Friday, May 29, 2015

Are you ready to be baptized?

Gal 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Companion post: “Baptism in the New Testament: How, Who, and Why”
You’ve heard about baptism. You’ve seen others be baptized. You’ve asked yourself, “Am I ready to be baptized? What do I need to believe and understand first?” Good for you! One way to answer these questions is to study Acts 2. It describes the apostles’ preaching on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus returned to heaven. It tells how – and why – about 3,000 people were baptized that very day. You may consider this passage and answer the questions for yourself. See if you can answer “yes” to each of these.
Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—
Do you believe that Jesus performed miraculous deeds, and that these deeds prove His identity as the One attested by God?
23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross as part of God’s plan to save you?
Do you believe that you personally helped crucify Jesus, because of your sin?
Do you know what sin is? Do you know what YOUR sins are? Can you list the attitudes, words, and deeds in your life that the Bible describes as sin?
24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Do you believe that God raised Jesus physically and bodily from the dead?
25 For David says concerning him, “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.
Do you believe that King David, 1000 years before Christ, predicted that Christ would rise?
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
Do you believe that Peter and the other apostles witnessed the truth of the resurrection?
33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’
Do you believe that Jesus ascended to heaven, and that He has been enthroned and exalted to the right hand of God?
Do you believe that all Jesus’ enemies will be overthrown and placed at His feet?
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Do you believe for certain that Jesus is Lord – God and Master of your life and all things?
Do you believe for certain that Jesus is Christ – the promised Messiah and Savior?
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Are you cut to the heart – convicted of your own sin and your part in crucifying Jesus?
Do you believe that you are lost because of your sin?
Do you believe, unless you respond to the gospel of Christ, you could die and spend eternity in hell?
Do you believe that it is urgent and absolutely essential for you to respond at once?
Are you asking, “What shall I do?”
Are you prepared to do whatever the Bible teaches you to do, at once?
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Do you understand that you must both repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins?
Do you believe that, unless you repent and are baptized, you have not been forgiven of your sins?
Do you understand that to repent is to turn away from sin and surrender your heart and life to the Lord?
Do you understand that to be baptized is to be immersed in water, “buried” and “raised?”
40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
Do you understand why Peter kept exhorting and urging them to be saved?
Do you believe that God through His Word is exhorting and urging you to be saved?
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Have you received God’s Word as presented here?
Are you ready to do what they did, to be baptized?
Do you understand that, when you are baptized, God will add you to His church?
Do you realize that this is the church that belongs to Christ, that He said He would establish?
Do you understand that this is the church of Christ, as the New Testament describes it?
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Will you devote yourself to all the worship assemblies and teaching activities of the local congregation, emphasizing these same four matters?
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Will you commit yourself to spiritual growth and active service in the local church?
Will you be a participant in the church, busy and productive in the church’s work?
Will you share with others, praise God, and seek to influence people for Him?
Do you believe that, through you, God wants to add others to the church day by day?
If, after completing this study, you are convicted of your need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, God bless you! Please comment below, and we will put you in touch with someone who can assist you.

Baptism in the New Testament: How, Who, and Why

Biblical baptism is an immersion or burial …
Romans 6:3-4 (NKJV) 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Colossians 2:12 (NKJV) 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
The Greek word baptizo means to immerse, dip or plunge. It is used in modern Greek to say that a ship “sinks” at sea.
So, baptism in the New Testament is not a sprinkling or pouring.

In water …
Acts 8:38 (NKJV) 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
So, baptism in the New Testament is not just an inward, invisible, change in the heart.

For those old enough to sin, believe, and repent …
Acts 2:37-38 (NKJV) 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So, baptism in the New Testament is not for infants.

Who are convicted of sin and have decided to die to sin …
Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV) What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
So, baptism in the New Testament requires a death; it is not merely an external ritual.

Who know that salvation is a gift of God’s grace by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ …
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Titus 3:5 (NKJV) 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
So, baptism in the New Testament does not earn salvation; it expresses faith to receive salvation.

