Not Traditional, Original

T 1.61 Tradition in Original Christianity, The Word Spirit Can Mean Different Things Depending on the Context, Studying the Word Spirit

Since we are talking about devils as evil spirits and discerning of spirits now is a good time to take a deeper look at the word spirit in scripture.

Spirit is one of those things like electricity.  You can’t see it; you only know what it is by its effects. Oh, you can see lightning or the light of a light bulb, but those are just manifestations of electricity.  And spirit is more hidden than electricity which we can define and measure in the natural whereas spirit (as in holy spirit or evil spirit) is not measurable in the natural at all.  A google search of electricity revealed this definition, “a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles (such as electrons or protons), either statically as an accumulation of charge or dynamically as a current.” That is pretty precise and understandable to people that study those kinds of things. On the other hand, spirit cannot be ascertained in the natural world:

Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  (1Co 2:14 WEB)

The things of the spiritual world are not available to be reasoned out scientifically or philosophically, or any other way of the world.  The spiritual world is revealed by Yahweh to us spiritually.

But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God.  (1Co 2:10-12 WEB)

What we truly know about the spiritual world is what has been revealed from God.  There are all kinds of people all the time reasoning how God works, but they are just guessing because it is beyond our capacity to truly understand as the verses above declare.  But people still do it, and bigger and bigger holes just keep being dug.  That is part of how we have gotten the massive amount of division that we have in the church.

In reality, the more we both study the scriptures and act on them to experience the truth the more we understand spirit because we understand our father God, and the Lord Jesus Christ as we relate to them. Be we have to get away from all the philosophizing about the things of God because we really are incapable of figuring out anything about who God is and how God works other than what is revealed.

Now, when it comes to spirits, as great as it would be if the word spirit always referred to Holy Spirit or evil spirits, we need to acknowledge that the word spirit has different meanings in different contexts.  Right off the bat here’s an example of spirit with some key distinctions.

That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:6b WEB)

The word spirit is in this verse twice with the word born between indicating there is a parent and child. A spirit is born of a spirit indicating two different spirits.  And as this is talking about Holy Spirit that means it is talking about two holy spirits!  We’re talking about Holy Spirit giving birth to holy spirit.  Yep, that’s right. That’s what is revealed here.

Basically, the principle is that the Greek word pneuma with the article “the” refers to the Holy Spirit, the Giver. Without the article, pneuma refers to spirit, the gift believers receive when they are born again.  This verse is saying that which is born of the Holy Spirit is a believer’s holy spirit.  Notice that the first word is Spirit (capitalized) and the second is spirit (lower case).  The Holy Spirit is capitalized.  Lower case spirit, our spirit, is lower case.  That is the convention in English although not in Koine Greek.

There is one Holy Spirit.  If there are a billion born again believers then there are a billion holy spirits.  That is what we are talking about.  Here’s a verse that talks about individual spirits in believers, in this case, prophets.

The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, (1Co 14:32 WEB)

Look at this verse:

May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1Th 5:23 WEB)

This verse breaks down a believer in the three components, spirit (pneuma), soul (psuche), and body (soma).  Notice that the Greek word pneuma is not capitalized in that verse because it is talking about the believer’s holy spirit which is one part of three of the makeup of a believer.

Remember, part of the problem too is that there is no capitalization in the texts from which the books of the bible are translated.  So, the translators decided, based on their theology, when to capitalize Holy Spirit and when not to, holy spirit.  So, there is a problem going from translation to translation as to that translation’s rules for capitalizing or not capitalizing pneuma as spirit so it does get confusing at times.

There are more things to consider in the way spirit is used in scripture.

Next, look at this usage of the word pneuma. It does not have the article and it does refer to a person’s holy spirit, but only indirectly as it refers to the manifestations and uses of the spirit. So, it is a little awkward.  The translators add the word gifts in the KJV to show the word is added by the translators.

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.  (1Co 14:12 KJV)

I chose to use the KJV version of that first to show that the word gifts is in italics, which, again, in the KJV shows that it is a word added by the translators. The literal translation is “for as much as you are zealous of spirit”. The ESV version translates that same phrase as “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit.”  Neither is literal. The text says the word spirit but it is referring to the operation of the spirit.  It goes to show you that you need to have some flexibility in that the use of the word pneuma just doesn’t mean a spirit entity, plain and simple.

Of course, so far, we have been talking about holy spirit, the good kind of spirit.  But there are kinds of references to evil spirits, who are under the command of Satan. Devils or demons are angels who have turned against Yahweh and joined Satan’s cause.

Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; (Mat 25:41 WEB)

These bad angels are part of the kingdom of the devil which Jesus came to destroy.

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed: that he might destroy the works of the devil.  (1Jn 3:8 WEB)

In a later article, we will see in scripture that a number of these evil spirits are named like lying spirits, spirits of antichrist, familiar spirits, and so forth.

