Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Matthew 24:34 "Generation" Or "Race?"

Biblegems #112
Question: The NIV Bible gives the alternate translation of "generation" in Matthew 24:34 as "race." How did they come up with this?

The verse in question reads:
Matt. 24:34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

The English word “generation” translates the Greek word genea (geneya), which can mean a variety of things, depending on the context. Its typical meaning is “age”—as in a time period in which a person or group of people live. But genea is closely related to the word ginomai (ginomai), meaning “to become,” or “to be born,” or any number of related ideas stemming from the idea of something, someone or some people group (i.e. “race”) that has come into existence. (Vines Expository Dictionary Of The New Testament, Unabridged, Mac Donald Publishing Company, in loc.)

So why would the NIV bother to put “race” in a footnote as a possible alternate translation to “generation?”

One very real possibility is that genea (“age”), as found in Matthew 24:34, is not the typical Greek word for “generation.” So the translators may have speculated that the word was being used by Jesus as a synonym for ginomai in the sense of “a group of people”. It is at least conceivable that the “group of people” Jesus had in mind referred to the Jewish people. In that case, the verse would mean, “the Jewish people will certainly not pass away before all these things come to pass.” The NIV footnote would suggest that “race,” if accepted as an alternate translation, would refer to the Jews.

Both Luke and Mark include this quote from Jesus in their accounts, and both use the same Greek word translated “generation” that Matthew does (Luke 21:32; Mark 13:30). That means that the Gospel writers translated Jesus’ choice of terms from his native Aramaic into Greek very specifically to convey His meaning. Jesus wanted the time element that is inherent in the term genea (“age”) to stand out more than a specific race of people. But Jesus did have a specific group of people in mind—a group identified by when they live, not whose bloodline they share. “This generation” refers to the generation of people who will experience “all these things” Jesus described in Matthew 24. What “are all these things?”

The phrase “all these things” includes all the events described in Matthew 25:15-30. The events outlined in verses 5-13 describe the End Times in a very general way, starting with “the beginning of birth pains” (v. 8) and concluding with the gospel message reaching every people group on the planet before Jesus’ return (v.14). But in verses 15-30 Jesus summarizes the key events leading up to and including His Return in power and glory, beginning with the revealing of the identity of the Antichrist (v.15). It is within the lifespan of “the group of people” alive at this time (i.e., “this generation”) that all these things will take place.

The NIV translators are being fair to us as readers by showing those places where a different translation could make a big difference.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Jesus God

Biblegems #111
Question: It is clear that Jesus was equal in position to God—but chose to be the lesser. Where do we get the concept that Jesus is God, in the personal sense? They rightly seem to be two different personal entities: What passages show that God and Jesus are “the same?”

This is a great question that gets at the very nature of the Trinity. At issue are two aspects of Jesus’ relationship to God: His personhood, and His nature.

God Is One
One of the most fundamental teachings of Scripture is that God is One:
         Deut. 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
         Rom. 3:30 …there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

Jesus Is God
Even though God is one, the Gospel of John opens with a declaration that Jesus is God:
         John 1:1, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Beauty of this passage is that Jesus, the Word, is declared to be God, and yet He is also declared to be with God.

In Revelation 1:8 and 21:6 God the Father calls Himself “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end;” yet in Revelation 22:13 Jesus says of Himself that He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the last the Beginning and the End.” In other words, He is God.

Three Persons—One God
The Bible teaches that God the Father, God the Spirit and God the Son are each distinct personalities within the one God. Consider the following passage:
         Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). Here Jesus identifies Himself as God, but also as a distinct person (“I”) in relation to “the Father.” Jesus not only saw no contradiction here, but He emphasized the truth that God by His very nature is a plurality of persons. In His nature, Jesus is one with God. This is precisely what Paul teaches in Philippians:
         Phil. 2:5-7 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Notice that Jesus is described here as being one with God in His “nature,” while on the other hand He is described as acting as an individual person who “made himself nothing.”

