Divine Mystery

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We live in an incredible and unprecedented time. People call this the information age. And for good reason. We have more information and knowledge of our fingertips and at any other time in history. We are breaking barriers left and right.

But this type of culture sets us up for some hard truths. We’ve become accustomed to having all the facts, knowing everything about everything. But this is actually a falsity because no one knows everything about everything. That is, except God.

We only like mystery in our novels. So it’s hard for us to grasp God and his nature completely. And that drives us crazy. The infinite God can only make so much of himself knowable to finite creatures. But that won’t stop us from complaining about what we don’t know.

We want to know God fully so that we can worship fully. We catch a glimpse of who he is and what he can do, so we’re sure that he deserves our worship. But how does the finite creature worship its infinite Creator?

Sometimes I feel like I’m a tiny grasshopper in a giant yard. If God wanted to, he could step on me and squish me flat. He’s not that kind of God, but he does have that ability. This paradox between the infinite and finite, the temporal and eternal, and the Creator and creation isn’t lost on us.

Some people give up on knowing God. They are not satisfied with the tiny breadcrumbs we get. The funny thing is that those tiny breadcrumbs are all we can handle. If God truly showed up in all of his glory, we would not have a choice but to worship him.

But he’s not looking for mindless automatons to worship him. He’s looking for people who choose him and choose the love and worship him. That is the original reason for giving us free will in the first place.

The knowability of God creates a relationship of mystery. His Word reveals many things about him but it also makes clear that we are unable to know him completely. We can’t wrap our minds around all of God’s attributes and all that he is.

Paul helps us to see this paradox. The Holy Spirit knows the depths of God’s mind and the thoughts of human beings (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). The Holy Spirit is like a middleman, an interpreter or interceder between God and humanity.

We don’t know everything, and we were never meant to. Some people believe we will know everything when we get to heaven, but that is one of God’s attributes. Paul even quotes from Isaiah about not having full revelation of what God can do in 1 Corinthians 2:9.

We are very curious creatures. But everything that we already can learn about God will take us a lifetime to discern. We can’t even see his entire plan for the universe and time. It’s easy to see God’s work in the past rather than in the present.

We need to get comfortable with not knowing everything about God. There is no subject on this planet or in our minds that we know everything about. There is always mystery. There’s not another person on this planet we know completely.

Do we really want to know everything about God? Would he be infinite and be God if we could know everything about him? The fact that we can’t know God completely shows he is greater than us.

This is what makes answering questions about faith hard sometimes. There are things I never will understand. So it’s hard to try to answer a question about it that can’t be answered. Yet, there are so many questions that are answerable.

Part of faith is seeing what we can see of God, and trusting Him for the rest we can’t see. That is why God only provides evidence and doesn’t just force us to worship Him. We must trust for a bit of who He is.

The mystery that we face should not shut us off to a deeper relationship with God, a more worshipful attitude, or make us feel like the journey is not worth it to begin to know God. In fact, mystery should make us more apt to worship God, to trust in Him, and to bring our enigmas to Him!

It brings me great comfort to know that God, who knows all things, is my best friend. I don’t want information overload. I know God will show me what I need to know when I need to know it.

When I feel like I’m all alone and have nowhere to turn, God teaches me the knowledge that He never leaves or forsakes me. When I have a financial need or any other need, God teaches me that He is my Provider.

I often begin worship by speaking what I know about God. Worship him for who he is and what he’s done in my life. I worship him for what he’s done throughout history. I express how awesome and wondrous he is.

But worship works both ways. We can move from what we know about God to what we don’t know about him. How amazing he is that there are parts of him we don’t yet know. He is doing things in the world we’re not even aware of yet. He is working behind the scenes in our lives.

If you think what he did in the past was amazing, just imagine what he can do in your future! God’s infinite being reminds me of what I have learned from my education. The more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know.

The mysteries of God are the same way. The more he reveals to me the more questions I have. I like to know that somebody in the universe has all the answers, and he’s my best friend. I can worship God because he is beyond me.

He surprises me and he’s doing things I can’t comprehend. I can worship out of my intelligence and out of my ignorance. I can revere God for what I know He is and can do, and I can revere Him because He can do more than I ask or imagine.

He’s the kind of God we can believe in because he makes great strides to come to our level. But he is also completely unfathomable, gloriously greater than me. For both the knowledge we have of him and what we don’t know, we can ballot his feet and enjoying a friend who sticks closer than a brother but is wholly other.

