Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dividing Soul And Spirit

Biblegems #77
Question: What is the difference in Scripture between “soul” and “spirit,” and does the “soul” die?

Technically, the word “soul” in the Bible refers to the self-aware life force that allows the physical nature of man to function. Genesis 2:7 describes how God formed Adam from the same elements that were in the soil, but that Adam was nothing more than an intricate clay model—until God breathed life into him. That action turned the clay model into a conscious being (“soul”) in physical form. The soul is what makes the body come to life.

Gen. 2:7 …the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (“soul”—KJV).

It would even be somewhat inaccurate to describe man as a body with a soul in it, because the soul and body were designed for each other permanently. They were designed to function together and never be separated. When the two are separated, the body dies:
         Matt. 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Therfore, “death” is not a ceasing to exist, but rather a change in condition. Both the body and the soul can be “destroyed” in hell, where the word “destroyed” (Gk. “apolesai”) means to be “lost,” not annihilated. The idea is that both body and soul have entered a form of existence from which there is no return.

In the same way, when a believer dies the body and soul are separated until the resurrection, at which time the body is raised imperishable:
         1 Cor. 15:42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable

The “soul” gives us self-awareness and emotional responses, such as Jesus experienced in Gethsemane:
John 12:27  “Now my heart (Gk. “psuche”—“soul”) is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

Human beings (souls) are spirit as well as body and soul, however. “Spirit” (Heb. “ruach;” Gk. “pneuma”) is what distinguishes humanity from the rest of the huge varieties of created, conscious, earthly life. Dogs and birds and fish are all forms of conscious life, and all are capable of varying levels of emotional responses, such as fear or desire. But only humanity has spirit.

Mankind is fashioned for existence in the spiritual realm. We are designed to live with God and to have interchange with other spirit-beings, such as angels and, of course, God Himself:
         John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Jesus, as a sinless man, functioned in this spiritual capacity with perfection:
         Mark 2:8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

As with the soul, when the spirit and body are separated death occurs. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death, her restored spirit re-animated her body and soul:
         Luke 8:55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.

Death is the result of sin and not part of God’s original design for man. Death is being cut off from God, our source of life, because of sin, and results in an un-natural separation of body, soul and spirit. Jesus came to restore us to God, and to a life that is imperishable:
1 Th. 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

God'sWill And Free Will

Biblegems #76
Question: How can we tell the difference between God’s will and man’s free will? How much free will does a person have?

There is clearly a distinction in Scripture between God’s will and human will. For example, in Deuteronomy 1:13 Moses recalls how leaders were chosen from the tribal heads of Israel to assist him in governing the Hebrew people in the Wilderness:
         Deut. 1:13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.

This was exercising God-given freedom to make wise decisions for the sake of the whole nation.

On the other hand, God Himself was to choose the place where the Tabernacle would be established in the Promised Land, and it was the responsibility of the Israelites to discover what God’s will was in that matter:
Deut. 12:5 But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go

Sometimes discovering God’s will is a matter of exhausting our own efforts at trying to influence events. For instance, when the apostle Paul’s companions and friends, including Luke, tried to convince Paul not to go on to Jerusalem because a prophecy given in the church indicated Paul would be severely persecuted there, they were unsuccessful. Paul chose to go anyway:
         Acts 21:14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

However, more often than not, believers can discern God’s will easily enough just by choosing (i.e.,, exercising their free will) to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, to stay intimately connected to God by avoiding sin and living in Christ’s righteousness. As Paul says in Ephesians:
Eph. 5:15-18 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

The reality is, God has given man a great deal of free will, but that power to make choices is always contained within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty. His grand plan for mankind and all of the universe will unfold as He has determined it should. He will never allow us to make choices that will alter that. I would encourage Bible Gems readers to read Bible Gems # 48, “Witnessing & Election,” for further insight related to predestination and free will.

The upshot is this: God does not want His will for us to be a mystery. Rather, His desire is that we should seek His will and freely choose His will over our own. As James reminds us,
James 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.