For the purpose of receiving the forgiveness of sins and being saved.
Acts 2:38 “For the forgiveness of sins.” See also Mark 1:4; Matthew 26:28
Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
Romans 6:3-4 “into Jesus Christ, His death.”
1 Peter 3:21 “baptism now saves you.”
Galatians 3:27 to be “clothed with Christ.”
Acts 22:16 to “wash away your sins.”
So, baptism in the New Testament is not for those who are already saved by some other means.

There is no New Testament example of a person receiving salvation by “accepting Christ into their heart” or by offering the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Biblical Response to a Controversial Issue

“God and the Gay Christian:” A Response
Recently I was asked to review and respond to a YouTube video entitled, “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.” It was posted by its author, Matthew Vines, in 2012. To date there have been over 730,000 views of that video.
You may watch the video here:
What I have to say is not directed personally at Mr. Vines, any other individual, or any group. I do not write with any ill will or animosity toward anyone! My concern is strictly with the question, “Does the Bible positively support same-sex relationships?”
Mr. Vines’ video notes six Scriptures, three from the OT and three from the NT. I will list these below and ask, “Do these passages positively support – or does any one of them positively support – same-sex sexual relations?” Note the difference between “positively support” and “fail to condemn.” It is the latter that Mr. Vines actually defends. His premise is, “The Bible does not expressly condemn monogamous, committed, faithful marriage between members of the same sex.”
So let’s ask our original question, the one which his YouTube title purports to answer:
“Does the Bible positively support same-sex relationships? If so, in what passage(s)?”
If you know of such a Scripture, even one, please refer to it in the comments section below. I will then update this post, taking the biblical reference into account.
All of this begs us to ask the question, “What sexual relationship(s) does the Bible actively, positively, and unequivocally endorse?” We will discuss this question first, before going further. Please read each passage noted next. The Word of God speaks clearly and unmistakably.
The words of Genesis 1-2 predate the Law of Moses given to the Jews and are universal and timeless in scope:
Ge 1:26–28 (ESV)
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Ge 2:18–25 (ESV)
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Based on the words of Genesis 1-2, “What sexual relationship(s) does the Bible actively, positively, and unequivocally endorse?” It is the relationship between one man and one woman, and no other. No “mate” would do for Adam except a specially-created female counterpart, Eve. This is indisputable.
“But that’s the Old Testament!” some may say. What about Jesus Himself? The response of Jesus, when He was questioned about marriage, echoed and affirmed the words of Genesis 1-2.
Mt 19:1–9 (ESV)
1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Based on the words of Jesus, let us ask again, “What sexual relationship(s) does the Bible actively, positively, and unequivocally endorse?” It is the relationship between one man and one woman, and no other. Jesus interpreted the union of Adam and Eve as the prototype for all marriages. This too is indisputable. A man – one man – shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife – one female human – and the two shall become one flesh. In fact, Jesus said that it is God Himself who joins together one man and one woman.
So let’s ask our original question again, the one which the YouTube title purports to answer:
“Does the Bible positively support same-sex relationships? If so, in what passage(s)?”
It’s not in the Old Testament. It’s not in the New Testament. It’s not in the Bible.
In spite of his subtitle, “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships,” Matthew Vine does not note even one biblical case that actually supports such relationships. If he could have, he would have. His silence on this matter is very significant.
What he does instead is to say, “The Bible does not expressly condemn monogamous, committed, faithful marriage between members of the same sex.” Then he takes six passages that have been cited against same-sex relationships, and he attempts to refute and reject this conclusion. Let’s consider each one.
[1] Gen 19:1-11
Mr. Vines says that here the Bible condemns gang rape, not monogamous, committed, faithful marriage between members of the same sex. In support he cites Ezek 16:49 to say that the real sin of Sodom was violence and hostility toward strangers. Here is the reference:
Eze 16:49 (ESV)
49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
What Mr. Vines misses here is that Ezekiel is actually preaching about the sins of Israel’s northern kingdom. See verse 46, which makes this clear. See Isa 1:10, which calls the southern kingdom of Judah “Sodom” and “Gomorrah,” because of Judah’s multiple sins. This does not mean that their sins were exactly identical to those of Sodom.
He also omits these NT references to the actual Sodom and Gomorrah.
2 Pe 2:6–8 (ESV)
6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);
Jud 7 (ESV)
7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
So the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, according to Scripture, involved sensual conduct, lawless deeds, sexual immorality, and unnatural desire. This was not mentioned in his YouTube video.
Again we ask, “Does the Bible in Gen 19 positively support same-sex relationships?” The answer is, “No.”
