Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is God Male?

Biblegems #29
Today’s Biblegems question asks, “Would referring to God in feminine terms qualify as a different religion than Christianity? Why does God refer to Himself in masculine terms and what is the significance of that?”

Biblically, the concept of “religion” has to do with “the outward expression of belief, and does not mean …the content of belief.”1 Hence, James 1:26-27 describes “pure religion” as that which reflects a person’s faith in outward acts of love and compassion.

The term ‘religion’ as it is commonly used today refers to a specific set of spiritual beliefs and related practices. One distinct set of beliefs and practices in contrast to another would therefore distinguish the two as separate religions. Where this sometimes gets a bit muddy is when two sets of beliefs are virtually identical, except for certain specifics. Typically, when two sets of beliefs are inherently related to each other and close in their basic beliefs they are considered the same religion, such as Catholicism and Protestantism. Both are commonly accepted as basically “Christian” because of their foundational beliefs.

Sometimes, however, such a severe departure from a basic belief system can take place that the new system is seen as being a deviant group. In Protestant Christianity this would be considered a cult. To borrow a definition, a cult is “any religious movement that is organizationally distinct and has doctrines and practices that contradict Scripture as interpreted by traditional Christianity…”2

So, does referring to God in feminine terms constitute a distinct religion, or a cult? To the degree that a belief system around the feminization of God has developed into a organized movement, that movement might accurately be described as a cult, due to the departure from Scripture as traditionally interpreted. If the nature of God is also assailed, not just terminology, then a distinct religion might well be in view.

The fact is, God does typically refer to Himself in masculine terms. These terms do not describe God’s gender, but describe His relationship to us as created beings made in His image who were designed to love, worship and obey Him as King (Melech; Adonai: masculine), Lord (Kurios: masculine), Father (Abba: masculine) and God (Elohim; Theos: masculine). He exercises unequalled authority over all creation. He rules over a hierarchically organized mankind, where …the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3). The human order in gender reflects the order of the universe, in which Christ, the third person of the triune God, reigns supreme under God the Father (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:10).

To speak of God in feminine terms is to undermine the Scriptural doctrine of God. God is not who we want Him to be, nor who we think Him to be. He is Yahweh—the great “I Am,” and we have no business redefining Him in our terms.
1 The new Bible Dictionary, Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Inter Varsity Press, 1962, rep., 1975. Pg. 1083
2 Scripture Twisting, James Sire, IVP, Downers Grove, Ill. 1980. Pg. 20

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Starbucks® & Stewardship

Biblegems #28
Could you suggest some scripture or principles that I could study - or perhaps address in Biblegems — on how we who have been blessed can best be good stewards?

In 2 Corinthians 9 the apostle Paul points out that God has specifically selected some people to have more material wealth and resources than others for the express purpose of sharing with those in need. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:11).
In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus likewise describes God as intentionally giving resources to people in varying amounts, giving each person the responsibility of investing those resources wisely, regardless of the amount initially entrusted to them. In both passages God is represented as the owner and provider of the resources we have, and we are represented as stewards or managers of His resources for the benefit of His Kingdom. We will all have to give an account of how those resources entrusted to us were put to use (Matt. 25:19).

Nevertheless, God has also intended that we provide for our selves and our families (Prov. 6:6-8; 1 Tim. 5:8), and that we enjoy the fruit from the work of our hands, so long as we remember we work for the Lord and not for ourselves. … For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands (Is. 65:22).

God also does not want His children feeling guilty for enjoying a cup of Starbucks coffee simply because there are people living in poverty whom we have not yet helped. As Jesus reminded His disciples, You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me (John 12:8). The context for this statement was when Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet at Lazarus’ house, and Judas Iscariot objected on the grounds that the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor.
The principle of biblical stewardship of material resources is simple: God owns it all (Ps. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26); we are to manage those resources for His Kingdom and His glory (Matt. 25:1ff) and provide for our necessities; and we are to enjoy the goodness of the Lord’s bounty, even as we share generously with those who are less fortunate.

