In "Federal headship," we saw that Adam was the legal “representative of the whole human family” (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets 48), and that his fall directly affected the nature of humanity. This point alone negates the egalitarian position of full equality in representation function. While there was ontological equality, Adam’s role as monarch or legal representative, shows that God intended him to fulfill a role different than Eve. Interestingly, the idea of a legal representation is not unique to Adam’s federal role. The concept can be found throughout Scripture.Read More
I am not using the term “liberal” according to the narrow, technical definition it has acquired in theology; a truly liberal theologian rejects any supernatural influence on Scripture and proceeds as though Scripture and religion are purely human and non-supernatural phenomena. A liberal theologian approaches Scripture just as a mainstream scientist approaches origins: needing to explain it strictly and solely on the basis of natural phenomena, with no appeal to the existence and activity of God. Very few Adventists—perhaps none in positions of authority in the church or in church-related institutions—would admit to a pure liberal theology. So, in this discussion, I will be using “liberal” in a looser sense.Read More
According to a 2008 "Adventist Review" article, “Still ‘People of the Book’?,” many Adventists are not doing so great in the area of personal Bible study. The article cites a 2001 world survey which found that “less than half of Adventist church members around the world are involved in daily Bible study and prayer." I doubt that there has been any serious improvement in the past decade.Read More
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me.” John 5: 39 Christ made this statement to men who were not your average churchgoers. No, these men were exceedingly religious. They studied the Bible. They kept the Sabbath. They paid tithe. They even traversed long distances in search of converts. These men were the First Century champions of Scripture.
To our shock, Jesus’ evaluation of these men was negative. Why? He states plainly that they were “not willing to come to [Him] that [they] may have life" (John 5: 40).
They missed the point of Scripture entirely!
Seventh-day Adventists must walk a fine line. On the one hand, we are called to be firm and zealous advocates of Scripture. On the other hand, we are ever mindful that it was Bible-believers who crucified Christ. This reality appropriately causes us pause. More importantly, it elicits from us the question: How shall we, as Seventh-Day Adventists, relate to Scripture so as to be faithful to Bible truth without falling into the error of the religious leaders of whom Jesus spoke?
There are two answers to this question. One is easy and one more difficult.
The Easy Answer
In one sense it is easy to answer the question posed above. This is so because there are definite ways in which we must relate to Scripture. Here they are:
- We must recognize Scripture’s divine authorship- every page inspired by God.
- We must acknowledge that the Bible was written for a purpose, which is to communicate to man things divine- even the will of God.
- We must accept that it is God who speaks through Scripture. As such, we are to listen to what He says and carefully study the Bible to ascertain God’s message for us.
- We must willingly obey Scripture. Even if our attempts are weak and imperfect, we must apply God’s message to our lives.
By refusing to accept these basic points, we find ourselves in wrong relation to Scripture. This is so because we have not accepted the Bible for what it purports to be. It is that simple. In other words, if we are unwilling to accept Scripture’s claims regarding divine authorship or application to our lives, we are then engaged in pretense. And pretense, by definition, consists not of the thing. Therefore, failure to accept the above-stated points evidences that we are out of step with Scripture.
The chief offender in this regard is higher criticism. Higher criticism is a system of thought which argues that portions of the Bible are either too mystical to be understood or, for whatever reason, are inapplicable to the lives of modern readers. With regard to the latter point, higher critics often resort to elaborate “historical” accounts in an attempt to reach a single conclusion- namely that what is written applies solely to another time, people, and place. To the higher critic, there is nothing that cannot be “contextualized away.” Although an understanding of the historical context of a passage is often necessary to rightly decipher its message, it is never correct to use history and context to mute God’s voice.
Higher critics wrongly relate to Scripture. They claim to be expounders of the Bible, but they have rejected the basics. As such, their claims lack sincerity. Moreover, these critics declare that they speak about things divine, yet they deny Scripture’s divine source. Thus, they speak of things of which they know nothing. As a result, they lack any semblance of credibility.
Due to this, it is unwise to argue with higher critics. Such action grants them legitimacy that is undeserved and unrequired. To engage in such a conversation is akin to asking a person for directions to a destination to which he has neither been, nor even bade to travel to.
Unfortunately, higher critics are positioned in our churches and educational institutions. What is the result? Spiritual declension everywhere we look. Of course, this is predictable. Cause follows effect. Because these persons are unwilling to listen and obey God, they are left to themselves. Their disciples are likewise adrift on the sea of infidelity. They are beckoning us. We cannot respond to their call and expect to remain in right relation to Scripture.
The Difficult Answer
Now to the real issue, how should we relate to Scripture?
First, we must adopt the four points stated above. But, we must not stop there. This is where the religious leaders of Christ’s day ended their search. They did not go any further, and they missed the point. To avoid their error, we must go further. But where shall we go?
Going Further--Even Unto Christ
Many of us read the Bible scholastically. We study its pages to learn about the past. Some of us read the Bible ritually. It is the book we turn to first in the morning, and we read its pages as part of a routine. Some of us read the Bible in an attempt to bolster arguments with non-believers or to prove our favored positions. While some of this may be necessary, it ultimately misses the point!
Jesus states that the Bible testifies of Him. He thereby indicates that the principal purpose for studying Scripture is to become personally acquainted with the Divine. To rightly relate to Scripture therefore is to read the Bible so that we may personally receive its Author.
Not So Fast
Although Jesus’ statement in John 5: 39-40 is easy to understand, it can be difficult to apply. The difficulty of course does not stem from God’s end. Rather, it is something we create. Humans unfortunately would rather have another person tell them what the Bible says and what God would have them do. It is difficult to go to God on our own, to find Him ourselves. But, there is no other safe path. Of course, it is good to listen to advice from others. The problem is that we often mistake the advice of a friend for divine directive.
In short, we must do the heavy lifting. We must struggle with God on our knees. As we do this, we will find the difficulties removed. We will find Christ for ourselves, and we will walk that fine line by His grace.
Many people have experienced trauma in their lives, and as a result of this trauma, they are trapped in a downward spiral of negative behaviors and thought patterns. When they seek help, they are introduced to the solution that the world offers. This solution is called self-help, and it promotes the idea that you can change yourself if you implement certain actions into your life. The problem with self-help is that it teaches the necessity of changing oneself. God’s Word, however, teaches us that self must die. Gaining victory over the destructive habits that enslave us does not involve making our best effort to gain control over self. In order for victory to be gained, self must cease to exist. “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31).* “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). So what does it mean to die to self? The answer to this question is found in the following two verses. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). The word “crucified,” which is found in both of these verses, is the key to understanding what it means to die to self. Jesus demonstrated the process of dying to self by His death on the cross. There is a specific reason why it was in God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified. Jesus could have died in many ways, and if we were to take our own lives—although I certainly hope not— we could do this in a variety of ways. But it is physically impossible for a person to crucify himself. The process of crucifixion can be accomplished only if a person submits himself to the will of another. The same is true when it comes to our spiritual growth. If we want to die to self, to be crucified with Christ, we must submit our will to the will of God. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Dying to self does not involve trying really hard to force ourselves to do something good or trying really hard to resist doing something bad. In the words of Moris Vendon, “Restrained badness is the worst kind of goodness.” Even if we did manage to make ourselves do good things and restrain ourselves from doing evil things, this external behavior would not change our hearts, because changing the heart is something only God can do. This is why Ellen White made the following statement in Christ’s Object Lessons, found on page 159. “No outward observances can take the place of simple faith and entire renunciation of self. But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work.” Notice that James tells us to resist the devil, not to do battle with the devil. If we try to engage the devil in battle, not only will we be utterly defeated, but we will be fighting a pointless battle, because Jesus has already fought the battle with Satan and won. Christ has rendered the devil powerless. Rather than fighting the devil, we are to resist the devil, to defend ourselves against his attacks, but this can be accomplished only by submitting our will to God. If we submit to God, He will empty us of self, impart to us the mind of Christ, and give us victory over sin. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). When we surrender our hearts to God, the mind of Christ within us will empower us to resist the devil.
It is through the process of submitting to God and receiving the mind of Christ that self is crucified, spiritual life is imparted, and freedom from sin is attained, but in order for this work to be accomplished, death must precede life. In John chapter 12 verse 24 Jesus uses the following analogy to describe what He had to endure in order to redeem humanity and establish His kingdom. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Just as a grain of wheat must die beneath the earth in order to produce more grain, Jesus had to be crucified and buried before He could rise again and expand His kingdom by transforming the lives of all those who would accept His gift of salvation. In the earthly ministry of Christ, death had to precede life, and the same is true with us today. In order to be restored into the likeness of Christ in body, mind, and spirit, we must follow Christ’s example. “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Just as Christ had to die before He could live again, we, too, are to take up our cross and die to self by being crucified with Christ if we want to be resurrected to spiritual life through the power of God’s healing grace. The process of dying to self is a continual process. It involves coming to the foot of the cross on a daily basis, accepting God’s gift of salvation, reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:11), and asking God to give us the mind of Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every day we must choose to lose our life in order to save it. Ellen White explains this concept very clearly in a statement she made in Christ’s Object Lessons, found on page 163. “As the sinner, drawn by the power of Christ, approaches the uplifted cross, and prostrates himself before it, there is a new creation. A new heart is given him. He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus.”
In 1 John 3:14, John describes what happens when we transition from death to life. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” As long as self remains alive, we are spiritually dead. There is no love in our hearts, because we abide in death. When we pass from death to life, self dies, we are given spiritual life, and the new heart God gives us causes us to love God and love others. If we choose to walk the road that Jesus walked by allowing God to take us through the process of transitioning from death to life, we will experience God’s complete healing. “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:5-7).
