Send comments and questions to: gordonferguson33@gmail.com

What Is Demon Possession?

When we read the Gospel accounts, demon possession is mentioned a number of times. When Jesus and the apostles did miracles, one type was casting out demons. I have written at length explaining that miraculous gifts were limited to a first century setting and gave the reasons for that limitation. This material was originally included in Chapter Ten of my book, “Prepared to Answer,” and in a Second Edition, revised slightly. The revised chapter can be read as a stand-alone article on my website (gordonferguson.org) under the title, “A Study of Miraculous Gifts.”

Although demon possession and miraculous gifts of the Spirit are definitely related in the Gospels, they can be seen as separate topics. They can also be addressed as responses to two different questions. “Are miraculous gifts still operative today?” and, “Is demon possession still occurring today?” I have addressed the first question in the article, but now in this one I want to address the second.

Most Bible scholars believe that demon possession was a phenomenon that God allowed specifically during the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, continuing during the time of the early church. It was a special way of demonstrating God’s power through his chosen leaders to convince those watching and hearing that these leaders were sent by him with his message. You find no mention of demon possession in the Old Testament, nor exorcism of demons, but you do find the presence of evil spirits, which is simply another term for demons. Demons are a reality and a part of Satan’s forces of evil used to influence humans to do and be evil. Their existence is not in question nor is their intent. What is in question is whether they possess people today like they did in the first century.

Demonology and Speculation

Demonology is a subject that historically is connected with more mythological theories than can be easily imagined. Theories of what demons are like and how they work is as varied as history’s theories of deity. The NT doesn’t give us much information about the origin of demons nor an explanation of their exact nature either. Therein we simply see what they did and how Jesus and the apostles spoke to the ones possessing humans and cast them out. Nothing is to be gained by speculation regarding areas not explained in the NT. Demons exist and they did possess humans during those early times. Sometimes their possession was associated with illnesses and sometimes not. Attributing illness or other calamity to demon possession today is nothing more than speculation and I believe a wrong one.

Bottom line, it seems best to relegate actual demon possession of the type found in the NT to a time when Jesus and the early disciples were performing a variety of miraculous works to confirm them as God-approved messengers of his new covenant. That new covenant began in spoken form by Jesus and the inspired apostles and prophets and ended up in written form, which we call the New Testament. Once the written form was completed, no further use of miraculous gifts was needed. With the death of the apostles and those upon whom they laid their hands to confer those miraculous gifts, they ceased. My article previously mentioned covers the miraculous stage of the church pretty thoroughly. If you still have questions, please read or reread that article.

It is also worth noting that the prevalence of demon possession and the casting out of demons is found much more in the ministry of Jesus than in the ministry of the apostles after Jesus ascended back into heaven. The Book of Acts has little mention of the exorcism of demons. The rest of the NT books beyond Acts contain no mention of this phenomenon at all. Even in the listing of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, the casting out of demons is not found among them. Again, demon possession seems to be a phenomenon allowed by God especially for the ministry of Jesus and extending to the apostles as they carried on his ministry.

Another Related Possibility

That said, I do believe a type of demon possession might well be possible today, but a different type than we read about in the NT. In our present age, demons are constantly working to influence us for evil purposes. I have observed a few people who had given themselves over to Satan fully enough that they seemed to be completely controlled, or possessed, by demons. Even their facial features and the looks in their eyes seemed to be altered in very disturbing ways. But these were adults who had chosen to be influenced by Satan’s forces to sin, and then sinned long enough and deeply enough to be fully controlled or something close to it. Demonic influence seemed to progress to demonic control, which would be a type of demon possession. And yes, I did pray over them, shared Scriptures and reasoned with them, as with anyone caught up in sin. But this situation is different from what we find in the NT.

During Jesus’ ministry, you read about even children being possessed by demons. They had not fallen prey to temptation and sin, but they were unwillingly possessed by demons anyway. For example, look at this account:

 Mark 9:20-22

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Have I ever seen anything like this take place with a child? No. I’ve not seen anything like this take place with an adult, for that matter. What I have seen are a few adults who seemed to be so in the control of the forces of evil that it appeared to me that they were possessed. Therefore, the bigger issue for you and me is not focusing on demon possession as a special topic of interest, but on demon influence which is not a questionable matter at all. I want to stay as far away as possible from the temptations Satan provides, regardless of how and through whom he provides them, and avoid ever coming close to being controlled by him and his army of evil.

This last sentence is clearly the path to choose, while the overall subject of demonology in detail is not close to being clear in the Bible. Further speculations about the topic can easily create confusion and become a distraction (or worse). I have seen that happen. Being aware of Satan’s schemes and approaches is biblical; attempting to study him and his demons in depth as a topic is neither biblical nor helpful. I have offered my opinions about what might still be possible in our day, but I am labeling them as my opinions. Let’s just concentrate on doing what Paul admonished us to do as disciples in Ephesians 5:11: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness…” If you follow that inspired advice, you cannot become possessed by demons.

A Study of Miraculous Gifts

Taken from Chapter 10 of Prepared to Answer, Second Edition

Without question, miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were very common in the early church as described in the New Testament. To the casual reader, the question would readily arise as to why these gifts would not be available and beneficial for today as well.

Purpose of Miraculous Gifts

In a word, the purpose of these gifts was to reveal and to confirm that the message of the early preachers and teachers was from God, and that these preachers and teachers were also God-sent. Just imagine yourself among those audiences of Jewish listeners described in the early chapters of Acts. Your Jewish training would have caused you to respect the written Word of God, the Scriptures, and to settle all issues of your life by it. Now you are listening to these early apostles and other preachers teaching that this controversial figure, Jesus Christ, has fulfilled the OT Scriptures, so you are no longer under their authority. However, these preachers have no written word from God containing this new message. In fact, no book of what we now call the NT will be written for about 20 years! Therefore, the challenge of leaving a written, time-tested covenant, to accept one which was only verbal at that point, would have been staggering for a Jew! That is, unless these new preachers could validate their claims with miracles.

In Mark 16:15-20, Jesus spoke of these miracles which were to confirm his message and messengers.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Hebrews 2:1-4 speaks clearly of the signs and wonders that were needed to confirm the word that was originally preached.

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

It is vital to remember the background of the Jewish audiences (and later the Gentiles), and how it would have been difficult for them to accept the gospel (as yet unwritten) without these confirming miracles. Also, without the miraculous gifts, there would not even have been a message, for “prophecy” (speaking by inspiration from God) was one of these gifts. Some of the gifts were revelatory (they revealed God’s message) types, and some were confirmatory (they confirmed God’s message). When Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 that the gifts were to be used to build up the body of Christ, he was referring primarily to the revelatory type of gifts. Since God’s revelation is now completed in written form, we can enjoy the same strengthening when this message is spoken by those with non-miraculous gifts of teaching and preaching.

For the gifts to have their desired effect, they would need to be obvious, even to unbelievers: and they clearly were, according to Acts 4:15- 16 and Acts 8:9-13. These were not the kind of alleged “miracles” which were attributable to other causes. Even the enemies of the early church could not deny that the miracles were real and totally amazing.

Furthermore, if the “tongues” were merely ecstatic utterances (unintelligible vocal sounds, as with modern claims), they would not have convinced anyone of anything, because ecstatic utterances were widely practiced in pagan religions long before the church was established. This fact is easily documented, and therefore such “tongues” would have done nothing to impress unbelievers with the truth of these messengers and their messages.

How the Gifts Were Received

The position that I have taken here is that the miraculous gifts in the NT times could only be passed on through the laying on of apostles’ hands. They had received a special measure of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them not only to possess these gifts, but to spread them to other Christians as the needs in the church dictated. A careful examination of the applicable passages will yield evidence that is quite compelling.

In Acts 2, although 120 believers may have been present, only the apostles spoke in tongues which were actually languages or dialects (glossa and dialekto in Greek). Note the following reasons: (1) in verse 1, “they” goes back to the nearest antecedent “the apostles” in 1:26; (2) in verse 7, all of the speakers were said to be Galileans. (Although the apostles were all chosen in Galilee, the setting for this occasion was in Judea, quite a distance away. Certainly, not all of the 120 would have been from Galilee.) (3) in verse 14, it specifically says that Peter stood up with “the Eleven”; (4) the question raised by those in the audience was addressed to Peter and the other apostles; (5) after baptism, those early disciples devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching; and lastly, (6) verse 43 tells us that the ongoing wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Acts 2 also demonstrates that the “tongues” were understandable languages, not simply some kind of ecstatic utterances. In verse 6, the audience heard them speaking in their “own language.” The Greek word here is actually the word for dialect, which is even more specific. The same word indicating dialect is found in verse 8, where it is translated “own native language.” Then, in verse 11, it says that “they were declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.” The Greek word for “tongues” here is glossa, the basic word for a language.

Between Acts 2 and Acts 6, all miracles were performed by apostles only. Then, in Acts 6:1-6, seven spiritual men were chosen to help with the distribution of food to widows, after which the apostles’ hands were laid on them (verse 6). Immediately afterwards, Stephen, one of the seven, did miracles (verse 8). This is the first mention in the Book of Acts of anyone besides the apostles doing any miracles. And it occurred right after the seven men received the laying on of the apostle’s hands! Philip, another of the seven, is the next person to perform miracles (Acts 8, beginning in verse 5). Although Philip could do powerful miracles, he could not pass on this gift to others, as verses 14-19 make clear.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Notice that Simon tried to buy this ability from the apostles, rather than from Philip, although Philip could do the miracles.

The apostle Paul also laid hands on those who then received miraculous abilities (Acts 19:1-7). When writing to the church at Rome, Paul mentioned that he wanted to impart some additional gift (Romans 1:11) by which the Roman Christians might be strengthened. When Romans 12 is compared with a very similar chapter discussing gifts in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12), the difference in the nature of these gifts is striking. Notice in Romans 12 that the gifts in the body are all non-miraculous, except for prophecy. The parallel in 1 Corinthians 12 names many miraculous gifts. Paul planted the church at Corinth, and laid hands on many of the disciples; but when Romans was written, no apostle had yet been there. Therefore, one church had many who could do miraculous gifts, while the other church had very few (if any). Those few evidently had moved to Rome from other churches that had been planted by apostles.

How Long Were the Gifts to Last?

If the miraculous gifts came only through the laying on of apostles’ hands, they would cease when the apostles, and those on whom the apostles had laid their hands, had all died. Also, if the reason for the gifts was to reveal and confirm the message and the messengers, then when the message was delivered in written form, the need would have been met. By the time Paul had written his last inspired letter, he must have known that the Scriptures (which now included his own writing) would soon be completed, as the NT joined the OT in God’s complete revelation. These Scriptures would equip Timothy and all disciples for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

An important point to mention at this juncture is that the miraculous gifts accompanied new revelation. If the miracles are occurring today, as the Pentecostals claim, where and what is the new revelation? The Mormons actually claim that their additional books are confirmed by their practice of miraculous gifts. The proponents of the Holiness Movement, then, should not reject the Mormon writings, but they do. Now that the message has been revealed and confirmed and committed to writing (the NT), the written descriptions of the miracles do for us today what the actual miracles did for them in that day (John 20:30-31):

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

If the written descriptions of the miracles are sufficient to produce faith in man, which leads to salvation, just what else would we need? Actually, Jesus recognized a greater degree of faith in us who have not seen these things personally but have accepted the Word’s testimony:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).

