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Culture and Christianity XVI:

Alcohol, Money and Dietary Issues

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Question #1:

Dr. Luginbill,

I have not written in some time but I am still a student of yours. I continue to pray for you and your ministry. I thank The Lord for leading me to the material on your site and that you are available via email.

I mainly am writing to ask for your prayers, as they are much needed. I have an ailment with a currently unknown cause that is making me miserable. I am fatigued all day every day to the point that it is very trying emotionally. With your background in the marines I assume you are familiar with the effects of rather rigorous exercise. I used to run half-marathons, and after 13 miles of trying to get the best time I could get, I would feel a very unnatural fatigue either later the day of or on the day after, once the runner's high had subsided. That is the closest thing I can compare this ailment to, feeling like that 24/7. I have been feeling this way for around 9 or 10 months. It is awful, effecting my mood and productivity, and I do not feel like I can be effective for The Lord this way, or effective at anything I wish to pursue in the small amount of use of the world that we are permitted. I am exasperated.

I have experienced a lot since we last wrote, the past year being one of the most trying of my life. Through it all, the Lord has provided for me. If I listed everything that had gone on it would sound like incessant complaining, so to be brief I do remember mentioning in writing to you that I sometimes drank too much, but I don't think I went into the extent of the problem. I could not safely quit without medical assistance, as withdrawals were so bad that my life would be endangered without medication and observation. I ended up in jail for a couple of days and then rehab for 90 days. Neither place was fun, and in both places I was persecuted for my faith, and in jail The Lord had to intervene on my behalf to protect me from harm. I know that He does so every day, but just more obviously so during those days. I do believe I experienced significant demonic attacks at both places, and more attacks at a halfway house for recovering addicts that I stayed at for 7 months with as many as 11 other addicts/alcoholics. I remembered in those times that you said on your site to not take it personally, and it was very comforting to me.

I was fortunate enough to be able to move out of there and into a house that I like with 2 roommates from the treatment facility that I went to. I have been at this house for around 40 days and already life is less trying. On the 30th I will have been sober 1 year, and for that I am thankful. I just am unable to be productive though because of my mystery illness, and it has certainly been depressing me. I am so ready to have my life get back to normal, but I just cannot do the things I want to do. I've only been able to work part-time and have been a financial burden on my family.

I have been blessed through this all beyond measure. The Lord has given me the spiritual foundation to stay sane through rather insane circumstances. I was able to resist the brain-washing of the 90 days of court-ordered rehab with my faith intact. I lived through a situation in jail that I thought would kill me or permanently injure me. And I feel The Lord has "fast-tracked" me to get me into a place spiritually that helps to make up for lost time if that makes sense, though I know in a way time is something we can never get back. I have not completely regained the feeling of closeness to The Lord that I had before my substance abuse got as severe as it did, but I continue to learn how to cope with everything that has happened in a way that I hope is pleasing to Him. And on top of it all, He has given me enough knowledge or wisdom, which I have prayed for, that I feel that my eyes have been opened beyond anything I could have imagined. My perspective is different now, and I hope more like Christ would have it be. I do admit that with knowledge comes a strong temptation to become cynical toward the world. Some cynicism is probably Godly, too much would mute productivity I suspect.

I look at some people that went through similar situations to myself that I met at rehab, and some of them quit drugs and everything appears to be just fantastic in their life with their families and their careers etc. Some (most?) relapsed and went "back out there." I, on the other hand, continue to struggle with not having the emotions I once had and with this fatigue. I hope it is a test, and I certainly hope it is temporary. I know that I have permanently altered my life, but I know The Lord can and will deliver me. I do not know when.

This is just a brief outline really. So much has come of all this that it would take a novel to cover. Some I will probably write you about to seek spiritual guidance, but I mainly ask for your prayers for my recovery spiritually and physically, and for the financial relief of my family.

You may post this on your site. Please add this new email address to the list. Also, I don't know how often you get questions about substance abuse etc, but since I have a wealth of information on the inner workings of alcoholics anonymous, I would gently caution against ever recommending it to anyone, especially believers, on the occasion that it ever arises as a question.

I hope and pray and that you have been well.

In Christ Jesus, through Whom we overcome the world.

Response #1:

I have been keeping you in my prayers all along and will certainly add these concerns. And I've also added your new email to my mailing list.

I have had plenty of contact with those who are or who have family members who are dealing with similar problems. It's not an easy situation, so you are to be commended for getting your act together! It's got to be one of the most difficult things ever. I'm not certain (for lack of personal experience), but I would imagine that AA is popular and needed by so many because most people cannot do what you are doing, namely, take themselves in hand and turn it around – or for whatever reason are not really willing to do so (it's certainly not an easy thing to do). So I would imagine that most people respond better to being controlled by others for results in this area. That's not the best place to be spiritually, no doubt. I'm agnostic about the efficacy of such groups since I don't really know enough about them, but I guess it has always been my hope (when being made aware of someone I know or a contact of someone I know who is in one) that this can be a stage toward getting straightened out rather a life-long thing.

On your illness, besides prayer, I'm certain that God gives other means to us for a reason too. We don't want to be like Asa who, "though his disease was severe, even in his illness . . . did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians" (2Chron.16:12), but we also don't want to be like the man in the famous old joke who drowned in a flood after refusing to take help from a boat and a helicopter that came by (only to be told when he met God that God had sent them). So I would hope that someone might be able to diagnose your problem. Believe me when I say that the older one gets the more it seems that the limitations of modern medicine become more and more apparent. We all have to find "work-arounds" for more and more problems, but with some help and prudent balancing, it is often possible to make do. You are struggling with the work-arounds; maybe you could also get some help (if not a miracle cure). God can heal you. He also often lets us struggle through these things for reasons that might not be all that clear at the time. For one thing, maybe you still need a little extra time to devote to the truth. Which brings me to the "emotion" thing. I am very emotional about the truth (in a good way), but I can also tell you that consistently feeling close to the Lord is something which comes from actually being close to Him and from actually pursuing a closer relationship with Him day by day. It's impossible to fake this sort of thing, and it's never a straight-line progression upward – and it's also not like a person ever completely "arrives" here on this earth. But it is true that the more consistent we are with our prayer life, our Bible reading, and most especially with our Bible study from a good and tested source, hearing, believing, and applying the truth more and more day by day, that the closer we will feel to the Lord – because the closer we will actually be to Him. If you are already fighting this fight, be encouraged to know that even after deep dips this confidence in Him will rebound eventually (a couple of links: "Who controls our thoughts and emotions?", "Spiritual ups and downs", "Virtue in Spiritual Warfare", and "Peter #29").

It is good to have a biblically realistic attitude towards the world (characterize it however you will). We have nothing here that we will take out of the world except the spiritual victories we win. The really crazy thing about life is that although this is painfully obvious to all, most people live their lives just as if they were going to live forever in this world. Cracking through that false barrier and the "myth happiness" that supports it (see the link) is an important step in arranging one's life and one's life-course in a good and godly way.

I would be happy to hear your critique of AA. Even for those who are personally or indirectly benefitted by it, it's always better to know the whole truth. Always.

Keeping you in my prayers, my friend!

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Question on Alcohol and/or Wine

The Church I grew up in believes in total abstention of alcohol. I have a problem condemning myself for having a drink or two or having a glass of wine when my wife and I go out for dinner. I restrict my consumption to one drink, maybe two if I am not the driver. I do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone with what I have approved for myself, in accordance with the scriptures I have studied on this subject. My minister says I need to keep this between me and God. I feel that my rights are being controlled by those who do not have the same conviction I have about alcohol. If I go to a store to purchase alcoholic drinks, I find myself thinking what if someone from the Church, not God, sees me here. Surely I should not be required to live in a bubble. My study of the Bible condemns excessive drinking and habitual drinking (drunkard and or drunkenness) but does not require abstention. I do not feel I should crusade my right, if in fact I have one in this regard. After all, most of the congregation grew up in this Church and were taught from a child that any alcohol was condemning. Have they studied the word or just following? Timothy 3:2-3 (repeated in Titus 1:7-7) states in part a Bishop or Elder must "not be given to wine". 1 Timothy 3:8 states in part a Deacon "must not be given to much wine" KJV. This does not seem to say abstention for either office, however does show more restriction for Bishop/Elder than for Deacon. There is nothing specific for the regular members of the Church. But surely they are not held to a higher standard than the officer of the Church?

What say you?


Response #2:

Good to hear from you again, my friend. This is a very cogent analysis on your part, and to my mind explains the issue biblically. The Bible does not prohibit the drinking of alcohol – even if some churches to – nor does it even frown on it – even if some churches do – nor does it make an issue of it – even if some churches do. It is of course sinful (and dangerous) to become drunk, and it is also clearly even more dangerous, and spiritually and physically debilitating, to fall into a pattern of alcohol abuse. So it is not a bad idea at all for anyone who has problems in this regard to abstain. It is a bad idea to try and foist that application on every believer in order to head off abuse on the part of a few.

It seems to me that you have correctly balanced all the issues here, so I have not much more to add, except to say that the legalism which infests the church visible today is much more dangerous than may appear to be the case; i.e., what can be so bad about telling Christians not to drink? Everything, if it is put out that this is what the Bible says when this is not what the Bible says. If we take that approach, we might as well become Roman Catholics; we certainly won't remain believers for long if we allow others to tell us the Bible says what it doesn't say. That is the stuff of cults, even if the "intentions" are good on some level. Legalism is the false practice of establishing arbitrary standards which are not entirely biblical, and then defining one's spirituality and spiritual status by conforming to these false and dubious standards. In other words, it's precisely what the Pharisees did, and most of them are not even in heaven today.

Here are a few links where the subject is discussed at Ichthys:

Are Christians forbidden alcohol?

Should Christian leaders refrain from drinking in public?

Alcohol use by Christians


What does the Bible mean by "wine"?

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3:

Leviticus 10:9-11 (NASB):
9 "Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die-it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations- 10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses."

I've just been reading this verse now, shortly after my questions about the clean and unclean animals and the reason behind God's distinction, which was the symbolic the separation between the clean and unclean, so that Israel would be holy and distinguished from heathen nations. It seems that this verse could be used as a reference - drinking alcohol is not a sin in and of itself, both in the Old and the New Testament, yet here Aaron is told not to do that, with God explicitly clarifying that the purpose is "so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane". What do you think?

Response #3:

Aaron drank alcohol. He only was warned not to do so "when you come into the tent of meeting" (Lev.10:9) – which means when approaching God in his capacity of priest. So if you are asking whether or not this is evidence of it being better for a Christian not to imbibe at all, I would think not.

Question #4:

Professor, sorry to bother you! I was wondering if turning the waters to blood in Egypt [Exo. 7:19] and the turning the water to wine [John 2:1-11] have anything in common? Why do I ask, because I believe from reading through the scriptures that grapes were the forbidden fruit that Eve ate and gave to Adam.

Something I found:

