the same as becoming a child of God. In other words, the thief was already a child of God. He was an Israelite, born into the family of God by means of his ethnic heritage–by means of being a Jew. He was like the Prodigal Son–someone who was already part of the family of the Father, but who had gone astray and needed to be brought back.

Yet whenever the thief on the cross is brought up as an example of how to be saved, people use it as an example of how to become part of the family of God. The thief didn’t become a child of God while on the cross. He simply came back home to God.

God Himself (speaking through Peter) answered the question “What must we do?” with the following words: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38).

When someone–regardless of how well-meaning and sincere they may be–teaches that all you have to do to become a child of God is to do what the thief on the cross did, they’re teaching a false salvation.

The thief on the cross is an example of how an erring child of God can come back in repentance. He is not an example of how someone becomes a child of God.