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153 Fish:

Explaining some Difficult New Testament Passages

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Question #1:  

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

A brother in Christ claimed that he knew the symbolic meaning of the 153 fish that was caught in the Gospels (John 21:11). I've heard just as many interpretations as there were fish. Does the bible say anything that would hint on the meaning of that number?

Also, I wanted to thank you for your prayers and I am always ready to pray for a dear brother in Christ like you. You have helped me a lot and I'm thankful for that. I'm right there with you in your prayer for deliverance, and I know your faith will bring God glory.

God Bless,

Response #1: 

First, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for your prayers on our behalf. The issue is still in the balance, so please keep us in prayer.

On the 153 fish, I chuckled with "sanctified amusement" at your comment "I've heard just as many interpretations as there were fish"! I think that remark is "right on the money", and should inform the consideration of any interpretation of this passage. If one of them were obviously true, it is doubtful that so many others (which by definition would then have to be wrong) would be out there. It is also true that 1) many conservative interpreters have come to the conclusion that the number is literal without symbolic meaning; that would not be unprecedented as it is a common device in ancient literature for narrators with first hand experience of what they report to include a few very specific details to demonstrate and emphasize that the report really does come from their own observation; and 2) there is perhaps no more common way of misinterpreting the Bible than by deriving meaning from numbers and by assigning numerical values to all manner of things, then drawing all sorts of wild conclusions as a result (do "Bible codes" ring a bell?). For all of the above reasons, we should be leery of getting too excited about the numbering of this large catch of fish. As one interpreter remarked "If the Evangelist has some symbolism in mind connected with the number 153, he has hidden it well" (D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John).

Still and all, the Bible includes what it includes for good reason. So I will try my hand at throwing yet another fish on the pile here. The apostles were called to be "fishers of men" (Matt.4:19; Mk.1:17), so in that analogy the "fish" are those led to the truth of the gospel. If I were to take the number as a symbol, it would seem to me that the 153 fish ought to represent the "catch" of believers during the Church Age soon to begin at the time John 21:11 took place, and, beyond all argument, 153 "large fish" is a very big catch in comparison to what "used to be caught". With that in mind, the number could very well represent the dramatically larger number of believers who would come into the Church after Pentecost. If we approach 153 from that point of view, I do see one way that it might "work" as a symbolic number. The Jewish ceremonial calendar contains a pattern for the proportion of believers to be called out during the seven days of human history (see the link). Succinctly put, the ratio is 3/12 for the two Jewish Age millennia, 9/12 for the two Church Age millennia, and 12/12 for the Millennium (although these later believers are "the friends of the Bride" who equal the Bride in number, not the Bride per se). That is to say, Israel consists of three of the twelfths of the Bride; the rest of the "Church" consists of nine of her twelfths (the number of believers who came into the Body during the two millennia before Abraham is so small as not to warrant a multiplier). Now if we take 9 as representing the share of believers or "fish" who are "caught" after Pentecost and divide it into 153 we get the number 17. This number may be significant as representing the gentiles of whom Church Age believers are largely composed. That is because, in the table of the nations in Genesis chapter 10, the sons of Noah from whom "the nations were divided" total 16: 7 for Japheth (Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras); 4 for Ham (Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan); and 5 for Shem (Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram). How do we then get to 17? We get to 17 by adding one for Jewish believers who are saved during these two millennia between Christ's resurrection and His second advent. This is the era when gentiles predominate in terms of their number, but there has always been and will continue to be – until Israel once again resumes the leadership role during the Tribulation – a "remnant [of Israel] according to the election of grace" (Rom.11:5). Therefore a number which includes all the gentile subdivisions from their earliest separation, and also includes Israel as a special number apart, would be a fitting number to represent the large catch that would ensue very shortly after our Lord worked this miracle (it follows the resurrection, after all), mostly a gentile catch, but also including those of Israel who do believe in every generation. Multiplying this number, 17, by the relative proportion of believers given to the Church Age in the Jewish calendar, i.e., 9 of the twelfths, we reach 153, a number which would then not only foreshadow the magnitude of the catch of believers in the two millennia soon to come, but also its precise proportion in relation to Israel in the two millennia just concluded: nine twelves to three twelves, together making up the perfect 12 that represents the Bride of Christ. This interpretation has the advantage of not introducing any new information based on the number; rather it merely explains the number based upon information elsewhere available in scripture.

You are in my prayers – thank you so much for yours!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Hi Bob,

What's the precise meaning of John's poem in 1 John 2:12-14, besides a general salutatory effect? I call it a poem, because of how it's broken into stanzas (in modern translations) and the parallelism.

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

Sincerely,

Response #2: 

This is an interesting passage and the interpretation of it much debated. The way it is set out in many editions of the Bible does lead to the impression of a poem, but I would be reluctant to see it in quite that formal of a way since Greek is very particular about what a poem is and what it is not (i.e., Greek poems must be in a particular meter, and that is not the case here). However, I do get your point: this is a unique presentation and there must be a reason for it.

I think the important thing is to note first where these verses occur, namely, directly after John's introduction here in 1st John 2:7-8 of the concept of a "new commandment" – which is really not "new" in the sense of his correspondents never having heard it before – and his directions about separating from the world and those who have preferred the world in 1st John 2:15-19. Before getting into the "negatives", and following the introduction of the subject of the perfect standard to which we are all held, namely, the "new commandment" of love, John wishes to encourage his hearers for their spiritual growth and accomplishments. It is always the essence of good teaching to find just the proper mix of challenging the student to do better and to strive to excel, but also of encouraging him/her so as not to come to see the process of learning/growing as something impossible which is beyond his/her means.

John's particular way of expressing himself is unique in many respects, so it really should come as no surprise that while Paul might have simply said "you are doing well", John expands his praise in this uncommon way. The next thing to notice about these verses is that the first three statements are in the present tense and the last three are in the past (or aorist), i.e., "I write you [now]" vs. "I wrote you [then]". I am sure some commentators will want to make the aorists "epistolary", and while I would not rule that out entirely, I think that misses the main point: John is breaking his praise down into the new and the old with this dual approach. The direct object is left out in all six instances, but what John "writes" now is the "new commandment", and what he "wrote" then is the "old commandment.

We have discussed in the past how the two are in their essential, spiritual nature identical, just as our Lord and Paul also affirm: love requires no specifics because it perfectly fulfills all of God's actual requirements, and on the other hand to perfectly fulfill all of the actual requirements of God's justice would be to act in perfect love.

From a practical point of view, keeping both things in mind is very important. Few of us are able to make love such a directive force in our lives that we never sin, so reminding ourselves about what sin is as a regular part of our spiritual approach (such as accessing Bible teaching which deals with this and all other biblical issues) will be very salutary for our spiritual health. Likewise, focusing on the "rules and regulations" alone will quickly devolve into pure legalism (as it did in the era of the second temple in Israel). By using "write" and "wrote" to the same three groups, John is able to commend his listeners for their proper spiritual application in both critical aspects of the Christian walk:

First (i.e., in OT fashion), they have conducted themselves admirably and in a sanctified way in regard to specific prohibitions:

1) their sins have been forgiven (initially and through confession as outlined in chapter one);

2) they have attended to the truth (lit., have "known the Father");

3) they have resisted the temptations of the world (lit., have "conquered the evil one").