But, as we shall see in this article, every time it says spirit in Scripture doesn’t mean a spiritual entity like a holy spirit or an evil spirit.  Here is a place with the Greek word pneuma where it doesn’t mean spirit as in holy spirit or evil spirit.  It refers to an element of character or an attitude:

What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?  (1Co 4:21 WEB)

Again, it is usages like this that can make it more difficult to understand spirits because every time it says spirit it doesn’t necessarily refer to a different entity.   This is talking about being gentle or a “gentle spirit” if you will.  For us believers, gentleness isn’t a separate spirit, but gentleness is a fruit of our (holy) spirit as it says in Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  (Gal 5:22-23 WEB)

To be gentle means to act tenderly, mildly, with a light touch.  1 Cor 4:21 above shows Paul making a choice whether to act gently, with a light touch, or harshly, with a rod.  So, to come in a spirit of gentleness is to come with a light touch, mildly, tenderly.

Similarly, let’s look at some verses in Proverbs.

Pride goes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor, than to divide the plunder with the proud.  (Pro 16:18-19 WEB)

The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach. It is the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek word pneuma.  The arrogant spirit here is not talking about someone being possessed with a spirit of arrogance.  It means being puffed up, all full of themselves.   You don’t have to be possessed to fall down this rabbit hole.  People that are not possessed get arrogant and wind up taking a fall all the time.

This arrogant attitude is contrasted with a humble attitude, a “lowly spirit” the text reads.  Again, humility refers to attitude.  Our holy spirit helps us to be humble.  When we have a lowly or humble spirit it refers to our character at that time.

Arrogant spirit, lowly spirit, gentle spirit are all examples of times when the word spirit is used but it doesn’t mean a unique spiritual being, it refers to character and attitude.

The word spirit is used when talking about angels as they are good spirits under God’s direction.

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert.” He arose and went; and behold, there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. He was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.”  (Act 8:26-29 WEB)

This is one of the records of a wonderful angel delivering a message to someone.  It illustrates that angels are spirits.  Interestingly, if inspired by the Lord, you could discern with discerning of spirits the presence of an angel or angels.  Food for thought!

Here is an example of the phrase “the spirit of the law” used in the epistles.

who also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  (2Co 3:6 WEB)

In this usage, “spirit” refers to what the original author intended as opposed to the actual entity of a spirit.  The opposite is “letter of the law” which means to construe what was said to be as harsh as possible.

Here is another usage of spirit:

This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.  (Act 18:25 WEB)

You understand that this isn’t saying he had a spirit of fervor, fervent in spirit here means he was just eager!  We all should be eager to walk in the spirit like this man, teaching accurately the things of God.

We would be remiss if we didn’t point these verses out:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. You worship that which you don’t know. … God is spirit  (Joh 4:21, 22a, 24a WEB)

Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman who he points out doesn’t really know much about God.  He tells her that the Father is Spirit.  (Notice the translators didn’t capitalize this usage of spirit.) So, here pneuma refers to the Father.  God is Spirit.

There is more to this study, but by now you should have an idea of what to look for when seeing the word spirit in scripture.

Summing up, we see these usages of the word spirit in this article.  I have also included some additional examples where this usage applies:

  1. Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20; Luke 2:26; Acts 1:16)
  2. holy spirit (Luke 1:15; Acts 2:4 (first); Romans 5:5)
  3. Manifestations and/or gifts of the spirit (Rom 15:19; 1 Cor 14:2; 1 Thes 1:5,6)
  4. Evil spirits (Matt 8:16; Mark 1:23; Act 5:16)
  5. Character or attitude (Matt 5:3; Gal 6:1; 2Tim 1:7)
  6. Angels (Heb 1:7,14)
  7. As an adverb (1 Cor 5:3; Heb 4:12)
  8. God the Father

All of this shows that the word spirit is used in relating to spiritual matters in a number of ways.  And it is important to understand that every time the word spirit is used it might not mean a separate spiritual entity.  We’ve seen that in scriptures where prideful spirits, jealous spirits, gentle spirit, humble spirit, power spirit, sound mind spirit are referred to. Those terms refer more to the character of the person being exhibited at the time.  On the other hand, holy spirit, the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit, is a spiritual entity as are the many references to unclean spirits who are part of the domain of Satan to influence and even possess people in scripture and in life.

There are online sources for the different usages of the word spirit, but I didn’t find that they agreed all the time and it is important to watch out for the theology of the writer to determine how the usages are determined[1]  The only publication that I know of that explores a word study of spirit is an old book by E W Bullinger, Word Studies on the Holy Spirit.[2]  Bullinger’s book is the most thorough discussion that I have found.

This is a worthy topic for each scripture student to study and the examples that I have given above are a good place to start.

[1] Spirit, https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/spirit/  has an interesting discussion from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Encyclopedia.com has a discussion of spirit in both the Old and New Testaments at https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spirit-bible

[2] Word Studies on the Holy Spirit, E. W. Bullinger, 1985, originally published 1905, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids

March 4th, 2021 Posted by | Spirit, Tradition | no comments

T 1.1.1 Tradition in Original Christianity: The Importance of Doctrine, Reproof, and Correction in Christianity With Its Emphasis on Love

Christianity is about love.  And we are in the administration of grace.  So surely no persons or churches should be reproved, rebuked, or corrected, right? There should be no criticism of any kind, constructive or destructive, right?  Terms I hear expressed are to be loving, forgiving, “giving grace” and “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” instead of being critical.