How do you feel about the mystery of God, his infinite person and how much we can know of him? Leave a comment and tell me what you think about the divine mystery of our God.

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3 Holiness Goals

Since the creation and perfection of the modern vehicle, humans have been able to travel further differences than ever before. Empires could only be as large as the transportation available at the time. When horses were bred for writing, empires began to expand.

People in the Empire could travel farther and manage the empire better. But when the modern vehicle was produced, its ability to move fast was measured in horsepower. No longer did humans need to wear out one horse. They have a whole bunch of horses under the hood.

Holiness is a vehicle to certain goals. Through holiness, we can meet these goals and progress to our ultimate desire. But what are those goals? What is the point of trying to imitate God’s character? Why do we put all of this work and obedience into attempting godliness?

If we attempt to be holy, some goals fall short of the purpose of holiness in our lives. If these are our goals, we’re in it for the wrong reasons.

  1. Perfection – While we are called to perfection in Christ (Matthew 5:48), most people misunderstand what perfection Christ really needs. It doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes. The word perfection needs to be mature, just what God wants us to be. It is to be whole and complete. But being perfect is not the goal of holiness. Perfection falls short of the goals and reasons for godly living. It is a byproduct of the path of holiness.
  2. Taking God’s Place – Our goal is not to become God or to take his place. We are human and even in heaven will still be human. We will not even become little gods. We will remain the creatures God has designed us to always be. We cannot usurp his throne on earth and we won’t do it through holiness. Pride and thinking we could do a better job than him was the reason humanity fell in the first place.
  3. Boasting About Ourselves – The journey to holiness isn’t about us. It’s not about waving our amazing character in front of other people. “Look at me!” That attitude flies in the face of godliness and holiness. This isn’t about showing off. Holiness is not another medal to put on our armor.

But there are goals worth pursuing through holy living. Holiness gives us a way to get there. A few of the great goals of holiness and godly living are:

  1. Imitating God’s Character – One of our goals is to imitate God’s character. Holiness flows out of the character of God and we who are becoming like him must also take on that same character. But it’s not about showing off. And it’s not about boasting. It’s about being like the one who saved us and loves us. It’s about being like the one who wants us to be like him. It’s about becoming what he’s always wanted us to be what he created us. Holiness is our vehicle to becoming complete and whole in Jesus. It’s about reaching the full potential of what he made us to reach.
  2. Dwelling in God’s Presence – A holy God cannot dwell within unholy people. Holiness gives us the ability to be in God’s presence with him. It gives us the ability to share in God’s goodness personally. It gives us the ability to hear from God and to speak to him. Although we are not as equals, we are his family, his children. He wants to meet with us and be with us. But it can only come through obtaining the same godliness and holy character that he has.
  3. Pleasing God – Holiness is the best way to please the God that loves us and gave himself for us. Only through holiness can we truly please God. Our obedience to the Holy Spirit warms his heart. Our compassion for others imitates his goodness to us. Learning to be like him and putting that into action puts a smile on God’s face. Because we love him and are grateful for everything he has done for us, we want to please him. Holiness is the best way to accomplish that goal.

Before we pursue holiness and to devote our lives to obedience to the Holy Spirit and godly living, we need to check our hearts and make sure that our goals and purposes for becoming holy are the right goals.

Leave a message in the comments and tell me what you think about these goals. They are lofty goals for us to attempt. But only through the power of the Holy Spirit, the help of God’s Word, and the fellowship of the saints can we attain it.

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5 Reasons to Go to Church

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With the advent of streaming video and audio services online, churches are joining in to this technology and posting their services. You can now watch a service from anywhere within the Internet connection! This is a wonderful gift, but is it being abused?

This new service is available to those who are shut-ins or sick, or even on vacation for a week. Those who can’t physically make it to church benefit from this availability. Unfortunately, a growing number of people have made Internet church there only church. They don’t attend a local body of believers.

At the Bible gives at least five reasons every Christian should be part of a local church that meets regularly. Media has always been part of the cutting-edge of the Church. Churches have been involved in technological advances from the beginning.

From radio to TV, the church has used technology to further the message of the gospel. But the Internet has given a great advantage of interactive media and ways to interact with groups within the church.

Many people make the case that there is no need to physically go to church. They cite that church consists of believers, not a building. They are biblically correct. But I disagree that they don’t ever need to meet with other believers physically. And I don’t just disagree because I get paid to preach in churches.

