BIBLE

 

INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE

What should I do in my Literature class, where my teacher tells us to interpret the Bible as literature and present an allusion?

                Whether Christian or not, you have to understand: the Bible IS literature. The history books (Genesis, Judges, 1 Kings, etc.) are to be read like history. The epistles (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.) are to be read as instructive letters. You must always know the original author's intent and the original audience's circumstance. Hear the way it was spoken, and know how it was meant to be received.

                What you should NOT do is confuse one genre for another. Genesis is written as history, not as myth. Allegorizing the text is not TAKING it as literature, but MISTAKING it as the wrong kind of literature.  Find out the nuances of the biblical genres from your pastor (history, law, wisdom, prophecy, gospel, parable, epistle, apocalypse) and learn how each genre of literature is meant to be understood.  We do this in our current day when we read also. None of us takes "Mary had a little lamb" as instruction for our lives, because it is a Fairy Tale, not an instructive letter. We don't read comics books as if they were history, and we don't read encyclopedias as if they were fiction. We understand that metaphors and similes sound like they are saying one thing, but are figuratively demonstrating a single interpreted point. That's what you do with literature: you approach it with the proper interpretive rules and unpack what the original author meant for it to say to the original audience, the way they would have understood it.

 

Why is the Bible interpreted in so many different ways?

                If I were Satan and I knew the Bible were the only source of salvation and truth, I'd counterfeit it. Being a deceiver, I'd make all sorts of cheap imitations.  This happens to anything good. Go to Tijuana in Mexico and you'll find shops will all sorts of fake merchandise from imitation companies: shoes by Nikey, Reibok, and Adidios; purses from Gucchi, etc.  Is it any surprise that the Enemy has deceived the world with confusion over the Bible? No, not really.

                There are lots of ways that the Bible's meaning gets confused, but universally it stems from one main problem: people who make wrong assertions do so simply because they have not read it carefully. It's a thick book. For some reason, Christians think that if they've read a few parts of it, or if they just read a verse a day or a paragraph every now and then, then they know it. The truth is, it's one cohesive work, and to know it, one must know all its parts. You can't read just the New Testament, you can't ignore Revelation, you can't be oblivious to the purpose and meaning of the minor prophets in the back of the Old Testament. All of that stuff ties together, and the reason why so many wrong interpretations come about is because people are arrogant enough to pretend they know what God says when they don't actually read the words. Either that, or they have an agenda of wanting to make people believe that God said what they're saying. In any case, people will be less wrong about the Bible if they just read it, and people will be less tricked by wrongness if they just read it. What a clear and obvious solution, and yet people still find reasons and excuses to pretend to be too busy or tired to care about the most important thing in the whole world.

 

Why does God make believers rely on Scripture instead of speaking through someone directly like He did with the apostle Paul?  Why must be decipher Scripture and argue if God could just write a modern version?

                Can you imagine if God spoke to everyone directly and didn't give us the Bible? When He tells me that I'm called to be a pastor, you can bet that my dad will say God told HIM that I'm supposed to be a doctor. They've tried that on me, actually.  How many people would think God told them to break up a dating couple to pursue one of the members? How many people would think God told them to steal something? How many people would say God told them to kill someone because that person didn't deserve to live?  What would we do? Would we say, "Well God wouldn't tell you to do anything contrary to the Bible"? If so, the task hasn't changed: learn and know God's Word.  Would God personally tell everyone all the historical events that are described in Genesis, Exodus,...1 Kings,...2 Chronicles...etc.?  What would it say about you as a human being if you couldn't just make decisions based on your trust in and love for God, but instead needed him to talk into your brain about what to do? Have you ever appreciated it when your parents told you what decision to make before you have time to consider what you wanted to do?

                The greatest part of my relationship with my wife is the fact that I have come to know her so well that I can do what she wants without her having to tell me. I know when to visit her at work, write her a letter, wash the dishes, give her a back massage. If she told me to do these things, it would drain all the meaning out of when I do it. I do it because I love her, not because she ordered me to each time.

                On the issue of "deciphering Scripture," that's really not hard to do if you actually read it. Anyone (you and me) can sit down and read a passage and get the general meaning. Sure, some passages are harder than others, but the essential doctrine is clear-cut. You can't interpret "love your neighbor" very differently than someone else, especially given the plethora of descriptions that are used to illustrate that command. 

                Arguing meanings is inevitable. If God spoke in His Word (or directly to you!), Satan would try to confuse or twist the message, just like He did in the Garden of Eden after God spoke directly to Adam and Eve. It's what any real enemy would do: confuse the message God gives by introducing doubt, disagreement, etc. The only meanings that we argue with are those of false teaching, which the evangelical church has identified pretty well. Whatever differences are left are manifested in denominational traditions, but the evangelical church stands together on the core doctrines of faith. Jesus wasn't wrong when he said in Matthew 16 that he would establish his church, and not even the gates of Hell could overtake it. Scripture is not insufficient and inefficient, but is sufficient to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). We just have to stop being so lazy, and we need to just sit down and read it. That's all it takes. Just read it. It's really that easy. The more you do it, the more it makes sense.

                In my opinion, I'm glad it's in a concrete book. It's antiquity speaks of God's timeless wisdom, unchanging plan, and fulfilled promise that the gospel would not stop moving. Because it's written down, there's no arguing about what the words are. They're right there on the pages, and no one is muddling it up or skewing it in telling you what He said.

 

What is the most confusing book in the Bible to understand?

                Revelation. That one shouldn't be a surprise.  It's confusing because in its 404 verses, there are over 500 references to the Old Testament. This is why so many people misunderstand the book. They try to read it (without knowing the Old Testament REALLY well) and then they make up theories on what they think it all means. Then they publish those theories or preach them or whatever, and everyone ends up having a different and unique (but equally wrong) interpretation.

                Revelation is prophetic literature in that it proclaims the judgment of God.  

                It is also epistolary, being a letter from a real author (Jesus, who is speaking through John) to a real audience (the seven churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3), about concepts and ideas that the original readers would have understood (which means they wouldn't need understanding of computers or codes or credit cards or inks that go under the skin, etc.). They would only have to understand the Old Testament, and their current situation (persecution under Rome against the Christian faith), in the language that John wrote (Greek). 

                Finally, Revelation is apocalyptic. It speaks of real events by using metaphorical descriptions. That means that reading all the imagery as literal fact is incorrect, and it means that interpreting all the imagery as philosophical principles is also incorrect. The images in Revelation are neither strictly-literal, nor entirely allegorical. Very likely, it speaks to the immediate context of the original readers, and also harkens to future events regarding the return of the Messiah. This was the pattern of many of the Old Testament passages (like almost all the ones quoted in the gospels).

                All in all, the book is a headache to understand if you don't already know all the criteria described above. And even then, it's still pretty tough to pinpoint the exact meaning of some of the images that are mentioned. If ever you end up learning Revelation from someone, make sure he takes the Bible and God seriously enough to do his homework, know the Scriptures, and consider the historical-grammatical context of every sentence in that book--as he should with all his teaching.

 

Whenever I hear a believer say something without the Bible involved, I have trouble believing it.  I search my mind for a Bible verse that relates and if I can't find one, I doubt.  Is this a bad habit?

                I don't think it's an entirely bad habit. It's a very necessary way to defend yourself from bad theology (1 Timothy 4:16; Titus 1:9). In the book of Acts, there is a church in Berea that does the same thing when they're listening to Paul, and they are commended for it (Acts 17:11). 
                If you know someone is saying something contrary to God's Word, you know to dismiss what you hear. If you aren't certain if what a person is saying is biblical, then take note of it and find out as soon as you can. But during the course of the conversation don't treat people as if they're wrong unless you are certain. There's no fault in saying that you'll look in to what they're talking about, and you'll think about it.
                Of course, the most important way to have good instincts about this kind of stuff is to make sure you know the Bible well. Since you're searching your mind for verses, fill it with as many as you can! Don't settle for just New Testament moments. Know the whole of Scripture. Be ready to discuss Obadiah or Amos. Have your pastor give you resources to understand the historical context of these books. The more you learn the whole Bible, the more you see what's most important to God.

 

Should Genesis 1 be taken literally, like the earth being created in 6 literal days?

                Yes.  Definitely.  Absolutely.

1) If Genesis 1:5,8, and 13 say "the first day" and "the second day" and "third day" then "day" can only mean DAY--a literal, 24-hour, day.

2) If Genesis 1:19 says "there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day," then "day" can only mean DAY--a literal, 24-hour, day.

3) If Genesis 1:14 says the stars "serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years," then "day" can only mean DAY--a literal, 24-hour, day.

4) If Genesis 1:18 says the sun and the moon "govern the day and the night" then "day" can only mean DAY--a literal, 24-hour, day.

                Any natural reading of Scripture would convince the reader that God means what He says. Moses wrote Genesis to the people of Israel. There is NO WAY that the Israelites who were reading this thousands of years ago could have thought that "day" could mean anything other than DAY--a literal, 24-hour, day.

                One would have to be a serious idiot (and I'm using strong language intentionally and purposefully here) to think it means anything else. There is absolutely no warrant in Scripture to make it mean anything other than what it says. Otherwise we could start substituting meanings for anything. 

                People who start with a belief in evolution or an "old Earth" theory try to 'fit' Genesis 1 into their scheme, instead of seeing the Scripture for what it clearly states. That kind of thinking is dangerous and inconsistent. They try to make "day" stand for a time period of billions of years.  What kind of stupid interpretation is that?  What's the point of using words if they don't carry meaning anymore? Was God trying to confuse us? If "day" means billions of years, then what do "seasons" and "years" mean in Genesis 1:19--more billions? What do "evening" and "morning" mean in 1:19--half billions? What do "first day" and "second day" mean--first billions and second billions?  When God tells us to rest on the seventh day, that we're supposed to rest every seven billion years?  That kind of artistic interpretation is dangerous, heretical, and very likely a delightful scheme of Satan to get people who say they believe the Bible to start doubting, beginning at the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of God's Word, where it says "God CREATED the heavens and the earth"...not that God evolved it.  Does anyone actually think that when Jesus was in the grave for 3 "days," that it actually meant 3 billion years?

 

Does Leviticus 12 still apply today?

                Not in the legal sense. The Mosaic Law (that is, the Law that Moses wrote down from what God told him) was intended for the people Israel after they had been rescued out of slavery in Egypt. Those laws helped them understand God's absolute purity, unyielding standard of righteousness, and divine concern for earthly well-being. All of the Mosaic Law demonstrated that people fell short of God's perfect righteousness, no matter how hard they may try. The Law didn't save anyone, but clarified their need for forgiveness and salvation from a just and eternal punishment (see Galatians 3-4 about this). 

                When Jesus was speaking the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5-7), he says specifically that he did not come to abolish the Law (that is, to make it no longer apply), but rather he came to FULFILL it (meaning, he came to take the eternal punishment that we deserved and provide the forgiveness and salvation that the Law showed us we need). In doing so, the Law--which includes Leviticus 12--continues to serve its purpose in demonstrating to us that God's righteousness is not achievable by human effort, but it is not the legal, governmental standard of policy and regulation for America today, as it was for Israel back then.

                As a sidenote: any animal sacrifices or offerings made in the Bible have come to end, as Jesus is the final and perfect sacrifice, once-for-all. Reverting back to an animal sacrifice system would deny the sufficiency of Christ's atoning work on the cross for us, which would import a seriously damning heresy into the true and saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

How much of the Old Testament should we follow?

                All of it in terms of its intention.  None of it in terms of its restricted covenant audience.  The Law was given by YHWH to ethnic Israel, stipulated on the faithful obedience of His people for the hope of the Promised Land and fulfillment.  While that Law has no bearing on any other people group, and therefore is not binding, it does reveal God's intentions and values for His own people.
A good example would really be the Ten Commandments. What's so telling about them is that they're not actually commands. That is, they are not imperative verbs. They are descriptions.  God says, "You shall (or will) not murder." That's not an instruction. That's a description of who you are because you're God's child.  That's not just a law for you to follow. It's really an indication of who you truly are in relation to God.

 

When reading the Gospels, to whom should we try to relate by "putting ourselves in their shoes" (Pharisees, disciples, sick)?

                At first, try to relate to no one. Just read the passage and identify the message that the author is trying to communicate. At that point, you'll see whether or not your life needs to imitate that of the story's hero, or if you struggle with a sin that is true of one the story's characters or villains, or if you have reacted much like the story's crowds of people, or whatever.

                A lot of times in the gospels, there is a sinner (like the Pharisees, let's say) whom we may identify with because we act the same way. But then there's a righteousness displayed by Jesus, which we also can and try to identify with. And then there's the amazement of the crowds, which we still identify with.  That should show us that in a single story, we don't always fit one character, because the story isn't trying to tell the story about you. It's telling the story about Jesus, and sometimes you act like Him, sometimes you act like the villain, and sometimes you act like one of the side characters. 

                But no matter who you identify with, there's really only one idea that the author is trying to get across, and often times that's not even a moral lesson. It might just be an illustration of Jesus' divine power and authority. Don't turn that into moralism by pretending it's a lesson on what to do right or wrong. Instead, absorb the truth that Jesus is in fact God on earth. No matter who you identify with in the story, that same message will scream out at you.

 

 

BIBLE TRANSLATION

Isn't translating the Bible changing it?

