Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Parental Accountability

Biblegems #55

Question: When parents dedicate their children to the Lord then backslide, how far does God hold the parents and disobedient children accountable?

The limit of parental accountability is an emotional as well as spiritual issue. We all know stories of poor parenting where the children have grown up to be responsible, spiritually mature adults, and great parents whose children rebel and become a source of grief to their parents. In the latter case, the parents cannot help but ask, ‘Where did we go wrong?’

The truth is, responsibility and accountability are both shared by parent and child, once the child becomes personally responsible for his or her own actions. There is no magical age of accountability here.

There was a popular belief in ancient Israel that God would punish parents for the sins of their children and even grandchildren. Behind this belief was a misunderstanding of the second commandment:
… I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me… (Ex. 20:5).

The “punishment” is aimed at “those who hate me.” If the sin of idolatry is passed down from one generation to the next, it will reveal itself in each generation in a hatred for God, and that generation will be punished for its own sin. This commandment against idolatry reveals how sin is so easily passed on from one generation to the next; but that punishment for the sin is leveled only against those who actually commit it:
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin (Deut. 24:16).

Even so, the idea that parents would be held responsible by God for the sins of their children took on the form of a popular saying:
‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Ezek. 18:2b).

God set the record straight through the prophet Ezekiel:
Ezek. 18:4 For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

And to make sure that Israel got the message right, the Lord emphasized again:
Ezek. 18:20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

There is no question that God will hold parents responsible for the way they raise their children, as the story of Eli and his wayward sons illustrates (1 Sam 2:22; 1 Sam. 3:12-14; 1 Sam. 4:13-18; 1 Ki. 2:27). But God is just; He does not charge the sins of the children to the parents, or the sins of the parents against their children.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vain Repetition

Biblegems #54

The Bible says not to use “vain repletion” in our prayers. Does that include our constantly repeated prayers for lost loved ones? Should we just "ask" and turn it over to the Holy Spirit and say “done"? How does one differentiate between "repetition" and "concern"?

The passage in question comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matt. 6:7 KJV).

The word in the Greek NT for “vain repetitions” more literally means “to babble.” There are two ways this can be interpreted, both of which may well have been what Jesus meant. To “babble” can mean to talk on an on, filling the air with words for the purpose of impressing others and impressing God. To “babble” can also mean to utter meaningless sounds, nonsense words, repeating such sounds over and over. This practice is frequently used—then and now—to aid in self-hypnotic meditation.

Either way (or both), Jesus says, ‘Don’t do it.’
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt. 6:8 NIV).

In contrast to this kind of babbling prayer, Jesus teaches us to be persistent in prayer regarding things of importance. He gives an example in Luke 11: 5-8 of a man who wakes up his friend at midnight to borrow some bread, but is unsuccessful. However, because of his friend’s persistence, the sleepy man finally gives in.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9).

Praying persistently for the salvation of your unsaved loved ones does not fit the definition of babbling. God wants us to remain persistent in this kind of prayer, and not to give up, because He is not giving up on those we are praying for…
who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who Named The Books of The Bible?

Biblegems #53

Who decided what the names of the books in the Bible would be and how did they come up with them? I know the Bible is God breathed and Holy Spirit Inspired, but did God actually name the books as well or did the writers of each book name it due to the main plot and/or character?

The answer to this is almost as varied as the Bible itself. There are, of course, 66 books in the Bible, and each of these fall into broad categories, such as History, Poetry, Biography, Prophecy, Wisdom Literature and Letters. To some extent, these categories help establish the title of a particular book.

For example, letters by their very design to not typically have a title. So Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth or Rome quickly became known by their destination, i.e., Corinthians and Romans. Likewise, personal letters to Timothy or Titus, which were also shared with the churches these men pastored, became known by the names of their recipients.

Some N.T. letters, however, were written with the intent that they be read by several churches in a region, rather than one specific church or person. These became commonly known by the name of their author: 1 & 2 Peter, James, 1,2,3 John, etc.

Other books, especially of the Old Testament, derive their title from the opening word or words of the book. Again, these were not originally “titled” as books are today. “Genesis,” for instance, comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for “beginning” in the first verse. But it was not always known by that name. Ancient Jews used to refer to the first book of the Bible as “The Book of the Creation of the World.”

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are commonly recognized by their authors: Isaiah, Daniel, Amos, etc. Other books, such as “Judges” of the Old Testament and “The Acts of the Apostles” in the New Testament received their names as popular descriptions of what they were about.

“Revelation,” also sometimes referred to as ”The Apocalypse,” gets it name from the opening line, “The revelation of Jesus Christ…,” or in Greek, Apokalupsis. 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew and were entitled “Samuel” by the Massorites, based on 1 Samuel 28:2 and following.

The Massorites were Jewish scholars who replaced the Scribes we are familiar with in the New Testament. Their task was to accurately reproduce the Scriptures, preserving them for future generations. Our English Bibles take their form from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX), which divided Kings and Samuel.

The list goes on, but these examples show how most Bible book names are not actually part of Scripture itself, but are commonly recognized terms for distinguishing one Bible book from another. Like chapter and verse numbers, which were added to Scripture as a study aid, Bible book titles are not themselves inspired, but they are very helpful.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Face Of God

Biblegems #52

A Biblegems reader sent in the following:
John 1:18 states that no one has seen the Face of God. Yet in Exodus 33:11 it says that Moses spoke face-to-face with God like a man talks with a friend. Then Exodus 33:23 says that God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock, and as He passed by Moses saw His back. Then, another place in Exodus talks about Moses’ face shining after his face-to-face encounter with God. How can those verses be compatible?

John 1:18 actually reads, “No one has ever seen God.” The generic Greek term for God (theon) is used, which would be equivalent to our English word, “deity.” It refers to God’s nature as a spiritual being. The meaning in John is that God is invisible to the physical eye because He is Spirit.

Exodus 33:11, however, does use the phrase “face to face” in describing Moses’ conversations with God. And Exodus 33:23 speaks of God removing His hand that prevents Moses from seeing the Lord’s face when He passes by, so that Moses will only be able to see God’s “back.” How does all this fit with the Bible’s clear teaching that God is spirit (see Jn. 4:24)?
The answer is three-fold.

First, when describing God, the Bible often uses figures of speech known as anthropomorphisms. An anthropomorphism is applying human characteristics to God, even though God is neither human nor physical, to help us understand God’s actions and character as if He were human. Exodus 6:6, for example, says that God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt with an “outstretched arm.”

Second, God at times reveals Himself in Scripture through the Angel of the Lord. Usually—but not always— when this is the case, the Angel of the Lord is identified as such. A good example of this is when the Angel of the Lord tells Abraham: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count” (Gen. 16:10). Obviously the angel is not the one who will give descendants to Abraham, but he is speaking on God’s behalf and with God’s authority.

Third, God has revealed Himself to people in the Bible in human form. This is called a theophany. Genesis 17:1 says, When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.

When God reveals Himself in the Old testament in human form, or as the Angel of the Lord, He is providing a physical appearance for interaction with human beings who otherwise could not look on the “face” of God and survive the experience.

It is for this very reason that God finally revealed Himself in Jesus:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:1-3a).