Next Mr. Vines notes two additional OT texts.
[2] Lev 18:22 and
[3] Lev 20:13
Mr. Vines denies that these two similar passages condemn monogamous, committed, faithful marriage between members of the same sex today. He gives two reasons:
First, the Law of Moses also prescribes the death penalty for such things as eating pork, rabbit, or shellfish, or charging interest on loans.
Second, Jesus fulfilled (all) the OT law, so the passages in Lev do not apply to us today.
In reply we may note that bestiality and incest are also prohibited in Lev. May we use the same argument to say that such relationships are acceptable today? Why or why not?
We may also note that Jesus Himself affirmed and explained the moral code in the Sermon on the Mount. See Matt 5:17ff. In fact He specifically affirmed the one sexual relationship that God approves in that same sermon. See Matt 5:31-32.
So if we ask, “In the entire OT, what one sexual relationship does the Word of God approve?” then the answer is clear. One man and one woman. It is again indisputable.
Now let’s turn to Mr. Vines’ three NT references:
[4] Rom 1:26-27
Mr. Vines notes that the text speaks of people who have turned over to lusts and vices. It notes that men committed shameful acts with other men. However, he claims that Rom 1 only condemns lust, not a same-sex union characterized by faithfulness, commitment, and love.
He says the Bible speaks only against relationships between adult males and adolescent boys, between masters and slaves, or between men and male prostitutes. He says that most of the men addressed were married to women. He says that this behavior was only wrong because it sprang from out-of-control lust and excess. He puts it in the same category as gluttony or drunkenness.
Mr. Vines acknowledges that Paul here labels same-sex relationships as “unnatural” (Rom 1:26), but only in the same sense that men wearing long hair was “unnatural” in that culture (1 Cor 11:14).
The problem with Mr. Vines’ argument is that none of his points can be found in Rom 1 or anywhere else in the NT! Please read carefully Rom 1:24-32. Do you see any basis or evidence that supports same-sex marriage?
Again we ask, “Does the Bible in Rom 1:26-27 positively support same-sex relationships?” Again the answer is, “No.”
[5] 1 Cor 6:9
Mr. Vines maintains that the two Greek words used here do not refer to people in a committed, monogamous, same-sex sexual relationship. Rather they only apply to licentious behavior involving men who abuse other men.
He is mistaken.
The first word, transliterated as malakos, refers to the passive partners in consensual homosexual acts, according to the English Standard Version translators.[1]
Note the following, from Louw and Nida, regarding this term:
88.281 μαλακόςb, οῦ m: the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’ For a context of μαλακόςb, see 1 Cor 6:9–10 in 88.280. As in Greek, a number of other languages also have entirely distinct terms for the active and passive roles in homosexual intercourse.[2]
The second word, transliterated as arsenokoites, refers to the active partners in consensual homosexual acts, according to the English Standard Version translators.[3]
This second Greek word itself is not only clear; it is graphic. It is a compound of two words, one meaning “males” (not females) and the other meaning “have sexual intercourse with.”
Note the following, again from the reference in Louw and Nida cited above, regarding this term:
ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου m: a male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτιοὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖταιβασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν ‘don’t you know that … no adulterers or homosexuals … will receive the kingdom of God’ 1 Cor 6:9–10. It is possible that ἀρσενοκοίτης in certain contexts refers to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse in contrast with μαλακόςb, the passive male partner (88.281).
Note also the following, from Arndt et al., regarding this second term:
ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ (Bardesanes in Euseb., Pr. Ev. 6, 10, 25.—Anth. Pal. 9, 686, 5 and Cat. Cod. Astr. VIII 4 p. 196, 6; 8 ἀρρενοκοίτης.ἀρσενοκοιτεῖν Sib. Or. 2, 73) a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Ti 1:10; Pol 5:3. Cf. Ro 1:27. DSBailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, ’55. M-M.* [4]
Again we ask, “Does the Bible in 1 Cor 6:9 positively support same-sex relationships?” Again the answer is, “No.”
That brings us to the sixth and final passage that Mr. Vines cites.
[6] 1 Tim 1:10
This passage uses the second term just noted, arsenokoites. It is consistently and correctly translated in our English Bibles as “homosexuals.”
So one last time we ask, “Does the Bible in 1 Tim 1:10 – or any of these six passages –  positively support same-sex relationships?” The answer is still, “No.”
So, while Mr. Vines has noted six Bible passages, not one of them makes “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.” Not one!
And oddly enough, he admits this very thing in his video. He says toward the close, “The Bible never addresses the issues of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage.” If the Bible never addresses same-sex marriage, how can anyone say that there is a biblical case in support of it?
As I noted at the outset, this post is not directed personally at Mr. Vines, any other individual, or any group. I do not write with any ill will or animosity toward anyone! My concern has been strictly biblical. I have asked the question, “Does the Bible positively support same-sex sexual relationships?” The answer I have found is, “Positively NOT!”
Cory Collins