Some claim that miracles are still needed today in order to confirm the Scriptures for us. This overlooks the fact that the Scriptures have already been confirmed and can now produce saving faith in us (John 20:31; Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 3:3-5). Also, according to Romans 1:4, Jesus was confirmed to be God’s Son by the resurrection. If miracles are needed in each generation to reconfirm the Scriptures, then every generation would also need another resurrection of Jesus to reconfirm him as God’s Son! Certainly, the Scriptures have been confirmed adequately, and they carry within themselves their own self-authenticating miracles. Besides these obvious and necessary logical conclusions, 1 Corinthians 13:10 (which we will explore later in this chapter) predicted the ending of the miraculous gifts.

Miraculous Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14

Enumeration. The church at Corinth had problems with their attitudes toward, and use of, spiritual gifts. A particular problem was their pride in exercising the somewhat “showy” gift of tongues. Paul corrected their problems by demonstrating the proper way to view and use these gifts. In chapter 12, he gave the enumeration (listing) of the gifts; in chapter 13, the duration of the gifts; and in chapter 14, the regulation of these gifts for as long as they were to be in effect. Importantly, the church at Corinth provides conclusive evidence that the presence of the gifts, even in abundance, was no guarantee that the Christians would be spiritual. In fact, this church seemed to have more gifts than any other mentioned in the NT, and yet these disciples were about the least spiritual of any mentioned! The modern claim that the truly spiritual people get the gifts flatly contradicts what we see in the NT.

The enumeration of the gifts is found in 12:8-10. They were as follows:

    • the message of wisdom
    • the message of knowledge
    • faith (evidently of a miraculous type)
    • gifts of healing
    • miraculous powers
    • prophecy
    • distinguishing between spirits
    • tongues
    • the interpretation of tongues

In verses 29-30, Paul asks some rhetorical questions: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” Clearly, not everyone had the same gifts. Specifically, all did not speak with tongues, contrary to charismatic teaching. Furthermore, verse 30 shows that a non-miraculous gift is greater than the miraculous. Thus, Paul leads into chapter 13 with the call for every person, above all else, to exhibit love.

Duration. The duration of the gifts is described in chapter 13, in a context which depicts the superiority of love. Tongues, without love, were worthless. Prophecy, without love, was and is worthless. Knowledge, without love, was and is worthless. Faith, without love, was and is worthless. Giving, without love, was and is worthless. Even a sacrificial death without love is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Notice that tongues, prophecy, knowledge and faith, in the context of the preceding chapter, are all miraculous gifts. Then, in chapter 13 verses 4-7, Paul describes real love (the “agape” type), as contrasted with their spiritual immaturity and erroneous use of gifts.

Next, in verses 8-10, Paul shows that love will continue when the gifts have fulfilled their purpose and ceased.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

This passage says plainly that prophecy, tongues and knowledge were going to cease. Furthermore, they were only partial in their effects (verse 9). For example, a prophet could give only a partial message at any one time (see 14:29-32). He could not state all aspects of a subject, as we can today, through the use of a completed Word—the OT and NT.

Then, in verse 10, the partial gifts were said to last until perfection came. Just what was the “perfection”? It is not Christ, for the Greek term is neuter in gender, whereas it would be masculine if it were referring to him. It is not love, because love is feminine in gender. Notice that the “perfection” will take the place of the “partial.” Since the partial gifts mentioned here are all revelatory gifts, then the perfection must have to do with revelation. Otherwise, it could not replace the partial. Therefore, the perfection (or complete, from “telios” in Greek) must at least include a completed revelation, which would end the need for miraculous gifts. Our earlier study has shown this to be a logical conclusion of a completed revelation, and now this passage has demonstrated the validity of such a conclusion.

We now can turn to a written and “perfect” law of liberty (according to James 1:25) which employs the same Greek word as that in 1 Corinthians 13:10. Paul’s argument is a warning against being so enamored with gifts that are temporary anyway. He urges concentration on love, for it will always be with us. While it is tempting to say that the perfect in verse 10 is simply the completed NT revelation, the text doesn’t demand such a limitation; the context suggests that more may be involved and logic would say that more must be involved. The real purpose of these three chapters in 1 Corinthians, as already noted, was to deal with worldly pride and immaturity in their view and the use of miraculous gifts.

Having a completed revelation does not rule out pride and immaturity, although it surely would help in their case. What does rule it out is maturity and spirituality. Thus, in our verse under examination, it seems best to focus on the cessation of gifts (especially their misuse and abuse) as Paul’s plan for their maturation process—when love would reign supreme and disunity be dispelled. He uses similar wording in Ephesians 4:11-16, when unity based on maturity was to rule out being tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching. Certainly, the completed revelation would be a part of that, as it would in 1 Corinthians 13:10, which would help eliminate immaturity based on pride. Just knowing that the gifts were partial, temporary and inferior to love would help the hearts and attitudes to change. This interpretation fits the context in showing that the partial, miraculous gifts were to cease, but keeps the real focus on maturing in love and respect for one another. The completed NT in writing was not incidental to Paul’s purpose in writing, but neither was it his main focus.

Regulation. The regulation of the miraculous gifts is found in chapter 14. As long as these gifts did remain in effect, they needed to be exercised with God’s restraints. Prophecy was a much greater gift than tongues because it was understood much more easily (verses 1-19). Some find a supposed basis for ecstatic utterances in verses like verse 2: “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” If one only read verse 2, such an interpretation would seem possible. However, verse 2 could also be explained as being a situation where a person was speaking a real language which neither he nor anyone in the audience understood. Thus, it would be a mystery to everyone present except God.

The above explanation is in perfect accord with the context of the discussion, as verses 22-23 show:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

It is true that just knowing that God was speaking such a language through someone would provide some building up for them (verse 4). However, it would not do anyone else real good unless someone present had the gift of interpretation (see verses 5, 13, 27, 28, in this regard). This explanation takes into account all other considerations which we have studied, such as the meaning of “glossa”—a language—whereas the ecstatic utterance position does not.

In verses 26-40, the specific regulations for using the supernatural gifts in the first-century assemblies are outlined. Everything in the assembly was to be done for strengthening the hearers (verse 26). When tongues were being used, three people at the most could speak, one at a time, and only if an interpreter were present. If no interpreter was present, no tongues could be spoken (verses 27-28)! Two or three prophets would speak, one at a time, only until the next prophet received a revelation, and then the speaker had to stop and sit down (verses 29-33). Note that in verse 12, a warning is given against getting “carried away” and saying that you could not stop because you were “in the Spirit.”

Women were to be silent in the assemblies, not being permitted to speak (verses 34-35). As we discuss in Appendix III, these women were most likely the wives of the inspired speakers in the service. The wives were interrupting their husbands, and in doing so, were disrupting a service which was to be conducted in an orderly manner. Paul then warns people against over-reacting and forbidding certain people with the gift to speak in tongues entirely. However, they were to be careful about keeping within these regulations as long as the gifts were operative (verses 39-40).

In view of the foregoing biblical consideration, the charismatic movement today is not based on the Holy Spirit’s activity. Although its adherents are often well-intentioned and sincere, it is a movement based on emotionalism. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to promote truth in a spirit of gentleness and love. May God help us to help others who have been misled in this area of exercising so-called spiritual gifts!

Once Saved, Always Saved?

I have expressed my alarm many times about the current teaching and emphases of American evangelical churches. Honestly, the emphases are in many ways more disturbing than the specific doctrines with which I disagree. Living in the Bible Belt and interreacting with those having a past or present history in these churches shows me what they really believe in their heart of hearts. They are in the majority quite comfortable with wrong teachings about both doctrine and lifestyle. Regarding lifestyle, Jesus made it abundantly clear that his followers had to be “all in,” “sold out,” “heart and soul” disciples of his. This means far more than just getting a vaccination to protect you from the consequences of sin when you die and then going on about your business as usual, with little changed. Just look at a few of the many passages that could be listed which teach this truth.

Luke 9:23
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 14:27
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:33
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Matthew 7:21
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Is total commitment to Jesus and his spiritual body, the church, the emphasis of evangelicalism? I don’t think so, based on what I hear from individuals and preachers and what I read in their writings. Their main focus is usually on “getting saved,” a part of the basic stated definition of their purpose as evangelicals. It is quite common for preachers or the more committed members to urge the “unsaved” to invite Jesus into their hearts or to pray the sinner’s prayer, with little or nothing said about what becoming a follower of Jesus includes from that point forward. Not only is what is being offered as the salvation process not in line with New Testament teaching, becoming a sold-out disciple of Jesus for a lifetime is not taught and/or emphasized. The offer of salvation in this case is much more of an offer of “fire insurance” to keep you out of hell when you die than a lifetime commitment to Jesus as the very Lord of our lives.

The Problem Compounded

But this is only the first part of the problem. Most evangelicals still believe and teach that once you are saved, then you are always saved. You cannot lose your salvation. One of my good friends related a conversation he had with the preacher at his girlfriend’s church decades ago, and it illustrates my point well. He told the preacher that his girlfriend wouldn’t marry him unless he was a Christian, and since he really wanted to marry her, he needed to know what becoming a Christian entailed. The preacher said that he simply needed to accept Christ as his personal Savior and that was it – he would then be a Christian and set for eternity. Of course he would, if you accept this answer as the way to enter a saved relationship with Jesus, and if you cannot lose your relationship with him once you have it. My friend said, rather incredulously, “So what’s the downside?” The preacher said, “No downside; at that point you are set for life and eternity.”

Again, I could quote passage after passage showing the total commitment Jesus is asking for – demanding, really. But in our Christian culture, you just need to get your eternity set and then you can go about your business just like everyone else does. Most who claim Christianity appear little different from those who don’t. Of course, you are encouraged to attend church and avoid the really “bad” sins, but rest assured that no matter what, you will be pronounced “at home with God” and “safe in the arms of Jesus” at your funeral. If you have been to many funerals (or pretty much any funeral), you know what I am saying here is correct. Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 talked about a narrow way to eternal life found only by a few, and a broad way that the majority end up on, the way of eternal destruction. He taught that most will be lost in eternity, not saved. But you will not hear anything close to that in the Bible Belt, rest assured.

Enough Preaching, Gordo!

Okay, I’ll quit preaching and get back to teaching – teaching about what is wrong with the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” Interestingly, this doctrine is a part of historic Calvinism and the only part still accepted by most evangelicals. Yet, it rests upon the foundation of the other four parts of the Calvinistic system. In short, the word TULIP represents the basic tenets of that system. T stands for Total Depravity. John Calvin (and many others) during the period of the Reformation overreacted to the focus on human works in the Catholic Church and went to the other extreme. Now it was all up to God in way that boggles the imagination (and contradicts the Bible). Thus, children were said to be born totally incapable of doing good, lost sinners at birth.