                No. If I said "Good" in English and you said "Bueno" in Spanish, you didn't change the message.  Remember that God even translates. For instance, in Acts 2:4, the disciples all start speaking the same message in different languages.  The Bible itself is comprised of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek as it was written over centuries of different cultural climates.  Interestingly, the Greeks translated the Old Testament (which was Hebrew and Aramaic) into their own version of a Greek Old Testament for them to use--this is called the Septuagint. The New Testament actually would at times quote from that instead of the original Hebrew. That demonstrates that God wrote His Word with an approval of translating it. A clear example is Matthew 1:23, the prophecy of a virgin birth. This quotes from Isaiah 7:14, where the Hebrew actually uses the word "young woman" (which was often times used synonymously as "virgin"). The Septuagint uses the specific word "virgin" instead of "young woman" when it translated that Old Testament passage. By the time Matthew was writing His account of the gospel, he decided to quote the Septuagint, probably because it was in Greek and he was writing in Greek so it made sense to keep it all in the same language.

                One of the major errors in history was the Catholic church's prohibition of translating the Bible. They used a Latin Vulgate translation (which is already translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and then wouldn't let anyone translate it into any other languages. They had to learn Latin. That took the Bible away from people instead of making disciples of all nations.

                God also grants people with the gift of speaking different languages, either instantaneously or by means of learning it with great proficiency (much like some people learn music or math or history very easily). Translating the message is part of the plan of God.  In the book of Genesis, God created languages as a judgment to prevent men from banding together for their own worldly cause.
In the book of Revelation, the elders proclaim that Jesus has purchased men from every tribe and LANGUAGE (5:9). And they all sing the same song of praise, having banded together for God's heavenly worship (Chapter 19). Different languages, same message.

 

Since it's not good to apply Bible verses to our lives (because we are not the originally-intended audience), can you explain Paul's use of the Old Testament out of context in his letters (like in 2 Corinthians 6:2; Galatians 4:21-31; and various places in Hebrews)?

                The premise of the question is flawed...thrice.

                First: Where in Scripture does it say that it's not good to apply Bible verses to our lives? To the contrary, "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

                Second: How is Paul using the Old Testament passages out of context? What passage from the Old Testament would you know better than Paul--Paul being a pharisee of pharisees, the rising star of Judaism's finest teachers of the law, direct disciple of the famed rabbi Gamaliel, and inspired author of Scripture directly by the breath of God given by the Holy Spirit?

                Third: Why would you assume Paul wrote Hebrews when it lacks his traditional introduction, is written with completely unfamiliar vocabulary to his style, sports ambiguous and paraphrased Old Testament references instead of the verbatim quotations that his pharisaical training enabled him with, and is written to minister a Jewish audience when Paul himself is the apostle to the Gentiles?

                Putting those three assumptions aside, we'll answer the question:

                Paul's usage of Old Testament quotes is to explain, often by way of illustration, a point he's making logically. He will frequently use a very common Jewish literary technique called pesher. Pesher is where the author quotes an Old Testament passage, and then adds an interpretation that is at the same time an application to the author's own day (so again, the premise is flawed in the question, since Paul seems to also think that it is good to apply Bible verses to our lives). Inspecting the two examples given:

                2 Corinthians 6:2 - Notice that removing this verse from the pericope does not lose any meaning. Paul is not using it to posit any particularly new assertion--certainly not any new meaning to Isaiah 49:8. He instead is reinforcing his exhortation in v1 to receive God's favor by bringing the Corinthians' attention to God's favor and salvation and help. The day of salvation has come with the gospel, and so just as the original audience of Isaiah's oracles (that is, Israel) were to recognize God's favor and salvation and help, so we in the Age of Grace are also called to do so in the same spirit: God has saved us, shown His favor, and helped us in our deepest need. The response is the same: we are called to worship. This is stated in v3, where Paul displays the parallels of what happened then and what was happening in his "now."

                Galatians 4:21-31 - this section of Galatians contains only two formal quotations (Isaiah 54:1 and Genesis 21:10), but is a direct exposition (of sorts) from the Genesis narrative concerning Sarah and Hagar and their respective sons.  To understand this, we have to first realize that Paul nowhere in his writing gives any hint that he rejects the historical character of biblical narrative, nor does he minimize its significance. In fact, the apostle builds his argument on historical fact (ie. v22 and v29).  Second, this part of Paul's argument comes after he has already completed the scriptural demonstration of his theological point, and this passage now comes not as further information, but as a climactic, forceful finale directed at those who claim to subject themselves to law. Judaizers would have to listen to Paul's argument because he's speaking typologically through the very familiar Genesis story.  His usage, then, is concerned with the contrast between Spirit and flesh (v23): God works through the former while sinners will depend on the latter. He then informs the reader that he's going to speak typologically (v24), which is sometimes poorly understood to mean "allegorically." The NIV translation of "figuratively" is more of neutral term, but a bit undecided (to my frustration).  That the women represent covenants is not a remark about the Old Testament Scripture, but about the nature of Paul's usage in his argument to (again) explain an abstract point by way of tangible illustration.  The reader will have to note that Paul's writing here is undeniably non-literal for the sake of clarifying explanation. He decorates terms for effect (v26).  His quotation in v30 is the culmination of his typological explanation of flesh and Spirit. Artistically, Paul summons to mind the expulsion of the slave woman and the inheritance of the free woman, because it is consistent with the imagery he was laying out between the Judaizers and the true believers.  The explanation here is admittedly brief, but I hope helpful.

 

Which Bible translation is best?

                There are a lot of translation out there that I am more than happy with, like the "New International Version" (not to be confused with "Today's New International Version!"), but I think the best one out so far is the English Standard Version.  It retains a lot of the accuracy in translating thought-for-thought without paraphrasing or over-interpreting.  I do, however, think the New Living Translation is really good for new believers who want to do devotional reading during the week, since it actually is a paraphrase that's intended to smooth out some of the wooden translation of the original wordings.  But I would never use the New Living Translation for Bible study or preaching purposes, since it's farther away from a word-for-word translation. 

                Currently, I preach from the New International Version simply because I love it for the same reasons I love the English Standard Version, but it's older and less updated in its use of language.  It's the most popular translation in the world, but I will probably switch my congregation over to the English Standard Version within 2 years from now.  That translation is quickly growing in popularity, and the ESV Study Bible is by far the best study Bible resource I have ever used.

 

I'm confused by all the Bible translations.  Like NIV and NKJV, I understand them both but I get two meanings.

                Both of those translations come from original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek writing. If the NIV (New International Version) and NKJV (New King James Version) seem different in meaning to you, the discrepancy is usually either in the scholars' choice of translation, or your understanding of the English language.
                But there are two slightly different philosophies at work between NIV and NKJV in their process of translation. The NKJV will use a word-for-word correlation. This is called a formal translation. Whenever the same Hebrew or Greek word appears in the text, the NKJV tries to use the exact same English word so that the reader can pinpoint the equivalence. Idioms and expressions will leave us confused, since colloquial sayings rarely make sense outside of the immediate culture. For instance, try explaining the different definitions of "cool" to someone who doesn't speak English. Or try teaching them unorthodox uses of words like, "that was the sickest thing ever," or "you got owned." The first will make a foreigner think there is an unparalleled illness in the event your describing, and the second will make them think someone was subjected to slavery; but both cases were just idioms to say, "that was really good," and "you lost significantly."
                The NIV will try to focus less on word-for-word correlation, and employ a little more thought-for-thought. This is called a dynamic translation. Other versions such as the NLT (New Living Translation) will run much farther with that philosophy, making the Bible extremely readable in English, but having a lot less equivalence with the grammatical structure or choice of words from the original languages. The NIV is a mixture of formal and dynamic. It will rephrase/reword some verses only for the sake of clarifying understanding for the reader.
                On a totally boring note, there are two families of manuscripts that translators use to make their translations. Alexandrian scripts found in Egypt are from the 1st century--they are the oldest and (in many opinions, including my own) the most reliable. Masoretic Text is from the 9th century but was preserved in Jerusalem, so many will claim that its origination in Jerusalem lends itself to greater credibility than manuscripts that were discovered outside the Holy Land. The NIV and most other translations rely more strongly on the Alexandrian texts. The KJV (King James Version) and NKJV rely almost exclusively upon Masoretic texts. The difference it makes is almost entirely negligible except an excerpt in John 8 and the end of Mark 16, both of which only appear in the Masoretic Texts. The majority of scholarship, though, argues that both those passages were later inserted into the Scriptures and were not originally authored by the writers of the gospels. I adamantly agree.
                For my own personal opinion, the NIV is still my favorite translation. I currently use the ESV (which is a great formal translation) because that is the translation my church uses. But formal translations are more of a good study resource, while dynamic translations are a much better preaching or devotional resource. You'll notice that your pastor will read a text that nobody understands and will usually follow it with, "what that means is..." and he has to then make a dynamic translation for the church. I would rather sidestep that process and just use a dynamic translation anyway. The gospels will often tell an account of the same story, and when they quote dialogue, there are small differences in the wordings, but the meaning is retained. What that tells me is God was less interested in each individual word, but more interested in getting the meaning across. If formal translations will lend themselves to giving rigid or awkward English wording, then the translation is damaged (not enhanced) for the reader who cannot or does not go to research the original language.

 

I heard that Zondervan has pulled the NIV84 translations of the Bible off the shelves in an effort to promote their newer 2011 translation. Is it better to switch to the ESV version or to stick with the NIV84 version or to the newer translation?

                The 2011 translation is fine.  If this is the Bible you're going to take to church, use the same translation as the one that your pastor preaches from.  If you use this primarily to read devotionally or prefer an easy reading level, go with either NIV.  If you use this for personal study of the Bible or have a good college-level reading proficiency, go with the ESV, particularly the ESV Study Bible (that thing is huge, but it's the best Bible resource that I've ever come into contact with).

 

What do you think about the NKJV?

                NKJV is a fine translation. It's really a re-do of the KJV only in the sense of its source manuscripts. Those translations draw from later biblical manuscripts which come from Jerusalem.  Some critics prefer earlier manuscripts, because then there's less chance of error as it gets copied down for thousands of years. Other critics prefer the later manuscripts because they come from Jerusalem instead of Egypt. Having come from the heartland of Christian faith, it seems more reliable than those that are found in nations that were previously hostile to Jewish and Christian faith.
                My opinion on it, textually, is that the earlier manuscripts are more reliable, since the gospel went out to areas like Alexandria and Egypt, and the documents were faithfully copied in those areas. I think the later manuscripts (some from 900 years after the Bible was written) contain a higher likelihood of spelling/grammar errors, small deletions or additions, and other small little mistakes that could have accidentally got caught into the mix. After all, the letter "i" can look like the letter "t" if you are sloppy with dotting or crossing. After thousands of years of copying the entire Bible by hand, errors are bound to come in. Periods can look like commas, letters can accidentally be added or forgotten, etc. The earlier manuscripts are, in my opinion, not unreliable for their geographical origination, and so they remain more credible because there are several hundred years less chance of making copy mistakes.  Remember that it is the original manuscripts that are inerrant, but the copying process is still prone to error if we aren't careful.  The earlier we look, the less time there was for error to creep in to the transmission of the text.
                Related to this, the earliest manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11. Because I hold to early manuscript credibility, I think those passages were added later by people who were not the original authors. The Mark passage is blatantly obvious, since it changes subjects and reintroduces characters, and posits unique content that isn't entirely consistent with any other portion of the Bible.  Since the KJV and NKJV translations draw from later manuscripts, they consider those passages to be authentic Bible, whereas I do not.

 

Why is the bible divided into chapters, verses, and sections? What determined that part of the text to be one chapter or verse? I was just curious because how it is sectioned was kind of bizarre at times.

                The chapter divisions we use today were primarily done in the 1200s. The verse divisons happened a couple hundred years later for the Old Testament, and another hundred years later for the New Testament. These were all done by different guys, but they made it so much easier to find things in the Bible that it all caught on very quickly.  Of course, some of the verse and chapter divisions are pretty poorly placed, cutting units of thought into separate areas. But on the whole, the system is much more helpful than unhelpful, and it's very easy to rectify those places that chapter or verse divisions cause problems.

                I think the biggest obstacle for the modern reader is to see the text as a true piece of literature. I think people end up reading only verses or chapters, thinking that's where you're supposed to start and end. That's just not true.  The books of the Bible were written to be read as a whole--completely, all at once. There are places where the author changes subject or direction, but these aren't necessarily located at the areas where one chapter ends and a new one begins.  The modern reader needs to develop the discipline to ignore those little numbers that are littered between the letters, and start reading the Bible and paying attention to what it says--figuring out when that subject or thought or idea begins and ends--not looking for numerical indicators.

                As far as those subsections of chapters that have little headings, like "Jesus Walks on Water" or "The Ten Commandments," these sections are called "pericopes" (pehr-i-koh-peez). Each Bible translation chooses how to organize each pericope, so the NIV translation will have slightly different pericopes than the ESV translation. I think these pericopes are a little more helpful in discerning where the Bible authors' thoughts begin and end, rather than the chapter/verse headings. Of course, sometimes I think they are too specific.

Take, for instance, Mark 11:12-26. The NIV cuts this into TWO different pericopes: "Jesus Clears the Temple" (11:12-19) and "The Fig Tree Withers" (11:20-26). That's a poor division, since the fig tree story sandwiches the story of clearing the temple and is meant to make the exact same point.

                The ESV takes the same verses cuts them into THREE different pericopes: "Jesus Curses the Fig Tree" (11:12-14), "Jesus Cleanses the Temple" (12:15-19), and "The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree" (11:20-26). That is more specific to the events that are going on in the groupings of verses, but it separates these 3 pericopes so readers might just read one of them and try to extract a principle/application from it. The better way to do read it and understand it is to treat 11:12-26 is ONE reading if you're looking to find a devotional point. That's how the author intended those verses to work together, so that's how I would organize it as a single pericope if I were a Bible translator.

