Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Serpent of Old"

Question:

“I just got to the going deeper point C in the Genesis lesson 5 devotion...I am one of those that would quickly tell you that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is Satan. Now, as you challenged, as I re-read the passage, I don't see where it identifies the serpent as Satan. So, maybe I am coming to a conclusion that my previous beliefs were based on tradition (of man). But one question. The serpent LIED to Eve. Isn't that already sin even though the 10 Commandments have not been given? And if it's already sin, where did that sin come from when God made all the animals and I really can't see Him making them with sin in them. I'm thinking out loud here a bit, but I don't see God's earthly creation having sin, so it must have been Satan in disguise?”


Answer:

Thank you for this question, as it is one that comes up from time to time and contains some elements that I believe at least, once clarified from scripture, will help us to further understand just who our “enemy” really is.

For the sake of time and to keep from being repetitive, it will really help the reader if they will check out an earlier Blog response titled “God, Evil & Satan” that addresses the origin of sin and Satan.

The question that you refer to from the BCC Family Devotional Series on the book of Genesis, Lesson 5 asks: “Most people will quickly tell you that the serpent in the Garden is Satan… but does the account here in Genesis 3 ever actually say that? If yes, where? If not, why do you think the serpent is identified as Satan? Can you base the identification of the serpent in the Garden as Satan based on the written Word of God?”

The intent of the Lesson 5 question is to get the reader to think deeper about exactly who the enemy of God’s people is and where the temptation to deny or question God comes from. And to base their opinion on what scripture says, not what “they” say or someone else told you what it says.

Before we get too far, I want to look at several of the elements of your question and try to get some clarity in some of the statements you made (Understanding that as you said, you were “thinking out loud a bit”).

• Genesis 3:1 - Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden '?" (NASB)

You are correct that in the account of the fall of mankind from Genesis 3, the “identity” of the serpent that tempts Eve by lying to her is not directly identified as being Satan.

You are also correct in stating that the serpent lied to Eve…

• Gen. 3:1 – A question designed to get Eve to doubt what God had earlier said to Adam in Gen. 2:17. (Possibly the reason she felt obligated to embellish on what God had said by including the prohibition against even “touching” the tree.)
• Gen. 3:4 – A direct lie (falsehood) in opposition to what God had told Adam in Gen. 2:17
• Gen. 3:5 – I believe that even this is a “twisted” truth or lie, because according to what God had already told Adam (and presumably Adam had told Eve) in Gen. 2:17 God had already begun to teach them the difference between “good” and “evil,” not to keep it from them.

As for your statement concerning whether the “sin” of lying could have been committed before the 10 Commandments were given, we need to make sure we are also on the same page there. The 10 Commandments were not given to make lying or bearing false witness a sin from that point on, but rather were part the revelation of the standard of righteousness that is required for “right standing” with God, and to expose how hopelessly short we all fall from achieving that standard on our own. Sin existed for thousands of years prior to the giving of the law. For example: the Serpent lied to Eve, Eve disobeyed God and so did Adam, Cain murdered his brother only a few pages later, sometime after that, but long before the Law was given; mankind was so wicked and sinful that God wiped them all off the face of the earth in a great flood, with the exception of the “most righteous man of his time” and his immediate family… and so on and so on.

For where that sin came from, please refer to the earlier mention of the Blog question concerning the origin of Sin and Satan. The law was given to expose sin and tell us what it is (e.g. Romans 3:20, 7:7), not to create sin!

It’s also important to understand and remember that God did not create anything with “sin in it,” animal or otherwise. He created everything to be “good” or “very good.” Sin was and is the result of disobedience to God. As far as the “earthly creation” having sin… all of creation was corrupted by mankind’s sin as a result of God’s curse on Adam and Eve, who had been given dominion over it and responsibility for it.

• Gen. 3:17, Romans 8:19-22

Ok… so to the question: “Who or what was the serpent in the Genesis 3 account of the fall of mankind?”