For further study on what the Bible has to say on the use of money and the principles of biblical stewardship, I heartily recommend Crown Financial Ministries at . They provide a rich variety of teaching tools and helps for personal, small group and church use.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Elihu 2

Biblegems #27
Question: “Does God not mention Elihu in the last chapter for the same reason that the author did not mention him (because he was too young to be worth mentioning)?” (see Biblegems #24)
The reference to this question is Job 42:7: After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Where Scripture is silent, we can only surmise so much. That being said, there are some things we can know for certain that will help answers the reader’s question.
First, there is the nature of God Himself. God is not petty, nor is He confined to the changing tides of cultural norms. The fact that Jewish men in biblical times carried no real status as adults with authority until they reached their thirtieth birthday doe not mean that God was restricted by such expectations. He is omnipotent, and no human restrictions pertain to Him. Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him (Ps. 115:3).
Second, the nature of the book of Job also tells us that it was not intended to give us a biography of the characters involved, but to relate to mankind the lesson Job learned in his experience. In much the same way as the book of Acts does not give us the closing story on the lives of the apostles—because that is not important to the purpose of the book—so too the book of Job relates only what is important, from God’s point of view, for advancing the message of the book.
A third consideration is the very fact of Elihu’s odd appearance and disappearance from the account. It would seem that he did not stick it out to the end with Job and the other three. Whatever else might be said about the counsel Job received from his other three friends, they apparently cared enough about Job to visit with him throughout his ordeal. Elihu seems to have been more concerned with expressing his opinions than showing genuine compassion for Job himself. It appears that Elihu was not around long enough to benefit with the others from what God wanted to accomplish. It is important to keep in view that God used the relationship between Job and his three friends to bring reconciliation—not only with God but with each other:
So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to
my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for
yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I
will accept his prayer and not deal with you according
to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right,
as my servant Job has. (Job 42:8)
That reconciliation would not have been available to Elihu if he had left the scene after expressing his opinion.

Was Jesus Really A Carpenter?

Biblegems #26
There are two references in the New Testament relating Jesus to the carpenter’s trade. Mark 6:3 reads, “’Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.” The second is found in Matthew 13:55: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”

The word “carpenter” in both references is from the Greek word tekton, which means a skilled craftsman in general, but can be translated specifically as “carpenter” or “a craftsman in wood.”1

But “carpenter” can also refer to someone who fabricates items out of any number of materials. In 2 Samuel 5:11, for example, the Hebrew equivalent of tekton (charash) signifies a skilled worker in metal, wood, stone or gems. Likewise, the same Hebrew word in 1 Chr. 14:1 indicates that both an engraver (Heb. charaseih, translated “carpenter”) and a wall engraver (Heb. qir charashei, translated “stone mason”) were employed by king David for the construction of his palace. 2

In New Testament times it was expected of every adult Jewish male that he would work in some trade. This was true even of the rabbis. In the cities the skilled labor of a “carpenter” would typically go to the Greeks, not to the Jewish men. In the outlying provinces, however, such as Nazareth, a “carpenter” was likely a handyman of sorts, skilled in working with wood, stone or other materials, but squeaking out a very meager living.3

So when Jesus came home for a visit and took the opportunity to teach in the synagogue where he grew up, the congregation not only knew Jesus well, they knew him as the illegitimate son of a common construction worker. “And they took offense at him” (Matt. 13:37). In fact, they had stumbled over more than the prospect of a miracle working, untrained rabbi who had grown up as the son of a wood and stone worker. They had stumbled over the capstone of God’s Kingdom. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’’ (Matt. 21:42).