There is only one fruit in the Bible that's forbidden anywhere in the Bible. Numbers 6:3 says He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree. Notice the vine is a tree. Vine tree – that's forbidden fruit. Why is the vine tree for a Nazarite "forbidden fruit"? Well, the vine tree is obviously forbidden fruit because it's a type of blood. The vine tree, grape juice, represents blood. Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament. Then grape juice is a type of blood! There are two items in the Bible that are forbidden to put in your mouth. One of them is blood – forbidden before the law (Genesis 9), under the law (Leviticus 17), after the law (Acts 15). That blood is typified by grape juice. Therefore, grape juice is forbidden to a Nazarite. And grape juice comes from the grape, and the grape is said to come from a vine tree. So, the first two miracles in the Bible that are done are converting something into blood or something into grape juice. John chapter 2; get John chapter 2 in one hand, and get Exodus chapter 4 in the other. The first manmade miracle in the Old Testament that Moses does in going down to the land of Egypt is in Exodus 4, and the first miracle Christ does in His ministry is in John 2.And, in both cases, you're dealing with the transformation of something into blood or into grape juice. John 2, verse 9: When the ruler of the feast had the water that was made wine--now there's water turned into grape juice. Verse 11: "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee."  Old Testament, Exodus 4, verse 9. Now the first two signs he's done here are done to Pharaoh, and nothing happens. But the first sign that affects the land of Egypt is in verse 8. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.  Now let's get this together. In the Old Testament, before the law--under the law--after the law--blood is forbidden. In the Old Testament, grape juice from a vine tree is forbidden to a Nazarite. In the New Testament, grape juice is a type of blood. When Christ shows up, the first thing He does is turn water into grape juice, and then He says grape juice is a type of blood. So it's a picture of getting life from water. And the first life in the Bible, in Genesis chapter 1, came from water. The Lord said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. So the first thing Moses does is take that water and turn that water into blood. Now, water, grape juice, and blood - those three things right there - are connected inseparably in the word of God. Those things are right in there; there's no way you can get those things apart. Water is going to grape juice, water is going to blood, blood and grape juice are connected. Now let's go back to Genesis chapter 2, and see what the original Elizabethan English says. Genesis 2, verse 23; the Lord makes a man and makes a woman. Genesis 2:23: And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and blood of my blood--right? No! There's no "blood" there! There's no blood there. Adam was bone and flesh. Let's turn to Luke 24, and see how Christ came out when He rose from the dead. It isn't in the commentaries; it's in the Bible. Luke 24 - Christ coming in the room in the resurrection. Luke 24, verse 39: Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and what? Bones as ye see me have. The resurrection body has no blood. Neither did Adam. First Corinthians 15. It has flesh and bones, it has a circulatory system - but there's no blood in the system! First Corinthians 15:50: Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Your blood can't get in. You'll have glorified flesh and bones, but no blood. What's the context? Verse 45: So it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Then Adam, when he was made, had flesh and bones but no blood. Christ, when He arose from the dead, had flesh and bones but no blood. At the Rapture, you'll have flesh and bones--but no blood! The question comes, then where did Eve get her blood from? And where did Adam get his blood from? Well, he had to get it orally. He had to take it through the mouth. All right, now, on your question, what that tree was. Let's go to Genesis chapter 3, and see how many trees were in that garden. Genesis 3, verse 2: And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden. We know one of them; it's the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know another one, too. Look at verse 7: They sewed fig leaves together. There's a fig tree in that garden! Let's see if there's another tree. Genesis chapter 2, verse 9: And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. All right, in that garden of Eden there's a tree of life, there's a tree of knowledge of good and evil, and there's a fig tree. There are three trees in that garden. One of them's a fig; we don't know what the other two are. Go to Genesis chapter 3, and in Genesis chapter 3, look at verse 18. When the Lord drives Adam and Eve out of the garden, Genesis 3:18, he says, Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.So, in Genesis 3; I know four things: In Genesis 3,there are thorns and thistles, a fig tree, a tree of life, a tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Let's see if we can find them. Let's turn to Judges; that would be a fine old Book nobody reads! Scripture with Scripture; the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. The best commentary on the Scripture is still the Scripture! Judges chapter 9, verse 8; the English comment on the English text is always superior to any fundamental scholarship's opinion about any text that exists in any language. Judges 9, verse 8: The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. Verse 10: And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. Verse 12: Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. Verse 14: Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. Four trees. In that place there, there's an olive tree, a vine tree, a fig tree and a bramble. In Genesis, there's a tree of life, a tree of knowledge of good and evil, thorns and thistles, and a fig tree. They're going to have to match. Those of you who know your Bible in Romans chapter 9 know that the good olive tree is a picture of God's life to Israel. And what is olive oil a picture of in the Bible? A type of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the tree of life is an olive tree. And the tree of self-righteousness is a fig tree; it's cursed. And the vine tree has to be the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Because it's forbidden fruit. And if you eat it, ladies, it will make your lips red! So that's where you put the lipstick. Right there. On the lips. Now, there's another better way you know it's a grape, which is much easier. I took you the hard route. All right, now here's the easy way: The Lord told Adam, Be fruitful and multiply. He told Noah, Be fruitful and multiply. He told Adam, Replenish the earth. He told Noah, Replenish the earth. Adam had Seth, Cain and Abel. Noah had Shem, Ham, and Japheth. One of Noah's boys is under a curse (Ham); one of Adam's boys is under a curse (Cain). One of Adam's boys is a type of Christ (Abel); one of Noah's boys is a type of Christ (Shem). Adam is naked; Noah is naked. Genesis 9:20-21 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; ... That's what Adam did. So, what they took was a grape. Now, I'm not saying these grapes will make you drunk. And I'm not saying that that is the original sin, because obviously that's a supernatural tree with supernatural properties. But it is a grape tree. And from henceforth, forevermore, drunkenness and nakedness are always associated.  Habakkuk 2:15 Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness! They always come right together. If people want to take each other's clothes off, they get them drunk first to quiet their conscience. Genesis chapter 2; chapter 3.

Response #4:

I don't see any connection between water and blood in the Exodus plague on the one hand and water and wine on the other (it's certainly nowhere present in either text). In John we have water and wine, not water and blood, and this is a blessing and a miracle, not a curse and a plague. I don't see wine in Exodus; I don't see blood in John. As to "first miracles", here is the first one I find in the Bible:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 KJV

Grapes are the source of wine, but of course alcoholic beverages can be made out of just about any fruit. All you need is sugar content . . . and the bacterial process which was (somehow) activated after the flood. There wasn't, apparently, any such beverage before the flood and before all the major changes engendered by the removal of the misty canopy from the earth, the tilting of the earth on its axis and the commencement of seasons which followed it (see the link). And of course there is no such thing as fruit with a high alcohol content while it is still growing from trees. Also, the Bible is very specific about the tree of knowing good and evil providing just what it says: knowledge of good and evil. Alcohol loosens inhibitions, but it doesn't give knowledge (whether derived from grapes or barley or corn or whatever).

Secondly, the vine is not a tree, even in the Bible (KJV is in error at Number 6:4 – or is just using a non-literal English periphrasis to translate an otherwise cumbersome phrase; MT has gephen hayayin: "vine of the wine", literally). It would be one thing if scripture called it a tree, but the Bible in this case makes the same distinction we make today. No one knows what "kind" of tree the tree of knowing good and evil was – although it was a tree, not a vine – or what kind of tree the tree of life was because they were both "one of a kind". The tree of knowing good and evil is gone forever. It provided the essential test for mankind, one which we failed; but in failing, God caused grace to "much more abound" in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the tree of the cross. The tree of life will be back, however, in the New Jerusalem. And it will bear twelve different kinds of fruit at all times. Whether one of these will be grapes, we shall have to wait and see, but that would be odd since grapes don't grow on trees.

Grapes are not forbidden anywhere in the Bible nor is wine forbidden. The Nazarite oath and the regulations pertaining thereto are unique to that particular ritual. Nazarites also could not cut their hair – but there is nothing wrong with a man cutting his hair. In fact, "even nature" tells us that long hair, as worn by the Nazarites, is shameful – or it would be in their case too except in this situation it is allowed and even commanded because of the unique ritual and its symbolism. And once the Nazarites completed their period of separation, they drank wine too (Num.6:20).

It is true that alcohol presents all manner of problems for Christians and society at large. But it also has some positive medicinal effects, and was very much a part of the culture of the ancient world. That is why a quick check of any English concordance will find that wine is more often described in positive than in negative terms in scripture (even though it goes without saying that getting drunk is a sin); e.g.:

The LORD replied to them: "I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations.
Joel 2:19 NIV

How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.
Zechariah 9:17 NIV

I don't encourage alcohol use, especially in cases where brothers and sisters have problems with controlling their use of it. But since scripture does not condemn it (only the abuse of it), it is not my place to do so either. Here are some links on that:

Are Christians forbidden alcohol?

Should Christian leaders refrain from drinking in public?

Alcohol use by Christians


What does the Bible mean by "wine"?

As to blood and wine, wine can be symbolic of blood – mostly in terms of representing the blood of Christ in communion. Here again the symbolism is not negative but very positive: His blood is potent (like wine) and washes away our sin (although of course we are speaking of an image related to Christ's spiritual death rather than actual blood; see the link).

I have passed over some of the other things in your email. There is a nexus between blood and life and water and life, but these are both material substances, it is important to note, and in scripture their symbolic import is much more significant than any physical properties. So I have issues about the chain of logic here. We can discuss that if you wish. My procedure in learning from scripture is to try to base absolutely everything possible upon direct statements of scripture. The more speculation, the more error; the more induction (instead of hermeneutically sound deduction), the more one can be easily led astray.

I apologize if this response is less than what you had hoped for. My concern is for your spiritual welfare – which can only be benefitted by the actual truth.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Hi Bob,

I am an abstainer from all forms of alcohol, even at social events, because I know two things about alcohol:

(1) Wine is a deceiver, strong drink is a mocker. You think you can "hold your own"? You're soon going to find yourself in the grasp of alcohol addiction and not even know it. There is a reason why every western country has a problem with drunkenness and alcoholism.

(2) I know far too many lives that were destroyed by alcohol. I was just talking to someone on reddit who made a post asking to get his financial life in order because he was dying. And why was he dying? Because he destroyed his liver through drinking copiously and the poor man couldn't even control himself a little bit to keep the glass down.

The reason alcohol is so dangerous is because not only is it addictive in its own right, but because it also damages the section of the brain responsible for impulse control. So not only do you become addicted, but the very tool you need to overcome your addiction, which is your self-control, is taken away from you.

Every Christian who thinks it's okay to drink either is trapped in addiction to alcohol or has not yet slid down far enough into alcohol addiction. He or she must quit while he's still ahead!

Response #5:

I think your decision to refrain from alcohol is fine for those who a) really are so inclined, especially if they are vulnerable to alcohol addiction, and b) choose to make that application personally for themselves alone. If they do, however, they should keep it to themselves as far as possible. There is nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation, at least according to scripture (see the link). As you say, "drunkenness is horrid". On the one hand, just because scripture does not prohibit alcohol use, that is no reason to use alcohol and very importantly no justification to come anywhere near abusing it. On the other hand, blanket prohibitions of things which are not necessarily sinful or biblically prohibited are extremely dangerous, and in my experience and observation the legalism such positions engender is usually worse than the sin (or purported sin) they are attempting to curb. One could easily substitute in this discourse gambling (which is not authorized while alcohol is) or dancing, movies, card playing, smoking (which many fundamentalist groups do similarly prohibit) – or anything else a person finds personally offensive or spiritually dangerous. This is a dangerous world, no doubt, but we can't go out of it, not and serve the Lord here as He has called us to do. Any Christian who is putting the Lord first will at some point throw out of his/her life anything that is definitely sinful (such as any sort of sexual misconduct), most things which are if not strictly prohibited yet clearly un-Christian and always setting a bad example (such as illicit drug use or gambling), and some things that have the potential to lead that person (if not all people) into sin. Alcohol is certainly one of the things which falls into the last category for some people – but so can watching football, listening to rock music, playing video games, etc., etc. It depends on the person. We are all here to follow our Lord and help others do the same. If we are using our time poorly, and if certain uses of that time create a spiral of inaction (or worse, spiritual degeneration), they are to be avoided. And it is certainly possible to spend all of one's time and energy on one's career and one's family – nothing wrong with career and family – to the exclusion of ever doing what the Lord wants done spiritually. This life is all about choices, especially for Christians who have chosen for the Lord. We have a great deal of freedom in how and what we choose, but it is clear enough that many things the world has to offer are problematic for those who want to win the crowns of righteousness, life and glory. Alcohol in excess is certainly one of those things which militates against a good and consistent walk with the Lord and a high level of production for Him. I have no problem with any brother or sister who swears off of it entirely. In fact, they have my admiration . . . unless it becomes a matter of pride or, worse, a basis for dictating to others.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Well, but I still do not understand Hebrews 6. I would like to ask if it is a sin when we get weak drunkenness. I mean when we have a just better mood.

Response #6:

Drunkenness is a sin. Drinking is not a sin. So it is a matter of being intoxicated or not being intoxicated. I'm pretty sure everyone knows the difference.

Here are some links on that:

Are believers forbidden to drink?

Should Christian leaders drink in public?

Did Jesus Drink Wine at Cana?

Drinking in moderation.

The Fruit of the Vine "New in the Kingdom"

But let me stress that salvation does not depend on "not sinning" anymore than being condemned is the result of "sinning". "All sin" (Rom.3:23) and are guilty before God. But Jesus' spiritual death took away the sin of the world (see the link). Believers are saved from the lake of fire by believing in Jesus Christ. Unbelievers are going to spend eternity in the lake of fire because they refuse to believe in Jesus Christ. Alcohol (or anything else, sinful or not) has nothing to do with it.

I'm happy to address whatever it is specifically you don't understand about Hebrews chapter six.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #7:

I have still trouble with Heb.6:4-6. I really want understand it.

So if you have better mood after alcohol is sin?

What about 1 john 3:9 and 1 john 5:18 and what about hebrews 10:26. I think we must fight against sin.

Response #7:

I'm happy to help you with Hebrews 6:4-6, but I'm not sure what it is about the explanation provided to you in the past you don't understand.