Secondly (i.e., in NT fashion), they are accomplishing the Plan of God for their lives in all three of its main post-salvation facets of growing through the truth, applying that truth to their lives, and helping others to do likewise in the proper function of their individual spiritual gifts:

1) they are growing spiritually (lit., have "known the Father";

2) they are walking with Christ in good spiritual progress (lit., have "known Him who is from the beginning");

3) they are producing spiritually in full maturity, being

a) "powerful" in their service,

b) retaining the truth in so doing so as to do so in a proper way (lit., the "Word abides" in them), and

c) are making a difference for Christ in the world (lit., have "overcome the evil one").

Finally, the division between "adolescents (teknia, paidia)", "young men" (neaniskoi)" and "elders" (lit., "fathers": pateres) serves not to suggest any distinction between the accomplishments of the three age groups (as these are deliberately integrated throughout the section), but rather to have precisely the opposite effect: spiritual growth, progress and production is not the unique possession of any age group, nor does age or longevity automatically result in these accomplishments, nor does youth exclude them. Our "status" in the Plan of God has everything to do with our spiritual achievements, essentially, whether or not we are putting Christ first and to what degree.

So this is true encouragement indeed! All those reading this letter for the first time would be reassured that even though they were not perfect and had sinned and had needed to confess and had an advocate in Jesus Christ, the great apostle of love still approved of their positive efforts and was praising them for them in a rather elaborate way. This was a necessary step, moreover, given that throughout the remaining portions of the epistle John holds all his readers to the perfect standard of absolute sinlessness (something which might be misunderstood and/or be very discouraging without this prior "shot in the arm" of encouragement). In doing so, John has managed to demonstrate the egalitarian nature of the opportunity salvation offers all believers to achieve in the proper way for Jesus Christ, laying out in the process the essential nature of the Christian walk necessary to do so: 1) growth; 2) progress/application; 3) production – the precise means by which the highest eternal rewards are won (see the link)

In anticipation of a good reward on that great day of judgment.

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #3:  

Hello--I hope you are well. I have a couple of questions for you...in Romans 16:7, a "Junias" is mentioned in my NASB bible. But the KJV has "Junia." I presume this is a manuscript difference....? Which is found in the oldest and best manuscripts? Also, the word for "kinsmen" used in the verse is masculine. Now, two people are mentioned as kinsmen to Paul. IF one of them was a woman, would the word for "kinsmen" still be masculine? Or is there a Greek word for "relatives" that would denote both male and female relatives together? That would maybe be neuter? OR can the masculine mean both male and female relatives together?

Another question--when was the LXX finished being translated into Greek? I know the Pentatuch was translated around 300 BC, roughly. But when was the rest of it finally translated into Greek? I know that the first five books were better translated than the rest, from what I have read. But could Jesus and His disciples have been quoting from the LXX from the Prophets and Psalms? Or weren't they translated into Greek by then? I know they would have had the Hebrew OT, of course.

Thanks and have a good weekend.

Response #3: 

It's not a textual issue, as the form is ambiguous. It may be construed as the accusative of either Iounias (masc.) or Iounia (fem.). There would be a difference in accentuation between the two, but the oldest witnesses do not have these diacritical marks. Interpreters, ancient and modern, are on both sides of the issue. The nouns and pronouns which follow, "kinsmen, fellow prisoners, who, apostles" and the adjective "exceptional" are all masculine, but that would be the case in a group setting no matter what (i.e., mixed groups have to be in some gender so that gender is always masculine by default in Greek). Another argument usually set against "Junia" is the fact that these persons are described as "apostles" and this would seem to be a unique use of the word for a woman. I'm not sure I find that decisive: Paul is using the word here not in the sense of APOSTLE (i.e., one of the twelve), but in the more general and etymological sense of "one sent out" by the church to do the church's work outside of the church, and it seems to me that many women are commended in the epistles for such service.

On the Septuagint (LXX), the whole text was traditionally felt to have been translated at the same time (ca. 300-400 B.C.). Obviously, that was not the case, but there is much evidence that it was completed long before the NT. For example, in the NT there are plenty of instances of quotations outside the Pentateuch which match the LXX version (though by no means all of them do). So I think we have to conclude that the entire LXX (and possibly multiple versions of it) were available during NT times.

Please see also "Was Junias an apostle?" and "Paul's family"

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #4:   

Hi Bob,

What was Jesus talking about, not carrying a vessel through the temple?

Your Friend

P.S.

Hope all is going well for you.

Response #4: 

Always good to hear from you, my friend. The Greek word here for "vessel" is skeuos, and refers to any sort of container or carrying device (basket, jar, sack, etc.). There was absolutely no reason for anyone coming into the temple to have any sort of container of this sort – except to engage in commercial purposes, and that was just what our Lord was incensed about:

"It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
Luke 19:46 NIV

Your prayers for deliverance are greatly appreciated, my friend!

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Hi Bob,

Could you briefly clarify your statement below regarding Matt. 27:52 respective of the 'timing' of the Resurrection of some of the Saints that arose and went into the Holy city? You state the following:

"...the (apparently) large number of departed believers who were restored temporarily to life following the earthquake at Jesus' expulsion of His human spirit on the cross (Matt.27:52)."

However, Matt. 27:53 declares that the Saints came out of the graves AFTER His (Jesus') Resurrection...Jesus' Resurrection was 3days/3 nights AFTER His Cross atonement. (emphasis added). Please note Christ was the Firstfruits of the Resurrection - thus, careful attention is given by Matthew to reveal that these Saints came out of their graves AFTER the Resurrection of Jesus - not at the time of the Cross.

Response #5: 

The text of Matthew 27:52-53 clearly connects the resuscitation (note: not resurrection, as the believers were restored to life in the manner of Lazarus, not eternally so, and again died physically later on as he did) to the physical death of Christ on the cross. Matthew 27:53b says that "after His resurrection they went into the city". That is, they were brought back to physical life immediately (as a sign of the power of His victory over sin), but were restrained from making themselves known as having been restored to life until after His resurrection (so as not to confuse the issue of Christ's priority or what resurrection is as opposed to mere resuscitation). There is more about all this at the link: in BB 4A Christology: "The Resuscitation of the Dead".

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

I got into a debate on the deity of Jesus and the other person kept quoting over and over again, John 17:3: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

His argument was that if Jesus was God then how could He have referred to His Father as the "only" TRUE (his emphasis by shouting) God. He said that if I couldn't understand this then I need to take grammar 101. I responded by saying that Jesus was God incarnate, and as a man referred to His Father as God and even prayed to Him as a man. He worshipped God as a man, ate like a man, slept like a man, etc., but He retained His divine attributes (absolute holiness, sinlessness, forgiving sins, etc.) as God. I told him that Jesus was and is still the Creator whether He became human or not, and he kept quoting John 17:3. Am I correct in stating what I said?

Thanks!