This message of hope is the message that we as Christians must take to those whose wounded lives have entangled them in the snare of sin. Jesus not only died for our sins, but He also died for our suffering. The same Jesus who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities also bore our griefs and our sorrows. He took our pain, as well as our sin, to the cross. “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17). If we were to witness to people who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, would it minister to them if we told them that Jesus died for their sins, or would it minister to them if we told them that Jesus died for the pain, the anger, the fear, the shame, and the powerlessness they experienced during the trauma they endured? Not only did Jesus bear our pain to the cross, but He also lived a life of hardship and suffering on Earth and can personally identify with us in every trial we face. If we could choose the course of our lives, how many of us would choose to be born in a barn, grow up in a ghetto, and bear the stigma of being considered an illegitimate child? How many of us would choose to go through the heartache of being slandered, falsely accused, misunderstood, unfairly judged, rejected, abandoned, and betrayed? How many of us would choose to endure the shame and humiliation that results from having our physical boundaries violated? How many of us would choose to endure the physical agony of being tortured, as well as the emotional agony of being separated from God? How many of us would choose to die by means of one of the most cruel and barbaric forms of execution ever invented by man? Jesus endured all of these things when HE lived on Earth. Since we are all born into a sinful world, we all endure things over which we have no control, but Jesus did not have to experience any of the things He experienced while living on Earth. Incredibly, He chose to experience these things. He lived as a man, enduring temptations and trials so that He could identify with us in our temptations and trials. He overcame all of this by relying on His Father’s power so that He could pave the way for us to overcome. Then He died and rose again so that He could set us free from our pain and sin. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18). “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The only thing that self-help has to offer a hurting world is a futile attempt at gaining control over the sinful self, and if the world is not presented with a better alternative, it will plunge deeper and deeper into a hopeless state of decay and ruin. As God watches people desperately trying to gain the mastery over self through their own efforts, He desperately longs to cause them to die to self so that He can give them a new life of joy and freedom. As God’s ambassadors on Earth, we are called to introduce the world to a real and tangible God who not only identifies with them in their pain, but also longs to remove their pain by setting them free. This freedom can be attained only by passing from death to life, and since the process of passing from death to life can be frightening at times, people who are hurting need to be shown that God is someone they can trust because He can relate to the pain they are going through. When they see God for who He really is, when they realize that they are safe with God because HE knows them and identifies with them, they will be ready to move forward by taking up their cross and following after the God they have learned to trust. Rather than trying to maintain control over their lives by attempting to change themselves, they will allow God to take control. The sinful self that they were previously trying to change through their own effort will be crucified with Christ, and they will pass from death to newness of life. This is what freedom is all about, and God is willing to give all of us this miraculous gift of freedom if we let Him.
*All Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.
“At times, there seems to be confusion about justification and sanctification and how they relate to each other and our salvation. Some promote justification to the exclusion of sanctification and arrive at what has been termed “cheap grace.” Others focus almost exclusively on sanctification and arrive at what has been termed as “perfectionism” or legalistic salvation by works.”
As Seventh-day Adventists we know that God requires obedience to all of His commandments. We also know that justification and sanctification are both the work of Christ alone. In an effort to avoid the extremes of law without grace and grace without law, we sometimes find ourselves on a spiritual tight rope, carefully trying to equally balance grace and obedience without drifting toward either of these extremes. If we saw grace fully revealed in its true light, we would realize that there is no need for a balancing act.
One of the reasons for such a debate as to where the line is drawn between grace and works involves some people who do not understand that grace and obedience are interconnected. They are not two separate components of our spiritual lives that must be reconciled. Grace and obedience are one. In the same sermon, President Wilson also made this statement. “The two great provisions of salvation—justification and sanctification—cannot be separated for they constitute the fullness of Christ, Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah chapter 31, verses 33 and 34 paint a beautiful picture illustrating the unification of justification and sanctification.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”*
As clearly seen in this passage of Scripture, God not only promises to forgive our sins, but also to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. When our thoughts are in harmony with God’s law, His law will be acted out in our lives through our words and actions. God’s grace does so much more than forgive our sins and grant us eternal life. God’s grace also heals our wounded hearts, sets us free from the captivity of sin, and causes us to keep all of His commandments. Conviction of sin, repentance, forgiveness of sin, surrender, faith, obedience—they are all gifts from God, bestowed upon us through the power of His grace. As long as we fail to see the oneness of grace and obedience, we will be spiritually off balance. We will either be in danger of becoming legalistic or casting aside God’s law, and our attempt to walk the spiritual tight rope will not prevent us from shifting toward either of these two extremes.
Many claim that being under grace means that keeping the law is no longer necessary, but according to the Bible, being under grace actually means the opposite.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:12-15).
If God’s grace only forgave our sins and nothing more, what a hopeless state we would be in! God’s Heavenly kingdom will be a perfect world, and if we are not transformed into the likeness of God’s character through the power of His grace, we will not be fit for His kingdom. Heaven would be marred by sin, just as it was in the beginning when Satan fell. Without laws, chaos would result, and “God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33.) The idea that God would annul His law after Christ’s death and resurrection makes as much sense as the idea that Congress would legalize murder if the president chose to die in the place of a murderer on death row. The fact that someone had to pay the death penalty for sin demonstrates that God’s law is unchangeable. When we are under grace, obedience will actually be more important to us, not less.
The mark of the beast is a perfect example of how grace and obedience are interconnected. When Adventists think of the mark of the beast, they immediately associate it with Sunday worship. It is true that the choice to either observe the seventh day Sabbath or to observe Sunday will be the factor that determines who receives the mark of the beast, but the observance of Sunday rather than the seventh day is actually a symptom of a much deeper problem. There is a passage of Scripture in Revelation chapter 13 that tells us what the mark of the beast represents.
“He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:15-17).
Contrast these verses with Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” God promises to hold us up by His righteous right hand, but those who receive the mark of the beast receive it on their own right hands and on their foreheads. God offers us His righteousness, but those who receive the mark of the beast choose to rely on their own righteousness. By choosing to keep Sunday holy they are paying homage to a church system that teaches salvation by works. Because those who receive the mark of the beast rely on their own righteousness, their hearts will not be made perfect in love through the power of God’s grace. Instead, they will be controlled by the wicked one and will have no qualms about killing God’s people. Notice Deuteronomy 6 verses 5 through 8.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
Those who choose to worship the beast have His mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, but the people of God have God’s love in their hearts. God’s law is bound to them as a sign on their hands, and His commandments are as frontlets between their eyes. Their thoughts, words, and actions are in harmony with God’s law of love, because they are depending on Christ’s righteousness alone.
There is no such thing as cheap grace. The so-called grace that claims to make void the law of God is not grace at all. There is only one kind of grace. It is the free grace that overflows from the loving heart of God, the grace that not only justifies us, but sanctifies us, completely restoring us into the likeness of God’s character. When this grace is in control of our lives, there will be no spiritual tight rope to walk, no balancing act. There will be no confusion or debate, because there is no dividing line between grace and obedience. Obedience to God’s commandments will come naturally to us, and there will be no fear of extremes, because our motives will be pure. We will not be taking care of our own interests, focusing only on how we may enter Heaven. Instead, our motives will be actuated by love for God and love for others. Glorifying God’s name and leading others to the foot of the cross will be our mission. We will gladly keep all of God’s commandments, not in order to be saved, but because we already are saved. This is what it means to be under grace, and as the simple yet profound gift of God’s grace is more clearly revealed to us, we will understand why we will be studying the subject of grace throughout all eternity.
*All Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.
I’ve watched a fair number of movies in my life. Many were devoid of even the most basic artistic value, many were only marginally entertaining, and I could feel my brain turning to a cottage-cheese like mush while watching most of them. In general, I treated them like a necessary distraction from the great piles of homework that never seemed to go away. A while back, however, I got so busy that I didn’t have any time for movies at all, and I gradually stopped watching them altogether. Recently, I made my abstinence more intentional, for reasons I hope will become clear as you read. To backtrack a bit, the first movie I ever watched (and one of the few movies I watched before I got to college) was “The Last Starfighter,” a sci-fi about a boy who masters a video game and is subsequently recruited to join in a great space battle. (It turned out that the video game was a training tool to find gifted fighters.) I was six or seven years old at the time, and afterword, I asked my dad what the movie meant. The part of his explanation that I remember was “They are telling the story of the Great Controversy from Satan’s perspective.”
Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that this insight explains the plots of many movies, particularly epic movies about a grand conflict between good and evil. “Transformers” is an excellent example: Optimus Prime and his followers are cast down to earth for rebellion after loosing a great battle, and they become heroes and save the earth from the tyrannical Decepticons who want to enslave humanity. They are the “Autobots”—those who govern themselves. The “Avengers” movies that have recently come out contain another good example: Thor is cast down to earth from Asgard (the dwelling place of the Gods) for insubordination, but becomes a great hero on earth when he helps defeat his evil adopted brother who is intent on enslaving humanity.
Satan sees himself as the good guy, and it doesn’t take much spiritual discernment to understand that Hollywood is under his control. When Optimus Prime and Thor are seen as the Lucifer character in the Great Controversy, the other pieces of each allegory fall into place. The most telling aspect of each becomes the depiction of the Christ character. Satan’s hatred is mostly directed at Christ, so the villain in these movies typically depicts Christ. In “Transformers,” Megatron is the most likely candidate—he is killed and resurrected, and ends up walking around in a ragged cape looking like a large metal prophet. In the “Avengers,” Christ is depicted as the evil adopted brother, a would-be usurper of Thor’s right to the throne, and a power-hungry dictator intent on exacting worship from all humanity. Both series climax with the coming of the evil ones to earth (a “second coming” in the case of the Transformers).
“The Matrix” is a much more sophisticated allegory. The most obvious players are the Architect and the Oracle, the creators of the Matrix; Agent Smith, the law-enforcer; and Neo, the savior character. One might be tempted to think of Neo as a Christ character—after all, he is referred to as “Jesus Christ” at the beginning of the movie. At the end, his dead body is tenderly carried off by little machines with his arms outstretched as if he were on a cross. Take a look at his most important qualification, though: he is the ultimate rebel. According to the movie, Neo didn’t rebel because he was bad—his rebellion was inevitable. It was something inherent in him, something that responded to a deep flaw in the reality created by the Architect and the Oracle. In fact, he was the sum of the freewill (referred to as the “anomaly”) of the mass of humanity, a humanity hopelessly resisting an arbitrary law they did not understand.
After a new birth, complete with amniotic fluid (“neo” means “new” or “young,” after all), Neo starts fighting the Matrix in earnest over a checkered floor—a representation of the knowledge of good and evil. He learns to be free by learning to break the laws of the Matrix, and finally assumes a sort of godhood when he basically dies and is resurrected. At this point, he understands the laws of the Matrix perfectly and as such, can bend them as he wills, giving him perfect freedom. Neo is the sixth incarnation of the rebel, and the architect refers to him as “the first and the last.”
When Neo kills Agent Smith (who is also subsequently resurrected), he unintentionally gives him the power to impart his nature to humans and gives Smith power over the law as well (The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord—from Satan’s perspective, Christ breaks the law by granting sinners eternal life). Smith’s character actually portrays Christ in the movie, but Satan hates to admit that Jesus Christ is God, so Smith starts out as a mere program like all other programs. Only after Neo kills him does he become an immensely powerful force in the Matrix. Toward the end, Smith achieves a sort of omnipotence (though the only advantage he has over Neo is his ability to impart his image to others, which he does by force). With his usurpation of the Oracle’s powers, he achieves a sort of omniscience. A “smith” is one who makes things—I suspect that ”Agent Smith” is a reference to the “Word,” the Agent by whom “all things were made.”
The key, then, to understanding movies is knowing that they “call evil good and good evil,” and “turn darkness into light and light into darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). In these movies and in many others, Lucifer is the protagonist and Christ is the antagonist. Through this type of movie, Satan’s message to the world is that Christ is not divine and that He operates through coercion and hunger for power, while Satan—always the good guy—wants only what’s best for the human race. Movies depict God as a tyrant, and teach that by breaking His arbitrary law, we can obtain true freedom.