On alcohol, the Bible is not specific, but I think we can all tell the difference between someone being drunk or not drunk. Clearly, alcohol generally makes a person feel better, and that is fine, up to the point where the person is intoxicated. That point is not specified in scripture, but I think most people understand the difference between having a drink and getting drunk. The former is not prohibited in scripture; the latter is a sin. If you are asking me for advice, I would say that it is better to be leaning towards the "not sinful" side (meaning less rather than more) rather than testing the "sinful side" of this proposition. Some Christians make the application of never drinking at all. That is certainly fine – there's no crime or sin in abstaining . . . unless a person becomes self-righteously proud of him/herself because of it. It is also true that some people lose control through alcohol much easier than others (everyone's body and body chemistry is different). And it is also true that some people have a real problem with addictive tendencies to alcohol – such people should never get close to the stuff. So I certainly don't want any of my comments taken in any way so as to embolden someone to use alcohol who otherwise would not – especially not if the person is easily intoxicated or has an addictive tendency. I know very many people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol, and many others who have harmed themselves seriously and/or impeded their spiritual growth, progress and production through the use of it.

As to 1st John 3:9 and 5:18, these passages express the truth that the Christian is supposed to be living a sinless life. That is the standard to which we are held by the Lord and we receive divine discipline for falling short. But it is also true that it is impossible for us inhabiting these bodies of sin here in the midst of all the temptations of the devil's world to ever come close to meeting that standard the way we should. That doesn't mean we should not try to do so – indeed we should, and as we grow, progress and produce for our Lord, we will get better at this struggle. It is indeed a fight as you correctly discern. What most Christians in our lukewarm era of Laodicea (see the link) fail to realize is that no one can win or have success or make progress in the fight against sin without growing spiritually. Merely relying on one's own willpower without a steady daily diet of the truth of the Word of God which is taught in depth and then believed in one's heart can ever bring more than legalistic success (i.e., putting on a cloak of Pharisaical false righteousness without really achieving any true measure of sanctification).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #8:

"Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered."
(Proverbs 21:13)

I must confess: I have not been as charitable with beggars as I should have been.

Response #8:

I'm not sure that being charitable with beggars is even a good thing (neither word occurs in this verse). I do understand that there are some people who "need it". However, in my observation and experience, most beggars are either begging for a living (which is inappropriate, especially as some are able to make more per hour than some of the people they guilt into giving – people who are actually working for a living), or are merely wanting a quick hit of cash to go buy liquor or drugs. And they know very well that the kind of misplaced guilt evidenced in your email afflicts many if not most kind-hearted Christians. I remember one time, a long time ago in Chicago, I was walking across one of the bridges over the Chicago river in order to get to the one of the commuter rail stations on a trip to see my brother and his family. Anyway, I was "hit up" by a young man – younger than me, obviously in very good health, not shabbily dressed and not looking particularly homeless. I gave him some money, and, apparently, it was more than he usually got. "Are you a Christian?", he asked. "Yes I am", I said with (foolish) pride. He jumped with glee and immediately ran off to the far end of the bridge to tell his friends on the other end to intercept me and try for the same result. A good lesson. I learned later that my brother had taken to buying McDonald's gift certificates and offering those instead of cash – an offer almost always rejected (which tells you a lot too).

What I have learned personally over time is that while I would never be nasty to anyone begging (you never know), and while I might give if I have any inclination from the Spirit to do so (you never know), feeling guilty about not giving in such questionable circumstances is a very bad policy and a destructive habit to get into. I don't remember anyone giving money to beggars in the Bible. Peter healed one person who was begging at the entrance to the temple – but this person was a genuine cripple, and in those days it was very difficult for a crippled man to be gainfully employed (and after being healed he no longer had to beg). And it wasn't money being given by Peter. Not saying it's easy today (nothing is easy today), but it's not impossible for the handicapped to work. Many if not most do, and I am sure that their attitude towards the able-bodied begging would be interesting to hear. I remember when I was just getting to know some folks in Chicago connected with the deaf community. There were people on the el's who would hand out cards saying "I'm deaf and cannot work" in hopes of receiving money. The folks I came to know from that community when they saw such things would make the sign for "shame" and tell the person to cut it out and get a job. Here is what Paul has to say:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."
2nd Thessalonians 3:6-10 NIV

This is coming from a man who had every right as an apostle to take money as a payment for the important work he was doing – there has never been more important work and "the workman is worthy of his wages". But the Bible is very much against, it seems to me, people receiving money for no work. Are there people who can't work who are worthy of charity? No doubt (even here Paul goes to rather great lengths to prevent abuse: 1Tim.5:3-16). But if a person can get out there in the cold and stand around for hours with a sign or entreating people, seems to me he/she might just be able to do something else that might resemble actual work. Muslims (in some iterations) are required to give a certain amount of their income as alms. As a result, there is a class of people who live off this sort of "charity" in Muslim countries. That tells you something too. But in the Bible, we are told to work, not beg (Prov.6:10; 21:25; 1Thes.4:11-12).

This brings me to the matter of charity generally. I have come to despise the word because of the connotations. It should mean "gracious giving", but it has come to mean "guilt-inspired submission to taxation by pious-looking, self-serving organizations who do little if anything to actually help those in need in most cases". I have known in my life very many people who were very strapped, people with health problems, people out of work, people with excessive bills through no particular fault of their own, people genuinely trying to serve Christ and follow Christ – all of whom could have benefitted from "charity" and who were worthy of it. But none of them, none that I've ever known, ever got a nickle . . . from "charities". That has always seemed strange to me, especially when one considers the massive amount of money given to charities in this country every year. I have seen it "on TV", of course – but most of what I've seen or read or heard in the media has turned out to be not as advertised (as whenever you may have seen a report in the paper concerning someone you actually know, they always get some facts wrong). There are "poster children" (literally), but the kid you actually know about who has to have an operation every few months to stay alive is of course not receiving anything from charity.

For me the bottom line is that if we know some fellow Christian in need, giving is a wonderful thing to do. Giving to "charities" is tax deductible – which is about the only good thing I can say about it. It may do some small amount of good to some small amount of people. It's only that in my (getting ever longer) life I've never ever seen it at all. So I suspect that the percentage of good that comes out of every dollar given to organizational charity is probably infinitesimally small. I would estimate far less than one percent, if that, and in the case of some high-scam "charities" definitely more harm is being done than good (because while no actual good is being done, people are aware that the charity exists and assume people they know in need are being helped when they are not being helped).

As to beggars, that is a personal decision. If you give money, you have to understand that you are almost certainly throwing it away, and that you may be doing the person harm (if drugs and/or alcohol is the true purpose of the solicitation). If the Spirit moves you to do so, then do so. But don't do it out of misplaced guilt – and it is far from uncommon for Christians, especially good ones, to get these two things confused under pressure. Soliciting money under false pretenses is akin to theft, and there is no way a believer needs to feel guilty about not desiring to be a party to that.

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in [ACTUAL] need.
Ephesians 4:28 NIV (expanded)

Finally, on the Proverbs verse, what the "poor" need first and foremost in ancient Israel is not to be oppressed; second, not to be exploited; third, they may also need "a loan", not a gift, or other help more generally – but not a handout (Deut.15:7-8; cf. Matt.5:42; that is how I understand Lk.6:30 as well). And these "poor" are actually poor (not scam artists) – people whom you know need the help. It really is un-Christian to refuse help to other Christians you know when you know they are in need and can genuinely do something about it (e.g., Jas.2:15-17), but that is something prompted by the heart and the Spirit, not importuned by others (which is merely glorified theft). That is not the case with beggars or institutional charities. However, if "I gave at work" and if "I put five bucks in the beggars cup", then I will be feeling both justified (wrongly) about my responsibilities in this area and also poorer . . . so the odds of me helping my Christian neighbor whom I actually know could really use a hand are that much smaller.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #9:

Everything is calm academically for a moment (aside from lengthy important papers due sooner than I'd like), but prayers are still needful.

A recovering alcoholic that stayed in the Church's basement for some time (I'm upstairs) approached me today asking for a ride to the pharmacy to pick up his medication (for diabetes and/or gout – I'm not certain for which). Not having anything pressing, I agreed. When we got to the pharmacy, he went in while I waited outside, and several minutes later he came out and said that because his prescription changed, the co-pay was more and he did not have the money, but would on Friday since that is when his disability payment came in. It sounded plausible enough, so I agreed to cover the (~$50) co-pay, and he promised to pay me back.

He was quite determined to pay in cash because he could then get a receipt himself for tax purposes. (I'm guessing that me putting it on my credit card and him subsequently paying me back doesn't work that way – now that I think about it, this doesn't sound like a good reason even at face value). I am always skeptical of giving needy people I do not know well cash because there is no guarantee that they will spend it on what they say they are going to spend it on (rather than alcohol or drugs, e.g.), but he did say that he would pay me back on Friday, and that he would show me the receipt, which made me feel better about the whole thing.

After I dropped him off at his sister's place (who was supposed to take him back to the pharmacy – we had to go home to get cash since I only carry credit cards), I called the Deacon at the church who handles maintenance of the house, and who knew this fellow. Unfortunately, he sounded pretty sure that I'd been had and that the man in question is quite likely to spend the money I gave him on liquor and not show up to pay me back on Friday – despite his convincing performance regarding needing medication etc. Now, it's possible that he will show up and pay me back and stay true to his word, but the Deacon told me not to hold my breath.

I've never really tried helping someone this directly before. I do remember the Deacon mentioning this fellow when he was temporarily staying here earlier this year (as in months ago), but it seems I selectively remembered the part of the conversation concerning "a man in need who needs a place to stay", not the part where he warned me "don't help him unless you really feel called to, and especially don't give him cash".

It's a bit disheartening, really. Although I know I do try to see the best in people, I always considered myself more discerning than some of our brothers and sisters, who get taken in by obviously crooked characters. If it is true that I've been deceived, I'll feel bad not only for losing my 50 bucks (which would sting but not be the end of the world), but also for enabling someone's alcohol addiction, and failing to pick up on his deception.

I guess I'd like prayer for this fellow, that he would actually follow through on his word and/or clean up his life, and prayer for me – 1) to not dwell on this if I have in fact been fooled (and be troubled by injured pride due to being take in like this), 2) to learn from this experience, and 3) to not let this harden my compassion for others (which I find comes hard enough as it is – I tend towards cynicism more easily than empathy).

Your friend in Jesus,

Response #9:

So this may end up being a $50 life lesson. That's OK. Your prayer request and three riders at the end of the email show me that you "get it" in all aspects of "it" – not much more for me to say here . . . except that one other thing to note is that when one suspicion fueled by the Spirit is followed by another, then another, then another, well, we would do well to listen to the first one, understanding that it is the Spirit, and not let ourselves put off from our spiritual common sense by guilt feelings stoked by the pseudo-compassion that is so much a part of our present day culture (in the church-visible and secularly). Being concerned for people in genuine need is good; giving in to those whose need is not genuine is not. Observation: good people in genuine need very rarely ask for help. It does happen, but when it does you can usually tell from their demeanor that they deeply do hate to have to ask and that they really are in dire need or would never do so.

Your friend in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #10:

Hi Bob,

The fellow didn't show, so I'm out $50. I'm planning to write down my recollection of the situation so that I can refer back to it in the future, and also planning to come up with a general collection of takeaways to guide future interaction along the same lines. The Deacon has also suggested that I be rather firm with the man if I ever meet him again, to see if anything positive will come of it (e.g., he feels genuine remorse, repents, and legitimately turns to the Lord). Not so troubled by this anymore: the $50 life lesson seems to have been effective.

Yours in Christ, 

Response #10:

I'll certainly continue to be keeping you in my prayers, my friend!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11:

"I feel a strong desire to tell you - and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me-which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs-pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them."

- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Response #11:

Good quote!

Question #12:

Thanks for your email.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Its got to be hard. I lost my grandma a few years ago. I didn't have much of a close relationship with her. I can only imagine how someone feels losing a close and dear loved one. I don't look forward to it but having the knowledge and truly believing in our Lord Jesus Christ gives me strength. I hope you are doing better and you are absolutely right that you will see her again and it will be absolutely wonderful. I look at it like your preparing for a fun trip to visit family you haven't seen in a long time and your getting so excited you can hardly wait except now you are preparing for the trip to heaven to see your family that's eager to see you all in Gods time.

On another note I was wondering if you have writings on Matthew 5:23-24 and Forgiveness. Some times when others are evil towards me or us as a family I choose not to respond mostly because I don't want to give them the opportunity to spin it where it becomes my fault and also I try to apply the saying, "If you can't say something nice don't say anything at all!" I feel if someone chooses to do wrong to someone else its on them and between them and God. Unfortunately I'm always accused of taking someone's evil doings as I misunderstood them or I'm extra-sensitive or I took it wrong and that they meant good. They justify it as it's just who they are or they didn't mean it. But then they apologize for doing it (with a justification) and ask for forgiveness and mention this scripture. I don't hold grudges against anyone and I don't have any hatred toward any. I'll even go to the extent of saying "you're forgiven". I'll hug them and smile. But by all means forgiveness doesn't mean accepting the ways of evil and fellowship with them again. I truly believe if some one is sorry they don't back it up with justification or blame us for what they did. They should completely admit and of course show in time a true new them. I can most of the time feel in their spirit a truth. I do understand I can be mislead and have before but that's OK because that's how you learn.

