Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Is The Pledge Of Allegiance Idolatry?

Biblegems #238

Question: Is the pledge to the American flag idolatry?

What the Pledge of Allegiance Means
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”

To “pledge allegiance” is to promise your loyalty. To pledge allegiance to a flag is to promise loyalty to whatever entity that flag represents. Therefore, to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America is to promise your loyalty to America as a country and the fundamental ideals America is founded upon. Those ideals are stated in the pledge itself: “the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

What Idolatry Means
According to the Bible, Idolatry is an act of worship to a deity represented by some object. The idol itself is typically viewed as containing the power or essence of the deity it represents, which explains why idolaters worship material objects. As Paul writes:
         Rom. 1:25  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator

When God spoke through Isaiah the prophet about the powerlessness of idols made from wood, He gave this revealing example:
         Is. 44:15 Then it [wood] becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 

To worship something as a god is to treat it as deserving total, unquestioning trust, obedience and submission. For this reason, God commanded through Moses:
         Ex. 20:4  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.

As Romans 1:25 suggests, an idol is not restricted to man-made objects. Anything in the created realm can become an object of misplaced worship. Throughout history humanity has worshiped the sun, moon and stars (Jer. 8:2), animals, fish, birds and reptiles (Rom. 1:23), the power of military strength (Ps. 20:7), and our own ingenuity and technology (Gen. 11:3).

Is The Pledge Idolatry?
Anything can be made an object of idolatrous worship, including a flag or the nation it represents. However, the pledge of allegiance is a personal commitment to the high ideals of 1) a representative form of government and the rule of law (Republic), (2) to a nation unified under God, (3) and to the equal availability of liberty and justice for every citizen.

Nothing in that pledge either assumes or requires a slavish trust, obedience, submission to, or worship of the flag or the ideals it represents. Even less does the pledge assume or require an idolatrous worship of the nation’s elected government. In fact, the pledge of allegiance assumes the right of American citizens to replace any elected officials who do not represent true American ideals with representatives who do!

To promise our loyalty to the American ideals represented by our country’s flag is not an act of worship; it is an act of honor.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Baptism And The Holy Spirit

Biblegems #237

Question: What is the relationship between baptism and the Holy Spirit? Why did the Holy Spirit descend after Jesus was baptized?

All four Gospels record the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a dove immediately following His baptism. Each Gospel also shows how this was connected to a prophetic statement from John the Baptist:
         Matt. 3:11   “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The Gospel of John clearly tells us why the Holy Spirit visibly descended. Notice especially the words highlighted and underlined in the quote below:
         John 1:32-33   Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

The visible descent of the Spirit like a dove upon Jesus was especially for the benefit of John the Baptist! God had told John ahead of time that this is how he would recognize the promised Messiah.

Notice also how this visible descent of the Spirit was God’s confirmation that Jesus Himself would baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit.

The fact is, the Holy Spirit indwelt Jesus at conception in Mary’s womb:
Luke 1:35   The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Jesus was born fully human, yet He was (and is) also God incarnate—God in a human body from conception, fully human, fully divine. The visible “descent” thirty years later at His baptism was a sign to others that Jesus was the Spirit-filled Messiah of Old Testament prophecy (Is. 61:1-2).

So how does this relate to our baptism in water and receiving the Holy Spirit?

Jesus’ Great Commission to the church is to make disciples and then baptize them (Matt. 28:19). Water baptism is a public declaration that we have become followers of Jesus Christ. This was the challenge of Peter’s evangelistic message on the day of Pentecost:                
Acts 2:38-39   Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

As Peter explained, receiving the Holy Spirit is promised for all who repent and receive forgiveness in Jesus’ name, declaring that faith in Jesus publicly through baptism in water. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that regenerates us (Rom. 8:11); it is baptism in water that identifies us as belonging to Jesus after receiving Christ and new life in the Spirit (Acts 10:47).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Missing Bible Verses: 1 John 5:7-8

Biblegems #236

Question: Why do most modern translations not include these words from 1 John 5:7-8 found in the King James Bible: ”…testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the…”?