If that is accepted, then the U stands for Unconditional Election. If you are totally depraved and cannot choose good, God must make the choice for you and so only those whom he unconditionally elects will ultimately be saved. By the way, those not elected to salvation are by necessary logic elected BY GOD to be lost. Next comes the L, which stands for Limited Atonement, meaning that Jesus died only for the elect, not for the the rest of the world. Then comes the I, standing for Irresistible Grace. If you are born totally depraved and unconditionally elected, with Christ dying for you as one of the fortunate elect, then you certainly cannot resist God changing your heart and saving you. It’s his choice and not yours.

Finally, we get to the P in our TULIP system, and that stands for the Perseverance of the Saints – another way of saying “once saved, always saved.” In my first book, “Prepared to Answer,” I devoted a full chapter to these five tenets of Calvinism. Regarding the perseverance doctrine, I will use some of the material in my book here. It is still quite relevant in this one area of teaching which is a part of evangelical doctrine, although an increasing number of evangelical teachers are questioning it or outright rejecting it. Get ready to dig in and dig in deeply!

Digging in More Deeply

This doctrine is about the only part of the Calvinistic system that remains in many denominational groups which once accepted the entire system. In the introduction of a book on election by a former Baptist writer, another Baptist scholar had this to say: “Let it be remembered that, less than a hundred years ago, all five cardinal points of Calvin’s system of theology generally prevailed among Baptists, as theological textbooks of the times will confirm. Today, only one point remains to any appreciable extent among Baptists, inevitable perseverance, and there is growing evidence that Baptists are increasingly questioning this last vestige of the central core of Calvin’s system of theology.” (Elect in the Son, by Robert Shank, p.16).

Back in 1960, Shank wrote a book entitled Life in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Perseverance. He started writing that book for the express purpose of supporting the Calvinistic position, since that position was the accepted one within his denomination. However, as he looked carefully at all of the supposed Calvinistic proof-texts, they did not support the position. His book is especially good in looking at the Greek tenses of the verbs. He shows that perseverance of the saints is completely tied in to a perseverance of faith. In other words, a Christian’s security is always intact as long as his faith continues. The idea of the security of the believer is a beautiful biblical concept. But the truth is that a believer can become an unbeliever, and at that point, there is no security at all. What does the Bible have to say on the subject?

In teaching those who are not really entrenched in this doctrine, pointing out a few passages often solves their problem. The entire book of Hebrews is dealing with the possibility of apostasy. See especially 2:1-3; 3:7-13; 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:25. James, in his epistle, told brothers (1:2) that sin can become full-grown and bring about spiritual death once again (1:13-15). Paul clearly stated that if we deny Christ, he will also deny us (2 Timothy 2:12). He wrote in Romans 6:16 that “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” In 1 Corinthians 10: 1-12, the disobedient of the Old Testament are presented as examples, that New Testament people should “be careful that you don’t fall!” An un­biased person should be able to grasp this point readily, for the NT is absolutely full of such passages.

The Real Security of the Believer

However, some are so rooted and grounded in this error that time and patience must be expended with them before they are willing to give it up. With such people, we suggest approaching the subject from a slightly different angle. Admit readily that the NT does teach the “security of the believer.” The key to the whole misunderstanding is found in the term believer. A believer is one who has become a Christian through an obedient faith, and who then continues to exercise the same obedient faith. Once he stops exercising this faith, he ceases to be a believer. A believer can become an unbeliever. It is just that simple.

Notice carefully the wording of Hebrews 3:12: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Therefore, a brother can become an unbeliever and, as such, fall away. In John 5:24, we are told “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Then, in John 3:36 we find, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Now, which will not is stronger? Why should either of these statements be irre­versible? If an unbeliever can become a believer and escape the wrath of God, a believer can turn back to the state of unbelief and thereby be under condemnation again.

At this point, a trained Calvinist will usually say something like this: “Well, if they fall away, they never really were saved in the first place.” If they resort to this even after we have studied how believers can become unbe­lievers, their minds may be closed. In this case, about all that we can do is turn to a passage like 2 Peter. 2:20-22 and camp there until they either deny the passage or deny their error. Do not be sidetracked. Stay with this passage until they accept it or deny that Peter was correct when he wrote: “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”

For further study on the perseverance issue, see John 15:5-6 which shows that a branch in Christ can be cut off and burned. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul states: “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 10:5-12 uses the OT people in the wilderness wandering period as examples of those who sinned and lost the grace of God. Can a Christian fall from grace? If we wanted to prove it beyond any doubt in words that are precisely to the point, no better statement could be penned that the one in Galatians 5:4: “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

Yup – I’m Talking to You Too!

I have two cautions with which to end the article. One, never focus so much on the fact that we can lose our salvation that you forget the beauty of Jesus’ assurance of the security of the believer. Insecurity in a child of God is hurtful to everyone, especially to our heavenly Father who loves us so dearly. I love this passage and I need this passage: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). Walking in the light is not sinlessness or there wouldn’t be any sin from which to be purified. The verb, “purifies,” is a continual action verb, meaning that if our lives are characterized by walking with Jesus, sins are continually taken away by his blood on the cross. As Paul put it in quoting from David, “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” (Romans 4:8). Perseverance of the believer is a precious doctrine indeed!

Two, while I wrote this article addressing a teaching found mainly in evangelical circles, I am concerned about any supposed Christian with a watered-down commitment to Christ and his Cause. I continue to see a lessened commitment level among members of my own family of churches, the ICOC, and the pandemic lifestyle has surely increased this malady. When (sometimes I just say “if”) this pandemic ends and we are able to return to mixing and mingling with others at will, I am concerned about what we may likely see – that many have become too comfortable with isolation. Being an active part of a church fellowship may seem too high a price to pay at that point. I pray to be wrong, but the dangers are there. We need to be helping each other right now by being in each other’s lives in every way possible. Brightly burning coals don’t last long when removed from the fire and left alone. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:23-24).

Is the Jewish Nation Still God’s Special Nation?

Introduction

In a previous article, “Gentiles and the Law of Moses,” I addressed the increasingly popular Torah pursuant concept that we need Christ plus the Law. Of course, the claim of such adherents is that only Christ saves us, but God never intended his followers to forsake the basics of the Law, especially the Sabbath observance, food laws and the special Feast Days. Not only is such teaching patently false, it is misleading and dangerous. It is the reason that books like Romans and Galatians were written in the New Testament and the reason that the early church nearly split along racial lines. “Christ Plus” teaching, in any form, is heresy biblically. If you haven’t read the aforementioned article, please take the time to read it on my Bible teaching website (gordonferguson.org).

This present article shows the connection between this form of Christ Plus teaching of Law observance and the claim that Israel is still God’s special nation for whom he has special plans in the future. If you grant the latter, the former makes more sense, although not perfect sense by any means. However, the acceptance of their specialness as a nation would certainly usher in the idea that their laws would remain special too. The assumed connection is wrong, because both parts of it are shown to be unbiblical in multiple passages in the New Testament, but the connection does make some sense logically. Thus, it is important to examine and answer the question posed in the title of this article.

The Development of End-Times Theology

According to many Evangelicals, the Jewish nation is still God’s special nation, especially as we near the “end-times.” As an old guy in my late 70s who has been involved in Bible study and teaching for most of those years, seeing such doctrines develop has been interesting, although disturbing. As a young minister, this teaching was fairly rare. The church was viewed as the earthly presence of God’s spiritual kingdom and the Jewish nation was seen as simply a nation among nations. Israel was once a very important part of God’s purpose to bring the Messiah into the world and to establish his kingdom and his new covenant, but after that was accomplished in Acts 2, Christians were seen as Christians and non-Christians as non-Christians, regardless of nationality or race.

The growing emphasis of the importance of modern-day Israel was tied directly to a developing end-time philosophy called “premillennialism,” and one flavor of this philosophy was called “dispensationalism.” This flavor can be traced back to a few key figures who promoted such speculations, men like Charles Nelson Darby. He was a religious leader in the 1800s who is considered to be the father of Dispensational theology. A later very influential figure was C.I. Scofield in the mid-1900s whose popular reference Bible promoted this theology.

If memory serves correct, I received one of his Bibles for my 15th birthday and through a preacher friend of the family, heard this doctrine espoused all throughout my youth. Scary stuff, that. I have some very interesting stories about its effects on me. It took some years to get it expunged from my thinking, but serious contextual Bible study will do that for you. When I was still a young minister, Hal Lindsey began his writing career and popularized these end-time doctrines in books like “The Late, Great Planet Earth,” along with a growing number of writers of this persuasion. The end result is that now, most of the evangelical movement accepts such teaching as absolutely true, unquestioned and unquestionable. Even a popular Christian author like Tim LaHaye has delved into this genre of writing with his “Left Behind” series of novels, several of which have been made into movies (which didn’t turn out to be a very popular film series, by the way).

The Imagination Knows No Bounds

Let me just comment at this point that, although widely accepted, these teachings filled with concepts like the “Rapture,” a personal “Antichrist,” and the “Restoration of Israel” are far from being unquestionable. They constitute a twisting of Scripture that boggles the mind of a serious biblical student who has not been indoctrinated with such teaching. I have examined each of these concepts in more detail in other writings through the passages from which they are supposedly derived, but for now, here are a couple of “teasers” to prick your interest and to perhaps ease your mind if you are thinking I have lost mine!

Consider the antichrist concept. The NT uses this term four times, all in the letters of the apostle John (1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3 and 2 John 1:7). He defines the term quite clearly for us. “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 1:7).” One of the false doctrines that sprung up in the early church was a form of Gnosticism which taught that anything physical was bad and only the spirit world was good. Therefore, it was argued that since flesh was inherently bad, Jesus didn’t really come in flesh and blood, but just “seemed” to be material. This particular form of Gnosticism is called “Docetism,” from the Greek term dokein, meaning “to seem.” So where did the concept of a personal Antichrist associated with the end-times come from? The fertile imaginations of so-called Bible teachers who are captivated with views that become more interesting to them than Jesus, to put it bluntly. Otherwise, why would so much emphasis be placed on anything other than Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)?”

Then let’s take a brief look at the idea of the Rapture, when the good Christian folks will purportedly be suddenly snatched from the earth, leaving the bad folks for a period of seven years until Christ and the good folks return to reign physically upon the earth for a literal 1000 years. Now let’s read the passage upon which this popular teaching is supposedly based.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV2011)
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul had a basic purpose in mind when writing these words. He simply wanted to reassure those in the church whose fellow Christians had died that the departed ones had in no way lost their reward. In offering this encouragement, he spoke of two classes of people: living Christians and dead Christians. He says absolutely nothing about living or dead non-Christians. Further, all Christians will meet Christ in the air to be with him forever. Nothing is said about him coming down to earth in the passage. Neither is anything said here about what happens to non-Christians, dead or alive, at his coming. You have to look at other passages to discover what happens to them, and one such passage is John 5:28-29. Read it. It’s not complicated. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” John affirms one resurrection from the dead of both Christians and non-Christians. Simple enough?