                Different translations use different philosophies on how to subdivide the pericopes, whether by subject matter or chronological timing or specific subheadings to help locate content. I would go for the divisions that would be most appropriate for a person to read in a single sitting if he/she only had time to read one section a day. The more and more I teach the Bible and see people who aren't trained to read it for more than a couple minutes, the more I find the need to develop a Bible that helps them decide where to begin and end for each day.

 

RELIABILITY

Why should I believe the Bible is the perfect Word of God if it's written by human beings?  How can I believe that some man knows what God really wants?

                The Bible itself claims to be God's Word (2 Timothy 3:16).  It was written under a dual authorship--the Holy Spirit moving men to write (from their own individual contexts) what God willed to be communicated (2 Peter 1:20-21).  It is understood by those who believe, but will sound like foolishness to those who choose not to (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).  It's the only book that so greatly revolutionizes the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

                I'm not going to try to convince you to think the Bible is God's Word by simply typing at you. That would insult your intelligence and minister only to your mind, not your heart. Whether you choose to believe it or not is really a decision you make--it's not something that just happens to you.  But just to help you think of alternate perspectives: 

1) PREDICTED OPPOSITION.  Consider any other piece of literature. What other book, including religious ones, does the world so violently oppose because they feel judged by it? The reactionist movement says that either the Bible is really that offensive, or it is really that true, since it predicts such opposition (John 15:18-25). The fact that the world doesn't oppose the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or even the Watchtower magazine--despite the plethora of extremist or politically incorrect positions that come out of them--tells us that there is something distinct and peculiar about the way the Bible affects the heart of man, either with the aroma of death or the fragrance of life, depending on whether they are willing to repent (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

2) PROVEN WISDOM.  Consider the wisdom of the Bible. If the instruction and lifestyle actually contains true wisdom, and if believers and unbelievers alike are drawn to its practical application, then the Bible has established a certain degree of credibility on its own. How can a book of such profound wisdom be based on a collection of lies regarding the stories about God, Creation, Mankind, the Fall, Redemptive History, Salvation, and Eternity? 

3) UNDENIABLE HISTORICITY.  Consider the historicity of the Bible. If the Bible has been our major source of historical corroboration for events that occurred before Christ, it has proven that it's been faithful to communicate real events in real history. If the archeology and history books of nations agree with the Bible on those accounts, then it would lead us to consider that the miracles and origin stories were not fabricated by the same authors that meticulously included truths that were unpleasant and humiliating to themselves and their people.

4) FULFILLED PROPHECIES.  Consider the accuracy of prophecy. Because we know that the Bible was written from around 4000 BC to about 98 AD in 66 books by approximately 40 authors, then we also can check to see if they agree with one another or present logical loopholes or contradictions. Time and time again efforts have been made to "prove" these things in the Bible, but every such attempt has come from interpreters who have allegorized passages, torn meaning away from clear indisputable context, failed to present the argument from the original language (the Bible was not written in English!), or simply applied anachronistic semantics to otherwise ancient linguistic terms or phrases. The prophetic literature of the Bible came thousands of years before Christ did, and yet it is accurate and precise in describing the judgment of God on the nation Israel, the origin of the Savior, the ministry of Jesus, the reaction of his enemies, the crucifixion of God's Son, the resurrection in victory, and the movement of the Church as God's people.

                There are a ton of other angles to balance in the head too, but if you think soberly through these things, it'll help you come to a decision on whether or not you believe the Bible is God's perfect Word.  For me, though, it was simple and subjective: I believe in God.  I believe He's all-powerful.  I believe if He wanted to speak to us, He would have.  I believe He did want to speak to us, so He did.  I believe if He spoke to us, it would not be secret.  I believe if He spoke to us, He would not be wrong.  I believe if He spoke to us, it would address the purpose of man, the morality of life, the nature of God, and the direction of history.  The Bible is true to all these things.

 

What's the best resource for the authenticity of the Bible?

                Honestly, the best resource for that one is the Internet. That's not me being smug. I'm actually really serious. 
The issue of the Bible's authenticity is not relegated to textbooks and college degrees; it's a discussion that takes place all the time, and most of that now happens online. Despite an overwhelming amount of skepticism and opposition from those with an agenda to discredit God's Word, the Bible has withstood age-old scrutiny because of the immense amount of corroborative evidence that lends itself to biblical credibility. Without even considering the theological and divine qualities of the 66-book composition, the Bible must be able to stand its ground against historical and scientific criticism if it's going to make a claim of inerrancy by any degree.
Take even Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_and_history. That site is just one of many that will give you more information on the subject than you're interested in reading. Other sources like the articles in the MacArthur Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible are also really good basic resources. Ken Ham's books are good too, and so are books like "The Battle for the Beginning" by John MacArthur which is specialized in defending the biblical claims to a 6-day creation.
                I first point to these is because of their ease of access. You don't need to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, textual criticism, or redaction criticism to understand what the article is talking about. If you do have educational background in the previously mentioned fields of study, then you'd already have a lot more nerdy books to get yourself into that regular human beings wouldn't care to listen to.

 

 

TRIVIA

Which Bible character played the biggest role (besides God and Jesus)?

                Satan. But I don't think that's a valid answer for what you're intending to ask. 

                I'd say Simon Peter in the gospels, since he's spoken of and spoken to and spoken from more than all the other disciples combined.  I'd say Paul in the rest of the New Testament, since his story dominates over half of the book of Acts and his writing comprises half of the New Testament.  I'd say Moses in the Old Testament, since he is the first fully-complete foreshadowing of a savior who would be a person of royalty, a shepherd, a worker of miracles, a teacher of God's law, a mediator between God and God's people, and a leader who brings God's people to a promised destination.

 

What are the key books in the Bible that exemplify the meanings of true Christian morals and faith?

                Christian Morals:  I guess my answer then would be Leviticus, 1 Corinthians, and James.   Leviticus, by the way, serves as good moral instruction not because of the laws (which apply to Israel in the Promised Land), but because of the values of God that those laws indicate to us. For instance, while we do not have to sacrifice animals after offending a neighbor like Israel did, it does indicate to us that our sin against our neighbor is also a sin against God that requires prayer and confession.

                Christian Faith: Christian doctrine is communicated very clearly in Romans, Ephesians, and 1 John.   Romans lays out gospel.  Ephesians clarifies Christian identity.  1 John defines faith's origin and direction.

                Christian Story: A third category that I think is important is the narrative story of the Bible which lays out the story of God's unfolding will and plan for His people. If someone wanted to know God's plan, I'd read: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Mark, John, Acts, and Revelation.

 

Did everyone in the Old Testament believe in the existence of God?  Was it obvious that God was present?

                People in the Old Testament certainly believed in the supernatural more commonly than the developed nations do today. There was mostly polytheism among the people and atheism didn't really exist.
                God wasn't more obvious back then than He is today. He's always been evident from the natural world around us (Romans 1:20), but today we have the testimony of His Word and His Church. That is more than enough to point us in the right direction of not only acknowledge God's existence, but also to following His instruction for our lives, ultimately to our eternal satisfaction.

 

How were Old Testament saints saved?

                The Jews of the Old Testament were saved by the same faith that saves us today: an understanding of the depraved and sinful state of man, a need for atonement, and faith in a Messiah. For them, the Messiah would come in their future. For us, the Messiah has come in our past. We live on opposite sides of the Messiah's arrival, but our faith was grounded in the one and only Savior who calls us to repent of our sins and live a life of righteousness, loving God and our neighbor. That has always been the standard, and that will never ever change.

 

Now that there's the New Testament, how do you know what to follow and what not to follow in the Old Testament?

                You follow whatever instructions God expects of human beings. But you also need to distinguish those instructions from those that He gives to the nation of Israel. Israel was given certain laws (dietary restrictions, ceremonial laws, levitical tithing, sacrifices & offerings, etc.). If you pretend that all the commands in the Old Testament are intended for everyone everywhere, you end up very confused (which is where most of the accusations of the Bible come from) and it'll even start to feel like you're finding contradictions. But if you see the difference between what God is expecting of Israel versus what God is expecting of all human beings, then it becomes very clear what to follow. The Old Testament was written to Israel, and several of its books are specifically about how to govern that nation (such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Knowing what commands transfer to New Testament believers becomes a lot easier since the New Testament repeats much (arguably, all) of the Old Testament's ideas that the Church is meant to obey.

 

If we who have salvation through Christ are the promised descendants of Abraham, can the reference to Israel be an implication of Christians today as well?

                Israel SOMETIMES can refer to the Church; not in a consistent, direct, synonymous way.

                When God speaks to Israel in the Old Testament, He speaks to the specific nation of Jews. He establishes a covenant with them that if they were faithful to Him, they would enjoy prosperity in the Promised Land (which is the region around Israel), but if they were unfaithful to Him, they would be exiled from the land and scattered among the nations (which is what eventually happens).

Those are promises directly to the nation of Israel--ethnic Israel.

                It all begins with this guy named Abraham in Genesis 12. God promises to make a nation out of him (the Jews), and that nation would bless all other nations. Galatians 3:14 clarifies that Jesus is what comes out of the Jews, and He's the Savior of the world through whom all nations are saved. Galatians 3:6-8 says that those who believe in Jesus are children of Abraham. This, of course, is speaking in a spiritual sense--not one of ethnic descent. Galatians 3:26-29 demonstrates our spiritual connectedness by faith in Christ--not an ethnic one. Ethnicity no longer matters, and neither does social status or gender or any other categorization of people. Anyone who places his trust in Jesus is a spiritual heir of God's promise of salvation.

                That does not mean, however, that we (Gentile Christians) are heirs of all the promises that God made with the people of Israel. For instance, not all Christians who believe are supposed to live in the Promised Land, like Israel did--rather, God wants us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and still multiply and be fruitful and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28) instead of congregate in one single place.

                What makes us the "descendants of Abraham" is that we continue in the same salvation that he did--namely, salvation by God's grace, demonstrated through our faith, apart from the merit of the Law. That's the whole argument that Paul makes in his letter to the Galatians.

                Interpretation of prophetic literature can only be objectively understood in the context of the original author to the original audience. Jesus and those disciples whom he taught directly had any illumination on the messianic significance of some of the historical prophecies. Remember that the Scriptures were written for a clearer understanding of the Christ (Luke 24:25-27). Prophecy has a specific meaning in its historical setting, and only some of those are prophecies that harken also toward the truth of the Messiah, and each of these is identified in the New Testament as such. Those prophecies would tell us about Jesus, not about Church.

The more you read the Old Testament prophecies, the more clearly you'll see that they demonstrate God's justice, mercy, and divine passion for His people. Ezekiel pronounces judgment on Jerusalem for their idolatry; Obadiah pronounces judgment on Edom for their oppression against God's people; Isaiah pronounces judgment on Egypt because of their military pride. In each of these prophecies, there is no reason to have a secondary interpretation. These prophecies show us what God wanted to show us: He rewards righteousness, punishes evil, and deals with unfaithful people with incredible patience and grace so as to offer them an undeserved opportunity to repent. No additional meaning or interpretation is intended nor needed. The truth of God's justice and mercy are both proclaimed as God's purposed in the one true and proper understanding of each prophetic oracle.

 

Do plants and animals have soul?  Can they sin and go to heaven or hell?  Are they perfect since they didn't take the fruit in Genesis 2, even though they kill animals and people?

                No animals do not have souls.  They do not sin, since they do not have the capacity to know God's instruction and violate it. They simply carry out the behavior that their instincts and training have pointed them toward. God refers to animals as property, not as equals to human beings. 

                When Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3, the whole earth was cursed. The ground was cursed (from which animals derive nourishment) and death was introduced into the world (affecting animals as well as man).  Their existence is not eternal, and their value is not the same as that of a human being because they are not made in the image of God.  Animals were killed for food and clothing, starting in Genesis 3:21. For the protection and sustenance of people, animals may be killed. For the atonement of sins, animals were regularly sacrificed as prescribed by God.

                But that doesn't mean God doesn't care about animals. It does not license us to kill animals without reason. The very last verse in Jonah expresses how God is concerned about the Ninevites and many cattle as well. God actually states that He owns all the animals in the world in Psalm 50:9-11.  He gives us permission to rule over the animals responsibly, but not exploit and torture them.

 

What exactly does "three days and three nights" mean?  I remember you said it had special meaning.

                In Jonah, we read that the prophet was in the belly of a fish (probably a whale in today's modern terms) for "three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17).  That construction of "days and nights" wasn't actually used in Hebrew writing to indicate length of time, but to emphasize distinction. It would be better translated "three separate days." The idea is not to say how long he was in the whale, but that he was in the whale for part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday (for example)--three separate days.

                Jesus is the best example of this. He too was in the grave for "three days and three nights" (Matthew 12:40). But Jesus was crucified on Friday, was in the grave for Friday night, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday morning. That makes 1 full day, and part of 2 different days, and 2 full nights. At best, we'd try to call that 3 days and 2 nights, but when Jesus describes it as "three days and three nights," he was saying that he would be in the grave for three separate days: Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

 

How is the fish related to Christianity?

                The Greek word for fish is "Ichthys" which is an acronym of 5 letters (I-CH-TH-Y-S):
                                I - Iesous (Jesus)
                                CH - Christos (Christ)
                                TH - Theos (God)
                                Y - Yios (Son)
                                S - Soterios (Savior)
                The acronym (Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior) indicated your Christian faith. Because persecution was such a threat, tradition tells us that Christians would secretly identify themselves to one another: when meeting someone, a believer would casually draw a single curve on the ground. If the other person drew a second curve (making the fish sign), then you knew you were both believers. If the other person had no idea what that curve was, you knew he was not a believer. It was basically a secret handshake between Christians during a time when the faith was a crime punishable by death.