I dislike how people use scripture against you. Especially from others who do wrong and then feel bad for what they have done but want to blame you in return make it your problem because they justify somehow what they did was really your problem and now the bible says to forgive them. I have seen a lot of this in the Seventh Day Adventist and Mormons. I'm a little frustrated. When I have more time I'll write you a scenario.

Well thanks again for your time Bob.

I hope you're feeling better.

Your friend

Response #12:

Thanks for your good words of comfort. They are very much appreciated. I was indeed very close to my mom, but she was happy to "go home", I am certain. At the end, I even became uncomfortable praying for her health because I knew what she really wanted and how much pain and difficulty she was in. So it is for the best. Thanks again for your understanding.

As to your question, I think you have this figured out perfectly correctly. We are told to forgive everyone and to live in peace with everyone as far as that is possible from our side. But we do not control the other person's free will. We know for certain that associating with people who are doing wrong is a big mistake. When it comes to family, we are "boxed in" to some degree, but even here limiting contact and especially limiting serious intimacy in conversation etc. is part of the "be wise as serpents" mandate we have received from our Lord. We wish no one any harm. We are happy to pray for everyone, happy to forgive, happy to forget . . . but not to the point of pretending that harmful things done to us and those we love never happened, or opening ourselves up to a repetition of abuse. That is a misapplication of the truth.

There are consequences for what people do, for everything we all do. A good Christian does not act in partiality and does not hold any sort of arbitrary factor (like looks or wealth or social position) against any other Christian (e.g., Rom.12:16; Jas.2:1ff.). However, bad behavior is not an arbitrary factor nor is taking into consideration how people behave being partial; just the opposite. It is very dangerous not to take it into consideration if a fellow Christian behaves poorly, or especially immorally, or most especially illegally. In such cases we would be failing to carry out our Lord's mandate for wisdom in such situations. Yes, we do want to be "innocent as doves", but not as stupid as doves. If a fellow Christian wrongs me in some serious way then comes and asks for forgiveness, first, I want to be sure that the request is genuine, that is, not just telling me to "get over it" but actually being repentant about the wrong done. In such a case, of course I forgive the person. But if there is no indication that said person is not just going to keep on behaving in the same way in the future, I'm certainly not going to put myself in the same situation so as to potentially be wronged in the same way again and again.

For example, if I loan person X some money, and if person X squanders it on alcohol instead doing what he said he would do in trying to get back on his feet, I am willing to forgive person X if person X comes to me and asks for forgiveness in what seems to be a sincere way, but I am not willing to loan person X any more money regardless of plaintive pleas – not at least until I am fully and thoroughly convinced in my own mind that person X really has reformed. And that would take a lot when it comes to bad behavior. If it was a question of immoral behavior of some kind, it would take a lot more for me to add fellowship to forgiveness, and if it were a matter of some criminal offense, I'm not sure it would ever be prudent to do so. "Fool me once" is something we all fall into from time to time. "Fool me twice" in this context is usually a result of being not only innocent like a dove but also as stupid. False brethren and the devil make a habit of exploiting well-meaning Christians who are naturally forgiving but who have not grown spiritually to the point of having any deep spiritual common sense (such as you clearly do possess); and they make great use of scripture, as you put it, "against" such people who don't know yet how to discern such things, that is, against the spiritually immature:

Solid [spiritual] food is for the [spiritually] mature, those who by [diligent] practice have trained their [moral] perceptive faculties to [properly] distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:14

Much of the Christian life is about growing in our ability to apply the truth to life where simple solutions do not necessarily apply. Things are simple – for the mature – but not in the way in which the immature often assume (which is what makes them vulnerable to exploitation of this sort).

Keeping you and your family in my prayers,

Bob L.

Question #13:

Can you explain this verse:

"Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it?"
(Proverbs 17:16)

Response #13:

This reduces life to its actual essentials. There is nothing in this world that is TRULY valuable besides the truth. Those who have no use for it are living pointless lives. Even if they had great riches, they would not use the time and resources those provide to dedicate their time to learning and serving the truth.

The NET Bible has a translation of this which captures the point well (even if it is a little "loose"):

Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no intention of acquiring wisdom?
Proverbs 17:16 NET

Question #14:

Hello Bob,

Thanks for your email. They are always encouraging.

We have been discussing some issues regarding our family.

[details omitted]

On a better note we went fishing. I have attached a picture.

Thanks for your time Bob!

Response #14:

It's always good to hear from you. Thanks also for the picture – what a fish! My dad would have loved it. He loved fishing. I think with all the pressures he had as a pastor et al., being out in boat all day was his best method to relax.

On "the problem". As I always make a point of telling almost everyone who asks for it, advice is not my strong suite. Also, from such a distance and operating on limited information, it's not really possible for me to be confidant about anything I might suggest. In any case, making our own decisions in the Lord is what this life is all about. You two clearly have wonderful hearts for the Lord and know plenty about the truth. What you say here I can only concur with. When it comes to other people, we always have very limited ability to influence them to "do the right thing" – since they have free will too. But we can always pray. God knows our hearts and our concerns, and He knows the ins and outs of all potential situations and their consequences better than we could ever calculate them even perfect information and unlimited time:

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
Psalm 37:5 NKJV

One thing I will say is that in my life I have found out the hard way – and seen others find out the hard way – the value of good, professional legal advice and counsel (given by an actual lawyer who is actually working for you). If you yourselves are in the least bit of danger of any sort of legal consequences because of what others have done financially, I would very strongly urge you to avail yourself of that sort of aid ASAP. I don't believe it is at all "un-Christian" to make use of resources God provides when there is need of them – far from it (otherwise I'd never go to a doctor or a dentist, e.g.; see the link: "Should Christians ever consider getting a lawyer?").

Apologies for what is probably going to seem an insufficient response. But I do have great confidence in the two of you – and greater still in the Lord. I promise to keep you in prayer on this.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #15:

Just as background, "my" Bible Study group has progressed through James 1 and James 2:1-13, and we just hit the "faith vs. works" part of James 2 (i.e., 14-26). I think I've gotten the big points across already (e.g., we are saved by faith alone, but true faith is never alone; "works" are not human acts of charity but acts of faith God places before us; faith justifies us before God, but works [of faith] demonstrate the legitimacy and genuineness of our faith before men and angels), but I want to make sure I get some of the finer details here too, since this passage is so widely abused.

Before I get into the specifics, I just wanted to give you an idea of what we covered last time. I've simply recopied the verses we got through with the translation expanded according to my understanding of it. (Brackets are things I view as implied, while parentheses with abbreviations like i.e. are explanatory).

(14) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? [It is no good.] Can such faith (i.e., mere intellectual assent to certain propositions) save him? [No, of course not.] (15) Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. (16) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? [It is no good.] (17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (i.e, "faith" without demonstrable fruit, however small and shriveled, is truly not faith at all).
James 2:14-17

James asks a series of rhetorical questions, all answered in the negative were he to state the answers. The thing that is generally misunderstood from this passage, as far as my understanding allows, is that people don't pick up on the fact that James is using the word faith ("such faith") as a rhetorical allowance to refute the statements of the objector(s). If we were to speak these verses as James might have, we would put "faith" in quotation marks and imply by tonal variation that this is really not faith in the first place (i.e., make it very clear that in fact we are using this word just to show that the concept suggested is actually the opposite of true faith).


1) I feel like I have pretty good grasp on the meaning of the above passage except for verses 15-16. My "spiritual common sense" tells me that this aside by James is an analogy rather than an example, i.e., that James is using this as a parallel situation wherein people give lip service to a particular position (in this case, their "wish" that the brother/sister would stay warm and well fed) while rejecting the position with their actions (not even trying to help the brother/sister actually stay warm and well fed). This is not meant to be an example of the "works" or "actions" James points to later (cf. "In the same way... faith not accompanied by action"), but rather functions an as analogy to the concept of dead faith. Is my thinking about this correct, or is James use of this situation actually meant to be an example of the works talked about in the rest of this chapter?

2) I've alluded somewhat to my view that the "works" discussed by James are very different from the things generally thought of as being works by most Christians (such as giving money to a charity, volunteering at an orphanage, etc.). From the examples James gives (Abraham and Rahab), it seems pretty clear to me that James is talking about direct exercising of our faith in response to situations that God puts before us, not "good works" in the sense of human charity sought out by our own initiative. When talking about this distinction, I brought up Ephesians 2:8-10 both to emphasize that it is faith alone that saves us, and that these works described by James, "which God prepared in advance for us to do" (v.10), come from God and not us. Is this distinction biblical, or is my understanding flawed?

3) Who is talking in James 2:18? Translations seem to disagree on this verse, with the NLT taking the position that the "you" in the "You have faith" of NIV84 is actually a reference to "some people," not James in particular (in which case the "show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do" is coming from James), while the NASB takes the entire verse as a statement from some 3rd party other than James. We became slightly confused in out study because in the NIV84, it seems prima facie to be an objector saying "You (i.e., James) have faith, I have deeds" even though it is James that is talking about the necessity of true works of faith to demonstrate the legitimacy and genuineness of faith. Any clarification (or translation and explanation from the Greek) of this verse would be appreciated.

4) Another thing I brought into our study of this passage was the parable of the sower, since "bearing fruit" has a very obvious connection to walking in the works Christ has prepared for us. However, when I was asked whether the "thorny-ground Christian" was saved or lost, I had to reply with an honest "I don't know". In all three of the synoptics where the parable of sower is mentioned, the thorny-ground Christian's "faith-plant" is described as being "choked" by the thorns, but it is unclear from English translations whether this word has connotations of "choked to death" or "choked so as to be unfruitful but still alive". Obviously, if the faith-plant is dead, the person in question is not a believer and they are not saved. However, if the faith plant is still alive, it would seem to imply that the person is still a believer, if a marginal one, in a very dangerous situation near apostasy. In Jesus explanation of the thorny ground (Luke 8:14, Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19), different translations describe this situation's faith-plant as "bringing no fruit into maturity", "being unfruitful", "produc[ing] nothing", "fruitless", etc., and it is unclear to me whether a person in this situation (distracted by the world) bears some small amount of fruit or no fruit whatsoever. Any light you could shed on the Greek behind the word "choked" in the parable and "unfruitful" in Jesus' explanation, as well as your general thoughts on the matter, would help me greatly, and those who I am teaching, by extension.

In Him,

Response #15:

I've been praying for you on the ministry, and I'm delighted to hear that it's already bearing such wonderful fruit! This is invaluable experience, no matter just how and when the Lord calls you into further service. On that note, I have known of some exceptional individuals who were able to advance their Greek, Hebrew and theological studies while working full time in a profession. You are the type of person, highly disciplined and talented, who I believe could pull that off. So I wouldn't see this career choice as an either/or. I think you are wise to pray about it and to let things play out as long as you can before deciding one way or the other – I will be praying for you too.

As to the questions on James (and see the link: "Interpreting James"):

1) I would essentially agree with you. The problem historically with the interpretation of this passage has not been leaning too far in the direction of faith but in seeing the "works" James speaks about in this context as not only exemplified by the type of charity he mentions here but as essentially equated with this behavior exclusively. That is what is problematic (as even an English reading of the rest of the chapter and the examples of Abraham and Rahab ought to make clear just on the face of it). What is also often missed in such a "take" is the fact that the charity mentioned here is something an individual should do when confronted personally by a genuine case of need he/she is privy too; in other words, it is not a brief for institutionalizing charity (any more that it is an argument for relegating "works" to the provision of food and clothing to needy believers alone).

2) You are correct. Again, I have no problem seeing the provision of food and clothing to needy believers in one's personal ambit as a "good work"; the problem comes in understanding "good works" as being synonymous with this one area, and further in warping this individual act of kindness into some sort of system carried out by some sort of organization.

3) In James 2:18, James uses the Greek impersonal pronoun tis, "someone", to introduce a hypothetical argument (by an unnamed person); it is if he had said, "You there, you who think just believing is enough and that you never actually have to act in faith in any way, how would you answer some do-gooder who is involved in a charity who makes this statement to you?"