Observations of 1 Timothy 3:1,2 & Titus 1:5,6
Both proponents and opponents of women’s ordination have staked their claim to divergent interpretations of 1 Timothy 3:1,2 and Titus 1:5,6. While some see a plain reading of the verses as clear enough, others are challenging these passages with legitimate, yet more complex textual arguments. What did Paul mean when he wrote that a “bishop . . . [should be] the husband of one wife”? Or literally translated- “a bishop . . . [should be] a one wife husband“? Some view this passage through the lens of “culture”- claiming it should be applied to different times and places in “relevant“ ways. In a future article I will review why the “culturally-conditioned” argument is nothing more than subjectivism since it relies on conjectures, guesses and the social sciences (sociology, anthropology, etc.) rather than the biblical text. Furthermore, it constantly changes with time and location. Recently, some have jettisoned the “culturally-conditioned” argument for a “leading of the Spirit” one. Going so far as to claim that the Spirit cannot fall on the church until it ordains women as pastors and elders. Unfortunately, this is biblically untenable. The conditions for the “Latter Rain” are clearly outlined in Acts 2,3 and Revelation 3:18-20- and women‘s ordination is nowhere mentioned. One often hears the assertion “no conference, union or church should stand in the way of God‘s calling to me . . .” In my last article, we saw that the position of “pastor” (poimen) can indeed be filled by a women- since it is a “Spiritual Gift.” However, the functions of the “pastor” are NOT the same as those of the “bishop” (episkopos) and the “elder” (presbuteros) which are NOT spiritual gifts! Certain objective qualifications must be met before one can “apply“ for those positions (including 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Furthermore, the Spirit does NOT lead the church independently from the written Word He inspired. If some feel God is leading them to become “Bishops“ or “Elders,” the only way to confirm this would be with the “Measuring stick” of Scripture.
Still others feel that to continue “debating theology” is not “biblically practical”, that we don’t need theoretical perspectives, but to focus on being “mission-driven.” They see this “theological” argument as getting in the way of the mission of the church, an ecclesiological issue. But instead of carefully examining the text of Scripture and following a “thus saith the Lord”, they are using pragmatic and emotional reasons (women “pastors” in China, etc.) to buttress their position. “Legal” but questionable policy changes are being hastily pursued in order to vote in changes before the world church can study the issue and respond. These efforts, based on faulty hermeneutics, threaten to further disrupt the global unity of the church.
While this “mission-driven-movement” sounds nice and very “Adventist,” if it is not on rooted in Scripture, but on policy or ecclesiology- the efforts will be unsuccessful. For all these reasons (and others), it is helpful to re-visit the texts upon which those who oppose and affirm women “elders” are based: 1 Timothy 3:1,2 and Titus 1:5-7. My purpose is not to present a scholarly exegesis- but an overview of the clear textual evidence.
“The fact of gender, when considering a word in isolation, is of little importance . . . But in analyzing a sentence as a whole, gender may play a key role, especially when considered along with the adjectives, pronouns, and relative clauses that may be present. Taking note of the gender may alter altogether what a sentence may seem to be saying in English.” Interestingly, in Titus 1:5, the word “elder” (presbuteros) is in the accusative masculine. In the context of verses 5-7, nine of the descriptive nouns and adjectives of presbuteros are in the masculine. In 1 Timothy 3:2, the word for “bishop” (episkopos) is also in the accusative masculine. In the context of 1 Timothy 3:2, there are eight descriptive nouns and adjectives which are also in the masculine. These grammatical parallels seem more than just coincidental. While it doesn’t definitively show that an “elder” or “bishop” should be a “male,” it is grammatically consistent with that conclusion and strongly points that way.
1. “Elder,” “bishop,” “pastor” are different, distinct offices
In the last article we saw that the offices of “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” (presbuteros, episkopos, poimen) are distinct, although (as we noted) there is some overlap between them. To summarize the findings: the “elder” (presbuteros) deals primarily with executive, administrative and judicial areas of church policy. The “bishop” (episkopos) has supervisory, investigative and guardianship functions, while the “pastor” (poimen) is nurturing, guarding and teaching. We also saw that the “elder” and “bishop” are recognized and selected based upon external, objective criteria (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-8). After evaluation of the candidates based on these biblical standards, they are ordained. On the other hand, as we mentioned, the “pastor” is a spiritual gift that is recognized and affirmed without ordination and an explicit list of “external” qualifications. I described what seemed to be modern equivalent of these positions in the church today. (Please see previous article.)
The significance of these findings can’t be overstated, especially where Christians assert the Holy Spirit’s calling to be a “pastor”. Obviously, the word “pastor” doesn’t have the same meaning that it did in the Bible. So the etymology of this English word has undergone some changes since the New Testament. If one takes the position that the Holy Spirit has given them this gift then the position that they should fill is the poimen. However, if they desire to fulfill the role of the episkopos or presbuteros, even if they are called by the Spirit, they must be evaluated by criteria found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-7. The claim of the Spirit’s leading does not supersede the Spirit’s inspired word, which is used to “test” all “callings”.
2. Lexical (dictionary) meanings for episkopos and presbuteros are delineated for “men”
A word never means what it never meant. The purpose of a lexical (“dictionary”) definition, is to find out what a word meant at the time it was written. An important clue to what episkopos and presbuteros mean today is to understand their meaning when Paul penned Titus and 1 Timothy in the first century A.D. In order to do this, analytical, critical and theological Greek New Testament lexicons, expository Greek dictionaries, Greek-English concordances and New Testament Greek theological wordbooks should be consulted in order to understand. Strong’s Concordance has several weaknesses that I addressed in my previous article and should be probably be avoided when doing serious Bible study (at least it should not be used by itself).
A summary of the definitions are as follows:
- “The name given in Athens to the MEN sent into subdued states to conduct their affairs”
- “A MAN charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others rightly”
- “A body of old MEN” (presbuterion) ; “An old MAN” (presbus, presbutis)
- “Rulers of people, judges, etc., selected from elderly MEN”
- “Aged MEN” ; “In the Christian church they were MEN appointed”
- “Old MEN of the Jewish Sanhedrin” “Officers in the congregation of the Jewish Synagogue”
Interestingly, one area that was intentionally left out of my last study, was the significant use of masculine names (“men,” “man,”) when defining presbuteros and episkopos. Since the purpose of that study was only to show that there is a difference between the three offices, these were omitted. However, from a lexical standpoint, it seems likely that both the “elder” and “bishop” were to be served by men. There is no dictionary definition from the era the New Testament was written that define these Greek words as being filled by “women.” This isn’t a “cultural” issue since the “men” were from both the believing “Jewish community“ (Jewish Sanhedrin, etc.) and the non-believing “Greek community” (Athenian statesmen, politicians). This further strengthens the case against gender neutral inclusion for an episkopos or presbuteros.
3. The lexical (dictionary) definition for “Aner” is limited to three possibilities
As with the preceding section, we must also understand what the meaning of the word translated “husband” (aner) was in the First Century. These meanings are:
- An adult human male (of full age and stature- as opposed to a child or female)
- A husband
- A human being, an individual; someone; a person, generally (in terms of address)
Interestingly, in all the lexicons consulted (around 12), the word aner never means a “female,” “woman,” etc., but can refer to “people in general.” On the other hand, it definitely refers to a “male” or a “husband.” The third definition shouldn’t be considered in Timothy or Titus, since the phrase “human being of one wife” makes no sense. “One wife husband,” or “one woman man” seem to be the clear interpretation of “aner.” Since the context refers to “children” (1 Tim. 3:4) a “wife” (v. 2) and a “house” (v. 4), the most logical and contextually consistent interpretation would be to translate “aner“ as “husband”. Therefore, the Greek phrase “mias gunaikos andra (aner)” should probably be translated “one wife husband.”
Why did Paul use a word that may not always be referring to a “male” (aner) rather than a word that always refers to a “man” (arsen - pronounced “Are-sane”)? Because arsen does not lexically mean “husband.” It seems that Paul was trying to convey both “maleness” and “marriedness” within the same word. Therefore, the best word he could have used is aner. Another word anthropos also means a “male”, but like arsen, doesn’t define the marital status as aner does. Understanding aner as being a “(male) husband” is a significant point buttressing the argument that a “bishop” must be a “ married man.”
There are 215 references for the word aner in the New Testament. Of these, about 40% do not have “contextual markers.” A “marker” is a word(s) the author uses in context to identify which lexical (dictionary) meaning he intends for the word in question. These 40% are translated in the general sense of “humanity,” “people,” etc. Interestingly, however, when aner is to be interpreted as a “man” or “husband”, there are contextual markers that support that understanding. The remaining 60% have at least one of the following contextual markers:
- NAME OF THE MAN: Mentioned in the immediate context (“Joseph”- Matt. 1:16; “Peter”- Luke 5:8; “Jairus”- Luke 8:41; “Zaccheus”- Luke 19:2; “Adam”- 1 Tim. 2:12; etc.).
- FEMALE GENDER WORDS: In contradistinction from “males” in the same context (“Aged Women”- Titus 2:5; “Woman”- 1 Cor. 11:7; etc.).
- MARRIAGE WORDS: Speak of a “male’s spouse” in contrast to himself (“Wife”- Mark 10:2, 12; “Wives”- Eph. 5:24,25; “Widows”- 1 Tim. 5:9; etc.).
- FAMILY WORDS: Referring to male/female relations and progeny (“Women and children”- Matt. 14:21/Mk 6:44; “Father”- Lk 9:38; etc.).
- REPRODUCTION WORDS: Contrasting a “male” with “female characteristics” (“Virginity”- Luke 2:36; “Adulteress”- Rom. 7:2; “adulterer”- Rom. 7:2,3; “Childbearing,“ etc.).
- CONTEXT: There are times when the context makes it explicitly clear that “males“ are being spoken of (“twelve disciples”- Acts 1:21; The “Apostles”- Acts 5:25; “seven deacons”- Acts 6:3; etc.).
In 1 Timothy 3:2 there are several contextual markers that identify that a “male” is being spoken of: “Wife” (3:2; “Childbearing” (2:15), and “Woman” (2:11,12,14). In Titus 1:5,6, there is the marker “Wife” present. This contextual evidence strongly implies that a “bishop” and “elder” should only be a “male.”
The words “one woman man” or “one wife husband” (mias gunaikos andra) is an interesting and unusual way to communicate this phrase. If Paul wanted to convey a married man, why didn’t he say “a bishop must be a man who is married”? When we look at the syntax (sentence structure) we see that he was describing the quality or character of the man as well as his marital status.
The Greek word for “woman” is gune, and refers to any adult female (including wives). The King James Version translates gune as "woman" 129 times and "wife" 92 times. In 1 Timothy 3:2, gune (gunaikos) is “in the genitive and therefore deals with attribution. It may refer to relationship or quality, for the genitive defines by attributing a quality or relationship to the noun which it modifies."