All of these viewpoints and approaches beg the question, “What is the church?” Do we need to physically gather together? Do we lack anything if we virtually go to church online? We need a biblical definition of the church to answer these questions.

First, there is the church composed of all of the saints everywhere in the world, even those who have already passed away. We call this the Invisible Church, or the Universal Church (not to be confused with the Universalist Church).

There is also the Visible Church, or the local church. This is the gathering of local believers you can see and touch. The size of the church doesn’t matter because it is part of a larger whole. The Church is the gathering of like-minded believers who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and hold to the truth of Scripture.

Every church must demonstrate certain criteria mainly from the example of the first church in Acts 2:42-47. The first church met together regularly to worship God, hear God’s Word, show compassion, fellowship together, and evangelize the world.

The church is not a building but a glorious building of believers gathered together to form a holy house for God to inhabit (1 Peter 2:5). Church buildings facilitate relationships and action by the church of believers.

The original word for “church” explains this even better. The Greek word ekklesia means “assembly, or “gathering.” From the word for church, it is clear we are not to practice our faith completely alone. The word for “saint” means “holy, unique, separate.”

So the church is the gathering, the group, of holy and separate ones. We are separate from the world but welcome amongst one another. How we need together differs in different situations. Some meat and houses, others in public buildings, and others in designated houses of worship.

So what can we do when we are physically present in church that we can’t do alone? We can donate online, here and watch the sermon, watch the worship music, and participate in discussion and small groups. But here are five reasons I believe the Bible teaches we need to be physically present in a local church and deeply involved:

  1. Fellowship. The word “fellowship” means “to have in common” or “to share.” To fellowship, you must be part of a community. You can’t fellowship with yourself. That’s like a yourself, and that’s weird. Fellowship is one of the most important parts of going to church (Scriptures on Fellowship: Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 6:14; 13:14; Gal 2:9; 1 John 1:3, 6, 7).
  2. Corporate Worship. You can personally worship God through prayer, Bible study, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. But 1 Corinthians 11-14 describes corporate worship. The ministry gifts are for others. You can’t prophesied to yourself, for example. When you join a chorus bigger than yourself, it encourages you in hard times to worship the Lord with the further you see in others.
  3. Living the Christian Life. How do you practice the Beatitudes by yourself? It is implied that none of us can practice the Christian faith alone. We need each other for encouragement, discipline, teaching, and so many other things. Some of Jesus’ teachings can be personal but without others, many of them don’t make any sense. We can’t live in isolation.
  4. Body Ministry. The human body is used as a metaphor for the church (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are here to serve others. The Holy Spirit gives us ministry gifts to use for others. You are a gift to the church along with the spiritual gifts you have been given to steward wisely. You benefit from the Ministry of others as they benefit from you.
  5. Discipline. Many churches shy away from godly discipline of their members. But Scripture is clear on guidelines for discipline (Matthew 18). If we are to stay on track in our walk with Jesus, we need accountability and discipline. We have blind spots and weaknesses that others can help us shore up. One example of discipline is a young man who is sleeping with his mother-in-law, kicked out of the church, and reinstituted after his repentance (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

John Donne is credited with the often used for his, “No man is an island to himself.” We are social creatures by nature. And we need each other. What would your walk with God look like if you could only demonstrate your own resources?

For instance, no Christian has all the spiritual gifts. When we combine our ministry resources, we can accomplish so much more for God’s Kingdom. You weren’t meant to go this alone. You were meant to contribute to a team.

The ability to access church services and resources online is of great benefit. But it must not be our sole connection to God’s family. Joining God’s work requires that we rub shoulders with one another. You will enjoy yourself. Come and grab a seat at the table!

What are your thoughts about the virtual or Internet church movement? What are some of its benefits and drawbacks? Leave a comment and let me know how you feel about virtual churches.

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Principles That Last

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Once people realize what we’re talking about when we mention holiness, one of the first things they might say is that our morals and attempts to please God are thoroughly outdated. Why would we follow a thousands-of-years-old book?

On top of that, some of the Old Testament laws applied to Israel, a certain culture. Some of them don’t apply to us today. For one, if you are not Jewish, you don’t have to follow some of the Mosaic Laws.

And then as a Christian, we’re further exhorted not to follow some of the mosaic Laws. One example is Paul in the book of Galatians telling Christians not to become circumcised. We don’t need those laws to follow Jesus’ teaching.

Pile on top of all of these concerns the popularity of relative truth. Many people today support the position that what’s good for you may not be good for them. Many atheists support the claim that each person can define their own moral laws.