God Bless,

Response #6: 

You gave an excellent response. This passage is a favorite among JW's in particular. They mistakenly assume that "one true God" must mean "so Jesus can't be God" (but cf. 1Jn.5:20). But you are precisely correct in pointing out that Jesus is God and that there are many places in the gospels where His self-limitation in His humanity for the purpose of going to the cross to die for us meant that He spoke of God the Father and to God the Father as God – as well He had to do (this is called the doctrine of kenosis; see the link). Further, there is, after all, only "one God": God is one in essence, and three in Person. So whenever God is referred to, He is properly "one". By using this false argument, JW's and others show their true colors: they think of the Trinity as "three Gods" which is wrong and heretical. There is only "one God" – one in essence, three in Person. That is the only orthodox formulation of the truth on this subject and has been accepted by all truly Christian organizations since the beginning of the Church – because it is what the Bible teaches (see the link: "The Trinity" in BB 1: Theology: The Biblical Study of God).

There is also this verse which comes just later in the context:

"And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."
John 17:5

If John meant to say that Jesus was not God, how is it that he records here Jesus' words which clearly can only apply to God? Only God could be in God's presence before creation, because only God can exist outside of creation – obviously (cf. e.g., Jn.1:1-3).

By the way, Jesus is also called "the one true God" in 1st John 5:20. I think that one of the problems for your correspondent is that he is approaching the issue only from a "101" level, whereas his understanding is too simplistic and thus comes out completely wrong – for very clearly Jesus is "the true God" at 1st John 5:20. This does not mean that the Father and the Spirit are not God – just as John 17:3 does not exclude Jesus from being "true God".

Here is a link where this and similar passages are discussed at some length outlining what they can and cannot mean grammatically:

Is Jesus the "True God" in 1st John 5:20?

Keep up the good fight of faith for our Lord Jesus Christ!

Bob L.

Question #7:  

Hi Brother!

Hope your doing well! I have a few questions on Faith. Is faith a spirit? Before being born again do you have faith? Romans 10:17 says faith comes from hearing the word, so I'm assuming our first seed of faith came from hearing the word & believing, is that correct? When you are born again do you receive the faith of Christ. Is there different types of faith, like a faith of Christ & a specific faith (like a healing faith)? Someone told me, when your born again, you receive the faith of Christ, which you can never lose. He then said you get specific faith by hearing the word, mixing it with Christ's faith & putting it into practice. He said the specific faith can be lost but not Christ's faith which you receive when your born again. I don't agree with that! Can you please shed some light on these questions & statements. Please forward me any info on faith that you have. I have already read a couple of your articles from Peter's series. Also, the passage from Mark 9:47, is the Lord speaking to believers, to non-believers or everyone? The way I understand this passage is that if your eye continues to make you sin, and effectively apostatize better you pluck it out than go to hell. Is that correct?

God Bless

Response #7: 

Good to hear from you as always my friend.

To take your last question first, our Lord is putting things in a way that can't possibly be ignored. Honestly, I can't even imagine a scenario where a person who plucked their eyes out would go to heaven but would not have done so if they hadn't plucked their eyes out. This hypothetical doesn't ever occur, but it does make our Lord's point for Him and very powerfully so. There is absolutely nothing we value in this life which we aren't better off losing (if God takes it away from us) or throwing overboard (if He leaves it to us to make the hard choice) if the alternative is not being saved. This applies to both believers and unbelievers.

For a believer, nothing is worth apostatizing for. Clearly, if we are compelled to keep looking at something which may result in apostasy (like an idol), then we would be better off being blind. In reality of course, the reason why this hypothetical never happens is that if a person has the willpower to blind him/herself, then surely that person has the willpower to stop looking at the offensive thing (alternatively, putting out our eyes won't take away the lust that leads to the idolatry in any case so would be useless act). That is our Lord's point: since being blinded is better than apostasy, how much more should we then not turn away from behavior which leads to apostasy? That is something which is easier to do by many magnitudes than putting one's own eyes out. Just to make it very clear, no one should seriously consider engaging in any of the self-mutilations discussed in these and similar passages: our Lord is helping us put things into the proper value hierarchy with these remarks:

"You think it would be onerous to cut off your own hands? So it would! But wouldn't that be better than going to hell? So it would! So learn the lesson and stop doing things with those hands which may land you in hell!"

For an unbeliever this same logic shows the futility of avoiding hell by one's own efforts. Believers are saved, and while we have to maintain faith intact until the end of life, we are beyond all argument secure in Christ as long as we do maintain our faith in and faithfulness to Him – a situation which is incalculably better than that of the unbeliever. Any reasonable person in hearing these words of our Lord knows very well that cutting off the hands may slow down theft, for example, but it will not prevent it, and that putting out the eyes may slow down lust, but it will not prevent it. Since even the most drastic of physical actions is not going to conquer sin, there is therefore no human solution even for controlling sin completely – let alone for atoning for sins already committed, even if the sin nature could be completely contained (which is of course impossible). So for unbelievers these verses bring home one of the three points of natural revelation everyone comes to know at some point: we are sinful (point 1) and so when we die as we all must (point 2) we will face the impossible situation of standing before a perfectly holy and righteous God whose character and existence we cannot help but recognize from the creation in which He has placed us (point 3). In other words, for unbelievers these seemingly harsh words of our Lord are really exceptionally merciful: they serve as a very important reminder of a critical part of the universal appeal God has woven into the warp and woof of His creation as motivation to seek out and accept the gospel message:

"Since nothing you could even contemplate doing to yourself, no matter how horrible, could ever have any significant effect on sin, you'd better look to the only One who can take away your sin – otherwise you are lost!"

As to faith, as I describe it in great detail in Peter #24 "Faith Dynamics" and in BB 4B: Soteriology (see the links), "faith", when we referring to an individual human being, is a synonym for the exercise of our free-will in positive response toward God. It may even be termed, as I often term it, "free-will faith". In individual terms, therefore, the ability to exercise faith in free-will is the essence of the "image of God": He WILLS, then we use our will to respond in faith to what He WILLS – or not. Accepting Christ is thus the first significant and fundamentally most important use of this key attribute of our human nature – from God's point of view.

In Romans 10:17, Paul is describing the process and the progress of the gospel in general terms in order to reach the conclusion he wants his listeners to "get": Israel most definitely has heard the gospel (cf. Rom.10:18 NIV: "But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: 'Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world' "). We are born again by drinking the water of the truth of the gospel – through faith (Eph.2:8-9). The ability to exercise faith is part of our common heritage as human beings created in God's image. Whether or not we do so is up to us. It is true that Paul's epistles "contain some things that are hard to understand", but that is no excuse to do what some hyper-Calvinists do and "distort [them], as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2Pet.3:16 NIV).

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.
Galatians 3:23 NIV

This is another example of Paul describing the Christian experience in a generalized and collective way. But we should not imagine that faith is a magic elixir which drips down upon us from the heaven at some point – that would make God's choice of us a matter of favoritism, but in fact Christ died for all human beings and God wants all to be saved (e.g., 1Tim.2:4). Rather, at the proper time God causes us to hear/remember the gospel, and when we respond in faith out of free will, we are born again, "by grace through faith". I think the convoluted and completely unhelpful (not to mention completely non-biblical) reasoning of your correspondent is enough to show the importance of seeing this relatively simple issue in just the simple light in which it is meant to be seen:

Believe (i.e., have faith) in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.
Acts 16:31

Finally, in Ephesians 2:8-9, it is salvation (not faith) which is the "gift of God" – just as Christ who provides it is Himself God's "ineffable gift" (2Cor.9:15).