God is a communal being. He has conversation, love and fellowship within Himself. We see this in action in passages like…
         Gen. 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…
         Who is God speaking to? God the Father is conversing with the other two persons of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit and the Son—who share His very nature as God.

God is unique. He is complete in Himself. There is one God, who is infinitely perfect, existing eternally in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 5:48, Matthew 28:19).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Adam's Dominion

Biblegems #109
Question: How did Adam have dominion over the sea creatures if he couldn’t breathe under water?

The question arises from God’s instructions to Adam upon his creation:
Gen. 1:27-28 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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.”

Recently, a friend told me a story of how their family dog years ago had given birth to a litter, and how the mother kept pushing one of the pups away from her, not even allowing it to feed. A visit to the vet revealed that the neglected pup had a fatal heart disease, and the poor little thing had to be put to sleep.

We’ve all heard or experienced similar accounts. But how did that mama Beagle know? Or how does a salmon know how to find its way back to the place of its birth to spawn?

God has designed both the human and animal kingdom with incredible abilities which, on the human side of the equation, are often seriously under-utilized and perhaps often unrecognized. Consider how a blind person learns to use the other four senses with a much higher degree of effectiveness that the rest of us.

Adam and Eve and their descendants were given the task of exercising dominion over every living creature on the earth. “Dominion” (Heb. “rada”) means “to rule over,” as a king rules over his subjects:
         Is. 14:2 Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And the house of Israel will possess the nations as menservants and maidservants in the LORD’S land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors.

To enable man accomplish this great responsibility, God did two things. He “crowned him with glory and honor” (i.e., Authority), on the one hand, and “put everything under his feet” (i.e., submission), on the other (Ps. 8:5-6; Heb. 2:7-8). This means that living creatures were given an instinct to submit to mankind, even as man was given authority to rule.

The entrance of sin into the world destroyed man’s authority over creation, which also affected the animal instinct to submit to man. Jesus, however, reclaimed that authority by His death on the cross and His resurrection (Heb. 2:9). He even demonstrated that dominion with regard to the fish of the sea after His resurrection:
John 21:4-7a Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cursing & Swearing

Biblegems #108
Is there really anything wrong with cursing and swearing? Aren’t they just words like any other words? Does God really care?

(Note to parents: I will be using some words typically identified as swear words or curse words in this article. Please judge for yourselves whether this article is appropriate for your children. I am assuming mature adults can handle this content.)

When we think of cursing or swearing we typically see the two as identical with one another. However, the two are usually quite different.

To “curse” someone or something is to either ask God (or some other spiritual being) to punish someone or bring some kind of hardship or torment—or to announce that God (or some other spiritual being) is about to inflict hardship, suffering or calamity of some sort. Joshua, for example, acted on God’s behalf by pronouncing a curse upon anyone who attempted to rebuild Jericho:
         Josh. 6:26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: “At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates.”

Unless you are a prophet speaking on God’s behalf, however, any cursing you do is more than likely done out of anger and frustration, and you are asking God to punish someone on your behalf, rather than the other way around. When you say something like “Damn you!”—you are calling down a curse on someone. Words mean things. In this case, “damn” means to condemn someone to hell. When you curse you are placing yourself as judge and jury over another human being.
         James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Swearing, in some cases, is making a promise that is supposedly guaranteed by some higher authority. People say, “I swear on my mother’s grave,” or I swear by God…:”
         Heb. 6:16 Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.

Swearing is also using profanity—foul language / impure imagery—to make a point.

A common expression today that was not long ago considered foul language is the phrase “that sucks!” It distresses me to even type the words. Why? First, because when I used the phrase before I came to Christ I knew what it meant, and I wanted to plaster that image in another person’s mind. It also distresses me because most who use the phrase today don’t think about what it means, yet—for those who do understand—an unwholesome image is still plastered on the mind.

Jesus said:
         Matt. 5:34, 36 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.

After all, what is your intent when you use profanity? Are you reflecting Jesus Christ in your life—or something else?
         Eph. 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

‘nuff said.