Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Departing From Christ’s Doctrines

Biblegems #14
Does “departing from the doctrines of Christ” include those that teach that your salvation depends on what you do — for example, those who teach that you are saved by your repentance and keep your salvation by doing good works?

This question has its source in 2 John 9, which reads, Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (KJV). The same verse in the NIV reads, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

To answer this question correctly we need to check two fundamental principles of biblical interpretation. The first principle has to do with context. The second principle has to do with grammar.

Looking at the context of verse 9 requires that we go backward in 2 John to see what John was referring to when he used the phrase, “the doctrine (KJV) or teaching (NIV) of Christ.” That takes us to verse 7 where John cautions the Church about false teachers who do not acknowledge the incarnation of Christ. In fact, it is that critical doctrine that is the focal point of John’s concern in this short letter because what is at stake for the Church is the very nature of Jesus Himself as God in human flesh.

Looking at the grammatical construction of verse 9, especially word usage, we notice that John carefully uses the word “doctrine” in the singular, not plural, form. This tells us that John has a particular doctrine in mind, which he refers to as “the doctrine of Christ.” Once again, this draws us back to verse 7 where this specific doctrine is addressed. Both the context and the word usage agree that John is referring to the doctrine of the incarnation.

So the answer to the question — Does “departing from the doctrines of Christ” include those that teach that your salvation depends on what you do…? — is No. That is not what 2 John 9 is referring to. Other places in Scripture may address this subject, but not 2 John verse 9. And that is very important to recognize, because we need to be extremely careful not to use any phrase of Scripture in an overly generalized sense when its terminology and context is very specific, as in this case.

Remember this axiom: a text without the context is a pre-text. In other words, without the context in which a verse or portion of a verse is found, a text can appear to mean just about anything or apply to any variety of doctrines. Keeping the context always in view when interpreting Scripture will protect us from this error and allow the Bible to say what it means and mean what it says. And that is a real Bible gem!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hired Hand Or Bond Slave?

Biblegems #13
In the parable of the prodigal son, why did the son want to be a hired hand, independent, working for pay, instead of a bond slave who recieved no pay, had no legal rights and no freedom (Luke 15:17-20)?

Bond slaves in the New Testament are symbolic of the believer’s position in Christ. We have been bought with a price and are His possession with no rights of our own, no independence, and totally under the authority of our Master. Why then, in Jesus’ parable, does the son seek a paid position in which he retains his independence?

The primary difference between a hired servant and a bond slave is, of course, that one gets paid while the other does not. It would seem on the surface that the prodigal son saw himself as deserving to get compensation for his work (if his father would even hire him), whereas in the role of a slave he could reasonably expect no more than food, shelter and the level of protection extended to any “property” owned by the father.

In New Testament times, however, when up to one out of every three persons was a slave, a bond slave was usually a permanent fixture in a family. That in itself provided a nearly guaranteed “job security” that a hired servant could only dream about. A hired servant could be let go when no longer needed, fired, have his pay withheld, etc. Not only so, but he was paid only for work actually performed, which may or may not have been sufficient to meet his needs. A bond slave, on the other hand, was fed, clothed and housed regardless of the fluctuations in workload from day to day. Slavery, in that sense, was much like a salaried position with benefits.

In addition to all this, because bond slaves were such a permanent part of the household, they were more often than not treated as family, even loved as family. Those who served with distinction and loyalty frequently received pay or bonuses to acknowledge their hard work and faithfulness. The life of a slave in many cases was much more comfortable than the hired servant who worked just as hard or harder, but received less for his trouble.

So, for the prodigal son to beg his father to take him on as a hired servant rather than a bond slave meant that he was offering himself for a position with no job security, no benefits and no sense of family or belonging. His independence would be a detriment rather than an asset.

In Jesus’ parable, the prodigal son does not see himself worthy of the privileges a bond slave has over a hired servant. He no longer hopes for any special treatment whatsoever. The depth of his repentance makes him willing to be cut off from any meaningful relationship with his family, resigned to a life of independence that will make him a slave of loneliness. Fortunately, his father’s love and mercy save the son from such a fate, providing what the son could never provide for himself. What a beautiful story of God’s saving grace!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No Original Carnivores?

Biblegems #12
In a comment on Biblegems #8, “The First Carnivores,” the question was raised: So does this mean there were no original carnivores?

The short answer is Yes… and No!

As was stated in Biblegems #8, carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears probably existed with the ability to eat other animals while Adam and Eve still inhabited the Garden of Eden, but they were commanded by God to eat only vegetation. The same would have been true of the first two humans as well. They had the physical capabilities necessary for eating meat but were restricted by God to a vegetarian diet until after the flood. Genesis 1:29-30 tells us:
           Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

The real question is, why? If God made people and animals with the ability to eat meat, and later gave His approval for eating meat, why was it not permitted in the early days of creation before the Fall of man?

The answer is that the death of living beings was not part of the original creation design. As normal as death seems to us now as part of the “circle of life,” it was not that way in the beginning. Death was introduced to the created realm by sin:
         Rom. 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And in the New Heavens and New Earth, death will no longer be part of the universe:
Rev. 21:3-4: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The “old order” referred to in Revelation 21 is the current order of man’s rebellion against God and the devastation that rebellion has brought into God’s beautiful creation throughout history. Before the Fall of man human beings were given the role and the authority to control the behavior of earth’s creatures:
           Gen. 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Since the Fall of man earth’s creatures no longer recognize man’s authority over them. The created realm exists in a state of turmoil and confusion, instinctively awaiting the day when mankind will be restored to a right relationship with his Creator and to his rightful place of authority in the universe:
          Rom. 8:19-22: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation… itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

That day will come with the return of Jesus Christ in glory, bringing with Him all those who have put their faith in Him during this time of sin, suffering and death. At that time Jesus will establish His kingdom and the sons and daughters of God will reign with Him forever (Rev. 5:10; 20:6; 22:5). And from that time on…
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11:9).