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 771–772.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
[4] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : a Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 109.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Fabulous Party - Why Did No One Come?

Oscar Wilde wrote the story of “Aunt Jane:”
Poor Aunt Jane was very old and very, very proud, and she lived all alone in a splendid, desolate old house in County Tipperary. No neighbors ever called on Aunt Jane and, had they done so, she would not have been pleased to see them. She would not have liked them to see the grass grown drives of the demesne (land attached to the manor), the house with its faded chintzes (printed multicolored cotton fabric with a glazed finish, used especially for curtains and upholstery) and suites of shuttered rooms, and herself, no longer a toast and beauty, no more a power in the county-side, but a lonely old woman who had outlived her day.
And from year to year she sat alone in her twilight, knowing nothing of what passed in the world without. But one winter, even Aunt Jane became aware of a stir in the air, a wave of excitement sweeping over the neighborhood. The new people were coming into the New house on the hill and were going to give a great Ball, the like of which had never been seen. The Ryans were enormously rich. “Ryans?” said Aunt Jane. “I don’t know the Ryans. Where do they come from?” Then the blow fell. The Ryans came from nowhere in particular and were reported on good authority to be “in business.”
‘“But,” said Aunt Jane, “what are the poor creatures thinking of? Who will go to their ball?” “Everybody will go,” Aunt Jane was assured. “Everybody has accepted. It will be a wonderful affair.”
When Aunt Jane fully realized this her wrath was terrible. This is what things had come to in the neighborhood then - and it was her fault. It had been for her to lead; she had brooded in her tent when she should have been up and doing battle. And then Aunt Jane made her great resolve.
She would give a ball - a ball the like of which had never been imagined: she would re-enter society and show how a grand dame of the old school could entertain. If the county had so far forgotten itself, she herself would rescue it from these impertinent interlopers.
And instantly she set to work. The old house was repainted, re-furnished, the grounds replanted; the supper and the band were ordered from London and an army of waiters engaged. Everything should be of the best - there should be no question of cost. All should be paid for; Aunt Jane would devote the rest of her life to the paying; but now money was as nothing - she spent with both hands.
At last the great night arrived. The demesne was lit for two miles with colored lamps, the hall and staircase were gorgeous with flowers, the dancing-floor smooth and shining as a mirror.
The bandsmen were in their places and bowed deeply as Aunt Jane, in a splendid gown and blazing with diamonds, descended in state and stood at the ballroom door.
There she waited. Time went on, the footmen in the hall, the waiters in the supper-room began to look at each other, the band tuned up two or three times to show its zeal, but no guests arrived.
And Aunt Jane, in her beautiful gown, waited at the ballroom door. Eleven - twelve - half-past twelve.
Aunt Jane swept a deep curtsy to the band. “Pray go and have your supper,” she said. “No one is coming.”
Then she went upstairs and died. That is to say, she never again spoke a word and was dead in three days. And not for some considerable time after her death was it discovered that Aunt Jane had quite forgotten to send out any invitations.
Oscar Wilde’s Aunt Jane gave a very grand party. She died of embarrassment when nobody came. What did she expect? She had never mailed the invitations!
Jesus once told a story about a man who gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” When the original guests declined, he said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:15-24)
Maybe it goes without saying, but … guests come to Bible classes and worship assemblies because they are invited. All the other preparations can be made – a fine building, vibrant singing, fervent prayer, and faithful preaching. But unless we invite, we should not expect the people we influence to be present.
Will you invite the people you know to enjoy a free feast, a banquet which our gracious God provides? It may not be easy, but aren’t you glad someone invited you? Won’t you feel the joy of having offered? Won’t you be certain that you have done what the Host has commanded? And if they come – and many just may – how thrilled and thankful you will be!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Second Helpings? Hey, Why Not Thirds?