In such a world of turmoil, Christians attempt to live out God’s high standards. But as everyone else right? Have we missed the boat? Are we really following ancient moral codes from a different culture?

Holiness originates in the character of God. God is timeless and he transcends cultures. Living wholly to please God is not only current but ahead of the times. It speaks to every culture and every time.

A lot of times we assume that a certain time period had better morals than another. But history tells us that sin has existed since the Fall of Man. And there are taboos at the very least in every culture. There are moral expectations everywhere you look.

By the way, holiness transcends morality also. Holiness is about more than just the correct legal and moral codes. It is about pleasing the heart of God and delighting in his grace. It’s about growing in godliness. It’s about becoming like him.

In some cultures, what is considered legally or morally wrong can still please God. Some of God’s expectations go against societal norms and preferences. There are people who look down on us for our efforts to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. They see us as less than intelligent.

There is a countercultural community among the body of Christ. We seek the delight of a higher Authority. Christians have been imprisoned throughout history for appealing to God’s laws rather than human authority.

So how do we deal with our culture? First we must realize that every culture must be evaluated. Some cultural norms may follow godly standards and some may not. When I was young, some people in my church talked about the 1950s as the godliness decade, some 40 years in the past.

But the same sins people commit today were committed in the 1950s. They may have been less noticeable or more taboo, but they still displease God. It’s not about any of the cultures or time periods of the world. God’s standards found in the Bible are our target and goal.

Here are some ways Christians can view and interact with their culture:

  1. Rejection – Total rejection of the culture presents one of two paths. Those who reject culture out right usually spend their time criticizing the culture or making their own culture to replace it.
  2. Isolation – Christians who isolate themselves from the surrounding culture usually form their own culture, like the Amish or Mennonites. They focus on their own communities and are wary of outsiders entering the group.
  3. Interaction – Christians who interact with culture tend to either fully adopt the culture and allow it to influence them, or they pick and choose which cultural norms they will support or participate in.
  4. Influence – Influence is the goal of Christians who seek to change the culture around them. Instead of blindly accepting cultural norms, they seek to enhance them with Christian values and worldview.

There are Christians in all four of these approaches and camps. Perhaps one of the ways you can please the Holy Spirit is to seek his counsel on what path you should take. One thing we can all be sure of is that the rules and principles of holiness we find in God’s Word give us the roadmap to pleasing him in whatever time or culture we find ourselves.

How have you approached your culture in the past? Do you think one of these options is better than the others? Leave a comment and let me know what you think about holiness and culture/time.

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Reflections on Making God’s Word Your Priority

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We’ve talked a lot about the Bible in these last six posts. We’ve discussed everything from how the Canon was formed to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in writing the books to its authority in our lives.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. I thought it would be best to give you my takeaways from my own studies in these areas.

  • I am sure that God preserved and prepared his Word just for me. He painstakingly regarded it through thousands of years just so I could read it. Because he took such great care in making sure I received it, I hold his Word in high honor and am honored to read it.
  • God moved heaven and earth to make sure that I wouldn’t only come to know Jesus but also know exactly what God expects of me through the Bible. I honor him when I live the life that pleases him. And I know exactly what he wants because he was careful to preserve his Word against all odds.
  • I am 99.7% certain that I hold the Bible in my hands that is accurate to the original manuscripts written thousands of years ago. I have no worries about whether or not I am reading the original words that got inspired human authors to write. I know this Word comes from God.
  • I am convinced that the human authors of the Bible books were not God’s robots when they wrote them down. Every word matters because it was carefully handpicked by the Holy Spirit as he inspired writers to write down God’s words with their personalities. I can see a bit of them in the Bible but I can hear all of God.
  • I know that when I study every word of the Bible I get a glimpse into the mind of the Spirit. Every word that I study gives me a glimpse into his awesome power and infinite love. When I discover an amazing truth about each word, I know that he is speaking to me even now.
  • Because I am sure that God preserved his Word for me, and because I know that he used the authors of the Bible through inspiration to speak directly to me, I hold the Bible in highest esteem and turn to its pages for every aspect of my life. I know he is speaking into every situation. I turn to the Bible to discover his wisdom and expectations for me.
  • I don’t worry about any other books. These 66 books challenge and encourage me. They discipline me when I stumble on the path with Jesus. I can feel the breath of God on these pages. Other books may be interesting, but they do not add to my life as the Bible does.
  • The Canon of Scripture is closed. I don’t have to worry that I missed God or I missed something important about following him. I don’t go looking for other things to satisfy me. I’m thoroughly satisfied and sustained by the Bible itself.