Do you have other questions related to God’s will and human freedom of choice? Click on the “comment” link at the end of this article and submit your question. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Origin Of The Races

Biblegems #75
Question: Where did the different “races” come from, since the Flood wiped out all humanity except Noah’s family?

This is a particularly important question, because the concept of “race” is so prevalent in society, even with all the cultural attempts to downplay it. Surprisingly, the answer is found within the question, as we shall see shortly.

When we speak of “race” we automatically think in terms of “red and yellow, black and white,” and associate the human color spectrum with the various ethnic groups (Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, etc.). The Bible does recognize the obvious ethnic, national and language distinctions within the human family, but the term “race” is a uniquely cultural idea, not a biblical one. “Race” suggests subdivisions of ‘human being’ as a creature, which the Bible nowhere teaches or supports.

What the Bible does teach, however, is that all humanity ultimately descends from Adam and Eve, and from Noah and his three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth.
         Gen. 10:32 These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood. 

Acts 17:26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

Noah’s three sons, and especially their descendants, gradually moved away from the slopes of Mount Ararat in modern day Turkey, where the ark had settled after the Flood (Gen. 10-11).

As they and their extended families moved away from each other geographically and established communities, intermarriage between cousins was both common and necessary for survival. The genetic DNA pool would be limited, which would encourage particular traits to become dominant from generation to generation, such as darker or lighter skin and other physical characteristics. We see the very same effect when animals are closely interbred. As a result, there are now many more “breeds” of dogs than the canine ancestors which first entered the ark. Notice that these breeds are not considered different “races” of dog.

Basic people groupings can be traced back to Noah’s three sons and their descendants, but even here physical characteristics such as skin tone cross over between ethnic branches. There are dark and light skinned Hispanics, for example. So our modern distinction between Caucasian, Black, Hispanic and Asian is a completely arbitrary one that tends to divide more than it does unite us as people created in the image of God.

Generally speaking, Ham and his wife can be identified as the ancestors of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites, Canaanites, African tribes, and perhaps the Native American and South Pacific Island people groups. Shem is the ancestor of the Semitic and Arab peoples, and from Japheth descended the Europeans, such as the Greeks and Romans1.

So the answer to this Bible Gems question is found within the question itself: There are no “races” in the human family. There is only the human race, descended from Noah, who was descended from Adam and Eve, and created in the image of God.

1. Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1976, pg. 240-243.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's A Graven Image?

Biblegems #74

Question: I need explaining about Exodus that I read in a novel. It was a reference to the Amish people and how they don't like to be photographed. As it is written in the book:
Exodus 20:4 "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

So my question is does this apply to art, like drawing or painting or photography? Should we not do these things?

The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:4 translated “graven image” (KJV) or “idol” (NIV) is “fesel,” which is derived from a word that means to hew or carve into a shape. “Graven” is a Middle English word dating before 1000AD that means to carve or sculpt. Idols in the Old Testament era were typically carved out of wood or stone, but so were many other things, such as stone tablets for writing. So the term itself can be translated either as “idol” or “hewn,” depending on the context.

So, according to Exodus 20:4, what specifically does the commandment say not to do?

In Exodus 25, God instructs Moses to:
“…make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover” (Ex. 25:18-20).

These gold cherubim were to adorn the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. The process of hammering out the gold and shaping it into the image of an angel or cherubim is exactly that of shaping an idol. What makes this any different than the kind of carving God says not to do in Exodus 20:4?

The difference is in the purpose of the carved image. The commandment in Exodus 20:4 is part of the first commandment, which states that no other god but the LORD (Yahweh), and no fabricated image, is to be worshiped:
         Ex. 20:2-6          I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for 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, but showing love to a thousand [ generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God has no problem with art, statues, photographs or computer graphics—so long as they are not immoral, indecent or made and used for the purpose of worship. They are not in and of themselves a violation of the commandment to make no graven images. The NIV’s translation more accurately conveys the meaning of Exodus 20:4, that we are to make no “idols.” Therefore, praying to a likeness of Jesus or Mary or one of the apostles is idolatry, whereas having a nativity scene on the table as a simple reminder of the Savior’s birth is not.

So… the next time someone wants to take your picture —