4) I've written quite a bit on the parable of the Sower (see the link for entry); it is true that no one should have it as their goal to be in the "weed-choked" category, but that does not mean that these individuals are not believers. In fact, in my understanding of scripture and sense of things from personal observation and Church history, they are likely to be the largest category of believer in eternity, those who "won" by surviving this life without losing their faith, but who have very little to show for that faith – precisely because of succumbing to distractions. I think this is indeed a good counterpoint to James. Who is James talking to? Clearly to a large group of contemporary believers, the vast majority of whom he never had met and never would meet. James has noticed a trend in the Church, and with the Spirit's support he is trying to counter it, namely, the trend of misusing the importance of faith to justify/rationalize sitting on one's hands after salvation; yes, we believe, but that should lead us to grow our faith through the Word, act in faith under pressure, and help others to grow their faith likewise as well. In the very large group of people doing what James complained about at the time (and today), there was no doubt a wide range, all the way from the almost dead in faith to those verging on actually accomplishing some spiritual growth. The one thing that all in this category have in common is that however much or little they have "worked" (trusted God, prayed, read their Bibles, took in teaching, helped others in any way such as encouraging the down-hearted, e.g.), they have not done so enough to become spiritually mature. This is the important first step, and enduring testing through trusting God – as in the case of Rahab and Abraham – is the important next step before any serious ministry can occur. No acts of charity as it is contemporaneously defined today will accomplish that; to the contrary, "good works" of any sort have to flow from the inside out to be legitimate. As soon as anyone so misunderstands James as to think that "charity" produces growth, that person has stepped onto the road to legalism, a road which will diminish – and has the potential of destroying – faith.

Keep up the genuine good work for our Lord, my friend!

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #16:

Hi Bob,

I believe you have far too much faith in me. I have had a fairly rough time of it trying to scramble together my own understanding of James before relating it to my friends; I always feel woefully unprepared going into our studies and it still ends up going alright, no doubt due to God, not due to anything I've done. I also wouldn't want to give you the impression that I am praiseworthy in any way regarding reading my Bible, praying, and imbibing truth from Ichthys. Of course we all fall short and false humility is of no value. But this semester, with a reasonably heavy course load, and 11 hours or so of work a week on top that, any sort of pattern I had going for me has been all but crushed. Of course I don't have very much experience in "just" 40 hour work weeks since college consumes oh-so-much more than that, but I can scarcely imagine learning Greek, Hebrew and other related things "on the side" as it were, and getting very much out of it at all. I struggle enough as it is to drag myself through Bible Study in English for a few minutes many days, and that's no exaggeration, though I wish it were.

As to James, I think I'm beginning to see that I was a bit too black and white with regard to verses 15 and 16. If I'm reading you correctly, what James is saying isn't so much that this sort of thing (i.e., providing food and clothing to fellow believers in need) is never a "valid work", but that it definitely is not the sum totality of valid works, and institutionalizing it as such is thus not only pointless but also distorting what scripture actually says. So in some situations, given that you are privy to a fellow believer's need and God has put you in a position to be of help, providing food and clothing might be part of one's legitimate Christian production. However, it is certainly not the case that we need to go out and seek those who are without food and clothing to "do works", and in fact, if we do such believing that it is somehow aiding in our growth or "increasing our faith" somehow, we are deceiving ourselves and it profits us nothing. Legitimate works follow from the application of our faith (the knowledge we have learned and believed, stored away in the heart to be used by the Spirit), and are nowhere fully enumerated in scripture precisely because they look different for each and every believer in the body of Christ.

I'm afraid I'm still a bit fuzzy on verse 18. If I understand what you're saying correctly, the beginning part of verse 18 is something like (expanded from ESV):

But someone [who is active in some form of works] will say [to you] (i.e., the group James is addressing who think they can just sit on their laurels) "You have faith and I have works."

After this point, I'm still confused, however. Is it James saying "show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works", or is it this hypothetical do-gooder? What about verse 19?

Bob Utley, one of the fellows you list under "Bible Study Resources" (whose study notes I find to be of help at times), has this to say about this particular verse:

"2:18-20 Grammatically this is a very ambiguous passage as to punctuation and pronoun antecedents. It is uncertain whether there is (1) one supporter of James' position; (2) one objector to James' position; (3) one of each; or (4) two opposing hypothetical persons alluded to by James. It is uncertain whether the quotation stops at James 2:18a (NKJV, NRSV, NIV) or 18b (NASB, TEV) or if it goes through James 2:19. It is possible that James' supposed objector is claiming that Christians have different spiritual gifts, some faith and some works. James responds that faith is not a gift, but a bedrock relationship of trust in Christ. To know Christ is to emulate Him; to live as He lived; to love as He loved; to give oneself to others as He gave Himself to others (cf. 1 John 3:16)."

Finally, with regards to the parable of the sower, I think I finally understand, though you didn't directly answer my questions about the words. For your interpretation put forth here (and at the link) to hold, it must be that in the parable the plants are "choked" (stunted) without being killed entirely (i.e., these plants represent people who are still believers and have not apostatized), and that the Greek word(s) variously translated as "unfruitful", "fruitless", etc. can take on the meaning that the plant "bears a vastly reduced quantity of fruit compared to what it could, but still bears some small amount", since we know from scripture that Christians with no fruit whatsoever are not Christians at all (viz., James 2:17, 26). This would put them in the category of believers who have not yet attained the point of maturity so as to receive the crown of righteousness (and thus not any of the higher order rewards either).

Let me know how I'm faring here on this second time around!

Yours in Christ,

Response #16:

I'm confident that you are on the right track to figuring these things out, and that with your good spiritual progress it will become clear to you in good time just what the best thing for you to do will be – I will certainly keep praying for you.

1) vv.15-16: Yes, I think this is precisely it.

2) v.18: It doesn't have to be an either or. James was giving an example. Clearly, those who are meant to take a lesson from this verse are the people he has a problem with who think all they have to do is camp out on their faith in Christ and never have to learn any truth or pray or read scripture or encourage others or stand up under pressure . . . or do anything else that contributes to the threefold goal given to all Christians to grow and make spiritual progress so as to be able to be of service to the Body themselves. The crowd sitting on their hands saying "but I have faith!" was a stench in James' nostrils, and through the Spirit he is given to upbraid them here. The example he uses in v.18 is meant to shame them. It doesn't matter what category this particular "somebody" is in at all because a) the person is hypothetical and b) the point is to shame the recipients of the letter for whom this "shoe fits". Imagine today some Christian who claims "I'm a believer" but is doing nothing to grow or progress (and so is likewise largely useless to the rest of the Body). What if someone came up to him/her and found fault with this "I'm a Christian because I say so" approach and said "You say so, but I can prove it – look what I myself have actually done for Christ!". It doesn't matter whether the person who says this is an advancing Christian who knows the truth, or a Fundamentalist who is doing legalistic things, or a Roman Catholic who may not even be saved, or a Mormon who isn't even saved. The point is that Mr./Miss "I-say-I-believe-and-that's-enough-and-a-good-excuse-for-me-not-to-go-anywhere-in-Christ" has no answer to this rebuke – regardless of who it is that is making the criticism. This lazy Christian ought to realize from this criticism that he/she has been wrong to use having faith as an excuse to do nothing, and that is so even if – and possibly especially if – what person-who-criticizes is doing and "showing" is not really what God wants to be done either. All the more reason for lazy Christian to say "I do know what REALLY needs to be done" . . . and then go out and grow so as to be able to pass tests like Rahab and Abraham . . . and eventually help others to do the same. That may very well involve physical acts of demonstrable material "charity" for some towards some on some occasions. If so, it will be a reflection of a growing faith focused on hope of reward and energized by a love for Jesus Christ and those who are His. We don't need to "prove it"; but if some one asks us to do so and we realize we can't because we don't in fact have anything worthy of putting before the Lord in our daily walk, then for sure we ought to "take the lesson".

3) Yes, that is exactly it! It's often problematic to push details in parables too far. The plant is the living thing (faith), and in this third case the plant isn't dead, just unproductive. The "good soil" plant produces at least 30-fold. I'm no farmer, but I know that there is such a thing as "virtually no production", far short of 30-fold, without being zero (i.e., not enough to justify all the cost of the seed and the work that went into cultivation). If I'm expecting to get at the very least thirty tomatoes from this plant and get only two, that would be disappointing and would fall under the category of "unfruitful" (since it would have been cheaper and easier to pick up a dozen at the supermarket). The rocky soil plant shriveled and died and actually didn't produce a single thing – since it (faith) didn't even survive the season (life).

I don't think the Greek vocabulary items here (akarpos in Matt.13:22 and Mk.4:19; and ou telesphorousin in Lk.8:14) can be pushed to mean "absolutely not a single ear of wheat/barley/whatever". And even if one wants to take that position, I wouldn't be willing to say that "this means the person in this category never did anything in this life which was a genuine act of faith" (e.g., never said a prayer for anyone; never trusted God at all, not one time). For one thing, that would mean, as you say, that we would have to question whether they have faith at all – but in the parable it is the plant itself which represents faith springing from the Word of God, sprouting in the soil of heart, and watered by the truth; and though choked it's not actually dead in this category of believer. I also think it is in keeping with spiritual common sense to understand that there will be Christians who will not have much to show for their time here on earth, genuine believers who are not "with the program" (don't most brothers and sisters we know and know of fall into that category)? So unless we want to say on the one hand that without significant spiritual production a person has no faith at all and is not saved (this has to be wrong, doesn't it?), or on the other dumb-down spiritual production to the point where a "30-fold harvest" is consistent with what the vast majority of Christians in our day are doing, believers who are completely at sea as to what the Christian life is all about (and that would seem to be the exact opposite of what James is trying to effect in chapter two), then I think we have to allow that our Lord tells parables which "work" without lengthy footnotes to explain, along the lines of, e.g., FOOTNOTE: "by akarpos (unfruitful) I don't mean that there might not be one or two tomatoes on this vine (that is what I call the "the fallacy of the modern scientific standard" which causes problems for correct biblical interpretation generally; see the link), merely that the production was insufficient within the range I find acceptable for reward, less than 30-fold which equals acceptable success while more than absolute zero which would equate to a complete lack of faith whatsoever".

Keep up the good "work"!

Yours in our dear Lord Jesus whom we are here to serve.

Bob L.

Question #17:

Hi Bob,

One last check for understanding. While I've gotten "the point" of verse 18 for some time now, and even better after your last response, I have had problems figuring out how to "group it" with the verses that precede and follow it.

In my confused state, I tried to view one semantic chunk of the passage as verses 14-17, with 18 starting a new paragraph, and new semantic chunk. However, I kept getting stuck on the adversative in the construction that introduces the objection (all' erei tis, cf. Rom. 9:19, 11:19; 1 Cor. 15:3), and all the translations with "but" really had me hung up on where to put this verse. That particular construction is used elsewhere in the NT to similarly introduce statements by an "objector" (in this case, our hypothetical friend that you defined quite thoroughly above). I kept thinking to myself that such a strong adversative didn't really seem to mesh well with any possible configuration of this verse with the previous thought (verse 17), so needed to be placed separately, even though there was really nothing else for it to be placed with logically since verse 19 really starts a totally separate thought itself. Thus I had verse 18 floating in limbo, unconnected to the verses around it, and though its meaning made sense, the fact that I couldn't place it in context bothered me.

Earlier tonight I sat there and stared at 5 or 6 different English versions until it finally "clicked" for me. The versions I had been using for my study (NIV84, ESV) have verse 17 connected to James' example in verses 14-16, and then verse 18 off with the other (largely unconnected) thoughts of verses 19-26 (ESV), or verse 18 in an awkward "middle paragraph" between verses 14-26 and James' examples in Abraham and Rahab (NIV84). Both of these de-emphasize verse 18's connection to verse 17, and use "but" to draw a strong contrast. However, when I started comparing to other versions (primarily ASV), a different semantic ordering presented itself and everything fell into line. Grouping the concepts according to my new understanding (using ASV):

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but have not works? can that faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food,

16 and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

18 Yea, a man will say, "Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith."

19 Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder.

20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?

22 Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect;

23 and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.

24 Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.

25 And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.

The somewhat archaic "Yea" is actually what really helped me wrap my mind around the placement this hypothetical objection. By taking all' erei tis ("but someone will say") as something more along the lines of "indeed, someone may say" instead of "but someone will say", you can reasonably put verse 18 with verse 17 and it reads fluidly. I suppose you could attach verse 17 (and 18 by extension) at the end of verses 14-16 since it is connected, but I prefer what I have above since it drives home the concept of faith and works themselves, in the general case, independent of the example through analogy James just gave.

So, to pull it all together, how I would "translate" verses 17-18 now would be something like:

Even so faith by itself, if it does not have [accompanying] works, is dead. Indeed, someone may say [to you, because of your lack of demonstrable production] "You have faith; I have works (i.e., you have nothing to demonstrate the legitimacy of your faith, but I do). Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

I guess all of this is more just me writing my reasoning out than a question per se, but if you could just see if what I have written makes sense in your eyes, it would finally give me closure on this verse. I think this is the hardest I've ever worked to get to the bottom of biblical truth on my own, and it's really taught me that a) paragraph breaks are important for understanding the interconnectedness of thoughts, especially in the epistles, and b) hard work and diligence pays off in understanding.

