Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Still Married In Heaven?

Biblegems #120
Question: Marriage, like family as a whole and government systems, is an institution made by God. Would it be too much conjecture that marital relations last beyond the grave for believers? It would be rather awkward to meet one’s “former spouse” during heavenly celebrations. What will the relation with one’s spouse be in heaven, if two Christians pass away?

To answer this question a distinction needs to be drawn between the institution of marriage and the condition of being married. As far as the institution goes, marriage is a covenant relationship established by God that is intended to provide and protect a monogamous, lifelong bond between one man and one woman. Therefore, upon the death of a spouse the surviving spouse is free to marry.
1 Cor. 7:39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord (cf. Rom. 7:2).

But marriage is far more than a covenantal institution. Marriage is a state of being, a fact that both society and often the church are ignorant of. From the very beginning, God established marriage as a union between a man and a woman that transcends laws and institutions. As it says in Genesis:
         Gen. 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The word we translate “united” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to glue.” Picture several sheets of paper glued together with super-glue. What happens if you try to separate the sheets once the glue has cured? This is the picture of a man and woman united together in marriage. They have not simply signed a legal contract; they have “become one.” Even the phrase “one flesh” means more than sexual union; it is a word image portraying a new entity. Those who were two are now something else—they are one new entity.

This is why the Sadducees were so off the mark when they ridiculed Jesus for believing in the resurrection of the body.
         Matt. 22:24-28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus’ response that they neither knew the Scripture nor the power of God regarding this issue (Matt. 22:29-30) points up the biblical truth that there is indeed a resurrection, and that the two who have become one will enjoy that union throughout eternity. There will be no more marriage ceremonies in heaven (Matt. 22:30), but the believing husband and wife  will share together the gift of eternal life:
         1 Pet. 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life

Comments or Questions?
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Who Is Elhanan?

Biblegems #119
Question: According to 2 Samuel 21:19, Elhanan killed Goliath, yet 1 Chronicles 20:5 states that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath. Who is Elhanan, how does this relate to David and Goliath, and how is this apparent discrepancy explained?

All right folks, buckle up your Bible Gems seatbelts—this one gets a little technical—but its well worth the ride!

The solution to the problem lies in the translation of the various Hebrew and Greek (LXX) texts available. It is important to remember that when translators talk about the “original text,” they are not referring to one single document that everyone agrees on as being the original. Instead, they are referring to the original language used in the most ancient and authoritative copies of the original document.

The fact is, truly “original” documents from Moses, David, Paul, etc., are called “autographs,” and none of them are in existence (so far as we know) today. What we do have are hundreds, sometimes thousands of copies, and copies of copies made by professional scribes, in varying degrees of completeness and condition. Some of these copies are very ancient, some are much more recent (archeologically speaking). All of this can lead to difficulty in accurately translating what the passage actually says, and therefore in translating what was in the original autograph.

The role of the Jewish scribe was to act as kind of a human copy machine, duplicating the Scriptures from one document to a new document so there would always be fresh copies for future generations. Scribes would occasionally make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes were not caught in the proofreading process and would end up in the new edition of the Scriptures. Such is the case with 2 Samuel 20:19. Accounting for scribal error, a more accurate translation of 2 Samuel 20:19 would be:
         “the Bethlehemite [killed] Lahmi the brother of Goliath.”

Today, Bible scholars have the advantage of comparing these ancient texts, finding scribal errors, and determining which reading is closest to the original autograph. Part of determining the accuracy of a copied text also includes comparing that text with similar passages in Scripture. For instance, we already know without dispute that David the son of Jesse from Bethlehem killed the giant Goliath (1 Sam 16:1, 18; 17:58; 1 Sam 17:51, 57; 18:6; 19:5; 21:9).

We also have this parallel account concerning Elhanan:
         1 Chr. 20:5 In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.

The Word of God is perfect and without error in the original manuscripts. The translation process, however, from ancient times until now, is a human endeavor and subject to error. Fortunately, those errors are miniscule and do not affect doctrine and the Truth of God’s Word. And where there are human errors, God in His grace gives us the tools and talented people to uncover those mistakes and provide correction. So, between the testimony of Scripture and the use of translation skills and resources not available to earlier generations, we are increasingly able to unravel the confusion that arises from a simple human mistake, and God still gets the glory!

Comments or Questions?
If you would like to leave a comment or question, please click on the “Comment” tag below, then type your comment or question in the box. Below the Comment box you will see a place to leave your name (or Anonymous) marked “Comment as.” Click on the arrows to the right of that box and choose one of the options there by clicking on it. Then click the “Publish” button below the “Comment as” tag, and you’re done!

Your comment or question will appear after I approve it as appropriate (usually within 24 hours). I look forward to your questions and comments. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Who Was Cain Afraid Of?