Tony Capoccia has made the following insightful comment regarding the genitive:
“This should not be considered a possessive genitive, for that would mean that the word in the genitive indicates one who owns or possesses the noun it modifies. In that case the translation would be "a man owned by one woman." Nor can this be considered as a genitive of relationship ("a man who has [possesses] one wife") for there is no indication within the phrase or context that that relationship is implied. It is best to understand this "gunaikos" as being a genitive of quality, that is, giving a characteristic to the noun it modifies.”
The noun andra is the accusative singular of aner. “This accusative functions here as an object of the main verb ‘be’ along with a long list of other accusative nouns and participles. Stated simply, the clause is ‘Therefore . . . an elder must be . . . a man . . .’ The words ‘one woman’ modify "man" to explain what kind, or to qualify the noun by attributing to him this character.” N.T. Greek scholar Robertson adds that genitive of quality (also called attributive genitive). ‘expresses quality like an adjective indeed, but with more sharpness and distinctness.’ “Since the other qualification in 1 Timothy 3 deal with the man's character and since the grammatical structure is more naturally consistent with this emphasis, it seems best to understand the phrase as meaning that he is a one-woman type of man” or “a one-wife type of husband”.
In conclusion, the unique way of expressing the phrase “one wife husband” was Paul’s method of representing the “character” of "the bishop" ("ton episkopon") as well as his marital status. Syntax doesn’t negate the lexical, contextual and comparative evidence that has already shown that aner also refers to a “male husband.” Rather, the syntax shows what KIND of a “husband” Paul is referring to. Scholar Getz makes the following observation: "Paul needed it very clear that an elder in the church was to be a 'one-wife man' — loyal to her and her alone." The emphasis of sentence structure shows that the “bishop” must be completely faithful to his wife, and emphasizes moral purity. The syntax does not change the marital or gender status that we have already affirmed; it only clarifies its quality.
The context of 1 Timothy 3:1,2 extends back into chapter two. The foundation of what Paul lays for the office of the episkopos, is rooted in the creation and fall account of Genesis two and three. The issue of “teaching” and “women keeping silence” is the subject of my next article, so I won’t address this interesting topic now. We see Paul addressing the “authority” of man over a “woman” for two reasons. First, “Adam was formed first” (v. 13). Second, “Adam was not deceived” (v. 14). Genesis two and three give us some clues of Adam’s role as the leader/head of his “home”:
- God gave Adam instructions on how to care for the Garden (2:15)
- God instructed Adam in regards to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
- Adam named all the living creatures (2:19,20)
- Adam named “the Woman” (2:23)
- Only after Adam ate the fruit, were their “eyes opened” (3:7)
- God called unto “Adam” first (3:9)
- Man shall leave parents, “cleave” unto his wife- a sign of protection, guardian
Interestingly, the roles of the episkopos and presbuteros are similar to those seen in Adam’s functions. The executive and administrative roles of the presbuteros are seen in Adam’s naming the animals, directing the custody of the garden, and naming of “the Woman”. The supervisory and investigative functions are seen in Adam’s role as the informant of God’s will concerning the Tree of Knowledge and man’s “leaving father and mother.” The second reason for man’s “authority” over “woman” was rooted in the statement “Adam was not deceived.” Adam momentarily “investigated” the matter in his mind and knew what was right. He chose to follow his wife, however, and sinned blatantly. His ability to discern the deception (while Eve did not) play a role in why Paul mentions that “Adam was not deceived.” However, most importantly, Paul’s foundation for 1 Timothy 3 is rooted in the Genesis creation and fall account, not culture.
Our overview of 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 shows that a convincing biblical argument can be made for a “male” “elder” or “bishop”. Grammatical considerations showed that contextual nouns and adjectives are in the masculine, thus matching the genders for episkopos and presbuteros. The lexical considerations gave additional evidence that the offices of the episkopos and presbuteros, whether as “rulers of people, judges, statesmen, Sanhedrin, etc.”, were filled by “men.” Furthermore, the definition for aner (“husband”) supports a “male”/“husband” understanding over “humans in general.” A comparative study (using contextual markers) demonstrated that aner, when referring to a “male,” contains at least one each in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6. Further supporting the contention that Paul intended “males” to be the episkopos and presbuteros in the church. The syntactical considerations emphasizes the character of the “husband” while not negating the gender. Finally, the theological/contextual considerations shows that the office of episkopos (and by extension the presbuteros) are rooted in the creation and fall account, not in culture.
All references for this article are available in a PDF file. Download PDF here.
There is a growing consensus within the Christian community regarding the role and authority of the “Elder,” “Pastor,” and “Bishop”. Many people see these New Testament positions as simply different names for the same office. Comments such as the following are common:
“There is no distinction between a pastor, a bishop or an elder in the scripture. They all refer to the exact same office. . . To put it simply: A pastor is a bishop is an elder.”
“All three Greek words [presbuteros, poimen, episkopos] refer to the same men, the same work. Pastors, elders, bishops and overseers are the same. The Bible uses all six English words (bishop, overseer, elder, presbyter, shepherd and pastor) interchangeably to refer to the same men, and so should we.”
This study will attempt to show there is a difference between these offices, and that we should not conflate the terms. The proposition is that the Holy Spirit has used different words to describe distinct and separate roles within the church. Certainly there is some overlap between these offices, and we should expect to see some redundancy. However, an examination of the linguistic, lexical and relational usages seems to demonstrate unique differences.
The Greek word most often translated “elder” in the New Testament is “presbuteros” (pronounced pres-boo'-ter-os). Presbuteros is formed from the root word presbus. This word has the general meaning of:
- Old man, an older person, natural dignity of age, more advance in age, implying dignity and wisdom.
- Elder of Jewish/Christian Sanhedrin or Church, assembly of elders.
- Senators (Spartan Constitution)
- Local Dignitary
The overall meaning for the root word presbus can be summarized as: 1) an older person; 2) an ambassador; 3) administrative member of an assembly of elders; 4) involved with legislative and possibly judicial functions (senatorial position); and 5) a local dignitary.
When used to signify the comparative degree of a presbus (i.e.- “old man,” “an elder”), it is an adjective. When referring to a specific person, role or function (i.e.- a “leader” in the church), it is a noun. We will be looking at the noun for our study.
(The meaning of the Greek words in this study, is based upon their usage and common understanding from the time period when the New Testament was written. From now on, I will refer to this category by the technical term, “Lexical”).
The Lexical meaning of this word can be summarized as follows:
- Administered justice.
- Rulers of the people.
- Officials in councils - - presiding over assemblies. Management of affairs (members of the Sanhedrin.)
- Ranked superior in age- in terms of official responsibility. (“Representatives of the older generation as compared to the younger”)
- Representatives of the people
- Spiritual care, exercise oversight over, overseers.
- Leaders in Congregational settings, “committed the direction and government of individual churches”
- Teachers in church.
Several distinct definitions emerge from this list. The presbuteros function in an administrative (officials in assemblies), judicial (administers justice) and executive (congregational assemblies) roles within the church. They also serve as “teachers” and “spiritual care givers”; however, these duties do not uniquely define their position. New Testament scholar Gerhard Kittel makes the following insightful comment: “in the constitution of Sparta presbus occurs as a political title to denote a president of a college . . . Presbuteroi have administrative and judicial functions . . . . And are charged with supervision of the finances and negotiations with the authorities . . . [and] men belonging to the senate.”
Presbuteros is used 66 times in the New Testament. Regarding the administrative role, the presbuteros made managerial decisions—“assembled in council,” and “held consultation.” As executive leaders of the “church” they “persuaded the multitude”. Throughout Jesus’ ministry (and the Apostles’), they came with the challenge—“by what authority [power] do you teach in the temple?” Furthermore, they were involved in judicial activities—“they delivered Jesus to Pilate,” Jesus was “rejected of the presbuteros,” and was “accused of the presbuteros”.
In the Post-Resurrection era (i.e. the Christian Church), the functions of the presbuteros remained intact. The administrative capacity was seen when Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem and the presbuteros assembled “to consider the matter” of circumcision. Their executive decision was authoritative (in consultation with the Apostles), and their “decrees” were delivered to the churches. Their executive authority is seen at Ephesus, where Paul called the presbuteros together, giving them a mandate to “feed the church.” When relief was sent to the brethren at Antioch, it was sent to the presbuteros.
Their teaching responsibilities were affirmed as they labored in “word and in doctrine.” Their spiritual care can be seen in James’ call for the presbuteros to “pray over the sick. . . anointing them.” Both Paul and Peter addressed the presbuteros as “overseers”, showing that they fulfilled some of the same duties of the episkopos and the poimen (“bishops”, “pastors”).
In Titus 1:5-7 we see that the presbuteros and episkopos have overlapping roles. Paul exhorts the church to “ordain elders (presbuteros) in every city . . . For a bishop (episkopos) must be blameless . . .” Also, when Paul is addressing the “elders” (presbuteros) in Ephesus, he reminds them that “the Holy Ghost has made you overseers (episkopos)”. These passages affirm that a presbuteros CAN (and should) perform the duties of the episkopos but not the other way around. In a sense, the presbuteros must be a “master of all trades”—and the functions of the episkopos are included and incorporated into this office. Titus 1:5-7 confirms that the presbuteros is recognized as such through the ordination process. Furthermore, Paul calls for presbuteros to be ordained in “every city” and in “every church.”
The presbuteros were to be accorded double honor, and be “rewarded monetarily as is appropriate for the laborer is worthy of his wages.” Also, they “should not be accused unfairly or frivolously. An accusation should not even be received unless two or three gather to accuse and the ones who accuse are witnesses of the offense.” Interestingly, both Peter and John refer to themselves as presbuteros while Paul never does.
In conclusion, a linguistic, lexical, comparative overview shows that the primary functions of a presbuteros include administrative, legislative and judicial roles. Within the scope of their duties, are the functions of the episkopos (“overseeing,” etc.) and the “shepherding” roles of the poimen (“feeding,” “caring,” etc.). Dr. Mare summarizes these findings nicely: “Presbuteros is used in Christian contexts for leading officials in local (Acts 11:30; 14:23) and regional (Acts 15:2,4,6) ecclesiae (churches) to lead the church in doctrinal decisions (Acts 15:22f; 16:4), to be responsible for missionary endeavors (Acts 21:18,19), to supervise distribution to the physical needs of the congregations (Acts 11:30), and to guard churches from error (Acts 20:17-31). The position of presbuteros is confirmed through ordination, after a careful review of the qualifications by the church.”
The word translated “bishop” in the N.T. is episkopos (pronounced ep-is'-kop-os). Episkopos is made up of the words epi and skopos. The preposition epi has several definitions, but generally means: “towards,” “to,” “against,” “on,” “at,” “upon,” “near,” “for,“ etc. The root word skopos has the following meanings:
- Look, Peer into the distance at a goal, end, a mark.
- Examine, View attentively; look into one’s affairs- with reference to laws.
- Observer, Look out for, watch(er)- a hilltop or lookout-place, watch tower.
- Guardian, protector
- Spy, Scout, messenger sent to learn tidings.