Thanks for taking the time to keep up the dialogue with dense old me.

Response #17:

I think you have sussed this out exactly right. The Greek conjunction alla does indicate a contrast, but the question here is "in contrast to what?" I would say that the contrast is between the incorrect position of the faith-only believer and the reality that this hypothetical question introduces. In other words, this is a second example, or, more precisely, a follow-on to the first example, in case the faith-only person has not yet been shamed into seeing the invalid nature of his/her position. So "well then", "now" or "yea" (archaic equivalent in KJV) is a good way to render alla here (on which usage see Smyth Greek Grammar para. 2784a).

Yours in our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #18:

Do you think Christians can have hobbies? Like collecting something expensive? Can Christians have expensive cars? (Like a Ferrari)

Response #18:

Good to hear from you. Here is one thing I read in scripture:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
1st Corinthians 1:26-29 NIV

This has certainly been true in my own experience and observation of the Church over many years. When it comes to wealth, there are wealthy Christians, but in general terms, the wealthier they are, the lower their spirituality also seems to be as a rule (cf. Jas.5:1-6).

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
Mark 10:25 NIV

Why is this the case? Certainly, some rich people are saved (Jas.1:10-11; 1Tim.6:17-18). But the thing of it is, the more someone has of the things of this world, whether it is money or power or fame or pleasure or possessions or intelligence or whatever, the harder it is for that person to see how much even so he/she needs the Lord, and thus it is all the more difficult to apply him/herself to what God wants him/her to do rather than to "enjoying" the world instead. However:

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
James 4:4 NIV

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
1st John 2:15-17 NIV

That does not mean that it is wrong to have some money – it's very hard to survive in the modern world without it, and so we all work for a living (or should). Nor does it mean that Christians can't make some "progress" in this world or "enjoy" the fruits of their labor – indeed they can. However, WE understand that all this "stuff" down here on earth is temporary and unimportant in comparison to what is coming, and so WE are attempting to devote ourselves, our efforts, our thinking, our hearts, our resources to the Lord and to the work of the Lord (spiritual growth, progress and production) in hopes of the REAL reward which we hope to receive from the Lord Himself when He says "well done!" for our good choices here in this life in response to Him and His truth:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:19-21 NIV

As this quote from our Lord makes clear, what is important are our priorities. Do we enjoy ourselves with a hobby? It's not a sin. On the other hand, we only have a finite amount of time in this world and how we use that time is reflective of where are true priorities lie and also indicative of what sort of reward we are likely to receive before the Lord on that "Day". Can we not have some good things in this life? Why not, if we can afford them? But what did we have to do to get the money to afford them? If we have compromised ourselves and ignored the Lord and the true priorities He has for us in this life to do so, then any material thing, an expensive car, for example, which is going to be turned to dust like everything else in this world in a blink of an eye, will prove to be a very bad bargain in the end. It won't keep a genuine believer out of heaven, but it will likely go hand in hand with having earned not much of a reward here in this world and having little to show for our sojourn here in regard to what we did for the Church of Jesus Christ – because we focused on ourselves and on the things of this world instead. That is why giving into lust for anything, even for things which are not necessarily sinful in and of themselves, is such a bad idea:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1st Timothy 6:6-10 NIV

We didn't bring anything into this world at birth and we are not allowed to take anything out of it at death. There won't be any Ferraris in heaven – nor money, nor worldly fame, nor worldly power, etc. The old things have passed away already in principle (cf. Rev.21:4), and when the Millennium is over, this present world, the old heavens and the old earth, will be completely obliterated. As the old hymn has it, "only one life, t'will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last". Amen.

The Christian life, properly lived, is all about reprogramming the way we look at the world, training ourselves to see things from God's perspective – the perspective of the truth; and not from the world's perspective – that of the devil's lies. It's not a quick or a simple process, but it is the only way to true and lasting happiness in this life . . . and in the one to come.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #19:

I will certainly pray for you daily Robert. This might be an opportunity the Lord is using to grow your ministry full time via financial contributions. I know there are many of your readers who will provide that gift but I will let Him decide and will certainly pray for a great outcome either way.

You never know. In Christ Jesus our Lord.

Response #19:

I certainly appreciate the sentiment. However, I would have to be in pretty sorry shape to even think about going that route. People are very funny about money. Adding a financial dimension creates all manner of problems and complications, not least in the people who are giving, thinking about giving, gave in the past, feel responsible to give, etc. One needs to look no further than 2nd Corinthians chapters 8-9 to see how money can complicate things. If there was ever a man who did with less and cared less about money than the apostle Paul, I never heard of him. And yet that great apostle had to devote two entire chapters of the New Testament to this issue (and of course it's not the only place it's mentioned). Reading these two chapters I've often wondered in the past – why all the fuss? But it was a big problem because . . . people are funny about money. They are funny about giving it, what they expect for and from it, how they feel about it. That is why not having to have anything to do with that dimension of Christian activity, namely, financially supporting ministry, has been one of the greatest blessing I have had in doing this ministry. If I speak kindly and with patience to someone, they can be sure that I'm not angling for a contribution (I don't take them); and I have no fear of speaking frankly and with some tone of reproof when that is appropriate – I'm certainly not going to loss any contributions for that reason (I don't take them). God has blessed me with the means to make this ministry available on a purely grace basis, and I very, very grateful for that. The troubles I'm now experiencing have not so far caused the water to rise over my head and I am very confident that just as in all the very many instances in the past where such threats have arisen the Lord will deliver me and mine in this trial as well.

There is a potential downside to this policy, however. My dear departed New England born and raised mother used to say that what people don't have to pay for they generally don't value or respect, anything that comes free, that is to say. There is definitely truth in that. But I know that in spite of this ministry being "free", there have been some over the years like yourself who have clearly valued this ministry – even if they didn't have to pay for it.

Thanks for the prayer support – I'm keeping you and your family in mine every day.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #20:

I didn't intend to the message to be taken that way. I understand the issues around financial contributions and ministry. It is a fine line. I think maybe I was putting my anxiety and how I think on your emails. I continue to pray for a great outcome for you on this.

In Christ Jesus our Lord.

Response #20:

No worries, my friend!

I appreciate your good thoughts and good words very much.

Thanks for your prayers – it's a real battlefield out there, and it seems to be intensifying for almost all positive Christians as the time approaches.

Keeping you in my prayers for next week.

In our dear Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #21:

I have a question on blood, as I'm not entirely sure how to take it. On the one hand eating it was prohibited in the Old Testament, both in the Noahic Covenant and the Law of Moses as a symbol of life and the coming sacrifice of our Lord, on the other - all foods were declared clean und the New Covenant and the Law is no longer in force too. How should we treat the issue of blood? I know that in most countries this wouldn't be an issue today, as it's normally drained out from a slaughtered animal, but what if it's not? What about blood containing foods and what about blood itself? Should its sanctity still be maintained for symbolic reasons?

In our Lord,

Response #21:

Good to hear from you, my friend,

The issue of blood is no easy one. I agree with all that you say, and I think a believer acting out of perfect faith would indeed not feel any spiritual qualms about eating anything at all (based on e.g., Mk.7:19; Acts 10:9-16; 1Tim.4:3), anything "sanctified by the Word of God and prayer" (1Tim.4:5). Still, I can understand, given the strong prohibitions in the OT against eating blood, why it would be that an otherwise grace-oriented believer might be a bit squeamish about that – and for that reason your wonderful disquisition about the Law of Love in your attachment is point on. We know what we are allowed to do; we don't want to do anything which trips others up (not all things are "profitable"). So if we know some in our company while not legalists are also not comfortable on this point, emboldening them to do something they otherwise would not do out of their own faith is not a good idea. In such social situations, best not to order the black pudding.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #22:

Hi Bob,

Where does it say in I Timothy that in the end times people will abstain from meat specifically? I reread your email posting and I realized that none of the relevant passages regarding how people will behave in the end times say that people will abstain from meat in particular. They just say that people will abstain from certain foods.

So how did you deduce that "certain foods" means "meat"? Is this a Greek euphemism or idiom for meat? Or does the cultural context demand that "certain foods" be interpreted as "meat"? Or is this an educated guess based on the fact that a peculiar demographic in the USA tends to be enamored with dietary obsessions and you are extrapolating that this same demographic will remained undisturbed when the Tribulation begins? Or are you just inferring that Paul meant "meat" because that's what all the other evangelicals at Talbot seminary thought?


Response #22:

It's true that 1st Timothy 4:3 has merely bromata, "foods", but throughout the Bible – and throughout history – it has been meat that has been the biggest issue. There was a special dispensation to eat meat after the flood (Gen.9:3), and most of the dietary restrictions in the Law have to do with kinds of flesh; no doubt for that reason Daniel and his friends adopted a vegetarian diet. It is certainly "meat" that is the central dietary issue and problem in the NT, on account of pagan sacrifices mainly (cf. Acts 15:20; Rom.14:6; 14:21; 1Cor.8:13; 10:25ff.). On the other hand I know of no passage of scripture that would indicate that some other type of foodstuff ever was problematic in the past or will be in the future. The fact that at this late date vegetarianism and the vegan movement are more visible, powerful, and strident than ever before would certainly seem to confirm the judgment that 1st Timothy 4:3 is talking – at least mainly – about meat. The generalized way in which Paul puts it ("foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth" NIV) does mean that we cannot say that "meat" will be absolutely the only foodstuff at issue in antichrist's religious regime; but it is fair to say based upon the biblical framework in which this comment is made that if meat were not the main part of the issue some additional explanation would be necessary. So it's a good point that we can't say that other foodstuffs might not be included by the beast's religion as abominable (Twinkies?), but I would stick with the position that the main point of interpretation has to do with an aggressive vegetarianism and/or veganism (cheese and eggs, e.g., are not "meat" after all).

As to Talbot, I don't recall this point ever being addressed. You may have the wrong idea about seminary, viz. that students spend most of their waking hours there in the substantive interpretation of the Bible – that was not even the case when I attended there in the early '80's (how much less so today).

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #23:

I recently had an email exchange with someone who maintained Christians shouldn't eat pork.

My argument was:

"1 Timothy 4:1-3. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and COMMANDING TO ABSTAIN FROM MEATS, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

"Acts 10:11-15. And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

"[Admittedly, the context implies that the imminent arrival of the gentile Cornelius was the thrust of the passage, but that doesn't change, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."]

"[As gentiles: (at least for me; it's possible you're not though it probably doesn't change the covenant.)]

"Acts 15:28,29. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."

His rebuttal was that I misunderstood the context. I don't see how.

What would you say? Was I wrong?


Yours in Jesus Christ,

Response #23:

Good to hear from you, my friend. You are of course, completely correct. There is no reason why Christians should abstain from eating foods prohibited by the Mosaic Law – except in situations where it might cause offense. For example, if a brother or sister was invited to a potluck by some traditionalist Jewish friends, bringing ribs would not be the best idea. But there is nothing in scripture that even suggests that Christians today should abstain. What "context" were you accused of misunderstanding? I don't know of any verses in scripture that would give a gentile Christian pause about this . . . except in the Mosaic Law. As to the Old Covenant, our hope as born again believers is in Jesus Christ, the High Priest of a New Covenant founded not on shadows but on the reality of His sacrifice on the cross; it is in confident hope of actual salvation through His blood that we now make our way through this world on our way to Zion:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19-20 NIV

For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.
Hebrews 7:12 NIV

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless.
Hebrews 7:18 NIV

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.
Hebrews 8:6-7 NIV

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 NIV

Even the all-Jewish council in Jerusalem during the days of the apostles did not place upon the gentiles any such burden from the Law of Moses other than to stay away from the most egregious manifestations of pagan idolatry (which things were offensive to Jewish brothers and sisters) – as you point out yourself (well done!).

For more on this please see the link: "The Dangers of Messianic Legalism" (Q/A #1).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #24:

Thanks, Bob, for the confirmation. I have no idea what context he was talking about. His notion that we should not eat ham and celebrate Passover instead of Easter ignores the fact that the Passover Lamb has already been sacrificed and the blood on the door now should be His blood on our hearts.

Paul said (somewhere?) that to revert to Mosaic law. which didn't work, was to crucify Christ all over again. I believe that, since Mosaic law points to Christ, to revert to that rejects Christ's


My argument apparently has had no effect as has consistently been the case with partial Mosaic law followers (as my friend I wrote to you about before.) Evangelism is sadly not one of my gifts and I suspect I should just be quiet in that regard. I think most all such people are trying to come to the truth as best they can and I should trust the Holy Spirit to get them there in due course. It's

been a long haul for me -- thank you for your guidance in getting me back on track and helping me along the way -- so I can sympathize with others also on the journey.