 

When does the Bible say that bonding with brothers and sisters helps your relationship with Jesus?

                Hebrews 10:19-25 is one simple example. 

                The best way to see how bonding with brothers and sisters helps your relationship with Jesus is by looking at the Greatest Commandments: love God, and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). In fact, almost all the instructions that Jesus gives us is about how to interact with one another in a deep and loving way. Look at 1 John 1:10 or John 13:35 and you'll see that our relationship with God is expressly demonstrated in our love for another, and our love one another further leads us to better love God.

 

Can you respond to www.debunkingskeptics.com/debunking_christians/page5.htm?

My responses are categorized by a summary of the author's stated attacks on the Bible:

                1) God never said the Bible was His Word.  Yes, He did. He said it in the Bible, which can certainly come off as cyclical reasoning, but where else would He say it? In the Koran? Through direct revelation (which would, by the way, make Scripture unnecessary if everyone just had God's voice talking to them all the time so that they walked by sight, not by faith)?

                2) In 2 Timothy 3:16, "Inspiration" does not mean "word of God" (as taken from King James Version).  That's actually true. But "inspiration" isn't the word that was used in the Bible. That's only the KJV translation. The word is "theopneustos" which means God (theo) and breathed (neustos). The NIV hits it much better by using the hyphenated direct translation ("God-breathed"). The Bible very directly states that ALL Scripture is God-breathed. 
I think the dumbest part of his argument though is using the definition of "inspiration" from the American Heritage Dictionary. Since when was the author of 2 Timothy using the American Heritage Dictionary's definitions? I can't see that as making much sense, since dictionaries didn't exist back then, nor did American heritage or America, and 2 Timothy wasn't written in English and didn't actually used the word "inspiration." I mean, come on man, you and your source should both be thinking a little sharper than that.
                3) "All Scripture" refers to the Old Testament or the Ten Commandments.  Yes, it does, but is not necessarily limited to such. The fact that those Scriptures are affirmed as God's Word (by the author making these accusations in this part of his argument) demonstrates that he's willing to concede that human authorship can coincide with divine inspiration. If it can be so with the Old Testament, nothing compels us to think that it has to stop there, and only does the New Testament ever say that God's Word is finished and complete (Revelation 22:18).
                4) One verse that claim's divine inspiration out of 33,000 verses doesn't make them all divinely inspired.  Really? How many will it take to make them so? If the Bible said it in two verses, would that be enough? How about 20? 100? 2000? Because I'd think that if it actually is God's Word, He'd really only have to say it once, don't you think? He only tells the story about Abraham sacrificing Isaac once. Does that mean that the story didn't happen because it shows up only a single time among the thousands of other stories? Repetition won't make something more true. But for the record, the Bible claims divine authorship in multiple places--not just 2 Timothy. A few examples include (but are not limited to) Hebrews 1:1-2, 1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Peter 2:20-21.
                5) Three verses to demonstrate against divine authorship.  The verses listed here are probably the only decent argument on the whole page. But contextually speaking, it comes from the hindsight angle of scrutinizing the infallibility of Scripture and completely ignores the original context of Paul's words to the intended audience. What he is saying to them is that his instructions are coming from his own head, not from something that Jesus taught him while he was trained for 3 years in Nabatean Arabia. While that is immediately true of that instruction, he is not saying, "What I'm about to tell you is not being inspired in me by the work of the Holy Spirit." He's simply saying, "I'm gonna tell you something that I think, which I didn't hear during my 3-year training with God."
                Rather than reading about arguments for against the Bible, watch people who really believe it and live it, and see whether or not you think it works and is true. The wisdom is timeless and indestructible. If you want to doubt, then doubt. But don't hide behind someone else's half-digested arguments. You're gifted with your own mind and heart, and that's where your decision needs to take place.

 

Is it true that there are different accounts of Creation mentioned in the Bible, like in Genesis and Deuteronomy? 

                I don't know where you heard that, but no, it is not true. Genesis is the only direct account of creation (though its emphasis is not on scientific explanation, but rather on divine origin), and Deuteronomy is about Moses' retelling of the general and specific stipulations of the covenant between God and the people Israel in the Promised Land of Canaan.

 

If Adam and Eve did not commit sin, would humans today be sinless?  Would God have created sinless human beings?

                If Adam and Eve did not sin, then yes, their offspring would be sinless.  God did create sinless human beings: Adam and Eve were exactly that. Sin was not part of the original design of man, but entered into humanity in Genesis 3.

 

If Adam and Eve were the first people on Earth, does that mean everyone came from the incest of their kids?

                Yes, Adam's children would procreate with one another.  Incest, however, wasn't outlawed by God until about 4000 years later, in Leviticus 18. 

                Personal Theory on Incest: I've mentioned this before, but I think genetic mutation was introduced at the Fall of Man, whose genome was perfect and incorruptible before that point.  Incest is problematic today because of the threat of shared genetic mutation.
Imagine if dad passes down a flawed gene to his children, but mom passes down a dominant gene that functions properly. That's fine.  But if the children (who have a flawed gene from dad and a functioning one from mom) have a child, there's a chance they might both pass down their flawed gene (25% chance), resulting in a deformation or serious disability of some sort.  This kind of genetic mutation didn't exist in the beginning, and so it was not a threat in Adam's time. It takes many generations for that kind of mutation to spring up and be heritable. That's probably why God didn't outlaw incest until around 4000 years later, when it was prevalent enough to be a significant concern and threat.

 

Why do all our features look so different if we all came from Adam and Eve?

                Here's my particular guess at it, though some have other theories: Adam and Eve had genes that contained enough genetic variety as to bear offspring of many different traits. Genesis 11 points us to where God divides the human race by confusing languages, so there is an exact point in which God separates men into different people groups. He either could have changed their genetic information there to physically express what took place in His judgment (much like thorns and thistles physically expressed the curse of sin in the man's punishment in Genesis 3), or He could have just selected those varieties of men who shared common physical traits and given them all a common language. Whichever came first (physical traits or language) is not clarified. 
                But I think a good way to think of it is also like this: Human beings began with the capacity to have lots of different kinds of kids--dark, light, skinny, heavy, tall, short, etc. As those offspring grew, they procreated, and as generations went by, those of similar traits tended to stick together. This narrowed their genetic variety. It's not that Adam and Eve's genes didn't retain. It's that they got more specific in different groups of people. Notice that Asians and Blacks can still procreate. They are still genetically compatible. They're just distinct in their genetic varieties among their own cultures.

 

Did Adam and Eve need to breathe or sleep or use the bathroom in the Garden of Eden?

                I'm going to guess YES to both, since there's nothing to indicate otherwise. God did create air, even before the fall, and breathed into the man's nostrils the "breath of life" (Genesis 2:7) which seems to be a pretty clear statement that they were living, breathing things. I also think it's proper to say that they slept since God rested on the seventh day, intended for man to also rest on the seventh day for the same reason (just as is indicated in Exodus 20 in the fourth commandment), and God put the man to sleep when he took flesh from his side and made woman (Genesis 2:21). I don't think there's any reason to think that that was the first or only time Adam slept before sin entered the world.  Also, the natural world changed at the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, and the consequence for that was not that man had to breathe and sleep, but that he would die.

                It might seem like a logical argument to say that before the Fall, man existed in a perfect energy system without entropy and decay and, therefore, did not produce waste product.  But, again, there's no indication that his digestive system was altered from the Fall, so I think our best conclusion is to think that even before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve had to urinate and defecate normally.

 

What was the prime age, or age when they started having kids, at the time of Adam because they lived for 900+ years while nowadays we live only 120 or less year. Our prime age is like 25, but Adam had his kid when he was 130. So what was the prime age?

                Adam had Seth when he was 130, but at that time the earth was already populated. Adam started having children not long after the time of his creation. His son, Seth, is mentioned only to get to the story of Noah. But if you look at Seth's older siblings, Cain and Abel, they existed with plenty of other people--enough so that Cain was worried someone would kill him for murdering Abel. 
                Our prime age for having children is much earlier than 25. The body gets itself ready at puberty. We just point to 25 because our culture emphasizes finishing college and getting a career first. So sociologically 25 might be prime, but biologically, somewhere in the later teenage years or very early 20s is probably a more accurate answer.

 

What age was Adam first created because it doesn't say that he was born, but says he lived 930?

                Adam was created at age 0. Even though his body was made in adult form (for instance, 30 years old), he only existed from the moment of his creation. Age measures how long you have lived, not how long you have appeared to live--or else half of my high school congregation at church would be considered an age of 11.
                Adam lived 930 years from the moment he was created. I guess that means he appeared to be 930 + (30?) years old, so maybe he looked like he was around 960. Hahahahahaha.

 

Did Adam and Eve go to heaven?

                The Bible doesn't say, but I'm inclined to think that they did. The reason why is because after the Fall, they have children, and generations go by and some of the later generations know God and obey Him--for instance Noah. Where did they come to such knowledge? I think Adam and Eve passed down what they knew. That's an educated guess, but it's not concrete.

 

What is the Tree of Life from Genesis 3:22-24?  Is it the same thing as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

                No, those two trees are really not the same at all. They are two separate trees (Genesis 2:9).
                The Tree of Life bore fruit that would apparently allow Adam and Eve to live forever (Genesis 3:22). Adam and Eve were free to eat from that tree, and its fruit is going to be available to us again in the new earth (Revelation 22:2).
                The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the only thing that was forbidden to Adam and Eve, and its fruit brought death (Genesis 2:17). Its fruit probably didn't have any particularly special nutritional power; the tree was simply there as a test of obedience to the man and woman. The sin of eating from the tree was not in the fruit, but in the disobedience of the people.

Where did Cain's wife come from?

                Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve's sons, but that didn't mean they were their only children. There would have been many more, especially since Adam lived over 900 years (Genesis 5:5)!
                Cain would have taken one of their daughters--that is, one of his sisters--as a wife. If genetic mutation becomes a possibility at Genesis 3, and has extremely small chances of occuring, the threat of genetic deformation from incest would have taken several centuries to become a real danger. That's probably why it's not until Leviticus 18 that incest actually becomes outlawed in Israel.
 

 

In the bible, it talks about the Nephilim especially in Genesis 6:4. On a side note, I read that they are the children born to the women who married these heavenly beings.. the "fallen ones". Can you explain to me what all if this means?

                http://www.randcho.com/Sermons/Genesis.htm

                The sixth lesson in my Genesis series will cover the idea of the Nephilim. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the "half-angel, half-human" theory, since that's a rather HUGE idea that would warrant more than just a single mention in Scripture as an off-handed detail. It also requires a pretty distinct interpretive approach, which isn't consistent with the way we would intelligently read the Bible or any other piece of non-fiction history.

 

Can you list the similarities between Isaac and Jesus?

                Off the top of my head:

1) Both were born by miraculous divine intervention against impossible circumstances.

2) Both were sons--only sons (in terms of marital legitimacy in Isaac's case).

3) Both were led to sacrifice by their fathers.

4) Both carried the wood upon which they would die.

5) Both were around the age of 30 (note: in the case of Isaac, that is the estimation given by Jewish scholarship)

6) Both were to be sacrificed on Mount Moriah.

 

In Genesis 12:10-20, was it normal for people to kill husbands in order to take their wives? 
                About Genesis 12: Yes, during this time Abram was sincerely afraid for his life because his wife was very beautiful, and if Pharaoh was attracted to her, he could and probably would just kill Abram and take Sarai. I doubt Abram was okay with it, but the alternative (being killed) was probably worse in his mind, and so he made his decision. Sadly, times haven't really changed. This kind of tragedy of people killing each other over lust and physical attraction still happens today. Don't think that it's a thing of the past. But for Pharaoh, it was probably a more prominent issue, since a ruler in ancient civilizations was measured by the size of his harem. The more wives he had (meaning, the more women that indulged from his great wealth and power), the more renown he was granted. This is partly why King Solomon had about 700 wives. Pharaoh's men would have looked at Sarai and said, "Wow, she's beautiful. She'd look great in Pharaoh's harem," and Pharaoh would have made it happen--even if it meant killing her husband--hence, Genesis 12:15. But since Abram lied and said they were siblings (they were half-siblings, actually, according to Genesis 20:12), Pharaoh treated Abram well so that Sarai would like him (Genesis 12:16).

In Deuteronomy 12:31, Jeremiah 7:31, and Jeremiah 19:5, God forbids the sacrifice of sons and daughters.  Why does God order Abraham to do this to Isaac in Genesis 22?  Why does God send Jesus to Earth as a sacrifice?

                When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that was purely a test for Abraham to go through to visibly demonstrate his faith that God could take his son away and give him back (Genesis 22:12; Hebrews 11:17-19). God didn't actually intend to have Abraham kill Isaac, which is why the angel stopped Abraham before he could strike with the knife. 
                The problem with the sacrifice of children is both moral and spiritual:
                1) Morally, killing children is sin, since this is the taking of human life which is made in the image of God. It is not being carried out as an act of legal justice--meaning, it's not capital punishment for a crime, as a murderer or thief would have merited by his actions. The child has no understanding of good and evil (Deuteronomy 1:39). The death of the child would be undeserved from the hands of society. It would be murder and would have no pleasing value to God. 
                2) Spiritually, the sacrifice of a human child would be insufficient to accomplish any amount of real good toward God. Every human being is sinful from the moment of conception, and each one falls short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). It would be like offering a king the corpse of a diseased rat. The offering, even if it were well-intentioned, would not be of true value. 
                Jesus, however, is a perfect sacrifice, having no sin and being in very nature God himself (Hebrews 4:15; Philippians 2:6). He was sacrificed--not in an attempt to please God by his death, for the death of Jesus grieved God--but to atone for the death that we owe. He died in place of us as a propitiation, which is far different from a sacrifice that's meant to somehow impress God. The sacrifice of Jesus was not to earn points of righteousness, but to remove the penalties of sin. It's the imputed righteousness of Christ that moves us toward heaven.