The root word skopos has the general meaning of: 1) examining, looking attentively at; 2) watching; 3) guarding; and 4) scouting. Therefore, we could say that it refers to “looking towards,” “watching for,” “guarding at/near,” etc.
Episkopos is a masculine noun.
The meaning of episkopos is summarized as follows:
- Inspecting (an inspector sent to Athens by the states) (In Cynic philosophy- a “Cynic preacher tests men, whether their lives conform to the truth. . . [and] strives for perception of the truth as the basis of moral and rational conduct.”)
- Overseeing, a watch- one who watches over- a man charged with seeing that things be done properly. (In the Odyssey, an episkopos is an overseer over goods as the work of a ship’s captain or merchant”)
- Scout (In Homer’s writings, an episkopos means a “scout or a spy.”)
- Guardian (Office of guardianship within a group), Guarding the apostolic tradition, Protector (Plato asserts that the episkopoi is one who “sees to it that there are no transgressions.“)
- Superintendent- supervisor (In Athens, episkopoi were “supervisors sent to the cities. . . . And were in some sense governors.”)
- Judicial- There seems to be some judicial element to the function of the Episcopes (it seems a minor role as compared to the presbuteros). State officials seemed “to have discharged, or supervised judicial functions.”
In combination with the root word skopos, we see several unique definitions for the episkopos compared to those for presbuteros. While there are some overlapping qualities (overseeing, teaching), the core responsibilities are primarily supervisory, investigative and guardian. The definitions of episkopos imply the office has a more intimate contact with the laity than with the presbuteros, being less administrative and more personal (“inspecting,” “guarding,” “watching”).
Episkopos occurs five times in the New Testament, and confirms the basic Lexical meanings. Regarding the Guarding and Investigative functions—Paul reminds the bishop to be “vigilant.” He exhorts the bishop to “convince gainsayers, vain talkers, deceivers . . . .” He concludes by saying to “rebuke them sharply.” In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus is referred to as the “guardian” (episkopos) of the soul. When speaking of supervisory function, Paul tells Timothy that the bishop must “rule his own house well. . . having his children in subjection.” He urges Titus that they “hold fast the faithful word . . . exhorting by sound doctrine,” while Peter commands them to “take the oversight . . . [and] feed the flock of God.” By extension, if the presbuteros is to be ordained as an episkopos, then an episkopos is also recognized through the process of ordination.
Other reasons why episkopos should be seen as a distinct role, 1) it is an “office”, “a man desires the office of a bishop”; 2) it is listed as distinct and separate with other offices, “with the bishops (Episkopos) and deacons”; and 3) the Apostles offices are included in being an episkopos, “his (Judas’) bishoprick (episkopee) let another take.”
In conclusion, the episkopos is a church officer whose roles include: “inspecting,” “overseeing,” and “superintending.” This Greek word was used specifically for those sent to conduct affairs of the state as a scout or watch of their jurisdiction. The position of episkopos is established through ordination. It is not a spiritual gift, and therefore there are objective criteria the church must evaluate before instating into position.
The word translated “pastor” in the New Testament is the root word poimen (pronounced poy-mane'). This masculine noun is akin to poia, which means “to protect.” It is related to the verb poimano, which has the general meaning of to feed or tend a flock, to keep sheep. It is also has a relationship with the noun poimne, which means a flock of sheep.
This word also has exclusive and inherent meanings that distinguish it from prebuteros and episkopos:
- Shepherd (Shepherd of sheep, oxen, people)
- Guardian, protector
- Tender care- nourishes, cherishes- not one who merely feeds
- Teachers of pupils
- Guide, leader of Christian communities
From a lexical standpoint, we can see that the word poimen contains several different meanings from the other two Greek words. This word specifies a position that is more nurturing and guiding. It does not have the administrative, judicial and executive meaning that presbuteros has, or the supervisory, investigative and oversight functions of episkopos. It does, however, include the teaching and protecting roles that are seen in the other two offices.
Poimen occurs 18 times in the New Testament, and the comparative survey confirms the preceding definitions. The nurturing function is seen in Matt. 9:36 and Mark 6:34, where Jesus has “compassion on the people.” The guiding role can be seen in passages such as “smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” Peter elaborates on sheep that have gone astray, whom Jesus, “Shepherd (poimen) of the soul,” rescues. At the birth of Jesus, there were “shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over the flock by night.” John 10 refers to Jesus as the “Chief” poimen, and tells us that the sheep “follow” Him, and “hear His voice.” In Ephesians 4:13, we see that the poimen works with the church to promote the “unity of the faith,” “the work of the ministry,” and prevents “winds of doctrine from tossing” the church “to and fro”.
Interestingly, the role of poimen in the church is a spiritual gift. Unlike the prebuteros and episkopos, it is a position that is not established by a set list of “criteria” or confirmed by ordination. Rather, like other spiritual gifts, it is recognized or discerned by the church as a supernatural gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit. The qualifications for all spiritual gifts are those that involve the heart, and are given to those who are truly consecrated wholly to God.
A common mistake is to conflate the actions (verbs) of the poimen with the positions (nouns) of the presbuteros and episkopos. It is true that the latter two have responsibilities to “feed” the church of God and to “nurture”, but these actions cannot be construed to be the actual position itself.
In conclusion, we have seen lexically and comparatively that the poimen (translated as “shepherd” or “pastor”) fulfills the role of “guarding,” “teacher,” and “nurturer”. This position could include any role that does not involve judicial, administrative, authoritative, investigative, supervisory or managerial roles. The poimen is not a position which is established through ordination, but is a spiritual gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit. It is beyond the scope of this paper to enumerate all the positions or roles this could include.
The findings of this brief study reveal some interesting conclusions. We have seen that the functions and roles of the presbuteros (“elder”), episkopos (“bishop”), and poimen (“pastor”) are unique to each one. The presbuteros deals with executive, administrative and judicial areas, as well as teaching and supervising. The episkopos deals with supervisory, investigative and protecting areas, as well as teaching. The poimen functions primarily as nurturing, guarding and teaching. The presbuteros and episkopos are both recognized by external, objective criteria that the church evaluates, and then confirms them with ordination. The poimen, on the other hand, is a gift received from the Holy Spirit as a result of internal qualifications that the Spirit recognizes. The following table highlight the major findings:
|Mature (superior in age)||X||X|
|Leaders of Congregations||X||X|
So what? Why is this study important—or is it? There are two reasons why these findings are significant:
1) Many people today feel that they are “called to the office of pastor.” A common mantra is “the Holy Spirit has given me the gift of being a pastor—no one has the right to prevent the Spirit‘s calling in my life!” While it IS TRUE that the gift of the Spirit includes the poimen, it DOES NOT include the office of presbuteros and episkopos. As already mentioned, the latter two have specific objective, external check points that the church must evaluate before allowing anyone who feels “called” to fulfill their roles in the church. Scripture simply will not allow for a subjective, internal and gift-oriented rationale for becoming a modern-day presbuteros (“elder”) or episcopes (“bishop“).
2) On the other side of the coin, we shouldn’t be too quick to negate someone’s “calling” for the office of poimen. This spiritual gift is given by God, and it is to be used for His glory.
Five centuries ago, Protestants sounded the call, “Sola Scriptura!”ii This epochal motto has echoed down the years, fortifying the church through many battles. Yet, there are cracks beginning to show in this beloved slogan- and some are questioning its validity. What is the meaning of this phrase? The Westminster Confession of Faith defined it as follows: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”iii
Since this Confession was written, many Christians and denominations have jettisoned the “authority of Scripture,” in favor of their own private interpretation—“Solo Scriptura.” The concept of a “Priesthood of all believers” has persuaded some that we are entitled to our personal interpretations, independent of any outside, objective criteria. However, the Bible teaches that God works through the church, and at times it will receive the gift of Prophecy. This charisma is sent for edification, counsel, reproof and correction of the church. Although some prophets’ messages have not been included in Scriptureiv, they were authoritative communications from God to His people at the time they were given. The Bible, therefore, doesn’t stand as the ONLY guide for the Christian—but as the determinate rule for all other sources of revelation. In other words, a clearer way of stating “Sola Scriptura” would be “Sola Prima Tota Scriptura”v- Scripture is the “measuring rod” (i.e.-kanon) for all other communications.vi
As we have moved away from the great Protestant awakening, this bedrock principle is being challenged. Increasingly, one can find references such as:
The reformers’ view of the Holy Scriptures is itself unscriptural.vii
No biblical passage teaches that Scripture is the formal authority or rule of faith in isolation from the Church and Traditionviii. Sola scriptura can't even be deduced from implicit passages.ix
Sola scriptura is an example of the logical fallacy of begging the question, inasmuch as the canonical scriptures never identify what is and what is not scripture. The only evidence that the 26 books of the New Testament (excluding the self-attesting Revelation) are inspired is the authoritative proclamation of the Catholic Church.x
“The idea of sola Scriptura was an invention of the sixteenth century.”xi
Unfortunately, some “Protestants” are also echoing this viewpoint:
Mark Noll . . . is hardly the only evangelical Protestant raising questions about the viability of sola scriptura. . . What he said resonates with others criticisms of that formal Protestant principle–at least as it has been interpreted and applied especially by Baptists and other free church evangelicals. Tom Oden and D. H. Williams and many others have raised serious questions about it.xii
Five hundred years after the Reformation and about 1900 years since the closing of the Canon, we must ask: Is Sola Scriptura Biblical? If it is not, and we are honest, we really have only two choices: 1) Set the Bible aside as a book of myths, half-truths and contradicting revelations or, 2) Rely on Church counsels and scholars to tell us what is or is not Scripture. If, however, “Sola Scriptura” is Biblical--then there should be self-validating, self-authenticating criteria for determining what is scripture.
Dr. Gerhard Hasel explains this concept:
Because of inspiration the biblical canon is self-authenticating, self-validating, and self-establishing. This means that the origin of the canon of the OT, and we may respectively add the canon of the NT where the same principles are at work, is not the same as its recognition by the respective faith communities . . . The inherent nature of canonicity reveal that a distinction needs to be made between the origin of the canon and its recognition by the religious community . . . The religious community does not bestow canonicity on Scripture; it recognizes canonicity.xiii (emphasis mine)
In the previous study (See Spectrum of Scripture), we saw that the New Testament identified 15 markers which describe the nature of Scripture.xiv If we apply these keys to the writings of the Bible, we should see if Scripture is self-authenticating or not.
Word of God
As we saw, the phrase “word of God” (including synonyms- “word of the Lord,“ “the Lord said,“ etc.) is one of the keys to denote Scripture. After collating the occurrences, this phrase is used in 34 of the 39 Old Testament booksxv and 24 of the 27 New Testament booksxvi. Therefore, of the total 66 books, 56 of them use this expression (Ruth, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Philemon, 2, 3 John excluded).