Thanks for taking the time on your weekend, which I hope was good, to respond.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Response #24:

You are absolutely correct, and there are several books of the New Testament (not to mention very many passages in other books) mostly devoted to addressing this issue, by which I mean Galatians and Hebrews.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since (better, "while") they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Hebrews 6:4-6 NKJV

Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
Hebrews 10:29 NKJV

Both of these passages specifically equate continuation by believers in the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law with sin.

Don't be too down on yourself. You are "showing the flag" for the truth, and I know that this redounds to your eternal "account". We never know just what word of truth will hit home with those to whom we are trying to get through. Paul understood very well that it's not a matter of being an impressive personality or having a polished delivery (1Cor.2:4; 2Cor.10:10). The Holy Spirit is the Evangelist in chief, and He is capable of cutting through with the dullest of axes. Knowing and believing the truth and being willing to let ourselves be used are the things that really count, not the external and surface impressions the world values and honors.

Keep up the good work for Jesus Christ our Lord!

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #25:

Does Paul believe that gluttony is bad?

"One of Crete's own prophets has said it: 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true."
Titus 1:12

Response #25:

"Gluttons" is the normal translation, but that is very misleading. The Greek says "lazy stomachs", which I take to mean that they wished to fill their stomachs (with our without gluttony) but had no wish to work for a living to do it . . . so they're only "good at eating" not at working (i.e., more emphasis should rest on the "lazy"; less on the eating). In any case, this is a quote from Epimenides, and while Paul says that "the testimony is true", that has to be taken in the context of a secular poet speaking with poetic license. Paul didn't expect anyone to take from these words that every single person on the island of Crete was a lay-about (much less a glutton), but that it was a noted characteristic of the people living there. We should also note that being born again, while it does not remove the tendencies of our old sin natures nor "wipe the slate clean" in every way, does give a "new start to the heart", and even believers who have been in the faith a long time without growing (but rather retrogressing) can, with the Spirit's help, reverse bad tendencies and make spiritual progress . . . if they are willing. That is the intent of Paul's comments here and the desired end result of his command to Titus, "that they may be healthy in their faith" (Tit.1:13b).

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #26:

Hi Bob,

I have a bad habit of procrastinating on things I should be doing by researching interesting but not directly related topics (better than turning alcohol or pornography, I guess). My topic of choice for the last little while has been nutrition, and, to put it one way, instead of not worrying about what I eat (Matthew 6:25), I've developed an unhealthy habit of rather manic analysis of everything I eat.

I'm trying to take a step back now and figure out what a good Christian perspective on food is (because I think I've become rather neurotic about it). This is relevant in my outlook on other things as well: I have a hard time letting things drop at "good enough" and probably spend more time than I should worrying about what the "best" way to do everything is. Without getting too much into the epidemiology, clinical trials, or biochemistry here's what I'm thinking a rather reasonable course is:

1) Eat whole, unprocessed foods.

2) Avoid added sugar.

3) Avoid refined vegetables oils.

I was (and still am) troubled to an extent that all the research about nutrition is contradictory.

The more I researched (and believe me when I say I've researched a lot), the more I got the feeling that this sort of fine grain optimization isn't a good, balanced, Christian perspective on food. Does all of this really matter as long as you eat "healthily enough" (see the "reasonable course", above) to avoid the diseases normally caused by the standard American diet? On the other hand, is there anything wrong with trying to "optimize" our diet or other areas of life?

Finally, do you think the Bible's common use of imagery with bread and fruit in any way recommends consumption of these foods for us -- even if in fact a low-carb diet is healthier according to science? Communion seems to have bread and wine -- gluten and carbs -- instituted in a sacrament of the church ... is this significant, or just a reflection of the dietary practices at the time of the first advent? Can we draw any conclusions from what God said Adam and Eve could eat before the fall and after the fall, and what he said Noah could eat after the flood? Can we gain any dietary insight from anything in OT law?

In Christ,

Response #26:

On the issue of food, I certainly don't pretend to have any sort expert knowledge on this, and for individuals with special problems or allergies, paying attention to diet is certainly going to be more important than it is for everyone else. I do remember seeing a documentary a few years ago about centenarians, that is, folks who live to be 100 or more. The people interviewed and examined were from all walks of life, races etc., but the two things they all had in common were 1) a strong faith, and 2) they had always eaten whatever they wanted. When someone like Pritikin dies of cancer and someone like Adkins dies of being overweight, it's not unreasonable to be skeptical of all the claims made for different approaches. My late mother was a nutritionist by degree, and I can tell you that her ideas of diet were a whole lot different from what we see today. The one thing she always did try to do was to serve and eat a variety of things (fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy meat) pretty much every meal – and she lived to be 96. Having said that, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to live to be 96 (especially have seen in gruesome detail what that looks like).

In terms of the Bible, the first thing to note about diet is that just about everything we find about that in scripture has to do with prohibition. That is to say, modern nutrition, while there are always "things to stay away from", concentrates on what one should eat and in what proportions and how prepared, etc., but there is almost nothing of that in the Bible. In simple terms, if the Bible doesn't say you can't eat it, then there is nothing specifically wrong with doing so (I don't think anything much can be made of "bread" being used for "food" since it was the staple of the day – and the command to Noah opened up everything edible for consumption – until the Law). Of course scripture does not address everything. Overdoing things in any venue of life can be sinful and harmful, (prohibitions again), as in getting drunk (which is mentioned of course). Eating or drinking things that offend other Christians unnecessarily is also warned against (Rom.14). Since Christ is "the end of the Law for those who believe" (Rom.10:4), clearly we don't need to be concerned about the prohibitions of the Mosaic Law (Acts 10 or any of Paul's comments on the Law would seem to make that clear enough). Even the Jerusalem council, not operating with the force of inspiration, only required the gentile believers to stay away from eating meat where the blood was deliberately retained – so as not to offend Jewish believers. And here is what Paul says to the Corinthians:

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it." If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.
1st Corinthians 10:25-27

And in speaking with Timothy Paul offers this in warning him against false teachers obsessed with diet:

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
1st Timothy 4:4-5

Everything else I find in scripture follows these same patterns. Having food and clothing are blessings from God. What food we choose (if we have a choice) or how we prepare it would seem to belong to the realm of spiritual common sense and personal preference – as long as we are not idolizing food or spending outlandishly on it or over-indulging in it or otherwise using it or abusing it in unwise ways – like the fellow I read about who came down with scurvy because he had been subsisting exclusively on "Hot Pockets" for years and thus had no source whatsoever of vitamin C. It doesn't even take spiritual common sense to realize that this sort of extreme behavior is a problem.

But as to fine tuning things too much and spending hours researching to do so, I am quite confident that the Lord does not require it of us. And it seems to me that your observation about sources not agreeing is right on the money. When I was growing up, the "settled science" was that saturated fats (like butter) were very bad for the heart and so people should eat vegetable substitutes instead (like oleo). My mother, nutritionist that she was, grew up on a dairy farm and knew quite well that butter and whole milk were healthy and nutritious – so that's what we got. And come to find out some fifty years later that those hydrogenated products like oleo are actually and literally about 100 times worse for your heart! So much for the refinements of science. As I say, if something makes secular common sense, that is no doubt a sign to be observed; but a "new finding" which violates everything normal folks have thought for millennia might just not be completely correct – and for my money there is no use worrying about it.

I had a floor-mate in seminary who had serious allergies and that required him to go to extremes in what he would eat and how he should vary his diet. Seemed onerous. To the extent that you have a good doctor who is giving you good advice, I would follow it. To the extent that this is all floating around in cyber-space and not tailored to you personally by someone qualified whom you have reason to trust, I wouldn't worry about it. You have much more important fish to fry, even if it is your preference to fry them in oleo.

Hang in there, my friend. You will find a balance in these things. I am confident that the Spirit will lead you to just the right approach day by day – if you listen carefully enough.

Your friend in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #27:

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the sage advice, as always.

Regarding food, the general impression I'm getting from your response is basically that we don't have to worry about it as long as we apply basic common sense. This was the direction my thoughts were leaning – essentially, God has created food as a blessing, and we don't have to take a bunch of supplements or be overly Spartan in what we eat to achieve a godly level of health. Christians have more important things to worry about than meticulously researched diets that follow the current scientific advice (which may or not be correct ... and is often contradictory even on important things). Best just eat one's vegetables, try not to go crazy on the ice cream and cake, and enjoy food as one of the legitimate pleasures in this life (Eccl.8:15) – while spending all that time that could be used worrying about diet instead on things like spiritual growth.

Am I reading you correctly?

Also, I just thought of one more point for clarification:

The 1st Timothy passage you quote mentions that everything God created is good – not necessarily everything that is on supermarket shelves. This would tend to support the idea that while we needn't worry about natural, whole foods supplied by God (vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy, nuts, fish, grains, etc.), perhaps we ought to be more discerning when it comes to things that God didn't create – processed foods with additives and unnatural ratios of nutrients (e.g., many sodas contain on the magnitude of 50g of easily digestible sugar, which is virtually impossible to consume naturally since sugar containing foods contain fiber that leads to satiation).

What do you think of this application?

Yours in Christ,

Response #27:

On the first point, yes, that is how I see it precisely.

As to your other application, I think that to the extent that this principle is applied with common sense it's a good one. However, it's also true that never in the history of the world has food been entirely pure and free from taint (e.g., "botulism" comes from botuli, the little sausages sold in the Roman markets). So while I'll agree that it's just common sense to understand that all manner of "stuff" put into a food product may be problematic, it's also probably off the other side of the road to get paralyzed trying to find and eat only "pure foods". God certainly knows that we have other things to focus on here in carrying out His will for our lives.

Thanks for your prayers – there will probably be a meeting this coming week where these troubles with my program will be resolved. I'll do my best for my colleague and myself, but the Dean holds all the power. But I do know that God is working this out for the good.

Your friend in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #28:

Hi Bob,

Glad to see that I got the general message. I will try to take it heart and learn to just relax about food.

Just a note: as I went back over the 1 Timothy passage, I realized that it doesn't really say what I was trying to make it say. The context in mind is very clearly talking about the concept of spiritual categorization of foods rather than any nutritive value:

3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

That is to say, the foods are "good" in the sense that they are proper for consumption, pace what the heretical false teachers say. (And cf. Paul's other comments about all food being fine to eat now spiritually – i.e., there are no longer clean and unclean foods). There is no sense of "foods that humans create are bad" in this passage.

Now, I still believe the principle put forth is perfectly valid in that we should strive to eat food closer to the state in which is grown naturally since that is what God gives us. Human tinkering may not always be harmful, but we can trust that food that comes from God will be healthful and nourishing. (Although, as you point out, it's really not such a big deal that we need to go running and screaming every time we eat something processed. But as much as possible, it makes sense to avoid processed foods and instead opt for whole foods that come from God directly.)

Just to be sure: this passage is talking about spiritual categories of food, as I have just explained, correct? (Meaning that my previous use of this passage in support of the principle is not really valid)?

Since I had never really looked at the concept of food in the Bible, I decided to spend some time on the subject, understanding of course that it is not of great spiritual importance. In so doing, several questions came up. Please do take your time with this set, as these are out of curiosity more than anything else.

1) In Genesis 1:29, could you briefly explain the Hebrew behind the phrase variously translated as "every seed-bearing plant" or "every plant yielding seed"? In particular:

Is it talking about plants that yield seeds in isolation (e.g., wheat), or plants that reproduce by means of seeds even if the seeds themselves aren't isolated (e.g., squash, cucumbers), or both?

Is it talking about plants that are cultivated for their edible seeds, or just plants that reproduce by means of seeds? Asked another way, is God allowing consumption of non-seed parts of plants that reproduce by means of seeds?

2) In Genesis 3:18, are the "plants of the field" different than the class of plants discussed above? That is, is God now granting new things to eat, or merely stating that man will have to work to grow plants to eat now?

3) Genesis 1:29-30 seems to suggest that all animals, including humans and others traditionally considered omnivores/carnivores, were originally herbivores (i.e., vegetarians) in Eden. Is this correct?

4) In the time between the fall and the post-flood widening of diet, was meat consumed, or were livestock only raised for other reasons like wool and victims for sacrifices? How about dairy from the livestock in this time period -- would drinking milk follow God's food directives from Genesis 1:29 and 3:18?

5) Genesis 9:3 mentions nothing of things like dairy or eggs, which certainly do not "live and move". Can we understand the "everything" in the statement "Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything" as referring to "everything edible" instead of to animal flesh specifically?

If "everything" here is in reference to animal flesh specifically, how do things like dairy and eggs fit in? It is clear from other scriptures that both were consumed after this point in history.

6) I would assume that the phrase "green plants" in Genesis 9:3 is a shorthand way of describing the seed-bearing plants from Genesis 1:29 (and anything additional from 3:18) that humans were previously authorized to eat. In other words, the phrase is not saying that God gave all green plants to humans as food before the flood (like he had to the animals, cf. Genesis 1:30), but is just referring to those plants that God had given humans to eat. Is this correct?