To this I refer the charge Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 where they were focusing on the parts of the law they thought were important:

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  Mat 23:23 ESV

Everything is important in the Word of God!  Yes, we are to endeavor to walk in love, share grace, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the other parts of the Apostle’s tradition.  The charges to love, give grace, and maintain unity in peace don’t pre-empt us from striving to have the same mind and make the same judgments which are the mind of Christ :

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1Co 1:10 ESV)

This verse is from the diverse church at Corinth.  The church today has been compared to Corinth for many years.1.  Maybe we don’t have the severity of sin that Corinth had, but we have more factions.  The Corinthian Church wasn’t just off base because they were sinning by divorcing indiscriminately, practicing homosexuality and other sexual immorality, or turning communion into a food party among other things, they were off in their Christian doctrine by allowing sects to develop, incorporating philosophy into Christianity, and denying that Christ was raised from the dead among other things.  In 2 Corinthians we read of false apostles, messengers of “new” light”, bringers of a different gospel than the one preached by the original apostles.  Notice these false apostles “disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor 11:13) Putting all this together we are talking about sects, denominations if you will, boasting that they are the true Christian Church.  Paul isn’t talking about other religions or secular ideas taking over, he’s talking about Christian denominations at Corinth who teach a Christian gospel different than the true Apostles’, all claiming to be the true Christian church.  Especially doctrinally, it’s not that different from all the denominational jockeying that is going on today in the Christian Church.

Nothing is impossible with God.  It is possible to reduce the amount of division in the church.  The Reformation may have looked impossible to many with the Catholic Churches’ grip on the Western World in say, 1200 AD.  Pentecostal and Charismatic movements bringing the manifestations and gifts of the spirit to more and more churches may have been unthinkable to many people a couple of hundred years ago.  How is Christ leading the church today for something that will be recognized as another major movement of God?  Yes, there have been revival movements in the last century, there is a 24/7 prayer movement now.

The standard for our mind is Jesus’ mind.  And Jesus mind was focused on what he saw the Father doing:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Joh 5:19 ESV)

Do you really see the Father telling one group that manifestations of the spirit have ceased and others that they have always been available, and still more to not deny the spirit but don’t teach or encourage it?.  Do you see him telling some groups that homosexuality is okay and others that only a man and wife can be holy in bed? Do you see the Father saying to some that alcohol is an abomination that no one should partake and others that alcohol can be a blessing in moderation?

No, the Father is not telling one group to do one thing and another the opposite. The list of disagreements is huge and the church today is as factious or more as the Corinthians were.

To have true unity of the spirit in the bond of peace is when members all can see what the Father is doing, and they follow along together.

I believe that the Father is calling believers to do just that.  I see it actually going back to the Reformation and even before when people have called for restoration to apostolic doctrines.  Now, not that every “Christian” movement is of God or even every single thing in a movement genuinely inspired of God is from God but there have been a number of movements that started with the Reformation that I see as God moving the Body of Christ back to the Apostles traditions.  The return to the writings about the Apostles as the true source (sola scriptura) of knowledge about the faith show movement by God to restore the Church to its foundation of apostolic tradition.  The Restoration movement, which is more geared to restoring the Church to apostolic doctrine than the Reformation was inspired by God to further restore the Church to its apostolic origins. Other movements show to me God working to restore the Church over the centuries.   The Holiness Movement was inspired to return to holiness.  The Pentecostal Movement was inspired to restore the manifestations and diversity of gifts. The Charismatic movement expanded the Pentecostal Movement from the Full Gospel realm into mainline churches and further grew the use of the spirit in the body of Christ. These are just some of the movements.  Steering the huge body of believers is like steering the Queen Mary, while some of us would like to see it happen in an instant,  it appears to be happening slowly and incrementally.  But all these movements combine to show that there is a movement to get truly back to apostolic origins.  And the more that believers follow these incremental moves back to the apostolic traditions the more they will enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

One element of the Apostles tradition is the purpose(s) of Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16 ESV)

Doctrine is teaching, the presentation of the knowledge of God, and His Son, Jesus Christ, his mission, and our part in it.

Reproof is a statement pointing out the error in some one’s ways.

Correction is the explanation of what someone should be doing instead of the error they have been practicing.

Doctrine, reproof, and correction are all part of God’s love.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.  (Pro 3:11-12 ESV)

Let’s look at examples of doctrine, reproof, and correction.  This section of scripture is about how the spirit works:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.  (1Co 12:4-11 ESV)

This section is all doctrine.  Now it could be part of a bigger section and so be part of the correction from some other doctrine, but, as is, it is just teaching about that is right, holy, and just on how the spirit works in the body. These verses by themselves aren’t telling anyone that did something wrong, they are just teaching the right way to think about these things.

Now consider this section:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1Co 11:27-30 ESV)

This is reproof.  There were Corinthian believers who were participating in communion without regard to what it means.  And they are being told here in no uncertain terms that it was wrong.

But alongside this reproof is the correction.  Look at these verses:

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup…. if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment…  (1Co 11:28, 31-34 ESV)

Interwoven with the reproof, the pointing out that someone is doing something wrong, is the correction, the replacing of wrong doctrine or practice with right doctrine or practice.  In this case, the offending Corinthians are told to eat at home if they are hungry and to examine themselves, that they reflect on what the bread and wine signify, that is, the broken body and shed blood which was done to for our healing and forgiveness.