By the way, the word “rapture” is the Latin, rapio, from which the English word is derived. It is a translation of “caught up” (Greek harpazo) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Again we must ask: where did such a well-developed, widely accepted doctrine of the Rapture come from? The fertile imaginations of so-called Bible teachers who are captivated with views that become more interesting to them than Jesus, to put it bluntly (again). The passage used to support the teaching says nothing about non-Christians at the coming of Christ, nothing about a seven-year departure of Christians from the earth, nor a return to earth after that period of time. It is an invention of man, embellished and emphasized long enough to make people think it must be real, but is in fact not found nor even suggested in the Bible. Amazing! Simply amazing!

What About Physical Israel?

I mention the above doctrines for two reasons. One, they are unbiblical, although popular and widely accepted. Two, they are associated with the so-called “Restoration of Israel,” a doctrine that declares the Jewish nation of today to be special to God and to have a special place in his plans for the future. I believe the best way to show the fallacy of this teaching is to defer to what Paul said in Romans 9-11, which we will do shortly.

One of the greatest challenges to the minds and hearts of first century Jewish Christians was in trying to understand and accept the current plight of most of their fellow Jews. Although many of them had accepted Christ as Messiah and Savior, the majority had not. Thus, they were outside of the church, which meant that they were outside Christ and outside a saved relationship with God. They must have asked themselves questions like these: “How were we the chosen nation of God for centuries and now most of us are no longer a part of the chosen?” “Did all of our years of hardship and persecution mean nothing?” “Does God no longer love the Jews as the ‘apple of his eye’ (Deuteronomy 32:10) as he did throughout our history?”

Speaking of history, both the Jews of the first century and many Christian faith adherents today seem pretty confused about what historical Israel was really like. By “cherry-picking” their favorite Scriptures and failing to examine OT books as a whole, especially the Prophets, their views of Israel as God’s beloved nation warm the hearts. However, the Israelite nation was about as rebellious toward God as could be imagined. Even a casual reading of the OT prophets would demonstrate this. They went from serving God faithfully at times to absolute apostasy of the worst kind, repeating this cycle over and over again. The description of their sins included every type of moral violation and every type of idolatry, including sacrificing their own children in the fire. Just do a word search of “idols” in the Bible. The types of idolatry and numbers of times it was practiced by the Jewish nation is absolutely shocking.

All of these sins, repeated in spite of repeated warnings from God, resulted in God sending enemy nations to punish Israel throughout their history and ultimately resulted in him allowing them to be taken into captivity. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the Southern Kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Reading the biblical accounts of these events are not simply horrifying; they will make you nauseous. Take a look at God’s prediction of such way back in the early part of Israel’s history during the Wilderness Wandering period.

Deuteronomy 28:53-57 (NIV2011)
Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.

The tendency toward sentimentality in the case of Israel was alive and well in the first century and it is just as apparent today among those who espouse the view that Israel is still God’s special nation. Those of Christ’s days on earth trusted their heritage in spite of what it actually demonstrated. The self-righteousness of the religious Jews knew no bounds. After all, they were God’s special nation and the other nations of the world were less than worthless. The Gentiles were viewed as “dogs” and as perfect fodder with which to stoke the fires of hell. John the Baptist expressed the same absence of sentimentality toward Israel that God did in the OT.

Matthew 3:7-10 (NIV2011)
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

In one way, the rejection of Jesus by the majority of the Jews shouldn’t have been that surprising, since most of them hadn’t responded too positively to the teaching of Jesus during his earthly ministry. Oh sure, they had turned out in droves to see his miracles and to perhaps be the recipient of his miraculous healing or even feeding. But when it came down to accepting his most challenging teaching, that was quite another story. This passage from John 6 illustrates the point well.

John 6:60-66 (NIV2011)

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

A Kingdom Within a Kingdom

The truths contained in this section, if understood and taken seriously, would eradicate the mistaken views of the actual position of the Jewish nation from its very inception to this present day. Is Israel still a special nation in God’s eyes? Were they a special nation in his eyes in the OT period itself? The answer – yes and no in both cases. In the OT, they were a part of his special plan to bring forth the Messiah and through him to bless the world spiritually. However, being a part of that plan did not mean that they were right with God spiritually as individual members of the nation. In the NT, from the first day of the New Covenant until the present, God loves non-Christian Jews simply because they are a part of the human race and also because they descended from the patriarchs (Romans 11:28). That being said, they have not been a part of any special plan of God since the New Covenant was instituted. They are not, nor will they be, a part of God’s spiritual kingdom without accepting Christ on an individual basis according to that covenant.

Everyone from Adam onward who were (or became) people of faith, were a part of a kingdom within a kingdom. They voluntary submitted to their God as their King, which made them a part of two kingdoms at once. The spiritual part of the kingdom has gone through various phases, which can easily be overlooked or misunderstood. Before the Law of Moses was given at the inauguration of the Judaistic kingdom, those who were faithful to God were in his spiritual kingdom – whether it was officially called a kingdom or not. If he was the king, they were his subjects. If his will was being done by them, they were in his kingdom of the redeemed. This kingdom before the cross was nonetheless based on the sacrifice made on the cross, for Jesus was the Lamb slain from the creation of the world in the mind of God – Revelation 13:8. The citizens of that early kingdom understood none of this, but they didn’t have to.  God did. They just had to be faithful to the light God had given them.

Then historically, the kingdom of the Jews was established at Sinai. God’s will was for all of those descendants of Abraham to be a spiritual kingdom under his kingship. He made this clear through Moses in Exodus 19:5-6: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  However, although this lofty goal for Israel represented God’s ideal will, it didn’t play out in an ideal fashion. In fact, by the end of the Wilderness Wandering period, Deuteronomy was written to correct legalistic views of observing the Law that had developed in just a forty-year period, which explains why so much in this amazing Book addressed the heart. But Deuteronomy did not halt the slide into legalism (and worse). From its inception, the nation of Israel became a nation within a nation, a kingdom within a kingdom. The whole nation was used as God’s instrument to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and to produce him. Sadly, only a remnant (the spiritual kingdom within the physical kingdom) was faithful to him.

Paul certainly made this principle clear with his comments in Romans 9-11, as we will see. This explains why there had to be a kingdom within a kingdom, a spiritual kingdom and a physical kingdom existing concurrently. The nation may have become a nation at Sinai, and although God used them for his ultimate purposes, they were often a nation in rebellion.  Praise God for the encouragement we get from knowing that there was a remnant even in the worst of times, Ruth being a shining example of that – though a foreign proselyte. Even in the largely apostate Northern Kingdom during the time of the divided kingdom, Elijah was told by God that the remnant numbered 7,000 (1 Kings 19:18).

The most important phase of the Israelite kingdom began when David was made king, for God promised him that someone from his lineage would remain on the throne forever. Saul’s family lost the throne due to his sin, but David’s family would never abdicate the throne to another family. Of course, the ultimate Davidic king who would reign forever and ever was none other than Jesus the Messiah.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV2011)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

The apostles’ question about restoring the kingdom to Israel in Acts 1:6 was not a dumb nor naive question, in spite of frequent assertions of same. The kingdom of the Messiah was a restored kingdom, especially relevant historically because from the time of the Babylonian captivity until Jesus was crowned, there was not a king on David’s throne (meaning from his lineage). The kingdom of Christ was given first to the Jews as a fulfillment of many OT prophecies, and it was a number of years before Gentiles began flooding into his kingdom. Of course, the OT foretold the inclusion of the Gentiles, but the Jews evidently understood this to mean that they would come in through the funnel of Judaism. That misinterpretation led to the Jew/Gentile controversy in the early church that nearly split it.

Paul’s Answer to Our Question

For most modern Jews, since most of them are secular and not religious, all of this is a moot point. They are neither intrigued nor disturbed by such considerations. But an increasingly large number of those claiming to be Christians, most of whom come from Gentile (non-Jewish) heritage, are quite concerned about the Jewish nation. They have become deeply involved in what they believe to be “end-time” prophecy and the place of the present Jewish nation is quite prominent in much of current prophecy. We have already examined some of the popular basics of this teaching, but now let me share with you an abridged, edited version of Romans 9-11 from my practical exposition of Romans, “Romans: The Heart Set Free.” Although I chose to leave out most of the biblical passages themselves, they are all included in the book. If you have any questions after reading a given section, please read the passage in your Bible.

Romans Chapter Nine:  God’s Right to Make His Choices

After carefully developing the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in chapters 1-8, Paul now addresses the issue of physical Israel.  The question naturally arose: “If the Jews were used by God as a nation in bringing salvation to the world (by producing the Messiah), why were the large majority of them not in his Kingdom?” Paul explains that the problem is not God’s love, nor even his love as a fellow Israelite – the problem was the Jew’s reaction to a crucified Messiah.   As always in God’s dealings with man, it boils down to the issue of choice.

God created us as humans, which by definition means that we have the ability and the freedom to choose. That freedom would not be freedom unless we could choose either the good or the bad. When we exercise this freedom in the wrong way, God does all possible to persuade us otherwise, but he will never remove our freedom in the process. Sadly, most Jews choose to reject the Messiah who did not fit their mold of what they thought a Messiah should be. Of course, Jesus fit the mold of OT prophecy perfectly, but Jewish expectations were more based on traditions than Scripture. However, neither God nor Paul had given up trying to reach them. With the skilled pen of a rabbi, Paul masterfully used Jewish history to reach out with the heart of God to hearts that were hardened to the gospel. Maybe there was yet hope! With that thought burning inside, Paul begins.

Paul’s Love For His Jewish Brothers (Romans 9:1-3)

Romans 9:2-3 (NIV2011)
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel.

Paul begins by expressing his own intense love for his countrymen (verses 1-3). He assures the readers that he is being truthful about this, for no one was more hardline in his preaching to Jewish audiences than was Paul. Read Acts 28:23-28 to get a feel for the power of his convictions and the directness with which he spoke. He was a great imitator of Jesus, who said: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Next Paul asserts that he lived with the burden of their spiritual rejection, and in fact would be willing to be lost if that would save them. I can only wish that my love for the lost rivaled that of Paul. Allow yourself to sit quietly and contemplate that possibility in your own life – think about being lost for eternity, and think about who you love enough to go to hell for! Paul’s statement about having constant sorrow and anguish does catch us a little off guard, because we think of him as being such a positive, upbeat thinker. After all, he is the one who said to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). Yes, even though he said that and did that, he still had unceasing anguish in his heart over his lost brothers.  Obviously, the anguish and the rejoicing exist together.

God’s Love In Making Choices (Romans 9:4-18)

God had clearly loved and blessed the Jewish nation throughout their history (verses 4-5). Of all the people on the face of the earth, they had been most blessed. Here Paul lists seven things that were unique to their nation. In light of this, how could they question God’s love? What else could he have done to win their hearts and move them to repentance by his kindness (Romans 2:4)?

However, he had always made choices in his dealings with them, most of which they accepted without any problem (verses 6-13).  In fact, they gloried in them as they recounted them with great pleasure and approval. Their very lineage showed God’s choices, and none of them would have argued that the choices were poor ones.  But their sacred history demonstrated clearly that it had never been simply an issue of physical descent.  Abraham had two sons, but only one was chosen.  Isaac also had two sons, and only one of them were chosen.