Would fruit trees be included in the "green plants" here? 

Again, no need to get back to me quickly on these.

Yours in Christ,

Response #28:

It's certainly within the realm of common sense to avoid things that are pretty obviously not healthy and try instead to eat in a reasonable way. The two extremes, both of which are well-evidenced in our society today, are throwing caution to winds on the one hand and becoming obsessive about food through adherence to one or a number of dietary fads on the other. Here is what our Lord says:

"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: "What comes out of a person is what defiles them."
Mark 7:18-20 NIV

So "all foods" are clean (cf. Acts 10:9-15). That means that placing any spiritual significance on one type of food over another is improper and not biblically justified – but it doesn't relieve a Christian of the duty to live in a prudent and responsible way. There's nothing unclean about gravity, either; doesn't mean we should think we can jump off the roof without breaking our neck.

In terms of 1st Timothy 4:4-5, we Christians are in this world to serve the Lord. That is why we have been left here. To do so we need certain things, such as food, to live and be able to do so. Where there is a need for miraculous provision (such as the manna of the exodus, the crows bringing meat to Elijah, or the Lord multiplying the loaves and fishes), the Lord provides; where there is a need for miraculous sustenance (such as the clothes of the children of Israel not wearing out before they reached the land or the widow's jar of flour and flask of oil not running out until the famine was gone) the Lord provides; and if there is a question of things beyond our control in food or limited availability of what we would otherwise opt for out of healthy concerns, the Lord provides – in this last case by sanctifying the food we are about to eat when we pray that we do so (2Ki.4:38-41). Now that doesn't mean that if we have plenty of food in the fridge and decide to cook up a pound of hamburger that is turning green and reeking that we will suffer no ill-effects because we prayed over it – it wasn't absolutely necessary to eat it and we had fair warning of trouble that was indisputable. God may protect us any way, but this example strikes me as one of testing the Lord rather than "having faith" – He provided something else in the fridge which wasn't rotten but we persevered in a questionable course of action. Once again, this is basic spiritual common sense.

Paul uses this proper Christian approach of eating what the Lord has provided, thanking Him for it and praying that there will be no ill-effects from things beyond our ken or control, in contrast to that of false teachers who wish to use food as a mark of holiness and separation from others – but that is not what the Lord intends: all food is good; we just need to be thankful for God's provision of it.

On your questions:

1) I think the meaning is generic and flexible enough to cover these and all potential categories (even some which in terms of strict scientific categorization might not seem to fit).

2) The contrast is between Eden where the food grew on trees (literally) but now will come from plants which will have to cultivated "by the sweat of the brow".

3) I don't think it's possible to restrict this to the garden. The "ground" here is ha'arets which, while "ground" is possible, could also be translated "earth"; I take this to be the rule for all animal life on earth at the time.

4) Well we know that eating meat was authorized by the Lord after the flood. By the end of that period, the pre-flood population apart from Noah and his family were in violation of the most extreme imperatives of human life, cohabitating with angels and producing a hybrid, mongrel race. So if they had a hamburger on occasion against God's will, well, it would hardly be surprising. On dairy products, I don't know of any references in the first chapters of Genesis which would illuminate that question directly. I will say that I know of no prohibition against them, and also that domestic animals such as sheep, goats and cows, have rarely if ever been kept without making use of the milk – and Abel was a shepherd.

5) See previous question; in the absence of any direct statement against such use anywhere in scripture, after meat is authorized I think it would be impossible to make a strong argument that there was any such prohibition.

6) Genesis 9:6 is another very general statement designed to avoid having to provide a laundry list. My paraphrase: "if it grows, you can eat it [as long as it's edible]". This is an approach meant to avoid obsessive categorization of different types of plants/foods. And, again, it's not a justification to dispense with spiritual common sense – or even with normal human common sense. If plant X is known to be poisonous, eating it is a mistake and this passage will not allow finding fault on the basis of misreading it. That seems to me to be the force of "green" as in "good/edible" as one may know by observation. Clearly, some plants which are literally green are poisonous or otherwise inedible or require special preparation to be edible or healthful to eat; and many others are not technically green in color but are good and healthful and edible. This verse tells us we can continue to eat plants after the flood – provided they are edible. So yes, I would include fruit trees and even mushrooms – the edible kind, that is.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #29:

Hi Bob,

Sorry to keep asking more and more questions ... but I just want to make sure I'm understanding correctly.

Regarding 1 Timothy 4:4-5, let me try reframing what I was asking with examples:

Application #1

[Christian]: Here, have some fruit snacks.

[Another Christian]: I choose not to eat fruit snacks because they are processed, and 1 Timothy 4:4 says that what God creates is good [i.e., nutritionally wholesome and healthy]. Since God didn't directly create the fruit snacks (in the same way as he created natural whole foods), I can't know if they are good or not, so I will therefore avoid them, since they have the possibility of being "not good" [i.e., nutritionally deficient and/or unhealthy].

Application #2

[False Teacher]: True Christians do not eat bananas. Bananas are unclean and of the devil.

[Christian]: Nonsense. 1 Timothy 4:4 states that all food is clean for us now (i.e., there is no spiritual significance to eating or avoiding certain types of food), just like Mark 7:18-20.

Application #3

[Christian Wife]: Oh dear, we are running low on our grocery budget for the month. I don't think I'll be able to purchase organic fruits and vegetables next time I go to the store -- we'll have to settle for the conventional variety with pesticide residues and lower nutritional quality.

[Christian Husband]: Don't worry dear. 1 Timothy 4:4-5 makes it clear that all food comes from God if we receive it with thanksgiving: God will sanctify the food we have available given our circumstances. [My comment: meaning what exactly?]


a) Are Application #1 and Application #2 both valid? One but not the other?

b) Application #3 seems to be suggested by what you wrote -- that God will "consecrate" or "sanctify" food not in a sense of spiritual cleanliness or uncleanliness but in some other way (?). That is, if circumstances make proper, healthy food impossible to come by, something happens to the food we do have when we pray over it? I confess that I don't see this in the passage: instead, I see application #2 -- nothing is to be rejected on the grounds that it is unclean because it is consecrated (with respect to its potential uncleanliness) by the word of God and prayer (as with Mark 7:18-20). Could you perhaps explain more what you mean by "sanctifying" in the following statement:

"[I]f there is a question of things beyond our control in food or limited availability of what we would otherwise opt for out of healthy concerns, the Lord provides -- in this last case by sanctifying the food we are about to eat when we pray that we do so."

c) In a broader sense in this passage, what exactly is food that "God created"? That is, is this phrase referring to food that comes from the natural world directly (since God created almond trees, e.g., raw almonds can be thought of as being "created by God" directly), or food in the sense of everything edible, no matter how it is prepared (since all sustenance ultimately comes from God, even if takes the form of something not found directly in nature -- like a cookie)?


Follow up on the other questions, 1-6:

1) Sorry to be dense, but if "seed-bearing plants" essentially means "plants" (what you seem to be saying), then why is the "seed bearing" part included at all? Why not use "green plants" (found in v.30, of the other animals' diet) or just "plants"? I understand that "seed bearing" might not match up with current scientific terminology, but I'm just trying to understand what it would mean to the people of the time when you said "seed bearing plants". (And if this would be the same as the category "green plants" or something distinct).

2) So it is not permissible to understand any shift in the consumption of food types from Genesis 3:18, merely how humans came about acquiring food?

3) Agreed.

4) So basically, meat eating was technically restricted (and would have thus been avoided by the faithful, like Abel), but that didn't mean that the unbelieving populace avoided it. Dairy was likely consumed in this time, since there were no dietary prohibitions against it and people with domestic animals almost always consume at least some milk, but we can't know for sure since the text doesn't tell us. Is all this correct?

5) Agreed about dairy and eggs being permissible. I was just curious about what "everything" meant in Genesis 9:3. Is it referring to everything that lives and moves (i.e., animal flesh), all plants (including those not previously authorized for consumption, i.e., the complement of "green plants"), or everything in general (i.e., all things edible -- whether of plant or animal origin)?

6) My confusion here is stemming from a similar place as the confusion in (1). Since Genesis 9:3 seems to use "green plants" in a way that makes it equivalent to "seed bearing plants", are you saying that for all intents and purposes, these two titles are talking about the same food sources?

Thanks for being patient, as always.

Yours in Christ,

Response #29:

No worries (the meeting went well; my colleague's job was [mostly] saved and Greek was as well – thanks for your prayers!).

On your questions, I think anyone, certainly any Christian, is within his/her right to refuse to eat anything he/she doesn't want to eat for whatever reason. It's always a good idea not to offend people, if possible, so a polite refusal is in order, but we shouldn't feel enslaved to someone else' idea of what we ought to eat and when – that's part of the whole point here. I don't think any Christian should even listen to what a false teacher has to say (about diet or anything else), and certainly shouldn't feel compelled to engage in dialogue – that is probably a really bad idea for most, except in the case of someone prepared to do so, and more particularly in the case of someone with gifts which lend themselves to apologetics and with the prerequisite training and experience. It's not our job to change people's false opinions through argumentation. It's our job to share the truth, to witness to the truth, and to live a life that glorifies the truth – what others do with that is their business. On the third application, as mentioned before, going off the rails on either side of the track is a bad idea. So while I don't think either the "go all in organic" or "don't bother worrying about what's in it" approaches make any spiritual difference whatsoever, both have potential side-effects (as is the case with most extremes), the latter physical (for obvious reasons), the former spiritual (by placing an undue emphasis on unimportant material matters).

As to the question of "what it means, exactly", the main point Paul makes here is the first one, namely, that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving" (1Tim.4:4 KJV) – meaning that food is good and given to us by God, and not something to be refused if we receive it with the right attitude of thankfulness. If there are questions about something that we need and don't have the luxury of turning our noses up at (if we are poor and hungry), we can be assured that God has sanctified it at our request (1Tim.4:5). All this applies to "food" – which entails anything edible to which we might have access. I am sure that the wisdom of God foresaw everything perfectly, including the fact that very little today is as "close to the cow" (or the field) as was the case in antiquity. As I said, in my opinion as long as extremes are avoided, I don't see how this is a spiritual issue.

Further Questions:

1) "Bearing seed" is what all plants do (to the naked eye of pre-scientific times in which this was written); so this phrase merely serves to make the permission more solid and general (definitely not to restrict it to some special class).

2) I don't see any evidence of that.

3) OK

4) That's my best take.

5) I think it's fair to take this as being permission to eat anything which human beings might generally consider edible.

6) The purpose is similar. As I said, this is a positive characteristic -- just as "seed bearing" is -- so that the permission is confirmed thereby (rather than restricted) -- both phrases have the effect of saying "anything that grows which is edible and good"; but they're not talking about different categories of plants, and it would be a considerable mistake to argue for that.

Hope your classes go well all the way to the end, my friend!

Keeping you in my prayers daily.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #30:

Hi Bob,

I'm glad to hear it! I often wonder in situations like this if the Lord is testing the true mettle of our resolve. I can personally think of several situations in which things looked grim – forcing me to stop relying on myself, which I otherwise struggle to do – only to have everything turn out alright after all, with a story to tell afterwards. (This week comes to mind, along with basically every finals week that I can remember).

As to the above questions, I want to clarify just one last time:

2) when you say "I don't see any evidence of that", what you mean is that you don't see any evidence that God is authorizing new/different food groups for human consumption, correct?

6) Could you explain what you mean by this statement?

As I said, this is a positive characteristic – just as "seed bearing" is – so that the permission is confirmed thereby (rather than restricted)

Are you using "positive" in the sense of "good, beneficial, etc."? How does including a positive adjective serve to confirm the permission?

I'm planning on digging into the Greek of 1 Timothy 4:1ff. when I get some time since the passage is still giving me trouble. I'll plan on sending you an email with more specific questions once I've taken more time to really dig into it (it could be a while). It's not that I don't understand the general thrust so much as that I wish to be sure I'm comfortable on the details as well.

In Him,

Response #30:

Thanks again for your prayers, my friend. I'll be keeping you in mine as well for a strong finish to your semester.

On your questions:

2) As to "I don't see any evidence of that", namely of the "plants of the field" [being] different than the class of plants discussed above.

6) As to "Are you using "positive" in the sense of "good, beneficial, etc."? How does including a positive adjective serve to confirm the permission?" Yes, I mean that both of these qualifiers tell me that we are to understand "food that is [actually] good" is meant; the confirmation comes from the emphasis provided by this additional piece of information which serves in the same capacity as a predicate, "food, and good [green] food at that", or alternatively, "food, [and it is] good [green] for you too". By specifying / delineating the food / plants, the Lord is seen to have selected some from others (the edible and the healthy from all else).

Your friend in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.


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