In a way, these thoughts are core beliefs of the faith. But they are also personal convictions based on my deep study of these topics. I hope after reading these posts, you have been encouraged and your faith has been strengthened.

We can be sure of the Bible. We can be sure that God composed, preserved, protected, inspired, and authorized it. That’s why it is so useful to us. Where else can you turn to get truth, wisdom, and blessing?

Every time I turn to a passage in the Bible, I receive a current and powerful message that I can apply to my life in that moment. Every time I study it, I see facets upon facets of new ways to understand what God is speaking to me. There is no other book like that!

What are your favorite parts about God’s Word? Have you had these experiences? What are your personal convictions about the Bible? Leave a comment and tell me what you think about the Bible after our studies.

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Thou Shalt Not…

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One of the first things that comes to our minds when we start talking about holiness is the Ten Commandments. Just about everyone comes face-to-face with what they think is the only forceful way that God has to make us do what he wants.

Most people have a problem with one or more of them. If it’s not them, it’s the rest of the Old Testament laws and commandments concerning how to live with other human beings. They like to find a negative command that seems to not make sense anymore.

Negative commands throughout the Bible refer to what I would call “negative holiness.” These are all the things we are told not to do because they lead to actions and thoughts that displease God. The Ten Commandments are only one example.

But people may not realize that there are also positive commands, what I would call “positive holiness.” These are the things we are encouraged and exhorted to do that please God. One of these, although there are many, might be a combination of negative and positive commands such as “Do not get drunk on wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

Something must be said about the negative commands in the Bible. I know it seems like an overbearing God is telling us what to do but it’s more about what he is trying to prevent. When parents tell their children not to do something, it is because they know that they may hurt them.

It is no different with God. Because he designed the universe and everything in it, he knows the very best things that we can do to make our lives great. When we listen to him, whether the commands are negative or positive, he is trying to set us up for success.

Farmers put fences around the fields for two reasons. Sure, it limits the movement of the cattle, but it also protects them from the dangers outside of the fence. God’s laws do the same thing. Also, while we may think of the limitations of that fence, died is thinking about our safety and success.

In the same way, his positive commands encourage us to live in ways that honor and please him. When all is said and done, God will be our judge. He does not want to send us to an eternity in hell. He wants us to be with him in heaven. But that requires holiness because a holy God cannot dwell with an unholy people.

Because God wants us to be with him, he gives us these two approaches to holiness. Each one of them shows us his desire and his heart for us. Each one of them shows us his Fatherly desire to become like him.

Perhaps this has changed your perspective on the laws of God. Perhaps it has shown you another way to look at the positive and negative holiness commands in the Bible. Tell me what you think and leave a message in the comments.

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Trying Something New

I’ve noticed that I haven’t been very efficient lately. In the efforts to write my first book, the one on holiness, I began finding all kinds of resources and beginning to go through them. I joined an online community of writers, discovered an entire world of resources, and learned how to launch my books.

All of that took time and I actually began to work on other projects than the holiness book. I am trying to find ways to spend time on my book but all kinds of other ideas keep popping into my head. I’ve even thought about doing online courses on the Bible and a podcast.

I would like to do those things but I really need to finish my holiness book. I have several other books in the wings as well. I don’t want to be a da Vinci, someone who doesn’t finish their projects. That man was created but he rarely finished something.

Instead, I want to be effective and efficient for God’s kingdom. He’s given me all of these ideas but I want to actually see them become reality. So in an effort to work on my holiness book and a novel I started way back when, I went out on a limb and signed up for a writing challenge.

I’ve never tried this before, but there is a challenge out there for writers called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the month of November, thousands of writers join this free online community and encourage each other to write 50,000 words in 30 days!

Generally, the rules are that you work on one piece and you try to produce those 50,000 words in that amount of time. It’s unprecedented! I’ve never done it before and I don’t know that I’m really ready for it now. But if it helps me finish even a chapter or two in my books, and I plan to do much more than that, it will be worth it.

So I’m working on my holiness book, currently titled “A Holy Dare: Principal Holiness for a New Generation” and also a novel I started called “Deep Despair of Darkness.” To accomplish such an enormous goal, I will have to write 1700 words per day!

But as I considered doing the challenge, I realized I needed a kick in the pants. I’m not going to get anything done of such significance by getting distracted every day. So I’m all in for this writing challenge.

