Category Archives: Bible and Theology

He lifts you up – John 15:2

Someone in my congregation recently asked this question about John 15.

So I have been pondering this since Sunday.   Here’s the verse.

The Vine and the Branches ] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

It’s from John 15.  I always took bearing fruit to be leading others to Christ.  On Sunday Pastor Tim (and I’m hoping I heard this right) talked about bearing the fruit of the spirit, which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

I always thought I was not fruitful because I have not lead anyone to Christ and would therefore be cut off, which would be a bad and probably painful thing. 

So what exactly does it mean to bear fruit?  

Here was my reply: Great question!  I remember my very first Bible paper was on this passage.  I was so nervous about interpreting it right and got very confused. First of all, bearing fruit refers to both reproduction (i.e. our witness, fruits bear seed), and identity (i.e. what the spirit produces in us.)  So it is both-and. Secondly, there is a interpretation issue in this verse.  (I learned this one from Doug Greenwold of Preserving Bible Times.)  This doesn’t happen very often where most English translations miss it, but this is one of those cases.  When it says, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” the word rendered “cuts off” is actually the word “AIRO” (sounds like “eye – row”).  It would be much better translated, “lifts up.”  ESV and NASB get it closer with “takes away” but that is still not the point.  In Ancient Near Eastern Vine growing, the vines grew on the ground (without a trellis). To help it grow and bear fruit, a gardener would lift the vine or branch and put it on a rock where the cool evening air can help it breathe–then it can bear fruit! So the sense of this passage is: He lifts up every branch in me that bears no fruit (so that it will bear fruit again), while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Wow!  that is awesome!  If you are a branch in Jesus, and you’re under performing, he doesn’t cut you off, he lifts you up.  He only takes out a knife to prune you and make your fruit be more focused. I hope that helps. Pastor Tim

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Have you ever read the Apocrypha?

Have you ever read the Apocrypha?  Do you own a copy?  What if you should?

Recently a friend from church asked me about the Apocrypha.  Here were her questions:

  • Why were the books of the Apocrypha (I’ve read that’s what the Catholic books are called) removed from the Protestant Bible?
  • I’ve also read that it was Martin Luther that removed them.  Since they were there since the canonization, how does that not run afoul of the book of Revelation warning us not to add to or subtract from the bible (or is that just referring to the Book of Revelation itself)?
  • What is in the books that is found not to reach the level of God-breathed truth? (I’ve never read them)
  • As a protestant, are they also something I should study, once I understand whatever issues there are?

While this isn’t cutting edge cultural stuff I usually write about, it is important to think about in terms of what is the Bible and how do we know it came from God.  The Apocrypha is an interesting case study.

Here are my answers:

First, the Reformers clearly did pass over the Apocrypha as being worthy of Biblical inclusion.
  Here are the words of Westminster about the Apocrypha:
 
WCF 1.3  The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.(1)
(Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:21)
As for the warning from Revelation.  It reads:

Revelation 22:18-19  18 ¶ I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,  19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

This warning was, I believe that one should not tamper with the book of Revelation alone, not necessarily to the whole canon, since it says “this book” and “this prophecy,” and the Canon was not collected yet.  These verses have been misapplied to refer to the whole Bible.
How are books identified in the cannon?  
The process of Canonization is a process not of making something become the Bible, but of recognizing them to the be the Bible.
The Apocryphal books are not quoted in the NT (only alluded to in the book of Jude).  It seems the Apostles did not quote them and view them as scripture (one of the reasons to believe a book was inspired).  Jesus, for example quotes Deuteronomy and Isaiah, a lot, but has nothing to say about Tobit or Judith.  At most He celebrates Hanukkah (Rededication of the Temple.)
Perspectives on the Apocrypha:
The books of the Apocrypha are writings mostly of the inter-testamental period (some historical–Hannukah/Maccabean Revolt for example) and some apocalyptic (predicting the future–following Daniel’s lead).
There is nothing wrong with reading them, but the Reformers disagreed with the view that they were inspired as the rest of the OT or NT.   The Roman Catholic Church preferred them, in part because they fill in historical gaps, and because arguments for purgatory can be made from some passages.  Purgatory/indulgences was the pivotal issue that ignited the Protestant Reformation.

According to Tobit: Tobit 12:9-10  9 For alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin. Those that exercise alms and righteousness shall be filled with life:  10 But they that sin are enemies to their own life.

Brief synopsis of the first two books (and comment about the rest):
Tobit is the autobiography of a man during the exile who goes blind after sparrow dung goes in his eyes, but is healed 8 years later.  Tobias, whom Tobit writes about, travels to Rages with the angel Raphael who tells him to have his new wife sleep on perfumed ashes with the heart and liver of a fish on their marriage bed to send Satan away.  (I know that’s a little weird right?  Kind of hard to preach that one.)
Judith. Holofernes, the Captain of the Armies of Nebuchadnezzar marched against the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the days of Joacim the High Priest.  The people pray fervently and God raises up a woman named Judith who is something of a combination of Esther (beauty) and Jael (assassin).  She uses her beauty and wiles to become accepted by Holofernes and then beheads him in bed and then sings praise to God like Miriam after being commended by priest and people.   There are many works of art depicting this event named “Judith and Holofernes.”  A google image search will reveal some gory scenes.
Wisdom is a book of Proverbial statements.
Sirach is a book of wisdom and history of Israel.
Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees are also part of the Apocrypha.
Also included are: Esdras, Second Esdras, Epistle of Jeremiah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, Prayer of Azariah, and Laodiceans.
So should a person read the Apocrypha?  Sure why not?  But I believe that as one reads it he or she will see a qualitative difference between those books and Holy Writ.  I’d be interested to know what you think.