Another example of doctrine is that the bulk of the epistle of Ephesians.  Just start reading Ephesians and look at all the doctrine:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  (Eph 1:3-14 ESV)

Look at all the doctrine there, the glorious teaching about who we are now that we have received Christ!  Ephesians is full of awesome doctrine!

in Ephesians, we read a little doctrine about reproof and correction.  Here’s it is:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:11 KJV)

The above verse says that we are charged to give reproof. Yes, there is a time and place for things and sometimes it is more loving to overlook a matter, at least for the time being.  Don’t take this wrong; I am not saying the bible calls us to nag people, reminding them of their faults every time they do something wrong. In fact, if you can’t come together on an issue after a couple of attempts you need to stop.  But anyone that says the Bible teaches that we are charged to always look past a person’s or group’s faults is just disagreeing with this scripture in the apostle’s tradition.

The book of Galatians is full of reproof and correction.  At the beginning of the Gospel Paul charges the Galatian Church of twisting the Gospel:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:6-7 ESV)

There is that term, distorting the gospel of Christ.  At issue in this case, what is twisted, is the fulfillment of the law.  Paul later recounts the famous confrontation with Peter where Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles because the “circumcision party” came in pushing doctrines of the Law with all its eating laws and rituals like circumcision on Galatians who were never Jews to begin with.

Part of the correction in Galatians is how walking led by the Spirit frees us from walking under the law:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  (Gal 5:16-18 ESV)

It is pointed out in Galatians that the circumcision promoters were Jews who were unwilling to give up elements of the Jewish religion in which they were raised.  That is a trap for all of us.  I was raised Catholic and, even with all the questions I had, it was no small feat to change my thinking from the Catholic doctrine system to the leading of the Spirit and the supremacy of the apostles’ traditions as contained their writings. Every Christian tradition that differs in any way from the apostle’s tradition has raised up believers with baggage that hinders them just as it does me.  The Christian traditions that have been developed over the ages rarely include the precepts of the Law, but they nevertheless have doctrines that differ from what the apostles taught and practiced mainly because they almost invariably come out of the Catholic tradition that started right after the apostles and contain all manner of deviations from the Apostles’ tradition because the Catholics believe that they believe that the doctrine they developed after the Apostles is the continuation of the Apostles.  After all, it teaches that it is the one, holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church and outside the Catholic church there is no salvation.  They believe that the pope speaks ex-cathedra, equating his proclamations as equal in truth to the word of God.  And the Catholic Church embraced the inclusion of philosophy in direct opposition to its rejection to the apostles, citing its necessity in the arguments of early Christian apologists to refute heretics who were arguing philosophically against Christ and his church.  Remember, the reformers chose to reform the Catholic Church, correcting what they considered offenses like indulgences and Vatican excesses and in the process chose to proclaim scripture as authoritative over Church magesterial doctrines.  They still accepted much of the inclusion of philosophy in writers like Augustine. Augustine is credited with infusing Christianity with Neoplatonism in the fourth century2.

The goal of this website is doctrine, reproof, and correction.  With so many competing doctrines being taught in churches that embrace Christ, some of them have to be “the unfruitful works of darkness'”  For example, the apostles taught us that there are nine manifestations of the spirit and diverse gifts given to the church, including prophets and healers among many others.  I  say that teaching otherwise is an “unfruitful work of darkness.”  A huge part of the Gospel is the energizing power of the spirit and  I say that the churches rejecting or even avoiding all the things of the spirit including manifestations like prophecy, miracles and healings, gift ministries, and abilities, teach a darkness that needs to be corrected.  That’s just one example.

Now, let’s contrast that with criticism.  According to Google, criticism has several different meanings.  One is the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of something.  This has to do with evaluation. Anyone who has ever undergone a job evaluation has experienced this form of criticism which is not of itself, negative. But a common understanding of criticism in interpersonal relationships is the expression of disapproval over perceived faults or shortcomings.  This is the one that most people dislike.  No one likes to be told they are doing something wrong, especially repeatedly.

Here are some things we are taught about being critical:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29 ESV)

Here we have a key element in our talking to other people: whether or not it is building up and giving grace.

Contrast that to this:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (Jas 4:11 ESV)

There are times when someone is falsely accused, and this is unjust criticism in the worst sense.  Satan is also called the accuser.  And, if that is what someone is doing, then they are just doing Satan’s work.

A believer’s response to that is:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  (1Pe 3:9 ESV)

If someone is negatively criticizing us without merit, then we are called to bless them.  Furthermore, there are times when sins are “covered” lovingly:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  (1Pe 4:8 ESV)

So, there are many times when someone offends us and it is loving to “cover” for it.

But, criticism can a different thing when what is said is not false.  So, if the item being addressed is true, and it is said to help someone perfect their walk in Christ then this is godly reproof and correction.

Also, we need to remember that there is guidance in the bible that there are times when we will be disciplined and that process is uncomfortable:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him [empasis added]. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [empasis added] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant [empasis added], but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  (Heb 12:1-13 ESV)

Discipline is uncomfortable, but these verses say it is what a loving father does.

There is another verse used in the Bible related to doctrine, reproof, and correction.  Leaders are charged to rebuke with authority.  They are not supposed just to let everything go:

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.  (Tit 2:15 ESV)

Titus, in this verse, is charged to rebuke which is a synonym of reprove and means to tell someone what they are doing wrong. In fact, the words reprove and rebuke are the same word in Greek.