I figured I’m not the only person who needs to try something new to become more effective in whatever I’m doing. What about you? Is or something out there to help you become more effective, more focused, and more productive? Leave a comment and tell me what you think you could find to become more effective in your life.

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Missing Books? Part 2: Pseudepigrapha and Other Writings

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Last time we considered the Old Testament Apocrypha, books written between the time of Malachi and the beginning of the New Testament. I want to discuss works written after the New Testament, after about 95-96 AD. These range from the 2nd to 5th century.

First of all, there are books that no one considers inspired, which were written by the Early Church Fathers, the second generation Christians and disciples of the apostles, and successive generations of Christians.

These are not inspired. Even the Early Church Fathers who wrote them knew they weren’t. They never claimed they were. They are helpful because they contain quotes of Scripture, sermons, and theology and Christian thought.

Other writings from this time period are called Pseudepigrapha, meaning “false writings.” Christians railed against many of these types of writings and consider most of them heretical.

One common heretical group was known as the Gnostics. Gnostic comes from the Greek word for knowledge. These were false teachers who believe that a person could gain a secret knowledge of Jesus.

It’s possible John addressed them in some of the messages in Revelation 2-3 and 1 John. They didn’t believe Jesus was physically human. They considered him a spirit masquerading in a body. They also believed the spirit was good, but the flesh was evil.

These Gnostics would take scriptural quotes and sayings that sounded like Scripture and weave false stories and doctrines throughout the work. Recently, they’ve become very popular again and many want them added to the Canon. But this must never be done.

You can find the whole text of many of them on the internet. Lists of these false writings include:

  • Gospel of Thomas
  • Gospel of Peter
  • Gospel of Mary
  • The Acts of Peter
  • The Acts of Paul
  • The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas

There are more where those came from. But notice already why they are called the false writings? They are taking the names of biblical authors and also the genres that they would use, for instance the gospel style or the acts style.

Even the scholars who want to pass these off as biblical books date them later than the first century. They were written after the deaths and martyrdoms of the apostles. This means the apostles didn’t write them, one of the requirements for inspiration.

If we considered their dates to fit near the time of New Testament books, we still have many problems with these writings. They contradict historical and theological data that we have in the inspired books.

Some tell fanciful stories of Jesus stretching wood because as a carpenter he cut the piece too short. Others talk of Jesus resurrecting childhood friends that jump off of roofs. Several of these books sound like they would fit until they hit that, “Umm, what just happened?” moment.

Would Jesus cut a board too short? Resurrections are rare even in the New Testament and they always had a purpose behind them. These writings make light of Jesus’ life and ministry. They strip the biblical books of their profound power.

A popular example will show the theological dangers of including these books in the Canon of Scripture. The Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic gospel, can be found in an online translation here: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html.

As you read, you can see how some verses of this text might pass for sayings of Jesus. But as you get farther and farther, there is one terribly shocking ending to the book. Take a look at verse 114. This one will make all the ladies super happy. It reads:

(114) Simon Peter said to him, “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.”

Now I thought that we had to become like children (and even then not literally children but LIKE them) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a good thing I’m a guy, because I don’t need a sex-change to get to heaven.

But sorry, ladies. This Gnostic gospel demands that women must go through some miraculous sex change to enter heaven. Does that bother anyone? Inspired books in the Canon include these types of thoughts:

  • Genesis 2:18, 20 – Where it is not good for the man to be alone and God makes a “helper” for him.
  • Proverbs 31:10-31 – If such a woman is so wonderful, then why must she be changed to enter heaven?
  • The whole books of Esther and Ruth. Without them, the line of David in Ruth and the whole Jewish nation in Esther would not exist.
  • The first evangelists were women who went to Jesus’ tomb early on Sunday morning after His resurrection. Why did they get to be first in a male-dominated society if they are not good enough to share the gospel?
  • Galatians 3:28 – I cannot stress how paramount this verse is. Paul says that anyone can be saved despite their background and environment. When we are part of Christ’s kingdom, there is neither male nor female. Gender isn’t a dividing factor in God’s kingdom.

It makes no sense and violate Scripture to suggest that a woman must have a sex change to enter heaven. These kinds of misogynist texts being pushed by liberals actually go against their principles!

These are only a few of the reasons the Pseudepigrapha are very dangerous. I don’t recommend reading them unless you are strong in your faith and can discern between the truth of God’s Word and these works in which truth and lies are interwoven.