Did Satan enter into a created “animal” and manipulate it into lying and tempting Eve to sin?

Or… Was it in fact Satan himself who was the tempter in the garden that day?

This is a loaded question and can be a matter of debate, interpretation, tradition, and opinion!

I love it and at the same time it makes me uncomfortable, because I don’t think I can give you a “definitive” and absolute answer based on the information we have recorded in Scripture (which is part of the exercise: What does the Bible actually say?).

Remember, the inspired, recorded Word of God that we have in the Bible does not contain every minute detail of every activity of God and every aspect of creation or much information about peripheral beings like angels, demons, or even Satan. What it does contain is this: 2 Peter 1:2-4 – “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."(NASB)…so what does the Word say?

• Genesis 3:1 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden '?" (NASB)

First, does the scriptural evidence we have point to the serpent as an animal? (This would mean that either the animal had been subject to sin before creation was corrupted or equally complicated, that Satan is or was able to enter an animal and use or control it for his purposes. This could be supported by Luke 22:3 which states that Satan “entered” into Judas before he went to the Chief Priests to discuss how he could betray Jesus. But keep in mind that this event happened after the fall.)

• The tempter here in Gen. 3:1 is simply identified as “the serpent” - the word used for serpent meaning “a serpent or snake.”
• The serpent in question is described as being a “beast of the field” which tells us that it is a created and “living thing” or “wild beast.” (Presumably created on the 6th day along with the other wild and domestic animals.)
• The serpent is also given the distinction of being “more crafty” or “sly, sensible, shrewd” than any other “beast of the field” or wild beast. (Perhaps the reason that it could speak or be manipulated by Satan.)

This serpent is able to speak to Eve and even to lie to her, which tells me that if it was in fact a created animal, that God created it with the ability to speak to mankind and/or somehow Satan was able to either tempt it into sin, or to control it in some way to get it to lie to her. Remember, Satan is the source of all lies as Jesus indicated in John 8:44.

• It is interesting to note that when this encounter is mentioned in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:3) that the tempter is still called “the serpent,” and it is by his “craftiness” that he tempted Eve. (However, this could possibly be used to argue for either point presented here.)

When the serpent is cursed by God in Gen. 3:14-15, it is cursed more than any other beast either domestic or wild. The curse being that it will “go” or walk on its belly (like a snake) and eat the “dust” or “dry earth” all the days of his/its life.

• Some who believe that this was an animal that was manipulated by Satan point to this and explain that snakes and serpents had arms or legs prior to the curse and that they lost this “upright position” due to their sin (although the text doesn’t mention arms or legs!).
• If this is a literal crawling in the dust, then their point could possibly be made. What gives me trouble with this is that this walking on the belly could be figurative, as it is the lowest most demeaning way of travel and eating the dust could mean a humbling or subservient position as well.
• The reason I point this out is because if the curse is literal, then those who interpret it that way would be hard pressed to explain how the serpents head was literally bruised or “crushed” by the woman’s seed and how the serpent would “crush” or bruise the heel of the woman’s seed.
• Of course, a snake biting a person on the leg and the person stomping on its head could possibly explain this if it is a literal explanation. Most believe, however, that this is the first time the Gospel of the Savior or Redeemer of mankind is promised; the first Gospel of Christ. If this is the case (and I believe it is) it could be symbolic of Satan trying to impede the movement of the Kingdom of God or to prevent the work of Jesus, and of the Christ who “crushed” the authority (symbolized by the head) of Satan, sin, and death.

This “fits”, but my question is “if it is to be understood literally, why God switched from being literal to symbolic in the same curse is not clear or, could it be a mixture of both?

This is what leads me into a second possible explanation for the identity of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. (And why I don’t think that your initial idea was based simply on “tradition of man” as you stated.)

Is there any scriptural evidence that it was Satan himself who appeared in “person” to tempt mankind into their first sin?