1 Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, Public Domain Electronic text downloaded from the Bible Foundation e-Text Library: Hypertexted and formatted by Oaktree Software, Inc. Greek text added by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.4
2 A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (abridged) Based on A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907. Digitized and abridged as a part of the Princeton Theological Seminary Hebrew Lexicon Project under the direction of Dr. J. M. Roberts. Used by permission. Electronic text corrected, formatted, and hypertexted by OakTree Software, Inc. This electronic adaptation ©2001 OakTree Software, Inc. Version 3.4
3 Easton’s Bible Dictionary M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. The illustrated portions of the dictionary have not been included. Electronic text downloaded from the Bible Foundation e-Text Library: Hypertexted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 3.0
All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are from: THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. The NIV database is NOT a shareware program and may not be duplicated. Version 2.4

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Did God Create Sin?

Biblegems #25
Does the fact that God created everything mean that He also created sin?
While on the surface the answer seems obvious, the question does pose a legitimate problem. Isaiah 4:24 says, “This is what the LORD says—our Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…” And the Gospel of John also testifies that through Jesus, the Word of God, “…all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:3).

However, the context for both of these verses, as well as similar uses of the phrase “all things,” clearly indicates that the universe is in view, not the realm of morality. Yet that still leaves the question, where did sin come from, if not created by God? To answer that, we need to understand something about the nature of sin and the nature of God.

Fist, in relation to God, the Bible states unequivocally, Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong (Hab. 1:13). By His very nature, God exists in eternal opposition to sin. Sin, therefore, cannot have originated with God. Secondly, sin is described in the Bible as human nature (originally created in God’s image) that has been corrupted and ruined by the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey God (Gen 2:16-17), which resulted in contaminating the entire human race with a sinful nature (Rom. 5:19; Ps. 51:5). But sin is also a choice. It is a choice to ignore God (Rom. 1:21) and to surrender ourselves to desires that are in opposition to what God’s will for us (Ja. 1:14-15).

Since, therefore, sin originates in the corrupted human heart and not in God, it is no more possible for a person to shed his sinful nature than it is for a butterfly to revert back to a caterpillar! That’s both bad new and good news. The bad news is obvious: we cannot help ourselves become sin-free. The good news is that what we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us because He loves us and created us to love Him.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).

So, in answer to the original question, No, sin does not originate in God. The defeat of sin, however — and its power, and its consequences — this does originate in God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

And that is the most beautiful of all Bible gems!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who Is Elihu?

Biblegms #24
But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know (Job 32:2-6).

In the book of Job there is in chapter thirty-two a sudden and jarring introduction to the reader of a man named Elihu, who has apparently been on the scene the whole time with Job and his three other friends. The question is, who is this man Elihu, and why was he never introduced with the others?

In modern day literature it is considered a major gaff to have a character in a story seemingly appear out of nowhere, especially when that character is presented as having been on the scene for some time. A couple of things need to be kept in mind here, however. One, if Job were a modern work of fiction, then this criticism would certainly be legitimate. But Job is neither modern nor fictional1. And even if it were fictional, modern rules of story construction did not apply in ancient Israel.

Second, the book of Job does adhere to ancient Near Eastern forms of literature, and contains several literary types, including poetry, Wisdom literature style, prose, history and others. Chapter 32:1-5, where Elihu is first encountered, is actually an intentional break from dialogue with a Hebrew poetic style. This was used to alert the reader that a change in content was about to take place.2 It might be loosely compared to the literary device often used in modern fiction where a space of several lines between paragraphs indicates a change in scene is about to take place. That poetic style is lost, for the most part, in translation.

As to why Elihu was never introduced with the other “counselors” at the beginning, the answer lies in the text itself. Verse six quotes Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite as saying “…I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.” In Job’s day the community elders, as distinguished by age—not title—were treated with great respect and deference.

Not only so, but until a Hebrew male reached the age of thirty he was not considered mature enough to speak with authority, particularly in the presence of elders. In fact, his presence among elders would not even be recognized unless something drew attention to him—as was the case here—where he offered his un-asked for opinion. Elihu, by admitting his youth, draws attention to the fact that under normal circumstances his presence would not even be acknowledged.

1 Intorduction to The Old Testament, R. K. Harrison. Eerdmans pub, 1969. pg. 1032
2 Ibid, pg. 1030