Yes, we are always called to love.  Of course, he is dead, but I love Martin Luther.  What a stand he took that enabled the bible and the writings of the Apostles to gain pre-eminence for so many of us over church doctrines and practices that were so bad that the Reformers called the Catholic Church the Anti-Christ.  I have the utmost respect for him and am so thankful for what he did.  So do many, many Christians.  But many of us are not Lutherans because the Lutheran Church, like so much of Christianity, has not moved to where we see it as the best place to fellowship around what we can see to be the truest church to what Jesus and the apostles started.  That doesn’t mean we don’t love them.  We do.  We rejoice in their saving knowledge of Christ.  We rejoice that they embrace the writings of the apostles, prophets, and the psalms as their guide over the church council edicts, papal bulls, and other church laws that their predecessor, the Catholic Church promoted as supreme.  For that matter, we love and are thankful for any Catholic that embraces the saving work of Christ.  We are called to love everyone, even unbelievers.   In all of the discussion of what the Apostles’ tradition calls us to do, it is always done in love.  I have met so many loving, God-fearing people in so many churches from many denominations and “non-denominational” churches.  If we say that this church or that is teaching something that is not in line with the apostles’ traditions, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them any more than Paul didn’t love the Corinthians while he was reproving them:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,  (1Co 1:3-4 ESV)

I am thankful and praise God for every person that calls Jesus Lord.  All of us called to love even when we find that people believe things differently than the apostles’ doctrine.

So, back to reproof and correction, while we all are uncomfortable with it, it is part of the Christian walk. If God is calling us to speak the same thing, and Paul does say so, then we will not want to ignore this important part of the walk while we endeavor to walk in love, giving grace, and striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  We should all endeavor to see what the Father is doing and repeat it together so that we all have the same mind, the mind of Christ, and speak with the same judgment.

last revised 1/1/2022

September 25th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Theology, Tradition | no comments

Rob Bell on Hell

Rob Bell is an American pastor and founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids Michigan.  His church has a five figure attendance and he uses innovative and controversial methods to attract people both to his church and to other media resources he offers including books,  podcasts, and speaking tours.  The following article refers to his book, LOVE WINS.

Rob Bell challenges established Christianity. He challenges the messages of eternal, conscious tormant as the penalty of sin, the eternal fire and brimstone wrath of hell, and the images of a far removed creator and his son ruling people with that rod of iron.  At the same time, he pushes the concept of the loving father God who says his mission is to save all.

Rob Bell flat out attacks the traditional Christian concept of hell.  While never exactly saying that there is no hell, he progressively questions our idea of hell with one argument after another.

Bell starts his book with the story of a woman who included a quote from Mahatma Gandhi in an art display that she displayed while Bell gave a series of teachings on peacemaking. Evidently, someone attached a note to the quote that said that Mahatma Gandhi was in hell.  Bell’s attack is vigorous: “really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this?…”[i]

Bob continues with one argument after another along the same line and he presents his arguments powerfully. In his process, Bell challenges the traditional Christian concepts such as having a personal relationship with Jesus as phrasing not found the Bible.  He challenges how having to say a sinner’s prayer, or perform some sort of “acceptance” contradicts the idea that faith is not by works, but purely by grace.

Bell focuses in on what he describes as an inadequately defined concept of hell because it is so loosely structured from the ideas of the grave, and the fiery city dump.  Bell says about the Old Testament,

“But, simply put, the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined. Sheol, death, and the grave in the consciousness of the Hebrew writers are all a bit vague and ‘under worldly.'”[ii] He shows a similar lack of simple, straightforward, clearly defined logic in the New Testament

On the other hand, Bell applauds the cause of justice and even cites the need for punitive language as an influence to bring people back to justice. But he questions the finality of an eternal burning fiery pit called hell. As a case in point he talks about the language concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, often seen as a veritable cesspool of evil whose burning destruction sets the visual imagery for what will happen to those who don’t follow Christ. He cites the prophet Ezekiel who in chapter 16 says that God will restore the fortunes of Sodom and return it to what it was before. The implication is how that can be if Sodom and Gomorrah are the model for a eternal pit of fiery torment. He talks about how Jesus in Matthew 10 said it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the religious of his day. If Sodom and Gomorrah are the visual image of hell and hell is the worst thing that can happen, his point is how can Sodom and Gomorrah then be better than something else? Isn’t hell the absolute worst?[iii]

Rob Bell’s style is not clear cut logical reasoning. It actually reminded me of some of the things that I’ve read about Aristotle who would corner people with endless questions as he steered them toward specific points. Bell questions, questions, questions, and then attacks with one nontraditional line of reasoning after another at the traditional Christian concept that those that accept Christ in this life go to heaven, and all others burn in hell forever.  Bell’s arguments sort of dance all over the place, coming at the reader from changing angles.

Bill documents actual churches where they include in their statement of belief that the “unsaved” will consciously suffer torment in hell forever. Then he refers other sections in those same statements of belief where God is described as this incredibly loving entity that is beyond belief. And he focuses on that paradox. He also makes the case for separation from God as being a torment the people experience here on earth now.