Biblegems #118
Question: After God banishes Cain for killing his brother Abel in Genesis 4, Cain complains that others on the earth will kill him for his crime when they find him (Gen. 4:13-14). Who are the others on the earth at that time that Cain is afraid of? Where did these other people come from?

Adam and Eve, the ancestors of the human race, and their children, Cain and Abel, were real, historical people. In addition to Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve had many other children  (Gen 5:4). And in the 930 years of Adam’s life (Gen. 5:5), these children grew up, intermarried, and had children of their own, resulting in a population of at least one hundred and twenty thousand people by the time of Adam’s death. We know from Scripture that these descendants of Adam and Eve spread out and established settlements all over the ancient Near East. 

Reading Genesis 4 -5 can be deceptive when it comes to following the passage of time. But a careful reading can be very revealing. For instance, chapter 4:1-2 takes us from the conception and birth of Cain and Abel right into their adulthood. By the end of verse two they are both living independent of their parents and working at their respective occupations. Abel is murdered in verse eight; and by verse sixteen Cain is in exile in “the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Then, in the very next verse, Cain has found a wife, who gets pregnant and has his child, Enoch—all while Cain is building a city, which he names after his son.

The point is, the account of Cain and Abel moves quickly from one key event to another. This is to show that within the first thousand years of human history God’s command to Adam and Eve to Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) was already well under way. Thousands of people—the descendants of Adam and Eve—populated the earth, farmed the land, tended livestock, constructed cities, and brought with them the plague of sin and death.

So it is clear that Cain and Abel had many brothers and sisters, most of whom had hundreds of years of separation between them. In fact, in the “written account of Adam’s line” (Gen. 5:1) Cain and Abel are not even mentioned, nor are any of their siblings except Seth. Why? Because Seth represents the ancestral line of Noah (Gen. 5:28-29), who played a principal role in God’s plan of salvation. All the descendants of all the other siblings of Cain and Abel were lost in the Flood, except those who married into Noah’s family and were aboard the ark.

So who was Cain afraid of when he went into exile? His own brothers and sisters and their extended families. The same is true for all of us, for we are all related to one another, only separated by time, distance and multiple layers of intermarriage. We are one family—the human family—and each person’s sin impacts the rest of the family. That’s why salvation from sin and death had to come through a human being, but one who was without sin.
         1 Cor. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
The death and resurrection of Jesus has reversed the curse of Adam and Cain!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Mercy Seat" or "Atonement Cover"?

Biblegems #117
Question: Why does the NIV use the term “atonement cover” in Exodus 27:17, when the KJV and most other translations use the term “mercy seat”?

Here is the verse in question:
         Ex. 25:17 Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. (NIV)
         Ex. 25:17 And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. (KJV)

The answer is a matter of both translation and principles of biblical interpretation.

First, the Translation
The Hebrew term we translate into English as either “mercy seat” or “atonement cover” is the noun “khapporet.” The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is “to make an atonement.” Neither the word “seat” nor “cover” is actually involved in the fundamental meaning of the word “Khapporet.” We’ll look at that under Interpretation.

Behind the noun “khapporet” is the verb “kapar,” which means “I, make an atonement, make reconciliation”. [i] The idea of “cover” or “conceal” stems from a similar Arabic word, but that meaning is not native to the Hebrew. Kapar is the same Hebrew word that is behind the name of the familiar Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement.”

Then, The Interpretation
As was mentioned earlier, the word “seat,” “lid” or “cover” is not present in the Hebrew. Nevertheless, the object we commonly know as the “mercy seat” was the lid on the Ark of the Covenant that is described in verse 17. The English word “seat” can be used in a variety of ways. The sense intended by the translators of the KJV was probably “position” or “place,” not a place to sit down. In other words, the Ark of the Covenant was the place of atonement, the place where God extended mercy toward sinners, and the lid was the focus of that atonement because it is there, above the cover, where God would speak with Moses (Ex. 25:22).

The Greek translation (the LXX) of this passage in Exodus translates khapporet as the hilasterion, meaning the “propitiatory covering” or “place of forgiveness,” and the New Testament follows this Greek translation in Hebrews 9:5. The translators of the KJV followed the LXX and its New Testament counterpart, but worded “propitiatory covering” as “mercy seat.” That is decision of interpretation, not translation.

The translators of the NIV chose to follow the more literal Hebrew in Exodus 25:17, rather than the LXX translation. They also chose to follow the literal Greek in Hebrews 9:5, staying with “propitiatory covering.” Both the KJV and the NIV had to supply the word “cover” or “seat” where it is only implied in Exodus 25:17.

As we have seen before in Bible Gems, translation and interpretation can be a tricky business, and the lines between the two can easily become blurred. But nothing is lost in either translation. The Ark of the Covenant, a foreshadowing of the cross of Christ, is where atonement (propitiation) is made for sin, and where mercy is received by those whose sins are washed clean by the shed blood of the Lamb!

[i] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, #1023.