• In the beginning of Scripture we are simply told that it was the serpent that tempted Eve to doubt God and as a result act in sinful disobedience.
• We are also told that this serpent was unique amongst created “beasts” because it was “craftier” than any other wild thing. Could this be an early description of Satan, who is in fact a created thing or being and is later referred to as a serpent and the power behind the “false beasts” of Revelation (mentioned from Revelation 11:7 to 20:10)?

One thing that leads me to believe this is how Satan is described at the end of Scripture:

• Revelation 12:9 – “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (NASB)

• Revelation 20:2 - “And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;…” (NASB)

As well as what some other scriptures tell us about him and how he operates:

• John 8:44 – Satan was a “murderer” from the beginning, which is where we see him tempting mankind to sin and allow death in to destroy them and the rest of creation: in the beginning.
• 1 Peter 5:8 - Does not refer to him as a literal lion, but uses it as symbolism. (I don’t believe that scripture ever really describes Satan’s exact form to us.)
• 1 John 3:8 – It was the Devil (Satan) who sinned from the beginning - the beginning of what?
• Job 1:7, 2:2 – Satan walks the earth; same word as used in Genesis 3:14 when the serpent is cursed to “go” on its belly.
• 2 Corinthians 11:14 – Satan can disguise himself or “appear” to be something he is not.
• Romans 16:20 – Is speaking of the Church, Christ’s body on earth, under whom God will crush the power and kingdom of Satan.

In Matthew 4:1-11, we see the encounter between Jesus and Satan as the “devil” attempts to stop mankind’s only hope of reconciliation with God. When the “tempter” comes to Him, he is identified as Satan in Mark 1:13. I believe that the case can be made that Satan personally tried to get Jesus to doubt God’s word in the desert just like he did with Eve in the garden.

Satan’s first opportunity to destroy mankind and his last opportunity to stop God’s redemptive act would have been cause for him to be there “in person,” in my opinion. This second position is what I believe (that it was actually Satan who was there), and you are welcome to disagree with me as I could be incorrect in my reasoning. (It doesn’t change the Gospel or the redemption story found throughout scripture!)

But, what I know is this… In the end, does it make a difference if Satan was there himself, or if he somehow was able to manipulate a created animal that was “crafty” enough for him to manipulate it?

No… the result was the same. Mankind sinned and was separated from God. God sent His Son Jesus to rescue mankind, and that’s what He did. The question best answered, isn’t “who the tempter was,” ultimately we know that Satan was either there in person or behind that lie, but rather, a better question is: have you met the Savior?

We know exactly who He is: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

In the end, because we all have fallen for the “lies” of the serpent, what truly matters is making sure that you know Jesus and Jesus knows you! (Matthew 7:21-27)

Hope this helped you… even though it is kind of a “non-answer.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Where Did Cain's Wife Come From?

Q: Hi. Please tell me I'm not the first one to ask this:
When Cain killed Abel and God made him move away... the scriptures make it sound like he married someone already existing and not from Adam and Eve. What is your take?


A: No, you are not the first person to ask this! In fact, this question has been raised many times, perhaps none more famously than during the Scopes Trial, which was captured in this classic movie clip from the fictional reenactment of the trial called: Inherit The Wind.

It's a good question, and one that Christians ought to be able to answer better than in the above clip! In fact, that embarrassing answer would have been better had it only occurred in a movie. But it didn't. I believe that our culture is still feeling the impact of poorly defended biblical truth, especially as it relates to this realm of "Science vs. Bible."

So, you asked for my take -- here goes!

The Bible tells us some important information regarding Adam and Eve. First, Genesis 3:20, "The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living." (NET)

According to this passage, Eve is the mother of all the living, and this is translated from the Hebrew word kol which means, well, "all." Every living human being has their ancestral source in this first couple, which applies to Cain's wife, too!