Rob Bell’s point is that despite the statements of belief of many a church, and what appear to be some simple, straightforward verses regarding hell the case is not that simple. Bell hammers home the concept that Jesus came that “all” are to be saved, and how the intricacies of the numerous verses about judgment, eternal life, and the world to come do not allow for the easy conclusion that just because someone does not appear to accept Christ in this life that means that they will burn in hell forever. Still, he falls short of coming out and openly embracing the concept of universal salvation. Rather he goes back to building the concept of a loving God, and challenging that that all-loving God is going to set up a place where people are going consciously suffer torment eternally.

Rob Bell writes, “we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.  A distorted understanding of God, clung to with white knuckles and fierce determination, can leave a person outside the party, mad about a goat that was never got, without the thriving life Jesus insists is right here, all around us, all the time.

Jesus was very clear that this destructive, violent understanding of God can be easily institutionalized – in churches, systems, and ideas. It’s important that we are honest about this, because some churches are not life – giving places, draining people until there’s a very little life left. That God is angry, demanding, a slave driver, and so that God’s religion becomes a system of sin management, constantly working in angling to avoid what surely must be coming wrath that lurks behind every corner, thought and sin.

Jesus frees us from that, because he is kind of love simply does away with fear, … ‘You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’”[iv]

Rob Bell’s final message is that “Love wins.”  The implication is that God’s incredible love is going to find a way for all.

Through personal stories of his own experiences and others, through biblical references, and through philosophical argumentation, Rob Bell strives to take the focus off of hell as some eternal place of conscious torment, and put it back on what draws people to Christ in the first place,the incredible and amazing love of God .  In the process he completely challenges much of the traditional theology taught in churches today.

[i] LOVE WINS, Rob Bell, HarperOne, New York, 2010, p 1

[ii] ibid.,  p. 67

[iii] ibid.,  p. 84

[iv] ibid.,  p. 183-184

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

June 29th, 2011 Posted by | End Times | no comments

The Real Meaning of Easter

In 00.3 The History of Easter we looked at how Easter got its name from the Germanic goddess Eostre, whose springtime festival was popular.  Evidently, Eostre liked rabbits and thus the Easter bunny tradition began.  Eggs are symbolic of new life which is what happens in spring and Easter eggs are also part of this pagan tradition. That rabbits can lay eggs is a little crazy, but that is part of the tradition.

A number of people object to the pagan aspects of Easter; the name, the Easter bunny, the eggs, and so forth.  They say that when eat Easter eggs you are participating in pagan traditions.  Paul wrote specifically about this kind of thing in first Corinthians chapter 10. Let’s start with the context:

Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

The context is idolatry and eating foods sacrificed to idols.  We can see from these verses that in Corinth you could go somewhere and be offered food that was sacrificed to an idol (demon). You could also buy these foods. Paul is very clear that the sacrifice that we participate in is memorialized in the communion service, and the bread and wine of that ritual are the only foods that we should be partaking of when it comes to something that is sacrificed to a supernatural power.

But Paul has a lot more to say on this topic:

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

First he says that all things are lawful. That’s a very interesting perspective. Because Paul is saying that it is not unlawful for Christians to eat these foods. But the second thing that he says is that not all things are expedient, they don’t edify.  And if they don’t edify we shouldn’t be partaking in them. So he sets a guideline that we should consider our neighbors in partaking of foods that may have been offered idols.

There are a lot of examples of things that are lawful but not expedient.  For example, let’s take smoking cigarettes. Cigarettes are legally sold in every state of the union in the United States. At the same time, public service messages are continually broadcast, and health warnings are printed on each package because smoking cigarettes is an unhealthy practice; it’s just not a good thing to do.  Smoking is lawful, but not expedient.

A more dramatic example is that prostitution houses are legal in some places in Nevada. However, prostitution is clearly a sin in biblical terms. Even secular counselors advise that using prostitutes shows real problems with intimacy and attachment.  Prostitution is lawful, but not expedient.

An example more closely aligned to our context is chocolate.  Chocolate is delicious, and some advertise that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health benefits.  But, chocolate has theobromine, a caffeine like substance.  It also is high in fat and sugar.  Eating a little chocolate may be fine, but eating very much or late at night is lawful, but not expedient.

Let’s look at what Paul writes next:

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.  (1 Corinthians 10:25-33)

Paul says that if you buy some food that may have been offered idols, the first thing is to not even ask. Just eat it. But if somebody says that the food has been offered to idols, don’t eat it to set the example for the other person.  Do it for the glory of God, so that people may receive the Lord.

So what does this have to do with Easter eggs, Easter bunnies and so forth. Well, some say that if you eat Easter treats you are eating foods dedicated to the German goddess Easter. I’m going to suggest to you that it might be wise in that situation to not participate in any treats, at least around those people.  But, for the most part where Easter is celebrated and people die eggs and put out jelly beans and chocolate bunnies and such (remember there are chocolate crosses also), these foods are not being offered to the goddess Eostre,  they are being put out to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore they are not being sacrificed to a goddess even though the tradition was borrowed from a pagan tradition.