Yours in the Lord Jesus in whom we have put our faith for salvation and eternal life,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Dear Bob,

It's been a while since we spoke. I hope all is well with you, in both your work and your family life. I am always thinking of you and your service to the Father and am always referring to your site for the many questions that I come to ponder. I was reading an apologetic, for I am always studying on how I can answer as to my faith and came upon the scripture in Hebrews 2:16. The interpretation of the article was that Jesus did not die for the angels but only mankind, for sin, which as you have made clear in your studies that angels do not have sin. The KJV seems to reiterate that Jesus did not take on Himself the nature of the angels in v. 16, but that He took upon Himself 'the seed of Abraham' (mankind). Am I understanding it wrong, does the meaning of the KJV, 'he took not on him the nature of angels' have the same meaning, 'it is not angels he helps'? The KJV seems to reiterate the verses before and after it, Jesus took on the nature of humanity, but most other translations seem to define the meaning that His purpose is not for the angels, His death...He did not die for the angels'? These two versions seem to have a different meaning; if not the same, which is the correct interpretation? Or do they mean the same thing?

14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
Hebrews 2:14-17 KJV

It is hard to try to get to the truth without understanding the original texts. And as always, I turn to you.

In Christ,

Response #8: 

Good to hear from you. Thank you for your kind thoughts and words. I hope things are going better for you too, and keep you in my prayers day by day.

As to your question, let me begin by giving the "New King James" rendering of this passage, keeping in mind that the NKJV's purpose was not to alter the KJV in any serious way but merely to modernize the English:

For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.
Hebrews 2:16 NKJV

So, as you see, even the NKJV felt that the KJV's rendering of this passage was off-kilter enough to warrant correction, not just up-dating. The following representation of the KJV's rendering will help to make clear why this is so:

For verily he took not on [him the nature of] angels; but he took on [him] the seed of Abraham.
Hebrews 2:16 KJV

Notice the brackets. Some printed editions use italics instead, but in either case both of these devices are present to indicate that the words bracketed or italicized do not occur in the Greek and have been supplied interpretively in order to smooth the translation out.

I think it is fair to say that the original KJV rendering you ask about, "took not on [him the nature of] angels", while remotely possible, is not correct. This can be seen just from the sense of the next verse: "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way . . ." (Heb.2:17a NIV). If verse 16 says that He helps us, then "for this reason He had to become human" makes sense; but if verse 16 says "He took on human rather than angelic nature", while certainly true, then what follows does not make sense. It does not make sense that because He took on human nature that for that reason He had to take on human nature; it does make sense that because His purpose was to help humanity by dying for our sins that for that reason He had to become human.

At issue is the meaning of the Greek verb epilambanetai ( ἐπιλαμβανεται) with a genitive object. Elsewhere in Greek, it means "to take hold of [something in the genitive case]". The KJV's rendering has the advantage, I suppose, of being a little less metaphorical: Jesus "took hold of [not the nature of] angels but the seed of Abraham. However, it has the severe disadvantage of making us understand that by "(not) taking hold of angels", what is meant is "not taking hold of the nature of angels". Adding this idea into the mix is quite a stretch, and in my view is very unlikely, especially given the fact that the sentiment would then be in conflict with the meaning of the following verse. "Does not help angels but helps the seed of Abraham" is, admittedly, a metaphor, but it is paralleled in Greek. In the (apocryphal) book, Ecclesiasticus (aka "The Wisdom of Ben Sirach"), we do find "Wisdom exalteth her children, and layeth hold of them that seek her" (Eccles.4:11, KJV). This is a precise parallel of the same verb with the genitive in a context where the literal "laying hold of" constitutes helping, and could well have been translated in that way.

In terms of the overall meaning, what the KJV says is consistent with what this chapter teaches. However, by mistranslating verse 16 it not only makes verse 17 a bit confusing but also misses the important point that our Lord's purpose in His great sacrifice is to "help humanity" rather than to help angels. Correctly translated, this verse proves that we human beings are not an afterthought: the whole Plan of God was founded upon Jesus' sacrifice which expiates all human sins – and that has been one of the key points Paul has been building up to throughout this section.

Hope you find this helpful! Keep fighting the good fight of faith.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

I had a few questions I was wondering about? 

1) After Paul's interaction with Jesus on the road to Damascus, why did Paul go away for 3 years to the Arabian desert?

2) In Acts 12:22, why was king Herod struck dead instantly by the Angel? Its hard to understand why some are punished immediately (the angels that sinned), while Satan gets to roam the earth and tempt believers. Why does God delay some judgments and not others?

3) What is the significance of Paul being from the tribe of Benjamin just as Saul was?

4) Of all the apostles, why did Satan ask for Peter?

5) Why did Jesus call the Canaanite woman a dog? Also, at first why did he not answer her a word?

thanks again

Response #9: 

Good to hear from you again. As to your questions . . .

1) It is very rare for a person to be ready to start serving the Lord effectively with their spiritual gift(s) immediately after salvation. This is true even for exceptional individuals with exceptional talents and extensive secular or even religious training such as Paul possessed. That is because no matter how "good" we may be in human terms, we all have to learn the truth of the Word of God the same way, namely, by believing it one point and one principle at a time, and then reinforcing it by putting it into practice in our lives over some period of time in order to grow up to spiritual maturity. It is not just a matter of information; it is a question of getting the truth, accepting the truth for the truth and making it part of our hearts through faith, and of reinforcing that truth by having it tested in our walk through this world and sticking with it despite pressure. Only then do we become usable to the Lord. Paul, like all of the rest of us, needed to go through this "honeymoon" phase in order to build up his deep understanding of the truth of God's Word and in order to be made ready to put it to use in what was perhaps the most fruitful – and most violently opposed – ministry of all time (except of course for that of our dear Lord Jesus).

2) While it's interesting, I'm not sure there is any prophetic significance to this.

3) Actually, the "you" in Luke 22:31 is plural in the Greek. Satan wanted to destroy all of the disciples; Jesus addresses Peter as the leader who will rally the others after he has recovered from his own failing.

4) Jesus was sent "to the lost sheep of Israel" (cf. His commission to the 12 at Matt.10:6). Israel was to be evangelized and given to see and accept the Messiah first, then we gentiles would have our day (cf. Acts 13:46). Everything had to be done in its proper order, and this was not yet the time for the gospel to be shared with the gentiles by and through the Person of Christ Himself (cf. Jn.12:20-24). Our Lord's characterization of gentiles in this way is consistent with the Law's representation of Israel as a holy community set apart by God and for God as a lamp of witness to the unbelieving world. When it became clear through her words that this woman did indeed believe in Him, our Lord acted towards her with appropriate mercy in accordance with her faith. 

5) Yes. I take this to mean that Herod Agrippa's acceptance of this praise, proclaiming him to be God (and no doubt thinking as much in his heart), was the "last straw", so to speak, rather than the entire reason for his being struck down. After all, his catalog of sins shared with us in scripture includes the execution of the apostle James. Even in the English versions, it is not necessary to see his death as owing solely to this act of hubris. The lesson is that the wicked may prosper for quite some time before finally being judged, but that God is always taking all things into account. 

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10:  

Dear Professor,

Another set of questions for you.

What does James mean in James 3:1: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment."

Response #10: 

Good to hear from you as always. As to your questions . . .