This truth is reiterated in the New Testament writings as well:

From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live... (Acts 17:26, NET, emphasis added)

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned– (Romans 5:12, NET)

Adam (and Eve) are the source of all human beings, in all places, at all times. The population of the human race was drastically lowered at the time of the Flood (down to 8), and every current living person can trace their lineage all the back to one of the 4 couples on the ark.

So, where did Cain get his wife? She was one of the children of Adam and Eve (thus, Cain's sister) or possibly a grandchild of Adam and Eve (thus, Cain's niece).

The way the question was asked, at least in the Scopes Trial, demonstrates a level of ignorance on both the questioner and the answerer -- because they were operating on the assumption that there were just 4 people on earth at the time: Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel.

But is that what the Bible teaches?

Part of the hermeneutical (read: interpretive) problems that often arise is that assumptions are read into the text. Our task as handlers of the biblical revelation, however, is not to add our assumptions in, but to extract God's message out of the text as He intends it to be received.

So, where does the assumption enter in this case? It enters that we assume that since the Bible names 4 people, that there are only 4 people. But that's not a fair assumption!

If we simply allow the text to speak for itself, we see in Genesis 3:20 that Eve is the mother of all the living, that Adam and Eve had two sons (at least), named Cain and Abel, and that these two grew up and entered into some semblance of a profession (Abel, a shepherd, 4:2; Cain, a farmer, 4:3). After God was pleased with the offering of Abel and not Cain, Cain decided to murder his brother (4:8-9).

God's judgment upon Cain is to drive him out of the land (4:10-11) and cause him to be a homeless wanderer on the earth (4:12). So, out goes Cain into the land of Nod (in Hebrew, Nod literally means "wandering") in 4:16, and then in 4:17 there appears a new person in the narrative, Cain's wife!

Where should we suppose she came from? Should we assume, as some skeptics do, that there was another "race" or civilization of people who are living in the "land of wandering" east of Eden?

Or should we continue to take the details of the narrative as they've been given and say that this unnamed woman who was Cain's wife was part of "all the living" who were born to Eve just a few verses earlier?

It is not uncommon for the Scriptures to give general information with a lack of specifics about the number and names of children, especially as it relates to women (anyone catch the names of Ham, Shem, and Japheth's wives? About about Noah's wife?).

In fact, in the general overview that we are given regarding Adam and Eve's life we are told the following:

This is the record of the family line of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female; when they were created, he blessed them and named them "humankind." When Adam had lived 130 years he fathered a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and he named him Seth. The length of time Adam lived after he became the father of Seth was 800 years; during this time he had other sons and daughters. (Genesis 5:1-4, NET)

Read that passage very carefully. Adam and Eve are the parents of "humankind." Adam and Eve had (at least) 2 sons, Cain and Abel, in the first 130 years of their life. After Cain murdered Abel, they had a third son named Seth when Adam was 130 years old. Adam ended up living to be 930 years old ... and during this 930 years they had other sons and daughters.

How many?

What were their names?

When were they born?

The Bible simply doesn't tell us. We can be sure, however, that Adam and Eve had a bunch of kids - both sons and daughters - during their lifetime, and that no other people existed on the earth because Eve is the mother of all the living and it is through Adam and Eve that more humans come into existence, at least until their offspring start reproducing as well.

It is also important to note the way Genesis 4:17 records Cain's actions in the land of Nod: Cain had marital relations with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. (NET)

If we assume that Cain "found" a wife, we are again reading something into the text and not out of it. The simplest explanation of what occurred is that Cain was kicked-out of the land of Eden, so he (and his wife) left for the land of Nod, and when they got there, Mrs. Cain makes her first appearance in the narrative because her participation in the "knowing" that results in Enoch's conception and birth is pretty important.