It is Written
The phrase “it is written” (including synonyms- “written,” “are written,” “write,” etc.) is also a marker to identify Scripture. The Old Testament uses this phrase in 12 of the 39 booksxvii, while the New Testament uses it in 20 of the 27 booksxviii. “It is written,” and its variations, are used in 32 of the 66 books of Scripture. More importantly, two of the nine remaining books left over from the “Word of God” use this phrase (2, 3 John). This leaves seven books which in this study we have not yet identified as “Scripture“- Ruth, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Philemon.
Writings of the Prophets
Deuteronomy 18:21,22 and Jeremiah 28:9 testify that “Prophecy” is a hallmark of God’s revelations. Many writings claim divine authorship, but a God who can accurately foretell the future possesses absolute knowledge. Scholar Robert Vasholz notes: “the Old Testament endorses the fulfilled prediction as a hallmark of canonicity, . . .”xix During the time of the Old Testament, short term prophecyxx validated a prophet’s message to his own generation as authoritative communication from Godxx. He goes on to say that Prophetic fulfillment functions:
as proof that the prophet was genuine, and the Old Testament society understood them that way. . . Once a prophet and his contemporaries passed from the scene there would be no way for a prophet to be established. The prophet proved himself by short-term prediction and miracles to his peers. . . Prediction was the crux of the matter for canonicity in terms of its origin as the ’word of the Lord,’ but it also provides the internal criterion of acceptance and recognition by the community. On that basis, the written product of the prophets was recognized as both authoritative and canonical.xxii
Whether Old Testament or New, the communities to which a prophet spoke recognized the inherent quality of their writings as Holy Scripture on the basis of their prophetic nature.xxiii
The word “prophet,” (including synonyms “prophecy,” “prophesied,” etc.) are used in 19 of the 39 Old Testament books, and 5 of the New Testament booksxxiv. The book of Lamentations is a written fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Of the 39 Old Testament books, all of them but Ruth, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon contain non-Messianic prophecies fulfilled near or at the time of their proclamation.xxv The New Testament is saturated with fulfilled Messianic prophecies. There are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies confirmed in the life of Jesus.xxvi In fact, only five New Testament books do not contain a prophetic fulfillment that the original hearers could verify (2 Thessalonians, Phile., James, 3 John, Jude)xxvii. This leaves Ruth, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Philemon still unaccounted for in our study of the corpus of Scripture.
Quotations of Scripture
A significant “interlocking mechanism” defining “Scripture,” is its reference of other inspired writings. Many commentators see explicit quotations from all the Old Testament books except: Judges, Ruth, 2 Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Zephaniahxxviii. The fourth edition of the United Bible Societies' Greek Testament (1993) lists 343 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, as well as no fewer than 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels. If clear allusions, names or places are taken into consideration, the figures are much higher: “C.H. Toy lists 613 such instances, Wilhelm Dittmar goes as high as 1640, while Eugene Huehn indicates 4105 passages reminiscent of Old Testament Scripture. It can therefore be asserted, without exaggeration, that more than ten per cent of the New Testament text is made up of citations or direct allusions to the Old Testament.”xxix
The books most referenced are Psalms (79 quotations, 333 allusions), and Isaiah (66 quotations, 348 allusions). The book of Revelation has no fewer than 620 allusions, including a direct nine-word quotation (formal quotation) in chapter 14:7 (from Ex. 20:10). Furthermore, the Old Testament is quoted or alluded to in every New Testament book except Philemon and 2 and 3 John. The books of Ruth, Lamentations and Jonah are not directly quoted, but there are names and allusions that are referenced. For example—Ruth is mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1), Jonah is referred to by Jesus in Matthew 12:39-41, in Lamentations 3:52 and John 15:25. Esther, Song of Solomon and Philemon are the only remaining books to be included in our study as a part of “Scripture”.
Unity and the Canon
The unity that exists between the books of Scripture is profound. The great truths of the Bible, such as sin, redemption, the gospel, God’s law and character, etc., are interwoven into the fabric of the Bible. “This is sometimes called ‘the-unity-of-ideas’ approach to the Scripture. . . There is in both the Old and New Testaments the revelation of one and the same God. The God who created all things at the beginning of time is the God who is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. Both Old and New Testaments are one grand story of redemption, accomplished, to be sure, in stages. The God who delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage offers salvation to the world through Jesus Christ . . . Israel’s founding father [Abraham], is the prototype of all those believers in the NT who, like him, are justified by faith. Other themes could be mentioned but these three (God, salvation, the people of God) will suffice to show that the two parts of the Bible are tied together by great themes.”xxx
Unity is also seen in typology. Great events, things or people are prefigured by something or someone else at a former time. The Passover, the Jewish feasts, sanctuary, sacrificial system are all symbolic of a real and greater later event. “The typology method is validated by the Bible itself, particularly by the NT, where Christ is seen as the fulfillment of that which was typified in the OT.”xxxi The great themes of sin and redemption, God’s law, and judgment are seen in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. They testify to God’s character, the futility of man apart from God, and the many ways in which humans can edify or destroy themselves.
The Providence of God
Sometimes called “the hidden face of God”, Providence could be summarized as God’s continual involvement in the created world. It affirms that God cares for, preserves and watches over the affairs of men and women. Several biblical examples are: Moses in the bulrushes, Isaac and Rebecca, Joseph in Egypt, Ruth and Naomi, Jonah, etc. The books of Esther and Ruth fall into this category. Although there is little or no mention of God in these stories, they clearly show God’s hand guiding behind the events.
Writings of Paul
2 Peter 3:16 affirms that the writings of Paul are to be included in Scripture. Although Philemon does not contain several of the markers used to identify scripture, it can be included in the basis of this affirmation. Philemon could also be included in the “Great themes” of Scripture- since it manifests the love of Jesus Christ for each one of us as seen in what He did for us before God in pleading our case. This is one the finest illustrations of the doctrine of Substitution.xxxii
There may yet be some lingering questions about the book of Esther. It is the only book where God’s name is not explicitly mentioned and has no explicit prophetic message. But Esther should be included in the Canon for several reasons. Firstly, as we have seen, the “Providence” and miraculous power of God is clearly seen in the bookxxxiii. Secondly, we see an example of obedience to God’s law (Mordecai not bowing to Haman)xxxiv. Thirdly, there is implied supplication and humiliation for protection—strongly intimating that God is the object of their fastingxxxv. And finally, the courage of Esther, Mordecai and the Jews resulted in the conversion of many Persiansxxxvi. Behind the play and interplay of human events, we clearly see God’s omnipotent hand at work in this book.
Song of Solomon
What about the Song of Solomon? At first glance, it appears as an evocative love story with little spiritual value. But a more careful look reveals several reasons for its inclusion into the Canon. First, this is a song written by Solomon. At the time of this writing, he was a monogamous king, living a godly life. This song reveals the deep love and intimacy that is shared between a husband and wife. It shows us romance and marital love within the confines of the institution of marriage. Secondly, in a broad sense, the song is a Type and Antitype of God’s relationship with His people. “The love of Solomon and the bride are seen as typical of the love of Christ and His church. The love of marriage is made to illustrate the love between Christ and His Bride. Compare the New Testament picture of Christ and His Bridegroom in Eph. 5:22-23 and Rev. 22:17.”xxxvii Third, there are a number of words, allusions and places from other OT books that are referenced.xxxviii This shows that Solomon relied on the history and geography of the Jewish nation for this song. Fourth, the name of God (not seen in KJV, NKJV, NIV, etc.) is mentioned in 8:6 (mentioned in YLT, ESV, NASB, JPS, ASV, etc.). Fifth, there are New Testament quotes and allusions that most likely find their source in this Song.xxxix For all these reasons, the Song of Solomon should be included in the Canon.
In conclusion, a convincing argument can be made that the Canon recognizes itself! The New Testament was closed around A.D. 100, and from that time on, Christians could perceive which writings belong to it. Scholar Bruce Metzger concluded that the believers “came to recognize, accept, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church.”xl “The ‘self-authenticating quality’ is the divine revelation inscribe in the Word of God by inspiration. The canon was created by God through inspiration and its divine authority and canonicity is inherent in the revelation-inspiration phenomenon.”xli The Bible isn’t a book that can be added to and changed by church counsels, scholars or leaders, because it isn’t “just a record of revelation, but the permanent written form of revelation.”xlii The “Church” didn’t create the Bible—rather, God through Scripture “created” the church!
This article's references are available as a PDF document: view references.
Depending on one's faith tradition, different images come to mind when one hears the word scripture. The fact is, we live in a religiously pluralistic world, and can’t assume that our definition of scripture is monolithic. For many, scripture applies to a set of words when and only when these words trace an intimate and ongoing relationship between a community and the transcendent (or one who is transcendent).”(1) For Hindus, scripture is the Bhagavad-Gita. For Jews, it is the Tanach; Buddhists, the Trip taka. Islam believes that the Holy Qur’an is sacred scripture. Christians consider the Holy Bible scripture, while Sikhs and the Baha’i believe that the Adi Granth and Kitab-I-aqdas are scripture. More examples could be listed, but the point is clear, the word scripture has many meanings. Historically, protestants viewed Scripture as the combination of the Old and New Testaments (excluding the Apocrypha). However, some denominations have developed a different locus for their definition. Latter-day Saints (LDS) accept the “general accuracy” of the modern day text of the Bible, but they also believe that it is incomplete and contains errors. In LDS theology, many of these lost truths were restored in the Book of Mormon, which Mormons hold to be “divine scripture and equal in authority to the Bible.”(2) Similarly, Catholics do not believe that God has restricted His authoritative communication and rule of faith to the Bible alone. They hold that “God's Revelation comes to us through the Apostolic Tradition and teaching authority of the Church [i.e. the Magisterium(3)].”(4)
Seventh-day Adventists have been accused of elevating the writings of Ellen G. White to the same authority as Scripture. While there are some within the church who have mistakenly done this, her own testimony and the official position of the church clearly state otherwise. She wrote: “The word of God is sufficient to enlighten the most beclouded mind, and may be understood by those who have any desire to understand it.”(5) “The Word of God [is] the rule of your faith and practice.”(6) “The Lord . . . has not given any additional light to take the place of His word.”(7) “The written testimonies are not given to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed.“(8) The Seventh-day Adventist Church officially teaches that “Her writings . . . provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”(9)
What is scripture as defined by the Bible? The word scripture (graphe) appears 52 times in the New Testament (in the KJV), and is found either in the singular or in the plural form.(10) The definition of scripture is fairly consistent in most concordances: “express by written characters--to write down,”(11) “that which is written, the writing,”(12) “a writing, book, epistle”(13) “to write.”(14) This meaning can be seen in a number of Bible versions:
- “Every scripture inspired of God . . .” (KJV; NKJV; NASB; ASV; etc.)