As a grandfather, I went through some of these issues with my kids, and now I see it with my grandchildren. As there are a zillion children participating in Easter egg hunts, and eating Easter eggs and so forth it is pretty daunting to try to explain to your children that even though there are other Christian kids doing this, it is pagan and that you shouldn’t do it. I’m going to say to you that there is no problem giving kids the chance to hunt for Easter eggs and eat a few jellybeans and chocolate bunnies and such because those foods are put out in celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

The Resurrection Is the Real Meaning of Easter to Christians

The day that Christians call Easter is a day commemorated to celebrating the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, in payment of our sins, giving us the opportunity for eternal life with him, and that he is going to come back, and that we will join him, and be with them for all eternity!

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; (John 11:25)

Easter is part of a Christian’s worship, and more specifically it is part of the witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  Being a witness of Jesus’ resurrection is the primary mission of being a disciple of Christ:

beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:22)

The resurrection was the main point that the apostles and disciples preached in original, primitive Christianity:

And as they spake unto the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, being sore troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (Acts 4:1-2)

It can be argued that the great power that came to primitive, original Christianity came because they focused their preaching on the resurrection:

And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)

The resurrection is the core message of Christianity, it is the first test of orthodoxy:

men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:18 ASV)

Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be abolished is death. For, He put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him. And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.  (1 Corinthians 15:12-28 ASV)

In the above verses death is called the last enemy.  Overcoming death is a focal point of Christian ministry:

except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day. (Acts 24:21 ASV)

Jesus Broke the Death Barrier

The greatness of Christianity is the resurrection.  Its not the others haven’t been raised from the dead previously; Lazarus and others were raised.  But they still died eventually.  Jesus rose from the dead never to rise again.  Jesus is the firstborn from the dead.   He is the first man to break the death barrier forever:

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)

So here we have death, this awful thing where life just ceases.  We feel the loss of our loved ones when they die. We experience sadness, grief, and mourning.  We know that unless the Lord comes for us in our lifetime we will have to face death.  Even if we get raised from the dead in this life we still face that death.

But Jesus has paved a new path giving us a new life that is eternal where we never have to face death again.  It is life eternal with the Lord, with an incorruptible body without pain.  How awesome!

That’s what we celebrate on Easter: victory over death.

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

May 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Misc | no comments

The Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts

The concept of witness was important in OT times. Witnesses served to verify facts, agreements, deals, and guilt or innocence. This verification can be seen in Genesis 31:

And now come, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made a heap: and they did eat there by the heap.
And Laban called it Jegar-saha-dutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
And Laban said, This heap is witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed: [Gen 31:44-48]

Here Jacob and Laban made a stone marker, a heap of stones, which they named Galeed and Jegar-saha-dutha. The purpose of the heap was to note the conenant between the Laban and Jacob. It verified that there was a binding agreement in place.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness (Exodus 20:16)” is the ninth commandment for most Christians, eighth for Catholics and some Lutherans. In Luke 10 Jesus teaches that neighbors are not just those that live nearby when he tells the story of the Samaritan who helps the man from Jerusalem after he is robbed and injured.

The book of Ruth gives an interesting look at how transactions were “witnessed”.

Now this was the custom in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning exchanging, to confirm all things: a man drew off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel.
So the near kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thyself. And he drew off his shoe.
And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. [Ruth 4:7-9 ]

In Luke 1:1-4, the author establishes that the Gospel accounts are “eyewitness” accounts. The term used is eye-witness (lit., (self seeing) instead of witness ( testimony) used in, for example, Mark 24:14 where the disciples are called to be witnesses). Luke says that he is reporting what he has eye-witnessed, ergo, he is giving his witness that he has personally seen. It is not hearsay, or third party. He is attesting to it personally. The purpose of witness is verification as we have seen above, and the Luke’s stated purpose in writing his gospel is that “we might know the certainty concerning the things where you were instructed” which is verification. Luke states therefore in this opening to his gospel that he is testifying exactly what he has seen so the reader can be sure of what really happened.

Eyewitness accounts by involved people are extremely important in validating history. It was perhaps the only reliable verification.

The Gospels Never Say They Are The Word Of The Lord

Luke’s gospel therefore is a witness, a testimony. He also states that the other gospels are testimonies. This puts the gospels not in the camp of books written as holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, but in the camp of historical records attested as accurate witness testimonies. There is nothing in the gospels themselves or in other books of the Bible that said that God authored them, that God directed them to be written, that the authors were divinely inspired, or that they are in any way in the class of works of words given by prophets. In contrast to the writings of the Law and the prophets the propostion that the gospels were the Word of God were made by men a long time after the gospels were wriiten.

That is not to say that when the gospel authors report the words of Jesus, prophets, and angels that those words aren’t words given by revelation from God. But the gospel writer’s report of them are human eyewitness accounts. This is an important distinction.

I suggest that the gospels are in the form and manner of witnessing that was used as the disciples disseminated the gospel message. After all, the charge to the believers was to be witnesses:

And he said unto them, It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority.
But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses [emphasis added] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. [Acts 1:7-8]

Jesus charged his disciples to be witnesses. Witnesses, of course, report what they see. We see this charge carried out as we read further in Acts.