Biblical narrative often leaves characters out of focus unless and until their appearance is necessary. For example, compare the following accounts:

Now when evening had already come, since it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimathea, a highly regarded member of the council, who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. After Joseph bought a linen cloth and took down the body, he wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone across the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:42-46, NET)

And:

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. Then they took Jesus' body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs. Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus' body there. (John 19:38-42, NET)

In the re-telling of this same aspect of Jesus' burial, one account describes Joseph of Arimathea and makes it sound like he's alone, where the other talks about Nicodemus. Is this contradictory? No!

John has a purpose for telling us that Nicodemus is there - because Nicodemus played an important role throughout the Gospel of John - where Mark ignores his presence because if he mentioned him, everyone reading or hearing this account would of said, "Who?"

Mrs. Cain did not need to be a part of the story up until Cain (and his bride) found themselves in Nod. Once she was relevant to the story being told, the narrator tells us about her. If we were to ask the narrator - Moses - the same question: Where did Cain's wife come from?, I am inclined to believe that he would answer, "I already told you that Eve was the mother of all the living... she came from Eve just like everyone else!"

There is a final objection to this response that wasn't explicitly raised, but often comes up: Mrs. Cain couldn't be Cain's wife because God said you can't marry your sister!

But this is an anachronism. The Law to which these objectors refer to is thousands of years away from being given to Moses! If God intended for Adam and Eve to really be the parents of humanity, He would have expected that their offspring would have continued to reproduce with each other.

The genetic problems that arise as a result of persons too close in lineage reproducing wouldn't have affected them.

Anyway, I hope this helps clarify where Mrs. Cain came from!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rewards in Heaven

Question - Dear Pastors, Matthew 16:27 refers to rewards given to believers according to what they have done. Scripture is clear that salvation is not contingent upon works. Therefore, Jesus must be speaking of heavenly rewards. Why are we rewarded? What rewards can some people expect?

Answer - Good question. If I'm reading your question correctly, you are asking why we would be "rewarded" or repaid for the "deeds" or "works" that we do in this life; and, secondly, what rewards we can expect.

I'm not sure I can find a given "list" of rewards that we may receive in Heaven anywhere in scripture, and I believe that is for a reason which I will speak to a little later.

First, let's look at what Jesus said in Matthew 16:27 - "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS." (NASB)

Take a look at the context in which Jesus was speaking these words. It is not necessarily "heavenly" rewards that Jesus is speaking of. Notice He says that He (The Son of Man) will repay (reward, recompense, give what is due) "every man." In other words, when Jesus comes back, every single persons works, deeds, and life will be examined and they will receive what is due them.

In this passage, recorded by Matthew, Jesus speaks of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Him. He also speaks of losing our lives for His sake; all of which are works of faith. He contrasts these works of faith with the ideas of not denying self, not truly following Him, trying to save this life, and gaining the world yet losing our soul... all deeds associated with unbelief or lack of faith.

There will be both reward and punishment rendered depending on if the person is declared righteous by faith in Jesus or unrighteous because they denied Jesus (not accepting Jesus is the same as denying him). The evidence of their decision and position in Christ will be evidenced by their outward acts.

So, in this context, the reason we are "rewarded" for our deeds (what we did in this life) is based on the principle of "reaping what you have sown."

Jeremiah 17:10 - "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds." (NASB)

To really help illustrate this point, you should also carefully read through Romans 2:5-11; Revelation 2:23; and 22:12.

For the unrighteous:

Jeremiah 21:14 - "But I will punish you according to the results of your deeds," declares the LORD..." (NASB, see also Jeremiah 23:2)

Revelation 20:11-15 describes this punishment as eternity in the Lake of Fire (Hell).

For the righteous:

John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (NASB)

Revelation 21-22 describes eternity for the "righteous" in the manifest presence of God!

For more background on why we are judged and what the result of that judgment is please take a moment to read Pastor Joe's excellent answer entitled "The Judgment Seat of Christ."

It may also help to check out Pastor Joes' 5-part answer to the question "What is Salvation?"