- “Every holy Writing which comes from God . . .” (Basic English Bible; Darby Bible)
- “Every Writing [is] God-breathed . . .” (Young’s Literal Bible)
- “All that is written in the holy writings comes from the Spirit of God. . .” (WE)
- “All scripture written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . .” (Lamsa)
- “Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. . . (CEV)
Interestingly, scripture (graphe) in 2 Timothy 3:16 is a singular noun.(15) And in the singular, it “has reference to a particular passage (Mk 12:10; Lk 4:21; Jn 2:22; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:8). Whereas, in the plural, it refers to the ‘whole’ (Matt. 21:42; John 5:39; Acts 17:11; etc.).”(16) Greek scholar J.W. Roberts concurs by saying, “[I]n every N.T. use the singular term means a single passage of scripture.”(17) Therefore, from a lexical standpoint, scripture in 2 Tim. 3:16 is very specific and refers to single, succinct and short written passages. This doesn’t negate that 2 Timothy 3:16 (by implication) also refers to the Scriptures in a broader sense as well. However, the significance of the singular in 2 Timothy 3:16 should not be overlooked. In combination with our first study (which showed that “pasa” means “every”), Paul narrows down the definition of scripture to short phrases, passages, and even individual words.(18) Why is this important? Some theologians have used phrases such as “Scripture as a whole,” or “the whole Scripture.” This has the tendency of diluting or weakening the directive of distinctive passages and doctrines.(19) The implication is, that if 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to “Scripture in general,” don't be too concerned with specifics. However, when Paul refers to scripture, he refutes this understanding, showing that even precise, concise passages and words can be trusted. How else could he go on to say that “Scripture . . . is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction”?
Here is an overview of the 52 references of graphe in the New Testament, revealing 15 significant points:
“Scripture” is used in a general sense, referring to the entire Old Testament (20):
Matt. 22:9 “You do err, not knowing the scriptures” John 5:39 “you search the scriptures . . .”
In one sense, scripture is used by New Testament writers to include the entire Old Testament. This definition of scripture(s) does little to help us narrow down what that includes. However, it does tell us that the scriptures are a collection of writings that are used to gain knowledge of God, salvation, etc.
“Scripture” is used in a more limited sense, but still covering large sections/themes:
Matt. 26:56 “all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Luke 24:2 Jesus expounded “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
There are times when N.T. writers used “Scriptures” to refer to general topics or themes. These sections would include the Messianic prophecies or other fulfilled prophecies. For example in John 20:9, the disciples did not understand yet the Scriptures concerning Christ’s death and resurrection. And in Acts 17:2-4, Paul reasoned out of the Scriptures concerning the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.
“Scripture” is used in a special sense, quoting smaller, concise, individual passages:
Jn. 19:28 “that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith “I thirst . . . Vessel full of vinegar” Ps. 69:21 “in My thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”
Jn. 19:36 “the Scripture might be fulfilled, a bone of Him shall not be broken” Ps. 34:20 “He keepeth all His bones: not one of them is broken”
“In many instances “the Gospels restrict the meaning of 'Scripture' to individual passages within the OT with such terms as 'this' and 'another.' This restricted usage of Scripture is safeguarded by its contexts and special pronouns.”(21) In fact, “Scripture” can even mean one Greek word- “I thirst” (dipsao- Diyw; John 19:28 quoting Ps. 69:21). This reduction in meaning helps us see that scripture includes the very words and phrases that were written.
“Scripture” is referred to as the “word of God”:
Matt. 22:31, 32 “you err, not knowing the scriptures. . . which was spoken unto you by God saying . . .” John 10:35 “The word of God came, and the scriptures cannot be broken.”
Daniel recognized that the book of Jeremiah was the “word of the Lord” (Dan. 9:2) “David expressed the conviction that his words originated from the Holy Spirit (2 Sam. 23:2). . . When Joel the ‘prophet’ (Acts 2:16) spoke, it was ‘God’ speaking (v. 17). Likewise ‘God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time’ (Acts 3:21).”(22) More than 300 times the Old Testament uses phrases that “perceived itself as deriving from God . . . the ‘Word of God.’”(23) “When the New Testament writings were later included with the Old Testament as part of ‘all scripture’ [1 Tim. 5:18 quotes Lk 10:7; Peter refers to Paul’s epistles as “Scripture”- 2 Pet. 3:16], it was natural to conclude that they too were ‘inspired by God’.” (24)
“Scripture” includes the “writings of the prophets":
Rom. 1:2 ". . . by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son" Rom. 16:26 "The Scriptures of the prophets" (25) 2 Pet. 1:20 "no prophecy of scripture . . ." (26)
The New Testament uses phrases like “it has been written by the prophet” (Matt. 2:5) or “all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man” (Lk 18:31). Paul speaks about the promise given “through His prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2; see also Rom. 16:26). “The term ‘prophecy’ refers to that which was written by the inspired ‘prophets who prophesied’ (1 Pet. 1:10).
Jesus explained to His disciples on the road to Emmaus ‘all the Scriptures,’ namely, ‘Moses and the prophets’ (v. 27).“The phrase ‘all that the prophets have spoken’ seems to be identical with the phrase ‘all the Scriptures,’ expressing the totality of the Bible.”(27)
“Scripture” is referred to by the phrase “It is written”:
Lu. 24:45, 46 “That they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, ‘It is written . . .” Rom. 15:4 “written for our learning, that we through patience . . . Of the scriptures"
“It is written” (from the Greek grapho) is a verb of the word “Scripture” (graphe).(28) It basically stands for the same thing, and is usually seen referencing the “writings” of the Old Testament. “Jesus appealed to the Bible of His day, the OT, as the word of ultimate authority when He met the Devil’s temptation in the wilderness. Jesus resisted the Devil by stating, ‘It is written,’ quoting Scripture (Matt. 4:4,7,10). . . Jesus and the apostles repeatedly appealed to ‘Scripture’ as the Word of God which is 'written.'”(29) As already mentioned, “It is Written” refers to a number of specific subjects, and among these are:
- Geography (Matt. 2:5 quoting Micah 5:2- “Bethlehem in the land of Judah”)
- Marriage laws (Mark 10:4,5 quoting Deut. 9:6- “Moses wrote a bill of divorcement”)
- Conduct in God’s House (Mark 11:17 quoting Isaiah 56:7- “My house will be . . . A house of prayer”)
- Life, death and resurrection of Christ (Lk 1:3- “write unto you. . . That you may know of a certainty”)
- Historical narratives (1 Cor. 10:6-11- quoting Numbers- “they are written for our admonition”; Rom. 11:2 quoting 1 Ki. 19:10- “the scripture says of Elijah. . .”)
- Specific instruction about livestock (1 Cor. 9:9 quoting- “do not muzzle an ox while it is treading. . .")
- Condition of humanity (Romans 3:10- “as it is written: ‘there is no one righteous’. . .”)
“Scripture” points to and testifies of Jesus:
John 5:39 “Scriptures . . . testify of Me” John 20:31 “these are written (grapho) that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ”
The focus of the Bible is Jesus. While looking for writings that should be included in Scripture, the underlying theme will be Jesus Christ. There are some books where this is a bit harder to delineate, since there is no DIRECT reference to the Messiah (Esther, Nahum, Obadiah, Song of Solomon, to mention a few). However, we should see implied overtones of Jesus in all these books. The theme of “Scripture” points to a Messiah that will save humanity from sin, and restore the image of God in humanity. It points to His work in the redemption including His birth, death, resurrection and ministry in Heaven.(30)
“Scripture” is referred to as “the law”:
Luke 24:27 “Moses and all the prophets . . In all the Scriptures” Luke 2:23 “It is written (grapho) in the law of the Lord . . .” Luke 10:26 “what is written (grapho) in the law?”
The scripture(s) include the books of Moses- which are referred to as the “law”. There are a number of references that say “in the law and the prophets,” “in the law,” “the law of Moses,” etc. These phrases are called “Scripture”. It is interesting to recognize that Jesus understood the “Law” included even the smallest elements of the written language. Not “one jot or one tittle shall pass from the Law. . .” (Matt. 5:18).
“Scripture” is unified--doctrinally, thematically, historically and typologically:
John 10:35 - “and the Scripture cannot be broken” (31)
As one delves into the study of scripture, he or she is almost forced to confess the amazing unity that exists in the doctrines, themes and history within it’s pages. Theologian David Ewert has noted- “Since God is the Lord of history. . . We can expect His earlier revelations to anticipate the later. . . There are a great many prophecies in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT. . . The great truths of the Bible, such as sin, redemption, hope, and many others, take their rise in the OT and find their fuller development in the New. This is sometimes called ‘the-unity-of-ideas’ approach to the Scriptures. The thematic approach takes us even further and seeks to show the unity of the two Testaments by tracing their underlying themes.”(32) The Scriptures “though written generations apart. . . do not contradict each other.(33) The two testaments are one, as God is one. . . The Old Testament serves as foundation for the New. It provides the key to unlock the New, while the New explains the mysteries of the Old.”(34)
“Scriptures” great themes are the love of God and salvation of man through Jesus:
1 Cor. 15:3 “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”
The under girding theme of Scripture is how God through Christ came to the rescue of fallen humanity, and bought him back through the plan of salvation. “The theme of God’s love, particularly as seen in Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary--the grandest truth of the universe--is the focus of the Bible. All major bible truths, therefore, should be studied from this perspective.”(35)
“Scripture” provides comfort and hope through its written promises:
Rom. 15:4- “through patience and comfort of the Scriptures”
This is a more subjective element to our understanding of the word graphe. Obviously, there are many religious “holy books," whose adherents claim spiritual benefits through its writings. However, this is not an objective, externally verifiable reason to include a writing as “Scripture.” Nevertheless, it is a confirming reason, which can be known internally, and produces further assurance that the objective claims are valid.
“Scripture” records God’s providence's and supervision over the affairs of man:
Matt. 4:4 “it is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word . . . of God” Acts 17:26 "He hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” Luke 4:10 “it is written (grapho), He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you.”
God is involved in the affairs of the nations, and in providential control of human affairs. The book of Daniel makes it clear that God sets up kings and removes them. He uses pagan rulers to overrule the sinful behavior of His people. The “scriptures” reveal God’s interaction with humanity as through a “wheel within a wheel”. Above the complex play and interplay of human events, ultimately God is working to further His will and His plans. Therefore, although there may not be a direct references to God in some of the Scriptures- we can clearly see His providence through the events that transpire.(36)
“Scripture” includes “the Psalms”:
Luke 24:44- “written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me.”
The book of Psalms is probably quoted more in the New Testament than any other Old Testament book. It is referred to over and over as scripture.
“Scripture” includes a gospel book:
1 Ti. 5:18 “The scripture says" Lk 10:7 quoted- “the laborer is worthy of his reward”
In 1 Tim. 5:18 Paul quotes Jesus in the book of Luke.(37) This is significant, because the scriptures include at least one gospel.