 

In Exodus, why does God harden Pharaoh's heart after each plague?

                God hardens Pharaoh's heart during the first nine plagues or so, but you can see that even after the tenth plague when Pharaoh lets the Israelites go, he still does not repent or surrender to God. He comes in vengeance for combat. That puts it right in front of our faces that no amount of God's power was enough to bring Pharaoh to turn away from his sin and call on God. 
                So when it comes to why God hardened Pharaoh's heart, we should be very careful to understand that God didn't CHANGE the decision of Pharaoh's will, but only enhanced it. He magnified the unrepentance, in a sense, so that He could more powerfully demonstrate His almighty power to those who would believe in Him--namely, the Israelites. God didn't make it impossible for Pharaoh to repent; Pharaoh chose that himself. God used that as a way to save more by the clear demonstration of His power over sin. 
                If God had Pharaoh free the Israelites after the first plague, people wouldn't clearly know that God was supreme. They'd think Pharaoh was a coward or weak or whatever. But God chose to unleash ten plagues, each of which was aimed directly at a specific sphere of influence that an Egyptian god had power over. For instance, Ra the sun god was shown to be powerless against God who created darkness over all Egypt. The Nile, too, was under God's command. God made a statement through the plagues, basically saying: "I am the only God there is; there is no other like me."

 

Why is it that we no longer keep the commandment not to work on Sundays?  Should that commandment be less important than the others?

                There is no commandment that prohibits working on Sundays. The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 prohibits working on the Sabbath, but Sabbath was Saturday. That law was intended for Israel to understand that they were to labor with their own hands, with their own strength, and then they were to stop and recognize that it's really God who provides and brings blessing. It was a commitment to community and worship--not just work and wealth. 
                Today, the church is under no law to work six days and rest on the seventh (whether it be Saturday or Sunday, since the early Christians moved the day of worship to Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus). But we're also called to be committed to community and worship--not just work and wealth. And we're also called to understand that we work with our hands, work with our strength, but it's still really God who provides and brings blessing. The law was there to teach us a lesson. So now it's time to live by that lesson.

Why does God impose taboos, laws, circumcision, and Kosher (no Christian besides Jews practice these) in the Old Testament only for Jesus to say to that one guy that he is following the frivolous traditions of man and not God?

                This question presumes to answer itself.  You've asked "Why does God impose taboos, laws, and circumcision?"  And you've answered it with an incidental anecdote that was misconstrued as a demonstration of purpose: "for Jesus to say to that one guy that he is following the frivolous traditions of man and not God."
                Before I address the main question, I want to clarify something: The question also says that "no Christian besides Jews" practice Jewish law. Jews are not Christians. Jews are not part of the Christian kingdom. They're not 50% Christian either just because they recognize the Old Testament.
  Those who rightly place their trust in the Messiah--that is, Jesus Christ--is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. That pertains to the Jews before Jesus lived who trusted in the coming Messiah. And it continues to apply to Christians who also place their trust in the Messiah that has come.
                The laws given to the kingdom of Israel in Exodus through Deuteronomy were intended to establish a God-honoring society. Many of the laws were also object lessons to ingrain certain concepts to God's people. For instance, it was against the law to sow two kinds of seed in the same field, mate different kinds of animals, or wear clothing woven of two different materials (Leviticus 19:19). It's not because it was evil wickedness to plant an apple tree next an orange tree. The point was to teach Israel about faithfulness, commitment, and devotion solely to God. Even in the way they dressed and raised animals and grew plants, that idea of oneness was to be something for them to cherish and protect--especially because they were the only monotheistic people of the time.
 
Circumcision was a sign of God's people and it's only purpose was simply to show that Israel was set apart. There was something different and distinct about this people, starting in their origination (which is why I speculate that God chose circumcision, targetting the male reproductive organ). It's almost a physical symbol of removing the sinful nature from the design of man, some have guessed. Jesus is even a step further--he was born of a virgin, and no human father was involved in his conception at all. He was born sinless, without a fallen nature.
                When Jesus confronts the Jewish authorities and accuses them of following the traditions of man instead of God (Mark 7:6-9), he's exposing how they tried to obey all those laws (like not wearing clothes from two different materials) but ignored the lesson behind them (complete and total devotion to the one God). They had all the rules, but they lacked the very heart that should be behind them.  Imagine giving a gift to your spouse every anniversary saying, "The law says I have to give this to you, so here it is." That kind of obedience to the law doesn't honor the one it was meant for because the person's heart was not in the obedience. He was not trying to honor his spouse; he was just trying to obey the rules.

If people in the Old Testament weren't allowed to worship things made by their hands, what was the purpose of the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Temple?

                The prohibition against worshiping man-made objects was to keep the people understanding that man was God-made, not that God was man-made.  Worshiping things made by one's own hands is idolatry. It comes with the idea that if the object is destroyed, the god is weakened or destroyed. The objects were worshiped as though they were essentially the same as the god itself.
                The ark was not a designated object for worship, and neither was the temple which the ark was placed in. They were places for worship to happen--where sacrifices, offerings, and prayers took place; but such activity was not restricted to these locations. God established His presence long before the ark was built, and He had made it a point not to think He was restricted to the physical location of any man-made thing. So when God condescends upon the tabernacle (which was a tent that held the ark before the temple was built), the people of Israel were very aware that God wasn't contained in that place, but that He chose to make His presence there more direct and special than other places. During the time when God's presence was in the ark (but not limited to it), He was also still leading the people in a pillar of cloud and fire. He also operated throughout all the region of His people in bringing about manna every morning.

 

Why did God ask people to sacrifice innocent animals?  Couldn't God have asked them to sacrifice something else?  It seems cruel.

                Animal sacrifices were offered as a substitutionary atonement for a person's sin, but they only served with temporary effect because an animal is not the same as a person in essence or value. The atonement had to be blood, else the wage of sin would not be paid (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:22). Hence, no plant sacrifice would do. Something had to die to pay for the death we owed. Christ was the ultimate atoning sacrifice, putting an end to the need for animals to be used. His blood was the once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27).

 

Did animal sacrifices really appease the wrath of God for the time being? How could the wrath of God be satisfied (albeit temporarily) by anything other than the death of Jesus?

                Animal sacrifices didn't appease God's wrath, else Jesus would not have to come and die for the sin of the world. Animal sacrifices were only appeasing in the sense that the people would recognize the grievousness of their sin, their guilt before God, their need for forgiveness, and the God-given means of a substitutionary atonement. Animal sacrifices had no power in and of themselves (ex. Amos 5:21-24), but it was always an issue of the heart--God wanted a heart that understood repentance and mercy and faith; He wasn't interested in the external religious activity (Hosea 6:6).

                All of that was to prepare the people for the coming Savior. Once Jesus came and died, that meaning of the animal sacrifices became very clear. That's why the Church doesn't practice animal sacrifices for the projected hope of a Messiah. Instead we hold communion in remembrance of His finished work.

 

What is the definition of uncleanness in Leviticus?  There is the logical definition that applies to infectious diseases, but there seems to be a ritualistic definition about menstruating women with no obvious purpose.

                The word "unclean" was used in the Bible much like it's used today: to identify something as imperfect, unattractive, and basically bad for you.  When God used the word "unclean" with Israel in Leviticus, He basically had two major categorical types of uncleanness.   First, you could be morally unclean, also sometimes referred to as spiritually unclean. This meant that you were in the wrong, guilty of a sinful attitude and/or action. This kind of uncleanness is descriptive of all people when we look at the scope of our lives, since no one is perfect and without sin.  Second, you could be ceremonially unclean, which was always a temporary condition.  Ceremonial uncleanness was more intended to teach a lesson about God. For instance, touching a dead body would make you ceremonially unclean. That didn't mean there was something magically bad about corpses, but it did demonstrate God's reverence for life and the reality that death is a result of sin. Seminal fluid and menstruation also was ceremonially unclean, demonstrating that in our very nature and essence, human beings are stained by sin that renders us unworthy of God's presence. 
                Today, moral uncleanness is still a reality. We still struggle with sin and that does affect our intimacy relationship with God. But ceremonial uncleanness no longer applies to the Church, as everything that was intended to be taught was finally and fully demonstrated in the life and teaching of Christ. Jesus labored fervently to correct the Jewish misunderstanding that uncleanness somehow constructed a spiritual ranking of who was holier than who. What He showed us instead was that no one could really go through any part of life without at some point becoming unclean, and that showed us how holy and perfect and set apart God is, and how much we fall short and need His divine grace and forgiveness to be accepted into His presence.
 
The laws about being clean and unclean were meant to humble us in recognition of our fallenness, not to puff us up in the accomplishment of our religious rituals.

 

Why does Leviticus 11:6 say the rabbit chews the cud when it does not?

                "Chewing the cud" was not a scientifically precise term like it is today. Remember that this was written in 2000 BC. Moses isn't talking about chewing cud the same way we talk about it with our big biology brains.  The emphasis is not on cud, but on chewing. Note the nose-wiggling that rabbits do when they eat. That motion is characteristically similar to the way larger animals (who do precisely chew cud) eat their food. For a large, illiterate population of agricultural nomads, setting down dietary policy was built on pragmatic mnemonic, not digestive science. "Chewing the cud" described the motion to help identify which animals were permissible to eat. It was not meant to make all the people go find their biology books (which didn't exist and which they couldn't read) to see if the animal's diet actually fell into the taxonomical category of "cud."

 

Why does Leviticus 11:21-23 state flying things that have 4 feet such as locusts, when nothing that flies has 4 feet and locusts have 6?

                In Hebrew, the hind legs that were used for springing were not actually called "legs." Crickets and locusts, then, would have 4 legs and 2 springers.

 

Where is incest mentioned in the Bible?

Leviticus 18 has a lot of laws on sexual relations.  Even though we don't practice the Jewish laws today, they still indicate to us a very good idea of what God communicated as right and wrong values.

 

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says that if a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman with whom he is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.  Why is this okay?

                This is definitely one of those Old Testament laws that require an informed understanding of the historical-cultural context from which it was written. To our ears, it sounds like the woman has been condemned to a horrible marriage with no hope of ever being happy, and it seems to cheapen the purpose and point of marriage.
                First, the rapist must be understood as being guilty of this one crime in this one instant. If he were guilty of other crimes (violence, theft, etc.) he would have been put to death or exiled for those crimes. For this law to work, the man would have been only guilty of this. If the man raped a married/engaged woman, he would be put to death. So the law is very specific: if a man rapes a virgin, unmarried and not engaged. This should tip us off to seeing that in all other cases, the man was put to death (and the woman too if she consented to sex outside her marriage) which should form for us a foundational understanding that God is protecting marriage, not cheapening it.
                When we think of marriage, we think of romance as our key to happiness within that relationship. That kind of thinking became popular after the Romantic Era. Before that, marriage was parentally arranged, and the key to happiness in marriage in society was predominantly connected to fruitful childbearing. In fact, many undeveloped countries even now think of marriage more in terms of family descent rather than romantic relationship.
                If we understand that, then it helps us understand the concept of virginity. A woman's virginity is her promise of purity to the family line into which she marries. Knowing she is a virgin when you marry her ensures that the children born from her are indeed from her husband and no other. Women who were not virgins were almost entirely impossible to wed off to a suitor, since it meant she was not exclusively his and was unreliable in terms of marital fidelity. 
                Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is a restatement of a previous part of the Old Testament (actually, all of Deuteronomy is a recap of the three books before it). The law originally comes from Exodus 22:16-17.
                This law states that if a man has sex with an unmarried woman, he must pay the brideprice and marry her and he can't divorce her ever. This was not to reward his behavior. On the contrary, in that society, it was meant to protect the woman! It meant she would not be disgraced and unfit for marriage to a suitor. She would be guaranteed a marriage so that she could bear children. Again, marriage was not constructed around the notion of romance. Because she was violated, she was guaranteed a permanent place in marriage without immunity to divorce, which was completely different from other marriages (Jewish law had corrupted parts that allowed men to divorce their wives almost on a whim; Jesus corrects that in Matthew 5:31-32).
                This also meant that any man who was willing to have sex with a woman was legally bound to commit to her. He wasn't allowed to be promiscuous or to treat her as a one-night stand. Sexual intimacy is protected by God under the confines of marriage.
                Note that the woman's family had a say in this matter. The Deuteronomy passage doesn't mention the small little caveat in Exodus where the woman's father can decline against the marriage. In this case the man must still pay the brideprice (basically, still give her a diamond ring), and the woman can remain single (though this was not a preferred thing since she then becomes almost impossible to wed off to a suitor now).
                The law was not constructed to condemn the woman to marriage. The purpose was the opposite: it was to make sure that no man could simply rob her of the opportunity to fulfill her position as a wife and mother. He could not treat her as a sexual object, and he could not treat sex as a physical pleasure apart from a marital commitment. These are still values that God upholds today.

 

Have you ever heard of Book of Jasher? It's referenced in Joshua, but is it credible?

                The book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua 10 and 2 Samuel 1.  It's basically something like a compilation of poems or songs about Israel's heroes. It's just one of many books that Old Testament refers to (such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21), the Book of Samuel the Seer, the Book of Nathan the Prophet, and the Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29). Some of the songs could be written by Solomon; after all, he wrote thousands of songs (1 Kings 4:32) but only 2 of them made it into the Bible (Psalm 72 and 127).