I see James 3:1 as fairly straightforward – and sobering. I have always taken the responsibility of pronouncing on the Word of God very seriously, and I would hope that all other Christians who are gifted to teach would do so as well. Truth is the most important thing in the world, and if a person is 1) not gifted so as to be able to handle it and teach it correctly; or 2) not willing to prepare in order to be able to do so effectively, or 3) not willing to do so in the right way every time he takes up the Word to explain it and proclaim it, then said person would be much better off not ever having anything to do with a teaching ministry. James addresses this to those who are not gifted, but also to those who are but for whatever reason are not qualified or are otherwise unwilling to do the hard work necessary to find and teach the truth in a "rightly divided" way (2Tim.2:15). I find this sentiment completely consistent with all Paul has to say in the pastoral epistles about the qualifications of those who teach the Word.

Question #11:  

What does Paul mean by 'be angry, and yet do not sin' in Eph. 4:26?

Response #11: 

I have this one written up at the link: "In your anger, do not sin". Essentially, we are dealing here not with a contradiction but with another unfortunate translation. Here is how I would render the verse:

(26) When you are upset, don't give in to sin; don't let the sun set while you are still upset (i.e., don't brood over this irritation). (27) That will only give the devil an opportunity.
Ephesians 4:26-27

Question #12:  

Could you please clarify Hebrews 5:11-14: "Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."

What specifically does Paul mean here by 'milk' and 'solid food'?

Response #12: 

Paul is referring to basic versus advanced doctrinal teaching. Much of this ministry is, because of the lateness of the hour, devoted to eschatology, but I recommend readers start with the Peter series and then move on to Basics while reading (and back-reading) the email responses before moving onto the Satanic Rebellion series and finally Coming Tribulation. There is a natural order to many of these things, and as some of the more contentious questions I receive and field on the weekly postings makes very clear, there are many believers who have Bildungslόcken (i.e., serious gaps in their doctrinal education). In such cases, these gaps must be filled in elementary teachings before one can move on to "meat". For example, it is difficult for me to explain the resurrection to those who do not yet understand the essential dichotomous nature of Man. There are many such examples. As a teacher by profession, I always find myself back-tracking and re-explaining things that theoretically students in the upper division classes should already know about Greek and Latin. I have learned of what I call the "rule of twelve". That is, I often have to mention some principle twelve times before some students come to understand that it is important and finally begin to pay attention. Teaching is repetition, and not only that: it is repetition from different angles to try and find the best way to "get through" to whatever particular student (or Christian) is having a hard time grasping about what is being taught. I think this is probably why the smartest people often make the worst teachers. They cannot fathom how someone else just doesn't seem to get what comes so easily to them. Finally, as this passage makes clear, for believers the issue is more complicated than it is for someone learning, say, calculus. Negative behavior, spiritual decline, tending toward apostasy causes a person to doubt what they have been taught in the past so that the truth once residing in the heart can thereby be effectively lost (see the link: Epignosis). Truth has to be believed in order to be useful to the person and to the Spirit in His ministry to that person. Failure to believe in the first place or backsliding on a path of doubt undo much of what had been done and require retraining if the person is going to recover: as in the case of these first century Jerusalem believers who had backed off of their previous good approach and so had lost a lot of ground, much milk was now needed again before meat could be "digestible".

Question #13:  

Can you explain what happened to Paul here?

I know a man, [a believer] in Christ – fourteen years earlier such a one was snatched up to the third heaven (in his body perhaps, or out of it, I don't know – God knows). And I know that this man (in his body perhaps, or out of it, I don't know – God knows) was snatched up to paradise, and heard inexpressible words which are not permissible for a man to speak.
2nd Corinthians 12:2-4

Response #13: 

On 2nd Corinthians 12:2-4, there are two possibilities, namely, that he was (temporarily) dead or experiencing a vision. We cannot say which was the case because Paul says "I do not know". As to the former, I suppose it is possible that this reported experience occurred when Paul was stoned (to death?) at Lystra in Acts 14:9 (although his statement that this happened "fourteen years earlier" is hard to reconcile with the probable date of 2nd Corinthians), or in some other similar situation (Paul's ministry, after all, was fraught with such "near death" experiences; cf. 2Cor.11:23-27). Assuming he was dead, he would have been "out of THIS body" and in an interim one. If, on the other hand, he was not dead, then, regardless of when the experience occurred, it would have been a case of being placed in a state of prophetic rapture along the lines of the apostle John when is later given the Revelation of Jesus Christ (see the link: "in the Spirit" under Revelation 1:9-11).

Question #14:   

A question regarding the translation of a part of Hebrews 4:2. In English, the passage goes (NASB):

'...but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard'.

If I understand the meaning well, the word did not profit some, as the hearing of the word should be united with faith. Although, Polish translation of this passage says something close to this:

'...but the word they heard did not profit them, because they didn't unite through the faith with those, who heard it'.

So in English translation this part of the passage is about uniting the word heard with faith, in Polish, it's about 'uniting in faith with whose, who heard the word'. Polish version doesn't seem to be making sense considering the beginning part of the passage, which states clearly that both those who were and were not benefitted by the word, did hear it, but I would rather be sure. Please clarify.

Response #14: 

The Polish translation is incorrect, but at least it has quite a bit of company. About half of the major English versions commit the same error. The reason is a variant text of the participle translated as "united" in your version (literally, "mixed"), and it is a very slight textual problem in terms of spelling which, however, has rather large repercussions. Reading the ending -os it refers to "the Word"; reading the ending -ous, however, makes the participle refer to "they", namely, the people who erred (a one letter difference: an added upsilon). If the latter is read, it forces us to do something else with "those who heard", i.e., they then have to become a different group. That clearly creates a problem of meaning, while on the other hand "mixing" the Word of God with faith (i.e., -os not ous) not only makes perfect sense but also fits the vocabulary choices Paul makes here (i.e., not "mixing" people with other people in faith strikes a sensitive Greek reader as beyond strange, not least because of the verb).

So why do so many versions opt to go with a text and a translation which defies meaningful translation and obviously violates the entire sense of the paragraph? This is one of those very rare situations where secular scholars and King James partisans have made common cause (in a bad cause). Secularists read -ous precisely because it is harder to translate. The technical name for this in textual criticism is lectio difficilior, namely, all other things being equal, the more difficult variant is probably correct because a simple reading will not be a problem but one which was hard for a scribe to understand might be unconsciously or consciously "corrected" (wrongly so). The issue here, however, is that all things are not equal. Just before the participle we find the pronoun ekeinous, "those people" (i.e., "they"), and it happens to end in the same exact ending with which the participle ends, when wrongly read. That is to say, it was a very natural mistake when reading this not at all easy passage to want to take the participle with the pronoun as two things which should go together. The participle really should agree with logos, the Word, but as a Greek reader – and a teacher of those whose Greek is somewhat challenged (as would be the case with many a later scribe) – it is very easy for me to see how the mistake was made (with the -ous being projected forward).

The other problem is that of the "King James-onlyists". There is a movement afoot in this country to rehabilitate the KJV even in places where it is clearly wrong because it was based on only a handful of late texts (all of our best manuscripts, for example, came to light centuries later). The way in which this foolish attempt is being done is by giving priority to the much later Byzantine manuscripts on the grounds that they are more numerous. This is of course nonsensical on the face of it: a single 3rd century ms. ought just on the basis of its date to be given more weight than 10,000 mss. which date to the 14th century – especially when and if the early ms. proves its mettle in the repeated trial and error of textual criticism (as the 3/4 cent. ms. Sinaiticus certainly has). I would imagine that the Polish translation has been influenced by the Latin Vulgate, given the Roman Catholic connection. The Vulgate reads admixt s (i.e., like -ous going with "them") rather than admixtus as if going with sermo (loosely for logos).