“Scripture” includes the writings of Paul (38):
2 Pet. 3:16 “in his [Paul's] epistles . . . As also in the other scriptures"
“Peter’s use of ‘Scriptures’ places Paul’s writings on a level with other inspired Scripture.”(39) “The manner of referring to Paul’s letters as ‘Scriptures’ alongside the OT indicates that they had been recognized as being on the same level. They were both viewed as being of divine origin and authoritative.”(40)
In conclusion, scripture (as used in the New Testament) is a multi-faceted word that has a broad range of meanings. It can refer to the entire Old Testament, smaller themes of prophetic fulfillment or in a special sense, quoting individual passages and small units of writing. Scripture is called “the Word of God,” the writings “of the prophets,” “the Law” (“law of Moses“) and is also designated by the phrase, “it is written." The Scriptures record God’s providence in the affairs of human history and present the great themes of the love of God through Jesus Christ for lost humanity. The history and doctrines of Scripture are seen as a “golden thread”(41) that unifies the writings into a single book. The focus of Scripture is Jesus Christ, and it includes the gospels and writings of Paul. While we have looked at scripture lexically, we haven’t yet shown how these different words, passages and phrases are connected together to create the whole. In the next article, we will discuss how the Scriptures are joined internally as a unit and thus become sola-prima scriptura (i.e. the canon).
There are so many different books on biblical hermeneutics available, and so many ways in which various scholars have suggested for interpreting the Scriptures, that some ordinary believers may become confused and disillusioned by the apparent enormity of the task of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). So, where then shall we find the best, mostly reliable method for interpreting this divinely-inspired document? The best method of interpretation is to examine the way in which Jesus Christ interpreted the Scriptures when He was on this earth. Perhaps the clearest, most concise illustration of the hermeneutical methodology of Jesus, can be elucidated from a meticulous analysis of one text in the New Testament, the one located in Luke 24:27: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
Short three-word phrases from Luke 24:27 have been selected from various Bible versions, so as to clearly illustrate the seven-part method used by the Savior in His interpretation of Scripture. A brief overview of the basic seven-part approach, including the Action Steps to be taken, is outlined below.
Phase 1: “Jesus quoted passages;” i.e., it is Christ-Dependent Interpretation Phase One recognizes that, on our own, we cannot understand the Bible. The words of Jesus to His disciples are as true today as when He originally spoke them: “With God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). Later on, in His ministry, He repeated that universal truth, in another six-word sentence: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But really, this short clause is really the end of a passage of Scripture saturated with divine promise: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). It was only after that incredible assurance, that Jesus then added the vital postscript: “for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Referring to the Scriptures, Peter noted that it “never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). When we acknowledge that it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, then we will similarly recognize that we need to be open to that same Spirit in order to appropriately understand the inspired Word. Hence, the first Action Step clearly states:
Ask Jesus, the Supreme interpreter of the sacred Scriptures, to guide in your study of His Word; then, willingly follow.
Phase 2: “Starting with Moses;” i.e., it is Chronological Interpretation The importance of this intentional chronological approach can perhaps be best explained by means of an illustration. Over the years various individuals have pointed to the experience of David, and have concluded that God must have condoned polygamy to some degree since it was practiced by one who was called “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam 13:14).
According to 1 Samuel 13, it was immediately after King Saul had presumptuously officiated as priest in offering up a burnt sacrifice at Gilgal that Samuel informed him that he would lose his kingdom. In this context Samuel stated: “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart” (1 Sam 13:14).
This young shepherd David, selected by God to replace Saul, was handsome, healthy, and harmoniously living within the will of God (1 Sam 16:7, 12). Evidently, at this time David was a single man. The narrative indicates that it was while David was still an unmarried man, and before he becomes embroiled in polygamy, that God called him “a man after His own heart.”
Several years earlier God had personally selected Saul to lead His people (1 Sam 10:24). However, even though Saul had for a while been a devout follower, he eventually rejected God. Similarly David was chosen by God as the next king when he was living within God’s will. Chronologically, it was at this point in time that God classified David as a “man after His own heart.”
Phase Two, a Chronological Interpretation of the Bible, seeks to set out a scriptural manner of coherently addressing such issues. Its basic Action Step is as follows:
Start at the beginning, then examine the topic through time, observing any changes over time; finally, draw conclusions.
Phase 3: “Interpreted for them;” i.e., it is Careful Interpretation More than two decades ago an Adventist magazine published a pro-abortion article, in which Exodus 21:22-25 was mentioned as justification for the position taken. Even a cursory glance at Bible versions brought to light an interesting phenomenon: Many translations, such as the Revised Standard Version, interpreted this passage as a “miscarriage” in which a fine was to be paid for the dead fetus, while the death of the mother called for capital punishment. On the other hand, some versions translated this same passage as a “premature birth” in which the death penalty applied equally for either mother or fetus.
Since this is the only passage in Scripture that deals with the legal responsibility in relation to the early termination of a pregnancy, its interpretation is obviously of vital import. Literally hundreds of hours of careful research was needed in order to discover which versions were the most reliable on this controversial matter. The conclusions of the careful investigation of this passage have been validated, by the virtually unanimous manner in which modern versions have rendered this passage, as dealing with a premature birth, and not a miscarriage.
Phase three aims at a detailed investigation of words and phrases in context. Its essential Action Step is as follows:
Examine the biblical passage meticulously, considering the words in the full context, to determine the proper meaning.
Phase 4: “In every part;” i.e., it is Comprehensive Interpretation The kind of careful interpretation of the specific passages of Scripture as identified and illustrated in Phase Three, however, must not be done in isolation from the rest of the Bible. In fact, the importance of seeing passages within their larger spiritual contexts is emphasized by Jesus on His walk to Emmaus. here Jesus “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Or, as other versions express this vital phrase: “In every part of the Scriptures” (NEB); i.e., “in the whole of Scripture” (REB).
Phase Four, a Comprehensive Interpretation, examines texts within their broader contexts so as to find coherence in Holy writ. The main Action Step is the following:
Consider the evidence from the broader context of the Bible, compare scripture with scripture; then see coherent themes.
Phase 5: “Of the scriptures;” i.e., it is Canonical Interpretation As is well-documented, Jesus referred to the Scriptures repeatedly in His life. Jesus believed in the authority of the Scriptures (e.g., Matt 4:4). He not only taught from them (e.g., Matt 12:7-8), but He also lived by them (e.g., Matt 4:8-10). In His communication He frequently quoted from or alluded to them (e.g., Matt 11:10, 21-24; 13:14-16; etc.). He responded to temptation by quoting from the Scriptures (see Matt 4). When He was talking to the Pharisees, He answered their concerns by quoting from the Scriptures (e.g., Matt 12:3-8). He went virtually nowhere without talking about the Word of God. He constantly pointed people to the true meaning of the Scriptures (e.g., Matt 23:23).
When Jesus met those two disciples on the way to Emmaus, what could he have done right away, if He had wanted to convince them of who He was? Could He not have held of his hands and said, “Gentlemen, it is I”? But what did He do?
According to the account in Luke 24, we see very clearly that Jesus did not provide any such physical evidence to begin with. He was more concerned about going to the Word of God. As Luke 24:27 puts it: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Or as another translation has phrased it: “He explained to them the passages throughout the Scriptures that were about himself” (NJB).
Thus, only after they were convinced from the clear canonical interpretation done of the written Word of God -- that the Messiah was indeed this Jesus who had died -- did the risen Christ then reveal His identity through the breaking of the bread.
Phase Five, a Canonical Interpretation, seeks to demonstrate the indispensability of the Word of God in the life of the believer. The Action Step, therefore declares:
Acknowledge and use the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as the fundamental basis for belief and practice in life.
Phase 6: “The passages which;” i.e., it is Contextual Interpretation When the risen Christ spoke with the two men on their way to Emmaus, “He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27), or as another version has it, “the passages which referred to himself in every part of the Scriptures” (NEB). Simply put, Jesus took the context into account.
For a practical example on the importance of context, consider the oft-quoted passage from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matt 5:17, 18).
This passage is often used as strong evidence that Jesus Himself did not set aside or annul the law, that is, the Ten Commandments. This idea appears even clearer in some modern versions, such as the Revised Standard Version’s rendering: “‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
In brief, a contextual study of the terms “law” and “prophets” in Matthew 5:17 indicates that these terms refer to the Scriptures as a whole during the time of Jesus. Since the word “law” in this couplet clearly means the five books of Moses, it naturally includes the Ten Commandments, located in Exodus 20 as well as in Deuteronomy 5. However, to refer to the word “law” in Matthew 5:17, as though it were simply a synonym for the moral law (i.e., the Decalogue), is a misuse of the Bible.
Phase six, a Contextual Interpretation of the sacred Scriptures, will explore the dynamics of such a hermeneutical methodology. Thus, the Action Step to take, is as follows:
Analyze every issue by taking into account both the broader and immediate contexts, to reach the best interpretation.
Phase 7: Referred to himself;” i.e., it is Christ-Centered Interpretation In 1981 an article appeared in Insight Magazine, titled “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” While the author mentioned that “God is a God of truth,” and that Satan is called the “father of lies,” he basically presented his points from a consequentialist perspective, using humanistic logic. Amazingly, even though this essay was published in a Christian magazine for young people, less than four percent of the article dealt with biblical information. Essentially ignoring the relationship of truth-telling to Jesus Christ, it was not surprising therefore that the writer concluded that sometimes “a lie is fully justified.”
Sadly, this type of Christless, and atheistic rationalization, has been infiltrating the ranks of Bible-believers over the decades, especially since the rise of so-called “situation ethics.” While there have been several challenges to these types of relativistic and humanistic ideas that have been creeping into the church as a whole, some well-respected, powerful communicators continue to indirectly undermine the moral law of God, as found in the Ten Commandments.
Jesus is our example: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’” (1 Pet 2:21, 22). Thus, the Action Step simply declares:
Witness the way in which every biblical teaching relates to, and focuses on Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of all humanity.
Like two attractive bookends, this seven-part system of biblical interpretation, begins and ends with a deliberate, intentional focus on Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
By way of reminder, Phase One emphasized the vital necessity of a Christ-Dependent Interpretation, in which the Bible student is to, “Ask Jesus, the Supreme interpreter of the sacred Scriptures, to guide in your study of His Word; then, willingly follow.” In a similar manner, Phase Seven, a Christ-Centered Interpretation, underlines a crucial and utterly indispensable aspect of proper biblical hermeneutics -- that of searching the Scriptures with the realization that every biblical teaching relates to and centers upon Jesus Christ.
What are the soul-satisfying results of such study of Scripture? “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32). Hearts will indeed feel “strangely warm” when we emulate the methods of the Messiah. We too will become excited when we see the true meaning of the Scriptures. _______________ Adapted from the book Warriors of the Word: Methods of the Messiah for Searching Scripture by Ron du Preez.
Genealogies, at least in the scripture sense and usage, are out of fashion these days. By many the past is considered an imposition, its categories too confining for a liberated age, its conceptions irrelevant. And yet the very societies that would cut the umbilical cord of the past bare already suffering the results of their false bids for freedom.Read More
Historically, Protestants have held a high view of the Scriptures. Parents taught children that the Bible was the inspired word of God, and that except for some possible scribal and translational errors (none of which affect any truths or teachings), it was God‘s infallible word to humanity.