I have found as I study these works and the Apocrypha that God has given us more than enough in the 66 books we have. He has already blown our minds hundreds of times over. They are a complete Canon with everything we need to know to become part of God’s family, learned God’s truth, and guide us into his presence. We don’t need the other books.

We are not missing any essentials or even non-essentials of the faith by not having these extra books in the Bible. Until we can say with assurance that we have mastered what God has given us in the 66 books, we should not attempt to put our efforts into these books, especially when they are contrary to His Word.

The final point I wish to make about inspiration and the canon and whether or not the Bible is complete is this: Do we trust God that He would give us everything we need to know Him?

You see, these questions over the canon come down to our trust in a good Father who gives us every good gift. Would God leave out essentials that we need to know to love and serve Him? Is He that kind of God?

If we have everything that we need in the canon, we don’t need the other books. Is there mystery in the Word of God? Absolutely. But it is a mystery that is designed to be there. So when we look at Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha they don’t help us grow closer to God.

And after all, that is the true test for inspiration, that His Words facilitate growing in our relationship with him. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of missing books in the Bible.

Next week I will share my personal recollections and takeaways about the Canon of Scripture, inspiration, authority, and the possibility of missing books. https://www.Jonathansrock.com/

with him. Leave a comment and let me know what you think of missing books in the Bible. Next week I will share my personal recollections and takeaways about the Canon of Scripture, inspiration, authority, and the possibility of missing books. https://www.Jonathansrock.com/

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The Principle Thing

I’ve been in some churches where the rules, either written or unwritten, were the law of the land. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as everyone in the community is willing to submit to such rules.

I’ve also been in churches where there were no standards whatsoever. People didn’t even take the Bible seriously, let alone the commands inside of it. Unfortunately, churches tend to fall on one side of the fence or the other. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground these days for anything.

So when we come to the subject of holiness, what’s more important? Should we follow strict rules so we know exactly what to expect or should we say there is no way to fulfill God’s highest standards, so why try?

I believe God’s heart hurts when he sees his people not even try. After all, he did command us to be holy like him. If he said it, then it’s possible. We should strive to bless God’s heart that he delights in us as we attempt to be obedient to him.

When we read our Bibles, we will find an interesting assortment of rules and principles for holy living. Why can’t we just pick either one, rules or principles? The Bible has both for some very good reasons.

Rules can easily become outdated. They are also meant for a certain time, culture, and situation. They don’t cover every possibility. They are very limited. Principles are a much better system for covering more possibilities.

The other problem with rules is that they can foster legalism in our communities of faith. Rules can lead us to interpret them so narrowly that the spirit of the rules can be easily broken. If parents tell their children not to have a party in the house when they go away, the child will easily obey that I going to someone else’s house to have the party. Legalism is a dangerous monster that can eat away at God’s design best for us.

The Bible doesn’t have any commands concerning smoking, insider trading, and several other practices we might consider sinful or at least a little under the table. Does that mean that these things are okay?

The sad fact of the matter is that humans are depraved enough to find ways around straight commands and rules. Look at the rich young ruler who declared that he followed all of the 10 Commandments since his youth. Like the Pharisees, he probably could only say this because he had interpreted them extremely literally.

God does give us black-and-white commands to show his expectations of our behavior. But he is a wise God who knows we’ll take advantage of every opportunity to sin against him before we know Jesus.

So to help us out, he also included principles for holiness. Where the rules don’t flat out tell us what he expects, he has also provided principles. These principles give us guidance and a framework to live holy lives in new situations not experienced by Bible cultures and times.

Let’s take the same example of smoking. There is no command not to smoke in the Bible. However, there is the principle of our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit. We should treat our bodies with respect and that includes a healthy lifestyle. We know from science that smoking ruins our lungs and can even cause cancer. We should avoid it as much as we can.

What a wise God we serve to give us direction with both commands and principles. Unlike in any other religion, our God speaks directly to us and tells us what he expects. He provides the right framework so we don’t have to guess his desires for us.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think about this two-pronged system of rules and principles. What kind of background have you come from? In your church family, was it more about rules or was it more about principles?

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Missing Books? Part 1: Old Testament Apocrypha

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We’ve been discussing how the Canon of the Bible was made, its inspiration, and authority. This raises several questions about which books belong in the Bible and which books don’t. From time to time in the media and scholarship, someone inevitably discovers an ancient document and asks why it can’t be included in the Canon of Scripture.