First things first: the inspiration of God’s Word is not what is in question here. Rather, this is a problem arising out of the transmission and translation of ancient copies of God’s inspired Word. The original documents of God’s Word as revealed to the apostles and prophets is without error:
         2Tim. 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

As you can imagine, any time a document gets copied by hand, mistakes can occur. Misspelled words, torn or damaged originals, bad light, tiredness or poor eyesight are just a few of the things that can contribute to errors in copying. But here is the really good news concerning any such errors: The errors from copying and translation are so few  and insignificant that our human mistakes stand out like shadows cast by the sun.
Here’s how all this relates to 1 John 5:7-8.

When scholars were commissioned by king James in the early 1600’s to provide the most accurate, authoritative translation of the Bible ever produced into the English language, the translators relied heavily upon earlier translation work done by a man named Erasmus. Erasmus compiled an entire translation of the Bible, printed in 1516 A.D. called the Textus Receptus. His work was based upon approximately nine ancient Greek manuscripts. Prior to Erasmus, the Latin Vulgate was the accepted, authoritative Bible translation.

In Erasmus’ original translation process he discovered that none of the ancient Greek manuscripts contained the phrase in question, even though that phrasing was included in the Latin Vulgate of his time. Erasmus was sharply criticized for not including the phrase in his translation. But he refused to add it in unless a Greek copy that contained it could be found. In 1520 such a copy was found, and Erasmus reluctantly included the phrase now found in the King James Bible. As it turns out, the Greek manuscript provided for him was a forgery composed by the Franciscan friar Roy, who took the words from the Latin Vulgate.

In the past two hundred years, literally thousands of ancient Bible manuscripts and portions of manuscripts have been discovered. Many of these manuscripts are hundreds of years older and closer to the originals by far than those available to either the King James Bible translation committee, or to Erasmus a century earlier. And of all those manuscripts, not one contains the phrase in question.

This should not be a cause for discouragement, but rather of great encouragement. New archeological discoveries routinely unearth evidence in the form of manuscripts and historical artifacts that confirm the accuracy and authority of God’s Word as originally given. Does mankind’s participation in passing on the Scriptures to future generations contaminate the inerrancy and inspiration of God’s Word?

         Rom. 3:4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Can God Look On Evil?

Biblegems #235

Question: What does the Bible mean when it says that God cannot look upon evil?

The question refers to this biblical quote:
         Hab. 1:13  Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.

Unfortunately, this passage is often misquoted, misunderstood and therefore misapplied. The language in this verse makes use of metaphor to make a very strong point: God cannot treat evil as something acceptable.

To convey that idea, God is described metaphorically as having physical eyes, which of course, He does not. God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24). “Your eyes,” says the prophet Habakkuk, “are too pure to look on evil.” In addition, Habakkuk makes this statement as part of a question of complaint against God. The second half of the verse reads:
         Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.”

A cardinal rule of sound biblical interpretation is that doctrinal truth cannot be derived from a metaphor. A second rule of interpretation is that doctrinal truth cannot be established on the basis of a single Scriptural reference. A third rule of interpretation is that doctrinal truth cannot be established from a question. Habakkuk 1:13 contains all three of these elements! Since nowhere else in Scripture is the idea specifically taught that God cannot look upon evil, and since the language is clearly metaphorical, and since the statement introduces a question of complaint against God, this verse clearly means something else.

The Bible tells us that it was because God “saw” the wickedness of mankind that He enacted the global Flood as judgment:
         Gen. 6:5  The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

Likewise, when Scripture metaphorically describes God as turning His “face” against those who do evil, it means He sees evil and confronts it head on:
Ps. 34:16   the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

In order to correctly interpret God’s Word it is always important to understand Scripture in the light of what Scripture teaches elsewhere. No one verse can be taken out of context to teach something the Word of God as a whole does not support.

The truth is, God does see our sin:
         Jer. 13:27b I have seen your detestable acts on the hills and in the fields. 

He “remembers” our wickedness:
         Jer. 14:10 This is what the LORD says about this people: “They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet.  So the LORD does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.”

Habakkuk used a common figure of speech to convey the impeccable purity of God’s holiness. Imagine someone who doesn’t understand the common English figure speech, “he’s out of his mind,” trying to interpret those words literally! As noted above, the meaning of Habakkuk 1:13 is that our holy God cannot treat evil as acceptable. That is a solidly biblical concept!