The allegation that God loved Jacob and hated Esau is somewhat shocking at first glance.  But this is a quote from Malachi 1:2-3, referring to the nations of Israel and Edom respectively, and thus the term “hate” applies primarily to a nation.  God chose Jacob, who had his own character flaws, but who ended up as a man of faith after he responded to the discipline of the Lord.  Sometimes writers describe Jacob in as negative of terms as his brother Esau, which suggests that God’s choice had no moral basis at all.  However, the passage of time showed that Jacob had the more righteous heart.  However, the point of Paul’s argument here is that God had the right to make these choices.

God’s deliverance of the people from Egypt showed other choices, and were choices that the people had always readily accepted.  Moses was especially blessed by God to catch a glimpse of God that no one else was privileged to see (Exodus 33:18-23). Pharaoh, on the other hand, was hardened by God.  What does that mean?  Simply this: God “hardened” Pharaoh through his commands and Pharaoh’s free will to choose.  Back in Exodus, the text says a number of times that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and a number of times that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.  God’s word hardens some hearts and softens others, depending on the type of heart is responding to that word.  The same sun hardens clay and melts butter.  But again, the thrust of this passage in Romans is that God has the right to do what he pleases.  Thankfully, he pleases to always do the righteous thing and the thing which allows men to make their own moral choices.

God’s Choices Were Always Right (Romans 9:19-33)

God is always God, and he is always right.  He is the potter and man is only clay.  Obviously, the potter can do what he wants with his own clay!  Romans 9 is a much-used chapter by the Calvinists in their attempt to show unconditional election and predestination, and the potter and clay illustration is a favorite as they try to bolster such a belief.  The clay has nothing to do with how the potter chooses to shape it, we are told by them.  However, similar potter and clay passages show that while God has the right to do what he wants, the clay has a choice in the outcome of the shaping.  Read Jeremiah 18:1-10 and 2 Timothy 2:20-21 to see this point clearly established.

The sovereignty of God and the free choice of man run concurrently all through Scripture (again, see Acts 2:23 for a classic text).  As difficult as it may be for our minds to harmonize the two, we cannot throw out either part of the equation. God’s foreknowledge and man’s choices, complete with total responsibility, are not mutually exclusive.  And God knowing in advance what someone is going to do in no way rules out their free moral agency nor forces them to do it.

In Romans 9:20-21, we see that getting angry and blaming God is totally out of place. In verses 22-29, Paul makes a point from the OT that only a remnant in the Jewish nation had ever really followed heart and soul.  How could they argue with their own history? As mentioned previously, there were really two OT election processes working at the same time, the physical and spiritual, but the Jews mistakenly assumed that the former guaranteed the latter. They couldn’t have been more wrong, and their own prophets had made the point clear, if they had but listened.

The fact that was becoming more obvious in Paul’s line of reasoning is that Israel simply made the wrong choice.  Their response to Christ and the cross revealed the nature of their hearts (verses 30-33).  They pursued their law that was designed to lead them to righteousness in Christ, but they sought it by performance, not by faith.  Hence, they stumbled at the idea that they were so sinful that God had to become a man and die for them.  The cross was pure foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). They did not understand God’s way of making men right with himself (grace through faith), seeking to establish their own path to being right with God (legalism). Their rejection of Jesus as Messiah showed the entrenched legalism in their hearts. The true Jews, like the 3,000 on Pentecost, obviously had very different hearts.

Romans Chapter Ten:  Israel’s Lack of True Faith

Romans 9 made the point that God had the right to make the choices that he did, including the choice not to bend his rules for the physical Israelites. Romans 10 argues the point that the real problem is Israel, for most Israelites had simply made the wrong choice by deciding to reject Jesus. That rejection was not God’s fault, and certainly not his will. It could and should have been different. Romans 11 will go on to show that even though the choice had been wrong up until then, it could in fact be reversed. God’s outstretched hand has not been pulled back; he was (and is) still willing and anxious to accept the Jews, but only if they exercise true faith. Zeal they had, but faith they did not have. Hence Paul addresses that issue head-on.

Israel Had a Zeal For God (Romans 10:1-4)

Romans 10:1-4 (NIV2011)
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

They were filled with zeal for God, but it was misdirected zeal (Romans 10:1-4). Christ was the culmination (aim, fulfillment) of the Law of Moses – it all pointed to salvation in him. From this passage, it is obvious that we cannot be saved outside a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Belief in Yahweh did not save those who did not accept Christ.  Spiritual zeal did not save them either.  The Bible is clear about this matter of salvation – no one can come to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6), and no salvation can be found in anyone else (Acts 4:12).  If these statements be viewed as narrow-minded, so be it, for Jesus himself said that the way of salvation was narrow (Matthew 7:13-14,21)!

Righteousness Was Readily Available (Romans 10:5-15)

In Romans 10:5-15, Paul proceeds to demonstrate that the spiritual needs of the Jews could have been met, for righteousness was readily available.  The hard part has already been done – Christ died and was resurrected.  The word of faith is simple to obey, and the progression in verses 14-15 is preaching, hearing, believing, and calling.  Calling on the name of the Lord includes baptism, as may be readily seen in Acts 2:21,38, and also in Acts 22:16.  In Acts 2:21, Peter quotes from Joel 2:32 which reads: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Then, when the people asked, in essence, just how to do that, Peter told them to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38).  Acts 22:16 is even clearer, as Paul was told to “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”

In Romans 10:9-10 Paul is talking about the Jews who had failed to accept Christ, and addressing the reasons for that rejection.  He was making the point beginning in verse 5 that the righteousness which comes by faith is not a complex issue nor an unreachable goal.  God has already done the difficult work by sending his Son to the cross.  Now in response to what he has done, we need to accept him as Lord and Messiah.  That was the challenge to the Jew.  Being baptized was not a hard concept for them.  It had been a part of John’s ministry, and large numbers of Jews had received it from his hands.  Matthew 3:5-6 says that “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”   Proselytes to Judaism were customarily baptized as an initiation rite into Judaism.

The problem that the Jew did have was to accept Jesus as the Messiah and to then make this crucified Jew from despised Nazareth their Lord and King.  Now that was a challenge!  This background focus explains why the passage was worded as it was.  In a related vein, the problem with Gentile acceptance of the gospel was repentance.  Therefore, Luke, a book written by a Gentile for Gentiles, focused on that need all through his Gospel.  In fact, his account of the Great Commission only mentions repentance.  “He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:46-47). Luke’s failure to specifically name faith in this account does not mean that he was excluding it from the conversion process.  He was simply focusing on their greatest challenge.  And Luke’s approach follows exactly the same principle used by Paul in Romans 10: address the key need of the intended audience.

Israel’s Rejection and Gentile’s Acceptance Was Foretold (Romans 10:16-21)

As in the ending of Romans 9, Paul makes two basic points in this section:  only a remnant of Israel had ever responded in faith to God; and the inclusion of the Gentiles was foretold by Israel’s own prophets. The bulk of the Jews rejected Christ because they did not accept the words of the Scripture that they supposedly cherished like no other. They had the message for centuries, but they had misinterpreted it by reading into it what they wanted to see. If we come to the Bible to prove a point that we already have decided upon, we are wasting time opening it up. We will see from God only what our hearts are prepared to see.

The message, says Paul, comes through hearing the word of Christ. Certainly the OT was all about Christ, for he himself said to the Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).  As far back as Moses (Deuteronomy 32:21), their rejection was cause for God to announce that he would use another nation to provoke them to envy. (Paul will make much use in Romans 11 of this envy provoking idea.) Then other prophets such as Isaiah added their voice to the same message. Israel could not claim that Paul’s argument was a new revelation to them; they had only to read their own prophets. The fact of the matter was what Paul concluded the chapter with: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Isaiah 65:2). How sad! But for God’ apostle, hope springs eternal, and in Romans 11, he continues to try and move the Jews toward faith in Jesus.

Romans Chapter Eleven: Israel’s Choice Is Not Irreversible

As Paul brings his line of reasoning on this subject to a conclusion, he will correct attitudes of both those with Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. The Jews thought that God had excluded them with some ulterior negative motive, which was certainly not true. His invitation is always open to anyone who will hear. The NT message closed out with such an invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). That will forevermore be the heart of God for everyone, and certainly for the Jews, with whom he shared so much history and memories.

By this point in Paul’s arguments, the Gentiles ran the risk of becoming self-righteous and puffed up about their inclusion in God’s kingdom. Thus, they had to be warned. Pride is always looking for ways to get into the nooks and crannies of our hearts. We are all too tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:3), for many reasons. We can be prideful about our salvation, the fact that we chose Jesus when most do not. But why did we choose him? Surely not because we are good, for none is good. Everything about our salvation is a matter of grace. Acts 11:18 informs us that even our repentance is by God’s grace. Paul, the apostle of grace, will make sure that those on both sides of the issues get what they need in Romans 11, whether encouragement or correction.

Only a Remnant Made the Right Choices (Romans 11:1-10)

Actually, only a remnant of Israel had ever made the right choices (verses1-10).  Paul was an example of those in the remnant in the first century, as were thousands more. In Acts 21:20, James mentioned that thousands were believers at that time in Jerusalem. In Elijah’s day, God said that 7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal – and keep in mind that Elijah was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom, the most godless part of Israel.  The ones who did not respond to grace were hardened by their own rejection.  As was the case with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, verse 8 shows that God gave the people a spirit of stupor.  He did this by giving commands of righteousness and giving them the freedom to make choices in their response to these commands, thus revealing the nature of their own hearts.

The same principle is applied by Jesus in his use of parables (Matthew 13:13-16).  The lesson that we must gain from this passage is a realization and appreciation of how God wrote his message in a manner that reveals hearts. Another example of the principle is seen in Lydia, who could hear a single message and respond in faith (Acts 16), while the Jews about whom Paul wrote could try to kill him for preaching the same message. The Word can be understood by a person with a heart of faith, but it can be twisted unknowingly by a person without a heart of humble faith. Indeed, through God’s message, “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

God Intended To Use Their Wrong Choices (Romans 11:11-24)

In spite of God’s pain over a majority of Jews rejecting Christ, he still intended to use even their wrong choices to accomplish good (verses 11-24).  Israel’s wrong choices and subsequent rejection has ended up being a blessing to the Gentiles.  The Jews had Jesus crucified, making salvation available to Jews and Gentiles alike.  They drove Christians out of Jerusalem, which resulted in the Gentiles being able to hear the gospel sooner.  They rejected the message in each city to which the early missionaries preached, after which they preached to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).  If the Jew’s rejection of the gospel ended up blessing the world, then how much more their acceptance would do!  Now Paul hopes that the Gentile inclusion in God’s kingdom will provoke the Jews to envy, causing them to reconsider the message of Christ.