                The New Testament also quotes other non-biblical works. For instance, the apostle Paul quotes from a Cretan poet Epimenides in Titus 1:12, and also from Epimenides and Aradus in Acts 17:28. Jude references two different apocryphal passages as well.  The fact that the Bible quotes these books doesn't indicate that they're part of the biblical canon. It just means that those books had something useful for the biblical authors to point at and say, "See, even THAT book says this."

                There have been plenty of books called "The Book of Jasher" in history, but the actual original one that's referred to in Joshua and 2 Samuel is lost to us.

 

Do you think King Solomon went to heaven?

                My guess is yes.  King Solomon certainly enjoyed a peaceful reign that was riddled with sinful promiscuity that contributed to the eventual civil war that split the kingdom into two. But the Bible never seems to speak of Solomon as an unbeliever (see how Jesus refers to his splendor in Matthew 6:29). Rather, it seems he (like his father David) made serious error that had kingdom-wide repercussions. But this did not mean that he didn't repent and seek after God's forgiveness (as his father did). If Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 are indicative of Solomon's heart when he wrote it, then it leads us to believe that he had come to know the fruitlessness of chasing after worldly pleasure and the everlasting worth of following after God.

                On the other hand, in 1 Kings 11:9-13, God tells Solomon of the political consequences for his apostasy, for Solomon had turned to other gods (11:1-2). He continued his reign peacefully, and then died. Whether or not he ever repented is not stated, and because it is not stated, it's not wise to simply assume it. Solomon turned away from God and died. That's what the Bible tells us. In stark contrast to his father, King David who repented of his sin and sought after God's heart and built up the united kingdom of Israel, there is no mention that Solomon repented after he sought after other gods, and his sin was the reason why the kingdom eventually divided into two.

                Ultimately only God knows the answer to the question.  My particular hunch, though, is that he did repent.  Because there's no hard reasoning for either side, I'm left with really just a small reason: I don't believe God would have used Solomon as a significant author of the Bible if he were an unbeliever.  There are times where unbelievers are quoted, but there is no other author of any book of the Bible that is not a true follower of God.  Because Solomon wrote two psalms and many proverbs and Ecclesiastes, I believe he could only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit who works in those who believe.

 

Isaiah 11:12 and Revelation 7:1 state that the earth is flat--"the four corners of the earth."  Can you explain this?

                That kind of misunderstanding only really happens if you approach the Scriptures with the intent to be skeptical.  A simple and plain reading of the text will direct the reader to the author's original meaning--not anachronistic scientific trivia.  If I told you I searched the "four corners of the earth," I don't think you'd think I was telling you the earth was flat.  I don't think you'd find me making a point about the shape of the earth at all. I think you'd get the point that I was saying, "I looked all over the place."

                Even today we still use words like "sunrise" to indicate that the sun goes up in the sky.  This isn't a remark about a geocentric universe with the earth revolving around us.  The point is to indicate a time in the morning, described by what we see in the sky.  The statement does not try to describe the spatial placement of earth and sun.

                Revelation 7:1, at least, seems to be more directly descriptive. But that should call you to be more intelligent about how you read it. Remember that it is apocalyptic literature. You are directly violating the intent of the text if you are interpreting it literally when it is intentionally figurative. 

 

In Isaiah 14:1-2, why are sojourners called slaves to Israel when in Ezekiel 47:22 says they are to be as Israel's children?

                The word "sojourners" does indeed appear in Isaiah 14 and in Ezekiel 47. Isaiah speaks in 14:1-2 in the context of Gentile oppressors to the nation of Israel. God says that one day He is going to turn the tables and have Israel rule over the nations. That forces us to deal with the kind of rulership that Israel will have: will it be equally oppressive as the Gentile rulership they experienced? Or will be gracious and just, in the likeness of God? Since Isaiah is speaking of the end times, the only sensible conclusion is to say that Israel will rule in a godly way, not a sinful one. "Slaves," of course, shouldn't be understood as the kind of slavery that America exercised. A slave was a servant, but God has in mind a kind of slavery that does not exercise abuse or mistreatment (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). If that's how God wants slavery done, then you can bet that when He restores Israel to godliness, they will exercise slavery under God's instruction. In Ezekiel's case, the prophet says that those Gentiles will come as children of God. That's entirely true, as you yourself are a Gentile who is a child of God. You also will submit under the rulership of Israel, serving God and being justly judged/ruled.

 

In Isaiah 21:6, 21:11-12, and Ezekiel 3:17, what is a watchman?

                The idea of a watchman in Isaiah is figurative. God is telling Israel to stay alert and be on the lookout to see what God is going to do. So in 21:6, God is saying He will destroy Babylon, and he tells Israel to "post a watchman," meaning He's telling them to wait and see what He's going to do.

 

In Isaiah 44:28, who is Cyrus?

                Cyrus is the Persian emperor who will eventually rule after Nebuchadnezzar. In the scope of Isaiah, God predicted that a man named Cyrus would take over Babylon, but that prediction was made over 100 years before it actually happened!

 

What is Isaiah 66:1-3 talking about?  Is it saying that God won't receive us if we aren't humble and contrite in spirit?

                Yes.
                God is confronting the self-righteousness of Israel and Judah. Their religious rituals weren't able to save them. Their sacrifices and offerings meant nothing if their hearts didn't repent and trust in God. That's where you have a contrast between what God wants in verse 2, and what the people were in verse 3.
                The same was true during Jesus' time. Israel's religious activity wouldn't make them right before God. Their sacrifices and offerings were supposed to be expressions of gratitude and surrender, not claims to entitlement and worthiness. That's why Jesus preached to them to repent and believe.
                The same is still true today. If ever we think that our church involvement somehow earns us credit in God's sight and makes us more righteous than another, we've misunderstood the gospel. Only those that know their absolute unworthiness and Christ's absolute grace will ever understand (and therefore experience) salvation.

Can you explain Jeremiah 31:22?

                Jeremiah 31:22 is among the most puzzling verses in all the Bible since it's clearly some kind of idiomatic expression, but we have no corroboration from external literary sources to verify any of our guesses as to what it means.
                It's important to take note of the immediate context of God speaking to idolatrous Israel and remarking that He will initiate some action to bring the nation back to proper worship. The idea that "a woman will surround a man" has an unmistakable intention to denote unexpectedness, as set up in the clause preceding it: "The LORD will create a new thing on the earth..."
                Because the context is of Israel and its idolatry, and because the verse immediately after speaks of the return from Babylonian exile and captivity (which Israel was going to experience for 70 years, according to Jeremiah's foretelling), it seems as though the verse speaks of a weaker force that will overpower a stronger one. That could refer to Babylon (an ungodly Gentile nation) overtaking and exiling Israel (God's people), or it could speak of Israel eventually returning to the land despite having been conquered by Babylon; or it could mean a slew of other possibilities.
                Because we don't have reason to pinpoint any particular interpretation at this time, what we're left with is simply acknowledging that God is going to do something unexpected that no one saw coming.

 

Is there connection between Ezekiel being called “son of man” and Jesus being called the same thing?  Why is Ezekiel the only prophet referred to in this way?

                Ezekiel's title of "son of man" is a distinct indicator of his humanness--a fact that he stresses in contrast to God's divine glory throughout his prophetic book. The glory of God is one of the dominant themes of Ezekiel, moreso than any of the other prophetic books, so it's very fitting that he stresses the idea that when God is speaking to him, Ezekiel is just a man. He's not from a divine origin or a heavenly household. He's a man who is a son of a normal man. He has very a natural, earthly, human nature.

                Jesus, in like manner, adopts the title "Son of Man." He does it more because of the way it comes from Daniel 7, which not only speaks of His humanness, but also His messiahship. That means there is something very connected to Ezekiel's usage of the title--it still speaks of Christ's full humanness. But there is also something very distinct about it, since Jesus refers to himself in the articular: THE Son of Man. He is THE ONE that the very special title in Daniel 7 refers to.

                As far as the other prophets go, they were different authors with different audiences under different circumstances at different times. God may or may not have also called them by that title, but even if He did, it didn't seem to be something they needed to repeatedly make a big deal out of. Most of the other prophets simply say something like, "The word of the LORD came to _____, saying..." and go right into whatever God told them. Ezekiel seems to be the only one that starts it off with what God calls him: "The word of the LORD came to Ezekiel, saying, 'Son of man, ...'" It was a big deal to Ezekiel as a reminder of his smallness in the face of God, but in the sense of authorial consistency between prophetic authors, it's not an issue of concern or question. Ezekiel does it, the others don't; it doesn't matter.

 

Does Ezekiel 16 prophesy Jesus, since God says, "I will establish for you an everlasting covenant."?
                God says He would establish an everlasting covenant MANY times in the Old Testament (like Genesis 9:16 to Noah and 17:7 to Abraham). Almost every single prophetic book is about the impending doom of Israel for its disobedience, and its inevitable restoration because of God's faithfulness and grace, and several times the term "everlasting covenant" is used (Isaiah 55:3 and Jeremiah 32:40 are two good examples). Each usage of the everlasting covenant is in reference to something related to the future work of the Messiah, but that doesn't mean that all the specific imagery in the text of passages like Ezekiel 16 are christological in their immediate meaning. Rather, they speak (often cryptically) about a future of peace with God, and that peace is fully realized by the work of Christ.

 

Why don't prophets exist today?

                Prophets (in the sense of the Old Testament) don't exist today because the nation Israel is not operating in a time before the Messiah, maintaining the blessing of the covenant of the Promised Land by the Law, centralizing faith into distinct dispensations and oracles of judgment upon idolatry.  Prophets existed during that time because books did not (at least, not in the mass quantity and ease of printing like that do today). Prophets existed during that time because people needed direct confrontation on their unfaithfulness, including clear consequences that would be fulfilled in the case of their repentance or continued rebellion.

                Fortunately, the prophets have provided for us enough examples of God's providence and sovereignty that we can now operate as people of faith, not of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith that trusts in Christ without demanding to see a sign is true faith, true trust (John 20:29; Matthew 12:39).

 

Were people in the Old Testament all Jews?  Were any of them Catholic or worshiped other deities? 

                Not all people in the Old Testament were Jews. There were people of many different races, like Egyptians, Philistines, Amorites, Moabites, Ethiopians, etc. The Jews were one of the smallest and weakest nations, and they survived purely by the protection from God.
                None of the Old Testament characters were Catholic (again, since Catholicism is based on teachings about Jesus, who was not yet born in the Old Testament). Many worshiped other deities. That was such a problem, in fact, that God instituted the first of the Ten Commandments to be "You shall have no other gods before me" in Exodus 20.

Why did God wait for Israel to fail so many times before sending Jesus?

                God sent Jesus when the time was right according to His plan. I speculate that the following factors were at least a part of His reasoning:
                1) Alexander the Great had established Greek as the lingua franca (common language) of the known world. That made distribution of information very easy. The message of Christ carried far on that convenience. If he had arrived earlier, it would have been during a time when civilizations were much more independent, without interaction.
                2) Israel had lost its faith even though it kept its religion. The nation had become a system of works and rites and rituals that mimicked all the external appearances of godliness, but denied the critical aspect of repentance and surrender and faith. God's people were no longer the light they were intended to be, and they didn't even know it since they thought they were legitimately serving God (instead of idols as they did in the past).
                3) The arrival of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament in many different ways. Those prophesies, like all the others, took the course of history to fulfill--they didn't just happen in a week or two.
 
                I'm sure He had more reasons than these, but the ones I stated above are pretty substantial in my opinion. I don't think God was waiting for Israel to "fail so many times" before sending Christ. I think He knew the moment that Adam and Eve failed, mankind needed a Savior. The rest has been God unfolding His plan of salvation throughout the course of all our history, defining our present, and determining our future.

 

Matthew says there were 41 generations from Abraham to Jesus and Luke says there were 56.  Is this a contradiction?

                There is no contradiction between the two genealogical accounts.  Matthew gives Jesus' legal lineage down through his earthly father Joseph, of whom he has no blood relation. This demonstrates Jesus' legal descent as son of David and son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1,16).  When compared with the genealogy in Luke, we're not presented with a poverty of explanations, but a plethora instead. 

                First, Luke could very well have been relating Jesus' biological genealogy through his mother Luke, using 1:27 only as an aside to say that Jesus was assumed the son of Joseph, when in reality he is not. In this case, 1:27 would be parenthetical, and Jesus' genealogy would really be through Mary in the rest of the account.
                Second, Luke could also have simply used a different line of descent. In genealogies, one did not list off ALL the ancestral patriarchs, but it was normal to skip generations and only list the ones that were significant or noteworthy--especially skipping those ancestors that may have brought embarrassment to the family. Luke presents 56 generations that trace Jesus back to Adam, the first human. That would imply that Adam lived 1400 years before Jesus, meaning 1400 BC, which is just not true (especially since that's 600 years later than when Moses wrote the Pentateuch!). So there's a very obvious generational gap that is employed in the genealogical record. Matthew and Luke are simply noting different ancestors that highlight Jesus according to the authors' differing emphases--Matthew picks legally significant ancestors that Jewish audiences would recognize; Luke picks normal names that demonstrate Christ's humanity without any particular emphasis on his Jewish heritage since Luke is writing to Gentiles.
                A third and very compelling possibility is simply that a levirate marriage took place before Joseph, meaning a man died and his brother continued the deceased man's lineage by exercising his position as a kinsman redeemer. In such a case, the child could be reckoned legally as the deceased man's, though biologically as the brother's. If this is the case, we know Matthew took the legal route, while Luke took the biological one.

 

Can you explain Matthew 7:6?