1 Pet 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Ps 19:10 More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Disclaimer: this post is not intended to encourage unhealthy eating, but to whet the appetite for the best food of all!
When I was a boy my two older brothers and I looked forward all week to Saturday. Before supper that day Mom would go to the grocery to get each of us our favorite “Coke” (which in those days could refer to any soft drink). In the evening Dad would cook hamburgers. And each of us boys could have three, yes, three! (These were not very large by today's standards.) The meat was perfectly seasoned, the buns were fresh, and we could load them up with all the fixings. Dad loved sweet pickles. Mom loved onions. I loved just about everything.
Mom would have a seemingly endless supply of potato chips for us. Sometimes we used trays and sat in the den in front of our one television, black and white of course, to eat. That way we could watch the fake fighting of Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto on “All-Star Wrestling.” We had arrived!
I rarely stopped at one burger, or even two. I almost always went for the max! Do you know why?
My parents pressured me. Not!
I was afraid that my brothers would get mine. Not!
I felt guilty after only one or two. Not!
I had no other choices. Not!
The fact is, I ate three burgers just because I wanted to! It was that simple. It was a matter of plain old appetite. Of course, before long it became a habit, a habit that I longed to “feed!”
It seems to me that worship assemblies and Bible classes are like that. For one who “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (Matt 5:6), those gatherings are a feast! Nothing and no one will keep him or her from going back for seconds, and even thirds.
Sometimes people have spoken of attendance at church meetings as an obligation or duty. We read in Heb 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Some Christians have emphasized the importance of doing as the elders direct, and the elders exhort everyone to be present at each opportunity. We read in Heb 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
These concerns are valid, and there is certainly an “ought-to” when it comes to worship and Bible study. However, nothing takes the place of the “want-to.” You and I never need to be pushed when it comes to something we really want.
That’s why you never have to force sports fanatics to watch the game or the race. They will not settle for one event; they will return for seconds and thirds!
That’s why people will pay money to watch the latest movie. They will not just see the first film; they will go back for each sequel, often waiting in line as soon as it is released!
That’s why whole-hearted shoppers never have to be begged to go get the newest phone or the latest fashion. When they buy it, they are just doing what they are hungry to do.
So maybe the most productive question is not, “Why don’t you come back to worship on Sunday night, or come to Bible study on Wednesday night?” Maybe instead we should ask, “How is your spiritual appetite? What are you hungry for? How satisfied are you with your relationship with God, your knowledge of His Word, and your level of discipleship?”
Of course there would have been no burgers at all if my parents had not intentionally determined to feed my brothers and me. It was important to Dad and Mom that we had plenty. The same parents who fed me three burgers a week took me to three church services a week, as well as other church-sponsored youth activities, etc. We also prayed and talked about the Bible at home. They made it a priority to feed us spiritually. They loved the Lord and the church, and they instilled that love in my young heart.
So today I say with King David:
Ps 122:1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
I’m going for the spiritual buffet! How about you? I’ll see you there!