This is an important issue inasmuch as it is critical to understand that the Word and faith have to "marry up" for any spiritual growth to occur, whereas it is the resistance to believing the Word (as opposed to just hearing it) which may result in apostasy.

Question #15: 

Could you please clarify Ephesians 4:21-24?

(21) [For you have learned the truth] – if, at any rate, you have truly heard Him (i.e., Jesus) and have been instructed in Him according to what is [definitely] true in Jesus – (22) that in respect to your previous behavior you have put off the old Man, the one that is being destroyed by deceptive lusts, (23) and that instead you are being re-made in the spirit of your mind, (24) and that you have put on the new Man, the one created in righteousness and sanctity of the truth according to God's standards.

I know you explain the passage in the paragraph just below it, but I still find it hard to understand the expression 'in the spirit of your mind'. As you point - mind is the interface and 'in the spirit of the interface' or 'in the spirit of a place where the two parts of us interact' seems less clear to me than for example just 'in the spirit', pointing to the spiritual, rather than bodily dimension of our existence. Also, what does the 'spirit of the mind' precisely mean in itself?

Response #15: 

My translation is a bit literal. The Greek phrase is toi pneumati tou noos hymon (τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ νοὸς ὑμῶν), and means "literally" just that: "in the spirit of your mind". Most of the major versions do the same thing, no doubt because expanding the translation would in this particular case require straying rather far from the original. Possible alternatives: "in your spirit and in your mind"; "in your spirit as it joins with your mind"; "in your mind as it is informed by your spirit". One could just say "in your heart" – that is what this phrase essentially means, but that would miss Paul's deliberate breaking down of the interface between the two. The "mind" is the fleshly part while the spirit is the immaterial part, and the described here renewal requires the truth coming in from the spirit (received from the Spirit) and influencing, retraining, and re-indoctrinating the fleshly "mind". That is in large part what spiritual growth is. Please see the link: "Epignosis, Christian Epistemology, and Spiritual Growth".

Question #16: 

You wrote: 'The bloody loss of life is a clear picture of the horrendous death that Christ would die on our behalf to rescue us from death (1Cor.5:7b).'

Could you explain why you use this passage to support this point?

Response #16: 

1st Corinthians 5:7b NIV: "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed".

The passage makes the same direct analogy, to wit, of Christ to the sacrificed lamb.

Question #17:  

Could you please clarify 1 Corinthians 10:3-4:

3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

In what sense does Paul mean that the 'rock was Christ'? Does it mean that all epiphanies from the beginning of time were our Lord Jesus Christ?

Response #17: 

Most ephiphanies in scripture have been of Jesus Christ (with some exceptions such as Daniel chapter 7). For example, Isaiah chapter six was actually speaking of Jesus, not the Father:

Isaiah said this ([i.e., chapter six]) because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him.
John 12:41 NIV

See the links:

BB 1 "Theophany and Christophany"

BB 4: "Old Testament Appearances of Jesus Christ"

Jesus Christ in the Old Testament (Christophany: Genesis 3:8)

Christophany in Exodus

Jacob wrestling with Jesus

Did Jacob really wrestle with Jesus?

Question #18: 

Could you explain Matthew 7:6 and provide a real life example of the application of this passage?

Response #18: 

For example, if a person were to confront the local drug dealers on their corner, holding up a Bible and "preaching" about the gospel and the need to repent, about heaven and hell, about all manner of true thing in scripture, even it was clear from the beginning that these people had absolutely no interest in the truth, and if these people beat that person up as a result, well, while said person might claim to be a "martyr for Christ", in fact he/she should have paid heed to these words of Jesus first. After all, it was not for no reason that our Lord spoke to most of His unbelieving audiences in parables. Confronting the unrepentant and hostile wicked with their wickedness is not our job. We are responsible for sharing Christ with those who are at least somewhat willing to receive the message. Once we perceive that a certain person or group is not at all receptive and may in fact be hostile, that would be a case of "giving what is sacred to dogs" and "pearls to swine", and the result might very well be our being torn and trampled for our efforts.

Question #19:  

Could you explain the meaning of Colossians 4:6? What does Paul mean when he says that our conversation should be 'seasoned with salt'?

Response #19: 

In biblical terms, salt represents potency in a good way (cf. Lev.2:13; Num.18:19; Matt.5:13). This is a way of saying that believers need to be careful about everything they say (cf. Col.3:8; Jas.1:26; 3:5-9), and that, ideally, everything we say should reflect God's truth in a spirit of faith, love, and mutual encouragement (a high standard indeed).

Question #20:  

What prophecies does Paul mean in 1 Timothy 1:18?

I give you this command, Timothy my child, in accordance with the prophecies that were made long ago about you, that you conduct a good campaign, one that is in keeping with them.

Response #20: 

1st Timothy 1:18 reflects an aspect of the apostolic era which is no longer true today, namely, that of miraculous spiritual gifts – for want of a better name (clearly, everything God does for us and through us is miraculous). In the days of the apostles, however, in order to "jump start" the incipient Church, certain gifts were given which were not only miraculous but were also plainly and evidently so. That is to say, the fact that someone can find and teach the truth of the Word is a miracle, but unbelievers may not see it that way because it does not evidently contradict the materialism they live by (since they don't believe the truth anyway). But for a person without training to begin to speak in a language they have never been exposed to before is an evident and undeniable miracle (e.g., Acts 2:7-12 – and even then hardened unbelievers will try to find a material explanation: Acts 2:13). Healing was another such gift, and so was prophesying. Knowing the future or future events is impossible today, but there were, during the brief time of the apostles, "prophets" in both biblical senses of the word (i.e., both of "foretelling and forth-telling"). The forth-telling part made the truth available to congregations where there may not have been complete copies of the scripture and where there probably was not a full-time pastor who had the training and experience to feed the sheep. The foretelling aspect was used by God to close other gaps (as in Agabus' prophecy of the famine: Acts 11:28-30), and also to demonstrate the truth of gospel and encourage those who heard (as in Paul's prophesy of the saving of the crew of the ship taking him to Rome: Acts 27:23-26). To return to the specific passage you ask about, I take it to mean that there were prophets who were given to make prophecies about the course of Timothy's life, indicating the good service he would accomplish for the Lord and for His Church. Paul knew about these (and may have heard or even pronounced them himself), and is encouraging Timothy to remember them and take heart. Timothy had the blessing of having specific promises made about himself in verbal way, but God has made us many promises too which we would all do well to "bind upon our foreheads", and has given us each individually many specific encouragements which we would likewise do well to "treasure up in our hearts".

Question #21:  

I would like you to explain the relationship between Deut 6:13 and Matt 5:33-37 - the first one says ' Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name' and the second one 'But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all'.