                Let's start with verse 1: When Jesus says "do not judge," he is not saying to throw your judgment away altogether. The Bible has always called us to be discerning (Philippians 1:10) and to test what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). A result of true spiritual worship is the ability to know what is God's will (Romans 12:2). So those are capacities that we need to continually grow in and exercise, and their most frequent use will be in dealing with other people. God instructs His people to have judges, just as Jethro instructed Moses (Exodus 18:17-24). He also expects the church to exercise discipline on its members, meaning they have to be able to judge whether their members are doing what's right or what's wrong (Matthew 18:15-20). Jesus actually tells his disciples to rightly judge (John 7:24).

                So to have the right idea about verse 1, make sure you understand that it is not trying to tell you to simply let people get away with whatever they want and not judge them for it. The use of the word "judge" here means you are not to be judgmental in a condemning sense of superiority. We're always called to judge right and wrong, but we're never allowed to treat people like they are less than us. Just like in English, when we say, "don't judge me," we're not saying, "don't have an opinion about the morality of my actions." When we say it, we mean, "don't act like you're better than me and I'm inferior because I failed to meet your standard."

                So verses 3-5 gives one example of how to be wrongfully judgmental. It describes totally condemning a person for a small thing when you're guilty of a bigger one. Basically, this describes being over-critical.  Verse 6, then, gives an opposite example of how to be wrongfully judgmental. It describes totally flattering a person when they are undeserving. Basically, this describes being over generous.

Now, verse 6 doesn't mean you can't exercise grace and generosity. Those are very important to frequently be dispensing. But when Jesus says don't give sacred things to dogs or pearls to pigs, he's saying don't be so foolish as to throw exorbitant value at people who might severely abuse it. So don't keep giving money to a drug addict, don't keep housing a disobedient runaway, don't try to date an abusive boyfriend. "Dogs" and "pigs" were strong uses of unclean, vicious, and savage animals in Israel. They weren't cute, domestic, or harmless. Jesus doesn't want his people to be completely undiscerning about their resources in how they love their neighbors. We're to keep a level head to always be making wise decisions, especially in how we exercise grace and generosity.

                The worst misinterpretation of this verse is to say, "Don't give the gospel to the morally corrupt." That's not what Jesus is saying at all. Jesus himself is out to save sinners (Luke 5:32; Romans 5:8-10). It's precisely the morally corrupt that we're going out to save!

If the use of the word "sacred" in verse 6 is applied to the gospel, then the only time it could be used properly is when you've already tried to share the gospel with someone who has very clearly and intentionally communicated his own opposition to it. In this case, Jesus even taught his disciples not to keep trying to beg them to listen to you, but to move on and use your time wisely to spend it evangelizing elsewhere (Matthew 10:14). The apostle Paul is a great example of this (Acts 13:44-51; 18:5-6; Titus 3:10-11).

 

In Matthew 16:4, what is the sign of Jonah God is referring to?

                Jesus explains the sign of Jonah first in Matthew 12:38-41, which is why he so quickly mentions it in 16:4.

                The "sign of Jonah" is a term Jesus uses to say that Jonah demonstrated something that foreshadowed the Messiah. Jonah was in the belly of a fish for "three days and three nights" (which was really a Hebrew expression to say 3 separate but consecutive calendar days--not to say it was 72 hours; it could have been part of the first day, all of the second day, and part of the third day). Jesus was in the grave for "three days and three nights" (again, that's an expression of 3 separate but consecutive calendar days, not necessarily 72 hours, which is why dying on Friday and rising on Sunday still appropriately fulfills that idea).

 

In Mark 1:2-3, the ESV says Isaiah wrote the quoted Scripture, but Malachi was the one who wrote it.  Why is this?  Is that why the footnote says "in the prophets?"

                Verse 2 is from Malachi 3:1, but verse 3 is from Isaiah 40:3. Mark cites Isaiah as the author because it's the Isaiah quotation that carries the primary assertion he's trying to make about John the Baptist (who is his subject in verse 4) as the prophesied forerunner to the true Messiah.
                The King James Version uses "in the prophets" instead of "in Isaiah" but attestation to that translation is weak since that comes from a small number of 9th century manuscripts (the Majority Text manuscript) and is greatly outnumbered by thousands more of older manuscripts (dating back even to the 1st century) from more reliable sources.

 

How is it possible that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth when Jesus had two older brothers?

                The question assumes Jesus had two older brothers before He was born. He did not. Joseph and Mary were engaged, but not married, and when Joseph found out she was pregnant, he planned to break off their marriage (Matthew 1:18-19).  The brothers of Jesus whom we hear about later (for instance, in Luke 8:19-20), are brothers born from Joseph and Mary after Jesus was born (since he was Mary's first child). They are younger than him and are his half-brothers.
                Strangely, the Catholic church tries to maintain the virginity of Mary and so re-translates "brothers" to "cousins." This is an error. The word "adelphos" means "brother," not anything else.

 

What exactly is an apostle? Can there be apostles today?

                The word "apostle" really just means "sent one" from the Greek "apostolos." It's based on the verb, "apostello," which means "I send." An apostle is anyone who is sent (usually as a messenger) to perform a task. When you're speaking about how the Bible talks about apostles, you get a more narrowed context:

                Jesus chooses 12 of his disciples and makes them apostles. That transformation is evident right in Matthew 10:1-5. After Jesus ascends to heaven, Peter decides that it is necessary to replace the traitor Judas with someone else who has also walked with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, throughout his teachings, and witnessed his resurrection (Acts 1:15-22). So typically, the term "apostles" is restricted to the 12 men that walked with Jesus (noting that Judas, the 12th, was later replaced by Matthias).
One particular exception to that is the apostle Paul. He was specially called by Christ by way of a vision that struck him blind (Acts 9). He ended up spending 3 years in Nabatean Arabia where the Lord directly taught him to understand the messianic truth of the Scriptures--namely, the Old Testament. He briefly explains this in Galatians 1:13-24. 
                Some people also add Barnabas and Silas and other characters into the same category because they also were "sent" by the church to do God's work. But the strictest biblical use of the term will land only on those who were directly called by Christ and sent by him specifically; so the apostles would be the 12 men who followed Jesus, and also Paul who was called by Jesus later.
                Are there apostles today? If you go with the strict definition of apostle, then no, there are not apostles today. If you go with a more general use of the term by including people who are sent by the church, then the word "apostle" really comes out to mean "missionary." Yes, those exist today. Some churches try to propose that there are apostles today that have the same kind of authority and miraculous power as Peter and Paul and others. These churches are mistaken. The church started off on the foundations of the biblical apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), but is now carried on by the ministry of evangelists and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11).

 

Did the apostles have wives?

                1 Corinthians 9:3 implies that Jesus' brothers (who were born to Joseph and Mary, not conceived by the Holy Spirit like He was) and Cephas (the Aramaic name for Simon Peter) were married.   Mark 1:30 directly states that Simon Peter had a mother-in-law. He was definitely married.

 

When Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan,” could he be talking directly to Satan instead of Peter? Like the time "Legion" possessed a man, instead of talking with the man, Jesus was talking with Legion.

                Jesus is making a point by calling Simon Peter as "Satan" in Matthew 16:23. The point wasn't to deflect blame toward the devil. The point was to demonstrate to Simon Peter that by opposing Jesus' move toward the cross, he was doing exactly what the devil would do. It's a grave responsibility. The verse specifically says, "Jesus said to PETER (not to Satan), 'Get behind me, Satan!'" He's talking directly to Peter, not to Satan.

                That conversation takes place IMMEDIATELY after Simon Peter makes a great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (verse 16). Jesus rewards him by naming him Peter, stating that the church would be built on his confession, and giving him the "keys to the kingdom" to unlock the gospel salvation for the world. During that conversation is where Jesus mentions that he's going to suffer and die, and Simon Peter reacts to that by trying to stop Jesus. That's what provoked those words. This is one of many episodes in Simon Peter's progression where he experiences great blessing and makes embarrassing mistakes.

 

Why is there so much focus on the suffering of Christ when it seems like Paul endured more?

                The issue is not about who suffered more. Whether Paul did or not, that doesn't change the main fact: God's Son became flesh to save mankind, and men tortured and killed him. It's not bad to realize the horror of the act. It would be sin to ignore it.  Focusing on the torture and pain should always point the disciple to understanding God's mercy and grace. The undeserved punishment, in all its severity, is the pinnacle of His love for us and His will to save. If we focus on capturing sympathy without urging repentance, we've missed the point of all that God had done for us.
                One major difference between Paul and Jesus, though: Paul was born a sinful human being. His life was full of evil up until the point of his salvation. He had many Christians tortured and killed. For him to undergo the same thing would be only a fraction of the justice that was due him.  Jesus, however, was sinless. He did no evil and deserved no punishment at all. What made his suffering "worse" was not really in the severity of the pain, but in the injustice of the act. It would be as torturing an innocent child instead of a criminal. The fact that it was undeserved is where our greatest outrage should be sourced.

 

In the Bible, there are multiple mentions of the alabaster jar.  Were these the same event or two different ones?

                Actually, all four gospels remark about an episode where Jesus is anointed by a woman with an alabaster jar. Matthew and Mark record the same account--that is clear from their texts. Luke and John's accounts are a little more difficult to place.
Modern scholarship is going to be all over the map on this one, but if you hold to biblical inerrancy, then you really come to a general consensus with the majority of evangelicals: There were two episodes where Jesus was anointed. Don't be fooled by the single similarity of a woman with alabaster. Here is a breakdown of each episode, and an explanation of each lettered point.

                Episode #1 (Matthew 26, Mark 14, John 12):

a) Jesus is at Simon the Leper's house.

b) The woman is simple "Mary of Bethany."

c) The disciples are critical of Jesus' actions.

d) Judas defects at Jesus' actions and plots with the Jewish leaders, chronologically placing this episode at the Passion Week in southern Israel (Bethany is next to Jerusalem).

                Episode #2 (Luke 7):

a) Jesus is at Simon the Pharisees house.

b) The woman is not named, but is described as one who "lived a sinful life."

c) The host is critical of Jesus' actions.

d) No mention of Judas' defection is made, only a remark of Jesus' progress of evangelizing in Galilee, chronologically placing this episode early in his ministry, in northern Israel.

                Explanation of why they are two separate accounts:

a) "Simon" is a common name, like "Judas," and is encountered many times through the Bible. It is not surprising that two men have the same name. Being a leper or a Pharisee, however, should distinguish them rather obviously as two different persons, since they are on opposite sides of the religious and social ladders of their Jewish society.

b) Mary of Bethany is the sister of Martha, and both seem to be well accepted and active in their social contexts, without mention of any particular social stigmas regarding their histories. A woman who lived a sinful life, on the other hand, would have garnered much more hostility or at least skepticism, as did all of Jesus' other dealings with prostitutes, sinners, and tax collectors. This points again to the two women being of different identities.

c) Conflict with Jesus' is dealt with meticulously by all four gospel authors. The fact that these two episodes demonstrate two different conflicts would point to the episodes being separate, not speaking of the same event. If they had been one and the same, then the four authors would have likely recorded the opposition that Jesus received from both sides--the host and the disciples. But, given the first two points, that would be impossible, since the hosts are different persons and the women are different persons.

d) The two accounts are at different places and different times. They cannot be the same event, unless Jesus has invoked certain time-continuum lapses as those found in Star Trek.

 

Why did Jesus tell the sick girl's parents not to tell others about the healing in Mark 5:43?

                If you notice, Mark is 16 chapters long. Chapter 5 is still in the early movements of the book--rather, the early movements of Jesus' ministry in northern Israel (Galilee). He is avoiding gaining too much publicity so quickly because that kind of attention was going to garner Pharisaical opposition much earlier than He intended.  I'm sure you've had the experience of people telling you how good a movie was before you saw it (like Toy Story 3 or some other movie). After all that hype, how do you approach that movie? Instead of going in with a clean slate and watching it with objectivity, we tend to go in waiting to be impressed. Our expectations influence our assessment of things. 

                Jesus was containing as much of his publicity as He could in the early ministry to avoid becoming a giant hype. He would later reveal that He was the Messiah, but until then, He wanted to minister to as many people as He could with His teaching and sometimes miracles. They would later figure out for themselves who and what He was. That was far more reliable than going around saying He was the Messiah and then having to try and prove it to a skeptical crowd.

 

Why does Jesus curse the fig tree before clearing the temple in one of the gospels, but then in a different gospel he curses the fig tree after driving out the gamblers?  Why are there timing differences in the Bible?

                None of the gospel writers were trying to write a chronological account of Christ's life. They were using episodes of their experiences with him to make certain points about who he was and what he was doing.
                When you and your friend tell stories about how you two spent the last three years, you'll both probably tell things in sections that differ in order as well. One might talk about how you met, then how you fought, then how you spent certain holidays, etc. Those accounts won't be chronological; they'll be topical. The gospels do the same.

Why does Jesus weep right before he raises Lazarus from the dead? He even said himself that Lazarus would rise again, so tears resulting from the grieving of Lazarus' death seems illogical.

                The incident you're referring to is from John 11. Watch how in v21, Martha says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Her statement is followed in v22 by reason and trust as she acknowledges that Jesus can still perform God's miracles even now. Jesus replies to her with a direct affirmation of her statement, saying her brother will rise again. She believes Lazarus will, but she is imagining it as his resurrection in the end times to live in his eternal body on the new heavens and new earth. Jesus reminds her that he is the "resurrection and the life" and she affirms his true identity as the Christ, the Savior of the world.