Monday, May 04, 2015

How We Got the Bible - Part Two - The New Testament

The John Rylands manuscript fragment P52, from the gospel of John, is considered to be the earliest New Testament manuscript fragment known to man. It is dated around AD 125.
This post is the second in a series. The first is found here:
The information below is drawn from several sources, including those listed at the end of the post.
The Canon of the New Testament
Authority precedes canonicity. The canon concept existed long before any “canon list” appeared. Any such lists merely recognized and confirmed those books already recognized as inspired and authoritative. No council or church determined or changed the books the Spirit inspired; they acknowledged them. Often lists arose to address or correct a doctrinal error or challenge.
As Moses is to the Old, Jesus is to the New.  His teaching is the nucleus of the NT canon. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Cf. John 14:26; 16:13-14; Matt 16:19; Rev 1:11.
From earliest times, there has been no question raised regarding our four gospels. Tatian’s Diatessaron (“through the four”), produced in AD 170, is a harmony of our own four gospels. Tatian rejects other so-called gospels in circulation at the time, some of which survive today. Origen in the 3rd century said: “The Church possesses four Gospels, heresy a great many …” He listed these four Gospels in the order of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In the gospels, Jesus said the apostles would transmit His Word by His Spirit and authority. Matt 18:18; John 13:16, 20; 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-14.
Paul claimed the same thing. Gal 1:11-12; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:1-2, 15; 1 Cor 2:6-16; 4:17; 7:17; 14:37; 2 Cor 13:3; Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27; 1 Tim 6:20
Books known to be related to an apostle (or Jesus) and reflective of Jesus’ teaching were naturally recognized by the church.  Heb 2:4; 1 Pet 5:13; 2 Tim 4:11; Jude 1:1
1 Tim 5:18 quotes both Deut 25:4 (OT) and Luke 10:7 (NT) as “Scripture.”
As Paul’s writings were produced, they were instantly regarded as canonical and authoritative. They were even circulated. Col 4:16. 2 Peter 3:15-16, written to all Christians, refers to a collec­tion of Paul’s letters which were widely known, and calls them “Scripture.”
Each NT book was recognized by [1] its relationship to an apos­tle and [2] its content.
Some NT books were slower than others to gain recognition in some areas of the church. These include Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. Remember, however, that not all NT books were circulated in all the same areas at the same time. Also, over time and with repeated use and examination, all these books have shown themselves to be the Word of God.
No NT doctrine is totally dependent on the presence of any one book in the canon. When we consider the canon in the early centuries, we need not be disturbed by the minor differences. Instead, we should be amazed by the major consensus.
Justin Martyr (c. AD 150) refers to the reading of the "memoirs of the Apostles" together with the “writings of the prophets” during the Sunday worship assemblies. He writes, "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things." (Justin Martyr, "First Apology", Chapter 67)
“From the close of the second century the history of the Canon is simple, and its proof clear. It is allowed even by those who have reduced the genuine Apostolic works to the narrowest limits, and from the time of Irenaeus the New Testament was composed essentially of the same books which we receive at present, and that they were regarded with the same reverence as is now shewn to them.” … “Thus it is that it is impossible to point to any period as marking the date at which our present Canon was determined. When it first appears, it is present not as a novelty but as an ancient tradition. Its limits were fixed in the earliest times by use rather than by criticism; and this use itself was based on immediate knowledge.” (B.F. Westcott, The Canon of the New Testament, sixth ed. (Macmillan, 1889), pp. 6, 501)
Origen (c.250) seems to include all 27 books.  He writes, in his Homilies on Joshua: “So too our Lord Jesus Christ…sent his apostles as priests carrying well-wrought trumpets.  First Matthew sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel, Mark also, and Luke, and John, each gave forth a strain on their priestly trumpets.  Peter moreover sounds with the two trumpets of his Epistles; James also and Jude.  Still the number is incomplete, and John gives forth the trumpet sound through his Epistles [and Apocalypse]; and Luke while describing the deeds of the apostles.  Latest of all, moreover, that one comes who said, ‘I think that God has set us forth as the apostles last of all’ (1 Cor 4:9), and thundering on the fourteen trumpets of his Epistles he threw down, even to their very foundations, the wall of Jericho, that is to say, all the instruments of idolatry and the dogmas of the philosophers.”