Response #21: 

On Deut.6:13 vs. Matt.5:33-37, the key point here is that Jesus was talking to these people personally. That is, they were actually looking at God's promise fulfilled in the face of Christ. Our Lord fulfilled the shadows of the Law and in many instances clarified or modified it – or better put He brought out the true force of it for us to see more clearly. In this case, since God is perfect and we are not, making vows is a dangerous business since we will be in danger of not fulfilling them if we do, at least until they have been fulfilled. Vows were a part of the Old Testament regime which for what I hope are obvious reasons no longer obtains. Jacob said,

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."
Genesis 28:20-22 NIV

Now in Old Testament times, maybe something like this could have been seen as commendable, but now that Jesus has appeared in the flesh and actually died for our sins, now that God is visible in the face of Christ, we do not need (or should not need) such a binding of our will in order bring about the outcomes we desire. For Jesus has passed beyond the veil of the heavens and appears for us on our behalf as our High Priest continually. Since God has made our hope tangible and visible in the humanity of Jesus Christ, vows, instead of a substitute for being able to see Him have become, since His appearance in the world, a somewhat arrogant indication of lack of faith which doubts what God can do. That is to say, before the incarnation it may have been permissible to use this crutch for faith, binding one's will to the prospect that God would do what one desired. But now that the Great Object of our faith has been given to us and we have "beheld His glory" (Jn.1:14), reducing things to such a transaction really does "come from the evil one" (Matt.5:37). Jesus has promised us that He will do whatever we ask of Him (Jn.14:). That ought to be enough for anyone.

Question #22:  

What does Paul mean by 'it' in 1 Thes. 3:1: 'So when we could stand it no longer...'?

Response #22: 

The "it" is not actually there in the Greek. Greek frequently leaves out the direct object when that object is obvious to the reader (but of course it is not always so obvious to the non-native reader – which now we all are). Paul actually says meketi stegontes, "no longer bearing up", and the idea is "no longer being able to endure not knowing how you were doing, whether you were persevering in the faith or not". That is the idea which is the antecedent of the "it" supplied in most translations. While we do not have a case of it here, it is also very common in Greek to use a neuter (singular or plural) to refer to an entire previous context or idea, even though there may not be a single prior neuter noun to act as a technically correct antecedent.

Question #23:  

Could you please explain what does Paul mean by 'firstfruits of the Spirit' in Romans 8:23?

23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Response #23: 

Here is how I translate the context:

(23) And not only the created world, but we too who have received the Holy Spirit as a foretaste [of the good things to come] agonize within ourselves as we eagerly await our adoption, that is, the redemption of our body (i.e. resurrection). (24) This is the hope with which we were saved.
Romans 8:23-24a

I take this to mean that the power and wonder of the Spirit's ministry to us in all things is a blessed preview of the wonders and glories to come in resurrection and in eternity. In the context, this only makes us all the more desirous for what is to come and less interested in what is here and now (except as our continuing lives represent an opportunity to do what Jesus would have us to do, honor Him, and earn rewards that glorify Him).

Question #24:   

Could you please clarify Galatians 3:19-20:

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

Who does Paul mean as a 'mediator'? Is Moses a 'mediator'? Why does it imply 'more than one party'?

Response #24: 

Galatians 3:19-20 is another argument Paul uses to show how grace is better than the Law which it has effectively replaced for believers in Jesus Christ. A mediator, like Moses, stands between parties A and B. Therefore in such situations there are three parties: party A, the mediator, and party B. But for believers in Jesus Christ, there is now direct access to God Himself. We do not need a priest as in the Mosaic regime. We can pray, and confess, and commune directly with God through the Spirit who is in us in the Name of the Son who likewise indwells us. This is an incredibly blessed situation, and far superior to what obtained under the Law before Jesus washed away all sin and entered the true holy of holies in heaven and subsequently sent His Spirit to empower us!

Question #25: 

The language Paul uses in his epistles is, I need to admit, difficult at times. Could you please clarify this part of Romans 3:

This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Response #25: 

Romans 3:25b-26 is speaking of the fact that God did not condemn human beings who believed before the cross even though their sins had not at that time been expiated by the work of Jesus Christ. That is the "forbearance" mentioned here. So these verses are very much dependent in their meaning on verses 23-25a: "all sin" (v.23); but "all [who believe] are justified" (v.24), because God the Father made Jesus "the mercy seat", i.e., "means of propitiation" (v.25a) . . . and this resulted in the demonstration of His righteousness in temporarily overlooking prior sins (v.25b-26a) – that is, even though He overlooked them temporarily, He was just to do so because He made good on paying for them through the blood of His Son when His time came – and so He is just in what He has done in the past (saving those for whom Christ would die later) and what He is doing now in "justifying the one who has faith in Jesus" (v.26b) – because the price has now clearly been paid. So although everyone sins, God is just to save everyone who is willing to be saved through faith, because Christ died for all.

Question #26: 

Could you please clarify Romans 3:25-26?

'He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus'.

What does Paul mean by 'beforehand'?

Response #26: 

As in the answer to the previous question, the sins committed "beforehand" are all the sins of the whole world committed before the cross. God did not punish these sins as they deserved. Instead, he allowed human beings to continue to live out their lives and even be saved – on "credit", so to speak, with His Plan looking forward to the day when Christ would be judged for all sins. The cross is the great dividing point of all history from the divine point of view.

Question #27:  

Could you please clarify 1 Peter 4:6: "For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit."

Does Paul mean that:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead (spiritually), so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body (meaning they will be judged and condemned by those who are still spiritually dead, since they have accepted Jesus as Lord and hence have been brought from the state of spiritual death into spiritual life), but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Please correct my understanding.

Response #27: 

Yes, I think you have it essentially. The main thing I would wish to clarify here is that "judged according to men" means "convicted [by the Spirit] as all men are". All who are spiritually dead who also receive the gospel receive it not to be condemned but to be saved, and an important part of the gospel is the prior knowledge of our own mortality, sinfulness, and impending judgment. Recognizing this through the Spirit's ministry is the "judgment in regard to the body", which recognition of how far short we fall prepares us for the gospel. As a result, upon accepting the gospel message through faith in Christ, we receive [eternal] life "according to the Spirit". Please see the link: "1st Peter 4:6".

Question #28: 

You wrote: "corrupt/corruption" (Rom.1:23; 1Cor.15:50; Gal.6:8; Eph.4:22; 2Pet.1:4; 2:12; 2:19): These terms emphasize the ephemeral nature of our present body and its incompatibility with eternity, both of which conditions come about as a result of inherent sin."

The term 'corrupt'/ 'corruption' isn't used in 2Pet 2:12, at least not in the translations I checked.

Response #28: 

Often mistranslated. Here is KJV:

But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption (Greek pthora, φθορα).
2nd Peter 2:12 KJV

Most versions do say "destruction" or something similar which is not necessarily wrong but misses the central point of the degradation of our present impermanence.

Question #29:  

Could you please clarify Hebrews 12:13: "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Does it mean that by trying our best to live a sinless life we make a 'level path', instead of one where, by exposing ourselves to temptations, we may be 'disabled'?

Response #29: 

On Hebrews 12:13, yes, that is the general idea. Here is how I translate it:

(12) Therefore (going back to the race analogy of v.1), pick up those hands hanging slack at your side, put some strength back into your weak knees, (13) and make straight tracks for your feet, so that, [even though you fell down,] what you sprained might not be twisted completely out of joint, but might instead work its way back to health.
Hebrews 12:12-13

These verses come in the context of Paul's explanation of divine discipline and encouragement to endure it: God punishes us as sons. We need to accept that this means He loves us (and not get discouraged or react angrily). But in order to benefit from correction if we are "off track" in our Christian life, we need to get right back on track just as soon as we realize we have tripped ourselves up. That way, our spiritual "legs" will heal, but otherwise we risk doing them permanent damage (i.e., if we dally with apostasy long enough we may fall into it – or the sin unto death).