                That conversation is framed around statements of truth that slowly zero in on the identity of Jesus. But when you get to Mary (Martha's younger sister), there is something very similar and something very different.  Mary comes to Jesus in v32 and says the EXACT SAME WORDS: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." But what follows that statement is not a discussion of Jesus' messiahship. Instead, she breaks down weeping. This affects Jesus emotionally as he was "deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled" (v33). He goes to where Lazarus is laid and there he joins in, weeping with them. His heart is very visibly affected by their grief and sadness, and even though he is going to revive Lazarus, that doesn't make him numb to what he sees. In fact, his weeping is understood by everyone as an expression of his love for Lazarus (v36).

                I guess it's a lot like when I see my 2-year old son crying because he hit his head on something. I know that pain is going to go away, and I know he'll be absolutely fine--completely recovered without any lingering injury. But when he cries out in pain and fear and frustration, seeking my attention to bring some kind of comfort or protection, it always evokes a very mysterious concern and affection inside me that makes me want to take all the pain away, even when I think he deserves to feel it.

                Jesus had a plan to teach the disciples and the crowd that he had resurrection power. But that doesn't mean he doesn't feel the emotional weight of their grief, pain, fear, and frustration. He loved Lazarus, he loved Martha and Mary, and he loved those people. And whether or not their pain was going to go away doesn't nullify its gravity, intensity, sincerity, or validity from where they were at.

If a person in our church passes away, we grieve. We don't walk up to the family members and say, "Stop crying. He's in heaven." We cry, we mourn. We feel the emotional weight of the loss, because death was never something to be numb about. It's the horror and terrifying proof of man's sinfulness, and even a believer's death was cause to make Jesus cry. It's not like he should have been numb to the death. The plan to resurrect doesn't cancel the grief. Rather, the grief helped birth the plan to resurrect.

 

Did Judas Iscariot repent?

                Matthew 27:3 says that Judas repented in the King James Version, but a better translation is that he was "filled with remorse" as the NIV translates it. The Greek word is "metamelomai" which is different from our theological term for repentance which comes from the Greek word "metanoia." Judas did feel bad, he was seized with regret--as should any human being that causes the death of an innocent man--but that doesn't mean he came to saving faith.

 

What time of the day was Christ crucified?

                Jesus was crucified at approximately 9am (referred to as the "third hour" after sunrise according to Roman time in Mark 15:25).   At about noon, there was darkness over the whole land (Mark 15:33). Roman time would call that the "sixth hour" since it's about six hours past sunrise, but elsewhere the gospels it is referred to as the "twelfth hour" which is not Roman time, but Jewish time, which measured starting at midnight, not sunrise.  Jesus' crucifixion and the darkness that occurred during it both lasted until about 3pm, the "ninth hour" of Roman time.

 

Did John the Apostle survive being boiled in oil? Where in the Bible does it say that?

                It doesn't say that in the Bible. Some people wrote episodes like that in history, saying that the apostle John was boiled in oil, bitten by snakes, and persecuted by the government before finally being exiled to Patmos (the exile is a true event). But there's not certainty on whether or not those things are true. All we know is that he is the only disciple out of the 12 that did not get killed for his Christian faith. He died at a very old age.

 

I was reading Romans 8:35-39 and need clarification for v36.  Who is the speaker and who is it addressed to?

                Verse 36 is a really important verse to the original audience. Christians in Rome faced severe persecution for their faith in Christ instead of the Caesar. For this reason, Paul (the author) uses a quote from Psalm 44:22 to remind the reader (Christians in Rome) that followers of Jesus face suffering as a normal part of their faith. But no matter how harsh the circumstances, nothing separates us from the love of God (v35 and vv37-39). No amount of difficulty can sever the connection we have with the Sovereign Lord. After all, if God is for us, who can stand against us (v31)--meaning, what power on earth can undo our destiny in heaven?

 

What does it mean in Romans when it says that "all Israel will be saved?"

                It means that God has a plan to redeem ethnic Israel, even though they have rejected the Messiah that their Scriptures prophesied. God will remember His covenant with the people and again reach out to them as He's done so many times before in the Old Testament, and many will respond in faith. Their law won't save them, their traditions won't save them, and their ethnicity won't save them. It will still be salvation by faith in the work of Christ alone. Revelation says 144,000 Jews will come to faith (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes). That number might be literal or figurative, exact or approximate, but regardless of its numeric precision, the idea is clear that God has not forgotten the children of Abraham and will graciously save them, even after they have rejected Him.

 

What is "speaking in tongues?"  Is it real or fake?

                There are two big categories that apply to speaking in tongues:
                First, there's the miracle that takes place in Acts 2, where the disciples were able to speak in different languages to communicate to an international crowd. "Tongues" and "languages" is the exact same word. Some will say that the gift of speaking in tongues is the miracle of being able to instantly speaking a new language in order to quickly spread the gospel. This was much more common in the apostolic age, according to supporters of this explanation, and has significantly reduced or completely ceased after the apostles' time. 
                Second, there's the phenomenon where someone is able to speak without actually using words, but really by just making incoherent syllables. It's "speaking in jazz" as Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church describes it. I think it's much like those times where you are so full of emotion (let's say anger or sadness) that you don't have the words to express it. Speaking in tongues, by this explanation, is the God-given ability to pray without having to use words. It allows the believer to pray from the heart without the restriction of trying to articulate it in verbal form at all. This is what most people will assume is being spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14, including myself. 
                Some will say that the passage in Acts is the only way that the word "tongues" should be understood--namely, human language. When supporters of that idea come across 1 Corinthians 14, it begins to create some interpretive problems with the text. My opinion (after about 10 years of really studying this) is that Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 do not both deal with the same thing. Acts 2 is about an instance where apostles spoke in different languages. Corinthians is about the GIFT of tongues, which is not a term that's ever used in Acts 2. Even just considering the restrictions that are placed on speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 (such as not speaking in tongues without an interpreter, else unbelievers will not understand), it becomes rather curious that the Acts passage violates those very restrictions (since there were no interpreters and they were surrounded by unbelievers). In fact, why would 1 Corinthians 14 require that tongues-speakers use interpreters if what they were saying was in fact a human language? Couldn't they interpret themselves? Would they be saying things in French that they didn't understand without someone else translating for them?
                Long story short: speaking in tongues is the spiritual gift where a believer can communicate with God without having to construct words and sentences when he prays. His mouth will simply be speaking what would seem like nonsense to others, but his heart is fully engaged in worship to the Lord.

 

Was Hebrew the first language?

                There's no way to know what people spoke before Genesis 11 (where God diversifies languages). The Bible doesn't tell us.  My dad, however, told me Adam and Eve were Korean.

 

Can you explain 1 Corinthians 11:2-16? How does it relate in this day?

                The main point is verse 3 and it's restated in verse 7. Take hold of that first.

                The head covering that's being spoken of is most likely about hair. Some people thought it was about wearing veils, but ancient Greek pottery shows that proper women in that setting didn't always cover their heads in public with veils, so scratch that theory. Besides, if you reach back to much older times like Abraham and Isaac, you find that Rebecca didn't have her head covered with a veil until she met Isaac for their marriage. Eve didn't have a veil either. So the covering for the head is most likely speaking about hair.

In Corinth at the time, the proper demonstration of modesty and submission for women included having long hair. In fact, there was a movement of women feminists who shaved their heads and went bare-breasted in order to defy male authority. They didn't last long. Men, on the other hand, were the workers of the family and typically spent long hours in the sun doing whatever their labor was. Short hair was far more practical for this for safety, cleanliness, and overall comfort. It's not easy to do construction work or farm work in the desert sun with bangs that keep falling over your face.  So men had short hair and their faces and heads were "uncovered" in that sense. Women had long hair, which meant their heads were "covered." To wear your hair differently was an intentional statement of rebellion against that order of authority.

                Today women are not expected to wear a veil over your head (and neither were the original readers, as explained above). But women are also not required to have long hair, since that is no longer an external sign that indicates an internal attitude. Fashion has popularized hairstyles of various lengths, and virtually none of them are directly connoted with attitudes about the authority of the sexes. However, the intent of the passage still holds a principle for women today. Each woman's appearance is to indicate her modesty and submission. Verse 3 and 7 clearly indicate where God designates authority, and verses 8 and 9 explain further why this point is indisputable for anyone who believes the Word of God. Those value statements are not cultural, societal, temporal, or malleable. It's a static, unequivocal truth that is timeless and universal.

                It means women today need to learn better how to follow the lead of men, and men today need to learn better how to take care of women. Neither is to ignore his/her calling simply because he/she is dissatisfied with how the other sex is doing (or not doing) their part. If you're a man, take responsibility and lead your woman with strength and humility and holiness--don't expect her to mother you in such a way that you become a child around her. If you're a woman, respect and submit to your man. Don't scream at him or lecture him on how you demand to be treated, but approach him with an acknowledgement of his authority and communicate your interests/concerns in light of that.

                Ultimately what will come of this, if both parties do their part, is that the man will love the woman and express great care and affection for her--which is really what she needs. The woman will respect and follow her man as her leader--which is really what he needs. Men don't need chocolates and teddy bears, and women don't need to be the authority of every social circle they join. God knows best how He designed man and woman, and He instructs us to live in such a way as to follow the intended design, which will result in our most satisfying fulfillment.

 

In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul says that Jesus appeared to the Twelve after his resurrection, which is of course corroborated elsewhere in the Gospels. That said, why would Jesus appear to all Twelve, as opposed to just the Eleven? I'm talking about Judas.

                Judas was dead.  "The Twelve" refer to the original eleven plus Matthias who replaces Judas. Matthias is the new twelfth.

 

In Ephesians 2:10, when it says God prepared a life for us, does that mean God planned for some to go to heaven and some to go to hell?

                Ephesians 2 does not say that God prepared a life for us. It says that God prepared good works for us to carry out (v10), which isn't an argument for determinism in our daily actions, but that His plan all along was to dispense His grace upon the earth through the righteous lives of His own people.
                The argument from Ephesians 2 is to say that our trust in God ("faith") is not to our own credit. God has been the initiator--especially since it was by His own uninfluenced choice that He send a Savior for us. For that reason, we can only understand our own salvation to be to God's credit, not our own. We are saved by His grace, not by our works. We did not somehow earn His affection or merit His mercy. We only trusted in the solution that He chose to provide for us.
                While sovereign election does operate in our spiritual destiny, so does free agency.  People are destined to get what they choose: either a life with God as their Lord, or a life with themselves as their own lords. The former comes with all of God's power and blessing and provision and people. The latter comes with none of it, and the soul is left to be its own god as it chooses.

 

How can we use the Bible like a sword, as described in Ephesians 6:17?

                The answer is really very simple: learn the Word, and speak it as much as you can. I don't mean only to recite verses from memory, but more like this: when you're in a situation where you're mad at someone and you just want to either cause harm or completely ignore that person, that's a good time to say to yourself, "In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry..." (Ephesians 4:26-27). Just remembering those instructions and saying them out loud (quietly if you want to avoid drawing attention) makes a big difference to re-align perspective and focus and will.
                Joshua 1:8 says, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your MOUTH," not just your mind. It's meant to be spoken too, not only thought about. Then it says, "meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it." We need to speak it and think it, then we will do it.

                Ephesians 6:18--the verse right after the one that calls the word of God a sword--says to pray on all occasions.  Having our prayers come from the thoughts of Scripture is the best way to stay sharp attack the temptations and deceptions that might come into our hearts and minds from the enemy. 

 

James 1 says after we fall into temptation it gives birth to sin and, once it is full-grown, it gives birth to death.  What does the whole birth cycle part mean?

                That's just metaphorical speech to say that one thing leads to another: temptation leads to sin, sin leads to death, which is the penalty we all deserve physically and spiritually for our rebellion. James uses that language to demonstrate the natural course of where things lead. Don't fall into temptation, because it'll kill you.

 

Can you explain the idea of steadfastness in James 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:6?

                Steadfastness (also translated as "perseverance") really just means staying faithful during hard times without giving up or losing focus. It's the mark of maturity, since it means trusting Jesus when life all around you seems to be falling apart. Being steadfast is only possible when you sincerely put your expectations and values in the life to come in heaven, not the temporary stuff of earth.

 

 

THEOLOGY

What is the doctrine of Regeneration?

                Regeneration is a fancy term. Sometimes we hear it in other terms, like "born again," or "rebirth." The basic meaning is that we are spiritually "dead" in our human nature, meaning our sinfulness makes us unable to act in a manner that is worthy of a holy God. We end up being self-justifying, self-centered, and self-gratifying.
                Upon repentance from sin and trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, a person is regenerated, or born again, meaning he is brought into a newness of life. He is not physically reborn, but his inner self--that is, the spiritual stuff, or the character and values and attitudes--becomes alive with a new direction that no longer pursues sin and spiritual independence, but holiness and righteousness that is received from Christ and reflected in the believer's life. His life moves toward humility, servanthood, sacrifice, forgiveness, and generosity. It demonstrates his trust in godliness over earthly values and possessions.
                That godliness is the result of salvation--it is not merited or achieved by human effort. It is given by the Spirit to him who abandons his course of living outside the obedience to the God who loves him more than he could ever love himself. The transformation of the believer's life is the evidence that he is discovering deeper trust in that which he initially placed his faith in: a gospel of self-denial and salvation solely by divine grace--unmerited, undeserved, and unprovoked by the will or reason or cause of man.
                To put it metaphorically: Regeneration is the doctrine that a man starts out as a dead battery, and can't do anything to charge himself. When he realizes that and stops trying to be his own charger, he can now accept the free offer to be charged by an external source of power. That power will then begin to flow through him and provide him with an energy he had never known by himself. A dead battery is unable to do any good. A battery with a full and powerful charge can accomplish all the good that its Maker originally designed it to do.