And with great power gave the apostles their witness [emphasis added] of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. [Act 4:33]

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree.
Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.
And we are witnesses [emphasis added] of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him. [Act 5:30-32]

The record of Peter and the household of Cornelius in is incredible when it comes to a record emphasizing the concept of witness. This is what Peter said. Look at how many times witness is brought up:

Then Peter said, Truly, I see clearly that God is no respecter of persons:
But in every nation, the man who has fear of him and does righteousness is pleasing to him.
The word which he sent to the children of Israel, giving the good news of peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all–
That word you yourselves have knowledge of, which was made public through all Judaea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism of which John was the preacher,
About Jesus of Nazareth, how God gave the Holy Spirit to him, with power: and how he went about doing good and making well all who were troubled by evil spirits, for God was with him.
And we are witnesses [emphasis added] of all the things which he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they put to death, hanging him on a tree.
On the third day God gave him back to life, and let him be seen,
Not by all the people, but by witnesses [emphasis added] marked out before by God, even by us, who took food and drink with him after he came back from the dead.
And he gave us orders to give news of this to the people, and to give public witness [emphasis added] that this is he whom God has made judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets give witness [emphasis added], that through his name everyone who has faith in him will have forgiveness of sins.
While Peter was saying these words, the Holy Spirit came on all those who were hearing the word. [Act 10:34-44 ]

In this short discourse we see the word “witness” four times. And what were the words that were used in the witness? Short pieces of the Gospel story! Look at it. It is a summary of the gospel account. They spoke that Jesus was baptized by John (v.37), at which he received the Spirit from God (v.38). He went about, delivering people with great power (v.38). He fulfilled the word of the prophets who witnessed him aforetime (v.41). He preached words of peace (v.36). He was slain and hanged on a tree (v.39). He was raised from the dead the third day (v.40). He showed himself to many after he rose (v.41). He commanded us to preach to the people that he will come back as Judge (v.42). All that believe on him shall receive remission of sin, eternal life (v.43)

Here in Acts 10 we have a model for witnessing. That model is the gospel story.

I believe that the gospels are compilations of the witness testimonies that were used to tell people about Christ. Throughout the Book of Acts and intertwined among the Epistles is the gospel story, what Jesus did and taught and accomplished for us. The references are slight when talking about Jesus, but we know that what is written is small compared to the large amount of talking, preaching, teaching, and witnessing the disciples did. I believe that when the Apostles began to realize they might not see the Lord’s return in their lifetime they wrote or had written down what they had been saying about Jesus life, death, and resurrection as they witnessed all those years. Continuing on, let’s look at what Paul did.

Paul followed the same model:

and Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and for three sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
opening and alleging that it behooved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom, said he, I proclaim unto you, is the Christ. [Act 17:2-3]

In the verses both above and below we see Paul’s pattern of showing that that Jesus fulfilled the O. T. prophesies. Remember that at this time there was no New Testament, so there could .

for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. [Act 18:28]

Paul followed Christ in teaching about the Kingdom of God:

And he entered into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God. [Act 19:8]

Showing that Jesus was the Christ is also a Gospel theme. For example:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had carefully learned of the wise men.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she would not be comforted, because they are not. [Matt 2:16-18]

Matthew 2:17-18 is quoting Jeremiah 31:15 as fulfilled because Herod had all boys two years old and younger killed in and around Bethlehem. Matthew here is showing that Jesus is the Christ according to the scriptures. Even before this Matthew 1:24 cites Isaiah 7:14 as being fulfilled in the virgin birth. (Also see Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4,

No one knows what all Paul preached here, except it had to be quite a bit for him to present himself for three months. Remember that Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and that when he sent the twelve, it was to preach the kingdom and do miraculous things:

And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.
And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. [Luke 9:1-2]

Paul recounts the summarized gospel story again in:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures;
and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve;
then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep;
then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles;
and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also. [1Co 15:3-8]

Here, once again we see the part of the framework of the gospels:

• Christ fulfilled the prophecies (v 3)
• He died, was buried, and was raised on the third day
• He appeared to many disciples

Finally Paul recounts that Jesus appeared to Paul, as one born out of due time. But we see in this dialogue that the foundation of the gospel story is used over and over in how the early church disciples witnessed, taught, and preached.


If, as we have seen, the gospels are not divinely inspired, not inerrant, then are they worthless? No, that is the point. They are very valuable. They are eyewitness accounts by people who were not only not critics or opponents of the movement; the writers understood the movement because they participated in it. Today with video of everything from moon walks to live births that doesn’t impact modern readers as much. But in prior times eyewitness testimonies were best available source of information to reliably learn about events.

If the gospels are not “words from God”, then they can’t be treated as every word being perfect and absolutely reliable. We have to weigh and evaluate what the writers wrote. But we have more than one. The beauty of having more than one gospel is that we have a means of corroborating and filling in details that a single eyewitness account doesn’t provide.


Despite the traditionally held view of many there is no evidence that God authored the gospels. Every indication suggests that the gospels are eyewitness accounts where the authors compiled their knowledge about the birth, life, death, resurrection, and post resurrection experience of Jesus Christ into a logical order and presented it. They emphasized different important points; how scripture was fulfilled, specific things Jesus taught, miracles and works that Jesus performed, painful details about his passion and death, and how he gloriously arose, was seen by quite a number of people, and ascended into heaven. The Book of Acts continues the narrative to show the effect of Christ in the start of the Christian church. These accounts are invaluable to believers as guides in learning about Christ.

© copyright 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

September 14th, 2009 Posted by | Bibliology | no comments