Question #30:  

What does Jesus mean in Luke 11:34: The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.

Is this a metaphor?

Response #30: 

This refers to the self-induced spiritual blindness that comes over a person when they consistently reject the truth. I cover the companion passage in Matthew in BB 4B at "Phase 2 Hardening of the Heart: Rejection of the Truth". Here is part of that:

The "bad eye" or inability to perceive the light referred to by our Lord immediately above is indeed a problem of perception, but the spiritual blindness such persons are suffering under is one which has been entirely self-induced (Prov.5:6). No longer do we have a passive ignorance wherein the truth is merely ignored. Now we have an active or prejudicial ignorance wherein any new offering of truth is energetically opposed and firmly rejected. As Ephesians 3:18 puts it, they are "separated from the life of God because of this [willful] ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts [against the truth]". This blindness to and studied ignorance of the truth is the result of hardening one's heart against it to the point where no openness to it remains.

Question #31:  

Could you please clarify John 19:11: Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."

Does Jesus say these words, because Pilate's position and hence responsibility comes from above, whereas what Judas did was his own free will? I'm trying to establish the logic of this statement and link Pilate's authority with the reason why his sin is smaller.

Response #31: 

Yes, I think that is a good way of putting it. Pilate accedes to the pressure and unjustly condemns our Lord, but this is not a situation he sought out. He buckled and perverted justice out of self-preservation. Judas, on the other hand as we recall, "was searching for an opportunity to betray Him" (Matt.26:16; Mk.14:11; Lk.22:6). Both are horrible sins, but the latter is worse than the former.

Question #32:  

Why does Jesus in John 21:15 ask Peter: "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' "

Did Jesus think Peter loved him more than other apostles? Also, why does Jesus appear to Peter first (1Cor.15:5)?

Response #32: 

Actually, Mary Magdalene was the first one to see our Lord in resurrection (please see the link: in BB 4A: "The Chronology of the Resurrection"). As the events in Acts show, Peter was the natural leader of the other ten remaining disciples, so this conversation is applicable to them all – and to all of us. The point of the threefold question is to stress the importance of the primary task of their ministry (and the essential focus of all ministry), namely, "feed my sheep" (i.e., spread the truth of the Word of God which is our true spiritual food). If we love Jesus, we will do what He tells us.

"You are my friends (philoi, φιλοι, "those I love"), if you do what I command."
John 15:14 NIV

Here is what I say in BB 4A about this:

In this appearance, in addition to demonstrating yet again the real, physical nature of His new body, our Lord impresses upon Peter as the leader of the eleven the necessity for them all to "feed my sheep" (Jn.21:15-17), that is, to provide the Body of Christ with nutritious spiritual food on a consistent and regular basis, with "eating" then being a picture of faith in the truth being taught (Matt.24:45; Lk.12:42; Acts 20:28; 1Cor.3:2; 1Tim.4:6; Heb.5:12-14; 1Pet.2:2; 1Pet.5:2; cf. Matt.14:16; Mk.6:37; Lk.9:13; Jude 1:12).

Question #33:  

Could you please clarify the following passage:

For this reason we toil and strive, for we have put our hope in the Living God who is the Savior of all men, especially believers.
1st Timothy 4:10

What does Paul mean by 'especially believers'? I thought it is only the believers that can be saved.

Response #33: 

As to 1st Timothy 4:10, you are correct that only believers can be saved. The difference Paul is exploiting here is the difference between potential and actual salvation. Jesus died for everyone so that everyone might be saved (Jn.3:16). He is, therefore, the Savior of the world. But He is especially the Savior of us who have accepted Him as our substitute for sin that we might be saved. He is Savior of all: 1) of those who could have been saved if they had been willing to be saved since He did die for them to be able to be saved; 2) and especially of those who actually did honor Him by believing in Him and following Him in this life so as to actually and not just potentially be saved.

Question #34:  

There is a part of John 16:8-11 that I cannot understand:

When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will call the world to account regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment:
- regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me.
- regarding righteousness, because I am going to my Father and you are not going to be seeing Me any longer.
- regarding judgment, because the ruler of this world has now been judged.
John 16:8-11

When Jesus says 'regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me', the meaning is quite clear - only if we believe in Him is our sin paid for. In similar vein, when Jesus says 'regarding judgment, because the ruler of this world has now been judged', that is quite clear too (and you have referred to this passage a few times in previous studies, angelology in particular) - Satan's rule has now been broken and he stands condemned. Although, I cannot link the righteousness with what follows - 'because I am going to my Father and you are not going to see Me any longer'. Could you please clarify how does righteousness link to these words?

Response #34: 

These verses often cause confusion and one can find a multitude of interpretations for them, and I think it is fair to say that the middle part is often at the heart of the confusion. The first thing that it is necessary to remember and keep in mind here is that it is the coming of the Spirit which is the key point being expanded, and that main function of the Spirit – at least in the context of the ministry Jesus is describing – is evangelism, bringing the world to salvation (or at least as much of it as will be willing to be saved). In the context of working toward that end, the Spirit will make clear sin, righteousness and judgment. As I have had occasion to line out in BB 4B Soteriology at some length, everyone in their life becomes aware of their own sinfulness, the impossibility of being good enough for God on their own, and their own mortality following which they will find themselves sinners, dead, and facing the judgment of a perfectly righteous God. These are the "pressure points" that the Spirit is said here by our Lord to target once He has finished His mission of evangelism and of providing salvation through His death:

(8) "When [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will call the world to account regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment: (9) regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me[, the only One who can forgive their sins]; (10) regarding righteousness, because I am going to my Father and you are not going to be seeing Me any longer [as the standard of righteousness]; (11) regarding judgment, because the ruler of this world has been convicted [already, demonstrating that all who do not believe are destined for judgment]."
John 16:8-11

Question #35:  

What does Paul mean by:

'19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God'.

I would have thought that the believers cannot wait to be revealed as sons of God, but the meaning of 'creation' in this context is unclear to me.

I keep praying for you, your ministry and all the issues you're going through at the moment.

In Christ,

Response #35: 

In Romans 8:19 Paul is focusing our hope forward by reminding us that the Millennium wherein we will enjoy our first 1,000 years of resurrection will be a time of blessing for everyone and everything. To do so, he personifies the entirety of God's creation and reminds us of all the blessings of that wonderful time to come when even nature will be relieved of many of the aspects of the Genesis curse which make this life and this present world so unpleasant at times. During the Millennium, the "lion will lie down with the lamb", and the creation or natural world will also enjoy a time of the greatest prosperity it has known since Eden. Therefore it "longs" for that time; it is figure of speech, but we can appreciate Paul's point that everything God has made will be blessed abundantly at the time, and so "looks forward to it" even as we ourselves do. For more on millennial blessings see the link: "The Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ".

Thank you once again for some very penetrating questions – and also for your keen eye in helping me to sand down the rough edges. And thank you so much for your prayers (you remain in mine as well day by day).

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

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