Read verses 13-14 carefully with this in mind. “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” This section concludes with a warning to the Gentiles not to be prideful and self-righteous.  They had not been a part of the olive root (Judaism) in the first place – they had been merely grafted in by the grace of God.  The Jews had been cut off because of their faithless rejection of Christ, but they can be grafted back in again if they turn to Jesus in faith.

They Still Had Choices To Make (Romans 11:25-36)

The motivation and opportunities for future choices are found in verses 25-36.  Israel’s hardening is only partial, until the full number of Gentiles has come in.  If it is partial, it has the possibility of being reversed.  The key to a reversal is the coming in of the full number of Gentiles. Here is the key section in verses 25-27: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

Paul likely was referring to the completion of his own ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7), resulting in more and more Gentiles in the church all over the world. In Romans 15:24, we find that his missionary plans were not nearly completed, for he planned to go as far as Spain.  Once this larger Gentile inclusion had occurred, all Israel could be saved.  The phrase “in this way” in verse 26 is translated from the Greek houtos, an adverb of manner. The earlier version of the NIV (New International Version) translates it as, “and so all Israel,” as do a number of other versions. Even the more accurate NASB (New American Standard Bible) translated it as “and thus all Israel.” Although these translations are not technically misleading, they are not clarifyingly accurate either. I think in this way refers back to the envy-provoking process mentioned in verses13-14. Paul refers to the same idea again in verse 31: “so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.”  Therefore, when the Jews saw the growing number of Gentiles in the church, and the blessings from God that they were enjoying, those with good hearts would be envious enough to humble out and reconsider.  In this way, or manner, they would be saved.

The all Israel referred to those whose hearts would allow them to humble out and reconsider.  It could not refer to every last Israelite coming to Christ at some future point, for a number of reasons.  For starters, the narrow path will never be chosen by a majority from any nation, race, or population group (Matthew 7:13-14).  Paul had already in this chapter expressed his hope that some (not all) would turn to Christ by being provoked to envy (verse 14). Even if some future generation of Jews in the majority were to accept Christ (which I don’t believe will happen), what comfort would that be to the scores of generations that had already died lost?  The key idea of all Israel being saved is that of hopeful potential – much like Jesus expressed in John 12:32, when he said: “I will draw all men to myself,” and in John 13:35: “By this will all men know that you are my disciples.”

Note that the quote in Romans 11:26-27 refers to salvation in Christ which became available at the cross and will continue to be available to anyone who will accept the gospel in faith. “As it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. 27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” He is still talking about the one new covenant in Christ, the final covenant God has offered to mankind to save us through Christ, Jew and Gentile alike. The only plan of salvation that God has and will have to the end of time is this plan, which must be accepted individually!  God still loves the rejecting Jews and wants to save them, for the promises made to the patriarchs still stand.  The section concludes with a beautiful doxology, showing that God’s ways are beyond man’s ways, and thus above our comprehension.  But we do know that even bad things (like Israel’s rejection) can be used for good ends, even as Romans 8:28 promises. Praise God that he is in control of the world and not we ourselves!  Hope springs eternal!

PS — For a more extensive study of the end-times, see my practical exposition of Revelation entitled, “Revelation Revealed” from Illumination Publishers (ipibooks.com).

Gentiles and the Law of Moses

Introduction

From time to time, for reasons I do not fully understand, Christians are tempted to combine Judaism with Christianity. Perhaps they get bored with Christianity as they know it and are looking for something new and more exciting. This reason certainly is involved when various new emphases such as “speaking in tongues” spring up from time to time. Church as traditionally viewed and practiced often leaves people unfulfilled spiritually and emotionally. I think the concept sometimes expressed as being “Torah pursuant” is based at least partially on this condition.

Douglas Jacoby, one of the best-known teachers in the ICOC family of churches, recently made this observation in an article entitled, “Messianic Judaism – Why Focus on this movement?”

A growing movement—with perhaps a quarter million members in the U.S., and 10% that number in Israel—is proclaiming that the path to Christian spirituality is through embracing the Jewishness of the early church. They aim to keep the Sabbath, obey Torah, observe the Old Testament festivals, use Hebrew and Aramaic words, call their leaders rabbi, and much more.

You can read the numerous articles of Doug’s and listen to his many podcasts at douglasjacoby.com. I especially urge you to read and listen to his material on this topic if you have friends who are entertaining or teaching this type of doctrine. As we will see in my present article, it is a blending of covenants expressly forbidden in the New Testament.

The Root Issue

Such teaching hardly ever arises from the grassroots membership of the church; it is promoted by someone who is a leader or wants to be a leader. This is an age-old problem, as Paul’s comments demonstrate in 1 Timothy 1:3-7:

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

These verses give us insights about the motivation and direction of these described as wanting to be teachers. They are teaching false doctrines by digging into little details of the Law of Moses with have little to do with the gospel of Christ. If all the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3), why would anyone want to dig into the minutia of the OT? By the way, Paul was dealing with exactly the same issues in Colossians – disciples wanting to go back into the OT and combine it with the Christianity of the NT. They lose their way and end up with meaningless talk. We usually describe the teaching in Colossians 2 with the term “syncretism,” the blending of two or more religious systems into one new conglomeration. In this case, it was a blending of Gnosticism and Judaism.

Colossians 2:16-23
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Strangely, I have heard Torah pursuant folks claiming that verse 16 is giving them the right to pursue Judaism without having anyone judge them for doing so. That is simply amazing to me! The context of the passage is clearly warning against observing Judaistic and Gnostic practices. The very next verse is sufficient to make the point, for these Jewish observances were merely a shadow while Christ is the reality. The chapter ends by identifying these ceremonial practices as rules having to do with self-denial, which “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Texts taken out of contexts are pretexts, and such usage of Colossians 2 is a prime example.

While I have my opinions, based on experience, about the motivations to minimize Christ in order to seek Jewish tenets, one thing of which I am certain is that trying to do such is a dangerous practice for a number of reasons. As the old saying puts it, the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed and the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed. The purpose of the OT was to serve as a preparatory system leading to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ and his kingdom on earth. Simply put, the Jewish kingdom was a temporary one and with its purposes fulfilled, it no longer occupies a place of biblical significance in God’s plan for those of us living since the cross of Christ.

As I have prepared this presentation and looked at many biblical passages on the topic, my honest response has been, “So tell me again – why are we studying something that seems so obvious in Scripture?” I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I am puzzled a bit and left scratching my head. This topic is not a complex one, given the multiplicity of Scriptures on it, and it is certainly not as complex in concept and application as topics like marriage, divorce and remarriage or pacifism or the role of women in the church. At any rate, here are my thoughts about Gentiles and the Law of Moses – in the first century church and in the 21st century church.

What Do We Mean by “Law?”

The dictionary defines law as a rule of conduct or action recognized as binding, enforced by a controlling authority. The term “moral law” is often applied to the Ten Commandments, but this is problematic for more than one reason as we shall see. That which is moral in nature really has to do with human relationships with fellow humans. The term comes to us through the Latin and then Old French and carries that meaning in its entomology. For example, you would use “immoral” in reference to human relationships, but not to our relationship to God. That term would be “unrighteous.” This being true, the 10 commandments are not THE moral law, for several of them are about man and God.

Since the Law of Moses was given to the Jews, we should pay attention to how they used the term law. In the first century, any part of the OT could be (and was) called “law.” For example, in John 10:34 Jesus quoted from Psalms and called it Law, as did the crowd in John 12:34. For the rabbis, even the commonly accepted traditions might well have been called law. Various groupings could be found, such as the “Law and the Prophets” (Luke 16:16), “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29), and the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).

Broadly, there were two types of Divine laws: self-evident, or moral laws – assumedly unwritten until the Law of Moses was committed to writing. Revealed law – also written or unwritten, and even the NT revelation was unwritten for some years after the church was established. The self-evident laws come out of the nature of God himself. In the absence of a written law, Cain still knew that the world’s first murder was wrong.

Other laws come from the voice of God in revelation and are not self-evident. To state it another way, some things are in the Bible because they are true (the moral laws), while other things are true simply because they are in the Bible. The self-evident laws were true from the beginning, whether or not they were written down by God in a revelation. However, when God did inspire men to write, these types of laws were always included in that written revelation.

Examples of self-evident laws:

Romans 1:32 – Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 2:14-15 – (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Galatians 5:19-21 – The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Abraham, for example, had laws of both types (moral and revealed): Genesis 26:4-5 – “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

Written law began as far as we know with the Law of Moses – given only to the Israelites.

Leviticus 26:46 – These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai.

Nehemiah 9:13-14 – You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.

Psalm 147:19-20 – He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. 20 He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD.

Romans 9:3-5 – For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

The three “Ages” concept is helpful in looking at biblical history accurately. The Patriarchal Age was from Abraham until Moses. Job fell within this age, sacrificing for his family, for offering sacrifices went back to the beginning of humanity, as shown by the examples of Cain and Abel. The Mosaic Age was just for the Israelites, beginning with Moses and lasting until Christ’s death. The Christian Age began with Acts 2 and the inauguration of the Christians covenant, and was given for all men everywhere. Paul in Acts 17 preached to Gentiles, calling them to repent and accept Christ.

Gentiles were only a part of the first and third ages and never were under the Law of Moses, unless they joined themselves to the Israelite nation. Books like Jonah show that God did have dealings with nations outside Israel during the Mosaic age. But it was not the purpose of the OT to show that; rather it was to show God’s development of the Jewish nation through whom he would bring Christ for the world.

The Main Purposes of the Law of Moses

Many of these purposes were positive and essential for that period of time. First, the Law provided a basis of fellowship with God as it guided them to a covenant relationship with him. Sadly, the Jews quickly perverted this covenant into legalism early in the wilderness wandering period and led God to clarify his original design for the Law in Deuteronomy, showing that it was all about the heart and not just outward compliance. In the first century, legalism was again rampant. See Galatians 3:10-12 warned against relying on one’s obedience as a means of obtaining and maintaining a relationship with him. The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Matthew 18 shows beyond doubt that Paul had good reasons for later writing that warning!

Second, the Law provided religious nomenclature for the Jewish nation, which would find itself expressed as future spiritual concepts in the NT. Many terms associated with God and his relationship with man are found in the Law of Moses first. Third, many direct prophecies about the Messiah are a part of the Mosaic system, along with another type of prophecy, typology. In the latter, both practices and institutions in the OT were fulfilled by Christ and the new covenant. The book of Hebrews is replete with such typology.

Fourth, both positive and negative examples from the OT are used in the NT as encouragement or as warnings, depending on the type of example. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 is one of the negative examples by which Paul warned us and Hebrews 11 is a chapter full of OT heroes by which we are encouraged to imitate their faith. Fifth, civil legislation was provided in the Law of Moses to govern the new nation, consisting of constitutional, social and criminal laws.

Sixth, an interesting overall purpose could be viewed as negative in the short run, but positive in the long run. Moses’ Law was definitely designed to keep the Israelites separate from other nations so that they in their infancy as a nation wouldn’t be polluted for their long-term purposes. Perhaps that shouldn’t be described as negative, but it surely was not the Great Commission!