There are several books that are sometimes included in the Bible but not considered by Protestants to be inspired. And there are a host of other ancient pieces of literature that beg our attention. So what should we say about these documents?

I want to focus on the Old Testament Apocrypha. Why can we not consider these as inspired works that belong in the Canon? Those are precisely the questions we seek to prompt us into a closer look at these claims as we discuss the Canon of Scripture.

Let me start by defining terms and pointing out the books we’re referring to. Then I will give the reasoning for why these books are not included, and finally, I will state the theological reason for why most people would tell you they don’t deserve to be in the Canon.

The word Apocrypha means “hidden things” and refers to books included in some Bibles and manuscripts. “Apocryphal books” applies not only to works that historically were written between the writing of the Old and New Testaments, but also refers to some works written after the New Testament as well.

We have 39 books that compose the Old Testament in the Canon today. Historically, Rabbis have challenged about 5 of those books for different reasons. The book of Esther, never mentions God’s name. However, others have convincingly argued that the letters of God’s name, YHWH, are used in literary patterns that are purposefully composed, as well as the message that God works behind the scenes and fulfills his plans in our lives.

Many suggest Song of Solomon doesn’t belong in the Canon. It has been interpreted in one of two ways. The first is as an image of Christ and the church. The second is as a romance that gives godly principles for marriage and dating. For these reasons, it has always been included in the Canon.

But the Old Testament Apocrypha was written between Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and about the 200s AD. There are about 20 works, including books and excerpts. Some are extensions of inspired books like Esther and Daniel.

Others are historical accounts like the Maccabees. Some are simply stories or wisdom literature, like the Wisdom of Sirach. Old Testament Apocrypha books are listed in some Bibles and and other literature. Here’s a list of the most common works:

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. Addition to Esther
  4. Wisdom of Solomon
  5. Wisdom of Joshua Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus)
  6. Baruch
  7. The Letter of Jeremiah
  8. Additions to Daniel
  9. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews
  10. Susanna
  11. Bel and the Dragon
  12. 1 Maccabees
  13. 2 Maccabees
  14. 1 Esdras
  15. 2 Esdras
  16. 3 Maccabees
  17. 4 Maccabees
  18. Prayer of Manasseh
  19. Psalm 151
  20. Enoch

These works are found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. They were also translated in the Vulgate, the Latin translation, and are even found in the earliest editions of the King James Version.

However, not all books are in each one. They are listed in different orders and some are missing from those lists. Because of these differences, we can tell these books weren’t considered as crucial as the inspired books of the Bible. While the biblical Canon is preserved throughout time, the Apocryphal books are not as strongly represented.

Most scholars remind us that the Jews didn’t consider these apocryphal books inspired. But that does not mean that they are not useful. In fact, they tell us a lot about the times in which they were written, as well as the cultural and historical understanding of those eras.

Some books do not contain completely accurate data historically or geographically. These are all reasons why they are not considered inspired. It is enjoyable and interesting to read them. I have not truly studied them myself but I have read all of them.

One book of great interest is Enoch’s work, although Enoch did not write it. It was given his name for credibility. This is another reason that some of these books are not inspired. It is believed that they try to garner the credibility of a true writer of Scripture in their names at times.

Jude quotes from Enoch in Jude 14-15. But quoting from a book by the inspired writers does not give that work inspiration. Paul quotes from secular poets in Acts 17:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:13. Just because biblical authors use these sources, they aren’t inspired. This is especially true when the writer uses the source to deny its premise or as a counterpoint to his argument.

In the early 16th century during the Protestant Reformation, Catholics and Protestants went to war not only over principles of faith but also over the Canon itself. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) decided that the Catholics consider the Apocrypha inspired because the Protestants did not.

Even the Canon became a bone of contention among these two groups. When the Apocrypha is inconsistently translated or absent from Bible versions, this gives us clues about questions of inspiration. Do such inconsistencies measure up to the high standard of the Canon books?

Historically, these books have been used to separate groups of Christians. They do not achieve the goal of unity in Christ’s body. They are of great interest and even profitable for the study of history, but they are not inspired.

There is also one looming theological reason these books are not included in the Canon of Scripture. The Canon was closed with the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, in 95-96 AD. None of the early church fathers considered their writings canonical. Only heretics try to add to Scripture after that date.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read them. Because Jude quotes from Enoch, we can tell what the first century Jews believed in the times of Jesus. What do you think about the Old Testament Apocrypha? Leave a comment and tell me if you’ve ever read them and what you think about them.

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