“Although not all the books were known in one place, all the New Testament books were accepted as divine and authoritative by Christians somewhere. No writing known as apostolic was rejected anywhere. Within one generation after John completed his writings, all twenty-seven books of the New Testament were cited as Scripture by some church leaders. Within two centuries, all but less than a dozen verses of the New Testament were quoted in from three to four thousand citations that are now preserved.” (Don Shakelford, ed., New Testament Survey (Searcy, AR; Resource Publications, 1987), pp. 54, 55)
The Canon, the Councils, and the Church
 “… no church council made the canon of Scripture. No church by its decrees gave to or pronounced on the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the New Testament books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves. As a child identifies its mother, the later church identified the books which it regarded as having unique authority.” (Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, pp. 161-162)
“One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing  their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa--at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397--but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? p. 27)
Non-Canonical Writings
These writings began to appear in the second century, and they continued to emerge for several hundred years. One reason for their creation was the desire for further information about the life of Jesus and the apostles. So there are more apocryphal “Gospels” and “Acts” than there are epistles and apocalypses (books like Revelation). A second reason was the desire of some to foist their false teachings on the church with the alleged endorsement of Christ or the apostles.
One who has doubts about the New Testament canon should just read some of the New Testament Apocrypha. For example, the “Gospel of Thomas” 114 reads: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
In the “Acts of Paul,” Paul baptizes a lion, who later spares him from death in the amphitheater at Ephesus. The “Gospel of Judas” is a late and unhistorical production of a fringe Gnostic sect. It makes Judas a noble hero by claiming that he betrayed Jesus, not because he loved money, but because Jesus instructed Judas to do so.
The Transmission and Preservation of the New Testament
The “autographs” (the very documents that were penned by the inspired authors, Paul, Peter, John, Matthew, Luke, etc.) have not been preserved for us today. The autographs were written in Koine (“common”) Greek, the universal language of the Roman world in the first century. The earliest copies of these autographs are, therefore, in this original language.
Types of Greek manuscripts
The earliest New Testament manuscripts were written in papyrus sheets (plant material) or parchment (animal skin). Writing at that time was done all in capital letters with no punctuation or division between words (uncial). This form is sometimes responsible for confusion by Greek textual scholars today who need to determine where one word stops and the next begins.
By the 7th or 8th centuries, Greek manuscripts were put into small letters with punctuation, word, and paragraph divisions (miniscule). Miniscules are characterized by small letters, written in a cursive style.  This style of writing became popular in the ninth century.  Its advantage was that more words could fit into the same amount of space.
Reliability of Greek manuscripts
The New Testament was written AD 45-95. Some fragments of Greek texts exist that date back to AD 120 and AD 150. That’s only 35-100 years after the original autographs. In addition there are 4,000-5,000 New Testament Greek manuscripts (partial or complete) in existence. By comparing these many copies, scholars can identify and correct possible copying mistakes.
Textual Criticism: the science of restoring the original text from the copies.
So there are two factors confirming that the Greek texts, available to scholars today, are very accurate reflections of the original writing. 1) There are copies dated closely to the time of the original writing. 2) There are lots of copies.
The following chart compares the New Testament manuscript evidence with other Greek literature (considered accurate by historians) from the same era.
Manuscript               Date of Oldest Existing Manuscript       Number of Copies
Plato                      1,200 years later                                   7
Caesar                    900 years later                                    10
Herodotus               1,300 years later                                   8
Aristotle                  1,400 years later                                   5
New Testament        Only 35-100 years later                          4,000-5,000
Other Sources for the New Testament Text
Over 2,200 Lectionaries (Books used in worship that cite the Bible).
Ancient Versions – 9,000 manuscripts (largely due to the advance of the Roman religion that spread the Latin Vulgate throughout Europe). 
Church “Fathers” – ca. 36,000 citations. Scholars say that all but four verses of the entire New Testament text could be reconstructed from the citations of the early Church Fathers alone.
Sources / For Further Study:
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Fifth Edition (Eerdmans 1960).
Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Third Edition (Baker 2003).
Wayne Jackson, “The Holy Scriptures—Indestructible”
Larry Stone, The Story of the Bible: the Fascinating History of its Writing, Translation, and Effect on Civilization (Thomas Nelson, 2010).