Seventh, the Law increased sin in two different ways, namely through sins of commission and omission. With 365 negative commands (“don’t do it”) and 248 positive commands (“make sure to do it”) for a total of 613 commands, the ways to sin increased dramatically. Note that most of these commands were of the non-self-evident type – meaning that they were not opportunities to sin prior to the Mosaic Law being given. Here are a few NT passages to illustrate this purpose:

Romans 5:20 – The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (The burden of too many commands can raise the desire to sin.)

Romans 7:7-8 – What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. (The intended positive long-term effect.)

Galatians 3:22 – But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Gentiles Never Had the Law Unless They Became Proselytes

Circumcision was necessary to observe the law for all males. Even the covenant given to Abraham, based on the three promises of Genesis 12:1-3 couldn’t be kept without circumcision. When the Mosaic legislation was in effect, circumcision was required to observe all parts of that legislation.

Genesis 17:11-13 – You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.

Exodus 12:43-49 – The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal: “No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. 46 “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”

The place of circumcision could be seen as a bit confusing in the early church period. Jewish Christians could be circumcised as a matter of custom or expediency, but not as a requirement for salvation. For example, Timothy was a Christian without circumcision, but since a half-Jew was considered a Jew, much like a half-black person in our society is considered Black, he could be circumcised – and was, by Paul himself. A contemporary of Timothy was Titus, fully a Gentile, and Paul refused to have him circumcised. In this case, not only was he a Gentile, but Judaizing teachers were insisting that he be circumcised in order to be saved.

Acts 16:3 – Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Gentile Christians never had circumcision required – quite the contrary.)

Galatians 2:3 –Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.

Galatians 5:3-4 – Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Thus, Jews could be circumcised as a matter of culture and/or expediency, but this could not be bound on Gentiles and no example in the NT shows them ever being circumcised. If it were to be a part of their requirements, surely Acts 15 would have shown it. And if they were not circumcised, they could not adhere to the Mosaic laws – the two were inseparable. You simply cannot find Gentiles in the early church obeying any part of the Mosaic Law as a part of following Christ.

Understanding the Promises Made to Abraham

Here we find one main promise which was to affect mankind to the very end of time, with two temporary promises which were essential to bringing about the main one. The main promise was that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham, which was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. The temporary promises were for a great nation (Israel) to be established, which required a land in which to live. The nation existed as a called nation until Jesus came and the church was established.

Genesis 12:1-3 – The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

They were an elect nation for a physical purpose but being a part of that nation did not save them spiritually unless they were spiritual. Hence, there were two elections running concurrently during the Mosaic period – one physical and one spiritual. The Jews during the time of Christ were quite confused about this two-fold election, as John the Baptist’s statement in Luke 3:8 shows clearly. Once Jesus had come and the old covenant had ended, the purpose of physical Israel was over – they were God’s special nation no longer. Now the true Israel is the spiritual nation of God.

Galatians 6:14-16 – May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Philippians 3:2-3 – Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.

The land we still call the “Holy Land” has no relevance other than history, for it served its temporary purpose to house a temporary nation. This land was the promised land to Abraham and his descendants after him, but once the promise was fulfilled, it has no present-day purpose. However, some Jews and many Evangelicals see a modern or future fulfillment of prophecy. Let’s go back and look at the extent of the land promised:

Genesis 15:18 – On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.

1 Kings 4:21 – And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.

Yet, the Jews since 1948 have demanded the rights to Palestine, which has resulted in an amazing amount of strife. Those with a confused view of prophecy say that the promise to Abraham was either never fully satisfied (an ignorance of 1 Kings 4:21 – read it) or that it must yet be fulfilled in Jesus’ supposed 1000 year reign on earth. The truth? One and done – long ago!

Matthew 21:43-44 – “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

Romans 9:30-33 – What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

The Law of Moses Was as Temporary as Was the Nation of Israel

 Further explanations could be provided here, but are they really needed? Galatians 3 says explicitly that once Christ came, we are no longer under the Law which had served temporarily as a guardian. 2 Corinthians 3 tells us that Ten Commandments engraved on stone was transitory and a ministry that brought death. Could Paul have been clearer? Finally, the Hebrew writer said that the Law was changed, obsolete, outdated and soon to disappear. That final ending would have been in AD 70 when the Roman armies destroyed the temple for the final time, the coup de grace. Again, with the Scriptures being this clear and explicit regarding the old and new covenants, just why is this conversation even necessary? Read the passages for yourself.

 Galatians 3:19-25 – Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 2 Corinthians 3:6-14 – He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.

Hebrews 7:11-12 – If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.

Hebrews 8:7-13 – For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” 13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Ceremonial Laws and Self-Evident Laws

The ceremonial type laws were temporary because they were a part of the old covenant and were not of the moral or self-evident type. This included the Sabbath law – it was only given to Israel. Just read the following passages:

Nehemiah 9:13-14 – “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.

Exodus 31:16-17 – The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

Colossians 2:13-19 – When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

As stated earlier in this study, the passage in Colossians 2 is one of syncretism – a combination of Jewish laws and pagan Gnosticism, both of which were ended by the cross. The legal indebtedness that was cancelled may refer to the law itself or to sin caused by violating it as Jews or violating self-evident laws as Gentiles.

The day of worship was the first day of the week in the new covenant, not the Sabbath.

Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1-9). Jesus first appeared to his group of disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19), and his next appearance to them was one week later, also on the first day of the week (John 20:26). Since Jesus was “declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4), this marvelous declaration is inseparably connected to the first day of the week. The church was established on the Day of Pentecost, which always fell on the first day of the week (50 days from the Sabbath of the Passover week).

Therefore, the long-awaited outpouring of the Spirit occurred on the first day of the week (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-4, 16-21); the first gospel sermon was preached on this day; and, the first converts were baptized into Christ on this first day of the week. How could the events of a Judaistic Sabbath compare with these highly significant events on this new day of emphasis in the new covenant?

Another important passage in this light is Acts 20:7, which reads: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” The previous verse tells us that Paul had arrived a week before in Troas and stayed seven days. The implication from the text is that Paul waited for these days in order to meet with the church in Troas before continuing on his journey. Since their day of meeting was on the first day of the week, he waited until then, met with them and departed the next day. This one passage provides rather conclusive proof that the Church met regularly on the first day of the week, rather than on the Sabbath.

Further, the church was commanded to assemble (Hebrews 10:25) and they observed the Lord’s Supper when they assembled. The day of this assembling was on the first day of the week as 1 Corinthians 16:2 clearly says: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” Therefore, the first century assembled on the first day of the week and not on the Sabbath.

The Ten Commandments are not the foundation of all other Jewish law, as is often mistakenly claimed. Jesus told us clearly what that foundation in fact was.

Matthew 22:35-40 – One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

These ceremonial, temporary laws also included the food laws, and a multiplicity of other laws which were not of the self-evident or moral types of laws. We have already mentioned these types of laws in Colossians 2:16, called “shadow” of the things to come in Christ. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”

Mark 7:17-23 – After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark’s comment in verse 19 was a parenthetical one, realized and put into practice after the new covenant had been put into effect. Prior to then, Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:17-20 were still very much in force. Note that the real issues of defilement are laws of the self-evident type.

Acts 10:13-16 – Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Can the Law Be Changed?

This question has oddly become the starting place for those who insist that the Sabbath and other parts of the Law of Moses are to be assimilated into Christianity. Like all systems of false doctrine, this one is based on certain basic presuppositions, which if granted, allow for the seemingly logical development of a system that cannot stand up under biblical examination.

Did Jesus change the Law? Let’s look at a key passage and his terminology.

Matthew 5:17-20
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

These two terms, abolish and fulfill, must be defined and understood in this context. “Abolish” comes from the Greek, kataluô, and means to abolish, destroy, overthrow, or tear down. “Fulfill” is a translation of plêroô, meaning to accomplish, complete, fill, or supply. I’ve never heard anyone argue that Jesus came to destroy the Law, for it was of God and remained in effect until the new covenant took its place. That occurred on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as recorded in Acts 2.

Here is what Jesus said about the matter in Luke 24:44: “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’” Once all had been fulfilled, including the death and resurrection of Jesus, the old covenant could be removed as a binding covenant on the Jews and replaced by the new covenant for Jews and Gentiles alike. As with the “age-lasting” promises of the OT, including the occupation of Palestine, once the Mosaic age had ended, so did those promises.

Did Paul change the Law? For starters, Hebrews 7:11-12 said that the law had to be changed, as we have already read.

Hebrews 7:11-12 – If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood – why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.

This next passage could not be clearer about the inferiority of the old law compared to the new covenant and about the transitory nature of the old law. Note that Paul begins by specifically addressing the Ten Commandments (which included the Sabbath observance). As I said earlier, this topic is not a complex one. We have read this passage once, but it is worth reading again in this context regarding the change of the covenant laws.

2 Corinthians 3:7-16 – Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?    9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Paul had no authority as a human to change anything God had instituted, but as an inspired apostle and prophet, he could be the instrument God used to make the changes he wanted. The following passages show what this means.

Ephesians 3:2-6 — Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

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

Exodus 4:15-16 – You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.

Going Backwards is Rarely Progress

I close with a few additional passages showing that Gentiles were never a part of Mosaic practices. The whole issue of trying to bind the old covenant on those in the new covenant, Jew or Gentile, was the battleground in the early church that could have split it right now the middle. We could have ended up with a Jewish church and a Gentile church rather than a church of all nations, made possible by the death of Jesus that ushered in the personal peace of salvation and the universal peace between all races in Christ. Any attempt to mix the temporary national religion of the Jews with the ultimate goal of salvation in Christ for all peoples is false doctrine, and damnable doctrine at that, according to Paul. Such attempts cannot be ignored nor sugar-coated. They were stoutly resisted in the first century church and they must be stoutly resisted in the twenty-first century church.

2 Peter 2:20-22 – If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

Hebrews 13:9 – Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.

Acts 15:10 – Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?

Acts 15:27-29 – Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30       For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The gospel is centered fully in Christ. Any attempt to add elements not found in the New Testament is an attempt with Satan in the center of it. He is fine with Christ PLUS! God is not. The rationalizations to include add-ins are many and some of them are persuasive to those who don’t study the bible in-depth and in context. As with any false teaching, you end up explaining away plain teaching in order to support false teaching. Let’s avoid that malady and concentrate on Christ and his kingdom. Nothing else will suffice in God’s eyes and nothing else will satisfy in our heart of hearts.

Male/Female Role Relationships in the Church – Part 2

When I wrote the first part of what is now becoming a series, I intended for it to generate discussion and responses. To some degree, it has done that. Nearly all of the responses I’ve received directly have been quite positive, by the way, with a few exceptions of course. However, from what I sense and hear about, I think one of the responses has been, not surprisingly, similar to responses generated by my articles addressing another type of systemic issue, that of unconscious racial prejudice. So, how are the responses similar? Avoidance, with the hope that the discussions will simply die down quickly and disappear. They won’t. Our younger generations (and many of their parents, by the way) simply won’t let that happen.