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Lessons from the Kings of Israel and Judah

A friend of mine recently asked about the sins of the Kings of Israel and Judah:

  • why did they sin? 
  • why did God seem to overlook some sins, but not others?
  • where did they go wrong?
  • what can we learn from them?

These are great questions. Here was my answer…

The Lord is gracious and does not treat us as our sins deserve. As a result, sometimes he treats us more or less severely, but it’s always less than we truly deserve.

The Kings of Israel did not get it for a variety of reasons:

  1. They were humans and imperfect men–demonstrating the need for the true King of Israel, Jesus.
  2. They were trying to solve their problems with human solutions, which often meant turning to human strategies instead of the Lord. Like when you have a foreign threat, do you bolster armies and make alliances with foreign nations, or do you pray and seek the Lord’s face?
  3. They were swayed by their evil wives. For example, Ahab and Jezebel (she was so treacherous!)
  4. They didn’t obey primary commands—the king was supposed to copy the Torah by hand, but few did. When you don’t know the law, you cannot obey it.
  5. The kings of the Northern 10 tribes (following the kingdom split immediately after Solomon) sinned greatly by trying to create a competing religion with the Temple to make the people follow them in a religious nations (theocratic). The north went into exile in 722 BC.
  6. The kings of the South (Israel and Judah) sinned by thinking that their fidelity to the Temple would save them. That is, “God will never destroy us because he will make the Temple continue.” Wrong answer. God did not spare them or the Temple. He fulfilled his words in Deuteronomy 27-28. Isaiah claims that when they raised their hands to worship, they were stained with blood because of their corruption. The south went into exile in 586 BC.

Deuteronomy 28:63-64 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. 64 Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods– gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.

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The Bible—who wrote it?

A young adult I know has been asking me questions about the bible and about God.  Since I took the time to answer her, I thought I would post it here.

The question is:  “How do we know one person didn’t put the bible together by himself?”

This is a good question and an important one. iStock_00000 open bible If it was just one person writing such a unified message, that wouldn’t be quite so impressive. In fact, In Islam, the entire Qu’ran was written by Muhammed from beginning to end. As you would suspect there’s not much variety. This is not the case for Christianity. The Hebrew scriptures [Old Testament] and the Greek Scriptures [New Testament] were written by scores of different authors. The Bible was compiled and selected from documents spanning over 1500 years! Here are two key things to help you understand how we got the Bible.

First of all, there is no way that one person could possibly write in the variety of styles and historical periods (so accurately displayed) if they only lived at one point in time. Archeological exploration has never disproven a fact or time in the bible. Sometimes Archeologist have not uncovered evidence to support something, but they’ve never contradicted the bible.

Secondly, a general overview of the bible and the time frames will show that many authors were involved. The Bible was being used throughout this time by so many people as revelation was gradually added, that no one could truly have changed it once it was published and read. Here’s a brief survey:

– Moses is the author of the Pentateuch (and he wrote following the Exodus in approximately 1440 BC). He’s responsible for 90% of the first five books (penta= five).

– The other historical books were written after that point in time (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 &2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles.)

– We know that the Pentateuch was certainly completed before the exile in 700 BC because the Prophets preach from it, and the Samaritans who did not get sent away in the exile were reading the same 5 books when the exiled Jews returned.

– The book of Psalms were penned by David and others 150 unique poems with a diversity of styles and topics, but all pointing toward the ultimate goal of redeption.

– Likewise the prophets in the last part of the old testament all speak in a variety of ways to a variety of people in a variety of occasions and times.

– All these Old Testament books were collected and brought together 400 years before Christ.

– The Jews translated them to Greek (called the Septuaguint) and preserved them in Hebrew as well.

Now that’s only the Old Testament. Here’s what happened for the New Testament:

– the New Testament was written between 40 AD and 90 AD give or take.

– There was a variety of authors (4 different writers of the gospels),  Paul a fifth writer wrote 13 books to various churches,  Luke (a gospel writer) also wrote a historical account of the early church,  John (an apostle and gospel writer) wrote 3 epistles and the book of Revelation,  Peter (one of the apostles wrote two Epistles) and  several other books were written that are unique in message and style.

The next question is: How can so many human authors write so much and it’s all from God?

Two scriptures in the New Testament answer this question.

2 Peter 1:20-21 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In other words the scriptures were divine and human. God moved the men to write using their own personalities to craft the exact words he wanted to communicate so that through them he was speaking with authority.

He used a variety of men to speak as a powerful mosiac to speak dynamically then and now using their individual pieces to shape a larger message.

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