One of my advisors for this article is a very impressive young woman who just began her college career in an Ivy League school. She gave me this feedback: “My one suggestion would be to possibly include some of the positive reactions you received to the first article. I think many people don’t understand how big of a deal it was to so many women for you to say those things. I think it could help some of the older generation understand how deeply our hearts yearn for change and how strong our desires for validation are.” (I will let her speak for all the others – and there have been many.) What that in mind, I will do my best to keep all prejudices and biases of which we are generally unaware (unless we are the object of them) exposed on a consistent basis, at least the ones most pertinent to church life. They are hurting individuals within our fellowship and they are a hindrance to our effectiveness in reaching the lost. If we address them and change what needs changing, they can be a genuine catalyst for growth.

In this article, due to the length of material I want to ultimately include, I am going to limit my observations to the main things I am seeing, hearing and hearing about in response to addressing this topic. By far, the biggest needs to explore further fall within two basic areas. They will each be explored in two separate articles in the near future. One is the identity and relationship of leadership roles and authority. We are yet a long way from understanding this topic, and unless we understand the finer points of this one, we will not be able to make the needed progress in the realm of women leadership.

The other most pressing topic is that of understanding the importance of the cultural settings in place when the NT was written, and from there, what those cultural scenarios were and how they influenced the content we are reading 2000 years later. I made a statement in my first article that I believed was very fundamental, but I now view it as even more important to our continuing discussion. Here’s the statement: “The real estate world tells us that the three most important things in their realm are location, location and location. Similarly, the world of proper hermeneutics tells us that the three most important things in biblical interpretation are context, context and context.”

In that upcoming article on contextual considerations, I will include quotes from highly respected biblical scholars that will at least get us closer to seeing why and how these issues demand our attention. Prior to sharing those, we will have to deal with the topic of simplistic, flawed approaches to biblical interpretation that selectively choose which contextual issues to seriously consider and which to ignore. These fall within the realm of explicit and implicit sexist biases – which I will now take a moment to define more broadly.

Terminology Clarification

In my first article, I described “systemic” in this way as it related especially to racial issues: “Calling anything systemic simply means that it so stamped in our psyche that we have it without being aware of it. In that sense it is somewhat like carrying a virus or having something embedded in our DNA string that may be unseen – until it becomes seen.” My good friend and wordsmith par excellence, Tom Jones, offered an observation regarding my use of terminology. He pointed out that technically, systemic refers to something system-wide (our whole society in this case), whereas “implicit bias” more accurately describes unconscious biases, expectations, or tendencies that exist within an individual. Of course, biases accompanied by ill-will or self-aware prejudices fall into the realm of explicit (intended) bias whereas the unconscious type are implicit.

To say that racism is systemic is to say that it is found throughout our system – in business, in education, in criminal justice, basically everywhere so that a person is affected it by it wherever they turn – not simply that it is something people are doing unconsciously or without awareness.  However, I believe that we can for the sake of simplicity tie systemic and implicit bias together and legitimately say that that implicit bias is systemic in our society. It is in that sense that I have used the term systemic and will continue to do so, including in my references to gender bias and sexism. But for those who might aware of and interested in more technically accurate terminology, I include this brief explanation. With that now clarified, let’s move to the more practical examinations and applications toward which this present article is aimed.

Responses and Concerns Prompted by Our Discussion

Several things have become more obvious through the responses and questions I have received after teaching on and writing about male/female role relationships. One already mentioned is that we are indeed painfully unaware of cultural contexts of the first century in which the books of the New Testament were written. Some of that lack of awareness is simply due to not yet being exposed to its importance and its content. However, some of that lack is related to a faulty approach to hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) – and in some cases, that flawed approach is deliberately chosen to apparently avoid having our traditional interpretations questioned. Due to underlying explicit and implicit gender biases, males can be curiously disturbed by delving into this area. That issue I will address in much more detail in a later article, for it is a scary one and a dangerous one. All I can figure out is that somehow it threatens our manhood and brings the insecurities out of our carefully locked and guarded emotional closets.

Area #2

A second area of awareness based on responses that I have received is that far too many of us seem almost incapable (at this point) of considering any type of leadership role without reading a worldly concept of authority into it. In my book, “Dynamic Leadership,” my first chapter was devoted to trying to help us distinguish roles and functions from positions and offices. Whether that had much effect I don’t know, but I do know that our worldly concepts are nearly impossible to shed, no matter what Jesus said and demonstrated about them. Our years in the world, with all of our experiences therein, established and reinforced our views of leadership and authority.

Then, in our earlier history as a church movement, we were led by a Navy Admiral’s son. In his attempts to tie his work in Boston to the so-called beginning of our movement, he prided himself in establishing what he (and then we) called “ordered” discipleship partner relationships. These were purposely designed to replace those previously called “prayer partners” relationships. The latter type provided a very reasonable approach to helping implement the many “one another/each other” directives in the New Testament. The former type provided Satan with an opportunity to promote the abuse of authority through these “one-over-another” relationship pairings.

In my opinion, this authoritarian approach to discipling ended up almost being the death knell of discipling, or nearly so. To me, this is beyond sad, for the biblical concept of discipling is what drew me into this movement in the first place, and a concept without which I do not believe that the evangelism of the world can be accomplished. The decline (near-demise?) of true discipling and our falling growth rate have tracked together, say what you want. Unbiblical, damaging discipleship (and the resultant absence of the right kind) is not the only thing on the list of what has negatively affected our growth, but I would put it at the top of the list – and almost everything else on that list is inseparably tied to the sins and failures of leadership. We must develop a much better understanding of Golden Rule leadership if we are to reverse some trends that badly need reversing. When we do broaden this understanding, the women’s role is going to end up inseparably connected to it.

Area #3

A third area that has become more apparent is that far too many of us are lazy – and careless as a result. We don’t like to dig into deeper issues. We don’t even like to read anything that is not quickly and easily understood. Our younger generations raised in the electronic age can be especially guilty of this, although many of them are indeed avid readers and students – in and out of classrooms. Others of their peers don’t read much unless forced to in school or jobs – they love Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other forms of social media platforms. They can handle a reasonably short You Tube video addressing serious topics, but if the time length indicator registers more than 10 minutes, they will hit the start arrow button reluctantly, if at all. The idea of digging into more technical writing almost causes them to hyper-ventilate. Because of that widespread tendency, I have been encouraged to put more and more of my writing into those briefer and more visual formats. While I’m willing to do at least some of that, complex issues cannot be understood without deeper study, and that includes reading slowly, carefully and even somewhat extensively at the very least.

If we are not willing to do that, we will simply scan what others have said until we find something with which we agree and latch on to it without expending the intellectual and emotional energy of studying for ourselves. Trust me, some have already stopped reading this article when it spread onto a second page! But based on passages like 2 Timothy 2:15, we can’t please God without being willing to pay the price demanded for learning spiritual truths, especially the more complex ones. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Since we are going to be judged by God’s Word, we had better be studying it – seriously! “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (John 12:48).

One dear sister in my own age category, a very accomplished student and teacher of the Bible, said something to this effect about my article. “I agree with what you have written, but my fear is that women especially will quickly buy into it just because you have said it and not as a result of their own study.” I couldn’t agree more and that thought disturbs me greatly. We cannot just follow what others have said, no matter how much we may like them or respect them. God is calling us all to be Bereans. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Please follow that example when reading what I and others say or write.

Area #4

A fourth area brought to the surface by discussion our topic is how quickly we want to jump past principles directly to applications. This is closely related to area #3. Our attention spans are shot to pieces. If we don’t have ADD or ADDA or ADHD, we act like we do. Just give us the bottom line, Man, and let’s get on with it! What I said under Area #3 is certainly quite applicable here also.

Here is why I make this a separate, though related, category. One of the most frequent questions asked of me after my first article was published concerned specific roles that I thought women could serve in. So, Gordon, are you saying that women can be appointed as elders or evangelists; that they can lead churches? Those questions will have to be addressed in time but starting off the discussion by asking them is disturbing. We are dealing with a very sensitive area involving some interpretative complexities. The principles simply must receive our attention first, for without understanding them, how can we make applications that are biblically allowable and practically helpful?

Basically, all I said in my first article is that we needed to restudy the whole topic and that in my judgment, women were too limited and not utilized as fully as they deserved to be and as the church needed them to be. Some assumed that I was opening Pandora’s Box to anything and everything that the religious world was already practicing. Within that “some” were those saying “Amen!” and those saying “Oh, NO!” Let’s stop assuming and jumping to convulsions, and begin studying and talking. And let’s put a governor on our emotions, be they giddy excitement or red-faced anger.

Area #5

A fifth type of response demonstrated just how resistant some are to the idea of expanding (again) the involvement of our sisters in more public church participation, and how that resistance is most often age-related. We did once expand their involvement, as mentioned in my first article, but now seem even more reluctant to consider doing so again. Although I have received some surprisingly strong encouragement from those in our older generations, all of the negative responses have come from those over 50 (maybe 60). Hence, my oft-repeated statement (to the chagrin of some) that some who were once new wine, willing to break old wineskins, have unknowingly become old wineskins themselves. If you find yourself thinking “Amen” when you read that, you are not one of them; if you find yourself feeling defensive, you are. Figure it out.

As a young minister in the Mainline Churches of Christ, I was often very frustrated with some of our older ministers and our lack of direction in churches. I appreciated what they had done in their years of service and I learned many things from them. But I saw the ineffectiveness of the then-current status quo and just couldn’t act as though I were oblivious to it. I was viewed by not a few as something of a rebel, but I was not a rebel without a cause. This drive to be a part of something where great things happened led me to leave my former church association (in which I was pretty well established) and become a part of what I then called the “Discipling Movement.” There were a few others of my age and background who followed a similar path but not many. Those who did were still young inside no matter what their wrinkles may have been on the outside.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today in our movement of churches. Our younger members are not going to be content with just “doing church” in the way that many of the older generation are. They want to change the world. Our young men and young women want to change the world. They are trying hard to be appreciative of all that we older ones have done in the past and remain respectful toward us, but they are not talking very openly about what they are really feeling about our status quo. I feel for them and I’m concerned about where they are going to end up if we don’t get back to a mission aimed at changing the world far more than we are now changing it. I am loath to think that they may feel the necessity of leaving our fellowship as I left mine when I was young, but I know that some already have. Therefore, I am going to begin quoting more of the responses I receive from the those in Generations X, Y and Z. I am also going to begin publishing some of their own writing containing their honest-to-God beliefs and feelings that we need to hear and seriously consider. So, enough editorializing! I feel better – on that point at least!

A Disturbance in the Force!

I close with a great quote I just saw in a Facebook post by my dear friend, Steve Hiddleson. It strikes a great note for ending a potentially disturbing article!

“The kind of teaching that I have been giving has disturbed some people. I am not going to apologize at all, because, necessarily, if I have been traveling along thinking I am all right and there comes a man of God and tells me that there is yet much land to be possessed, it will disturb me. That is the preliminary twinge that comes to the soul that wants to know God. Whenever the Word of God hits us, it disturbs us. So don’t be disturbed by the disturbance. Remember that it is quite normal. God has to jar us loose.”

A.W. Tozer

Watch for the next article! It’s a’coming soon!