You are absolutely correct that Salvation is not contingent on our works, but rather it is a "gift" of God's grace received by the individual through "faith" in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24; 5:1, 9; Ephesians 2:8; and Titus 3:7 all support this foundational Christian doctrine).

Salvation is not (and cannot be!) "earned"(e.g. Romans 3:20-28; Galatians 2:16). Salvation is a gift.

However, faith is more than just "lip service" or a "one time" event. True, saving faith results in "transformation" via a new life, a new heart, and a new mind, all being transformed into the likeness of Christ by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

I would agree with James that faith -- genuine living faith -- is a "lifestyle":

James 2:14-26 - "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 ¶ But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." (NASB)

Passage after passage in the Scriptures link "faith" and "works" together. If our interest is merely in "proving" a case, we can quote the parts of these passages that affirm our belief and leave out the rest. There are plenty of denominations that still claim salvation must be earned through good works, and they use the Bible to make their case by selective quotations.

Why all this talk about faith associated with works? Because I believe that this -- these good works or deeds, these genuine acts that demonstrate our salvation by faith - is what believers will be rewarded for in heaven.

Jesus will examine all believers and reward them for what they did, how they lived, the things they said and thought, and how they served and loved Him and others while in this life!

2 Corinthians 5:9-10 - "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed [repaid, rewarded] for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (NASB)

Note - This passage is speaking to believers!

Further supporting Scriptures (which I encourage you to read in their context) are: 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; Ephesians 6:7-8; and Colossians 3:23-24.

What rewards can believers expect?

If salvation is a gift that we receive by faith, then the greatest reward we can receive is already ours because of that faith: eternal life. Notice the contrast in John 3:36 between the present reality of union with God for the one who has faith in Jesus and the lack of hope and terrifying present reality for the one who rejects Jesus:

John 3:36 - "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (NASB)

The future reward for believers is an eternity in the presence of the Living God! That's the greatest reward! (See also 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; and Revelation 2:10.)

Will there be other rewards or treasures that await us in eternity? I believe yes. I believe that Scripture gives us a glimpse or tiny peek of what awaits Jesus' faithful servants, who are willing to take up their crosses each day, deny themselves, and truly follow Him.

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the "uncovering" of hidden things, or "drawing aside of the curtain," Jesus gives us some ideas of what believers who lived out their faith can expect to receive:
  • 2:7 - To the one who overcomes (prevails to the end): the right to eat of the tree of life in the "Paradise of God".
  • 2:10-11 - To the one who is faithful until death: the crown of life. He who overcomes: no second death.
  • 2:17 - To the one who overcomes: hidden manna, and a new name. Our nourishment and identity will be found solely in Christ!
  • 2:25-28 - To the one who holds fast or remains true until Jesus comes: the authority to rule alongside Christ.
  • 3:4-5 - To the ones who pursue righteousness: they will receive righteousness (white garment) and eternal life.
  • 3:12 - To the one who overcomes: honor in heaven.
  • 3:21 - The one who overcomes: they will sit with Jesus beside the throne of God.
  • Revelation 21 and 22 contain many more glimpses of our reward, not the least of which include no death, no mourning, or crying, or pain!

Why aren't we told exactly what to expect as additional rewards beyond the reward of eternal life? Why are we told that we will receive "recompense" for our deeds and yet not told what that repayment will be?

For a few reasons, I believe:
  • So that we will walk by faith and not sight. Not trying to obtain anything lesser than eternity in the presence of God!
  • So that our acts of love and service that reflect Jesus to the world will be done for the best reason: because we long to be like Jesus and to please Him!
  • And probably because knowing what we do know about God and His love for us, they are way beyond what our human minds could ever conceive or comprehend!

1 Corinthians 2:9 - but just as it is written, "THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM." (NASB)

I hope this helped answer your question. I know it did me good to remember that the greatest reward that could ever be received (or given!) is eternal life with God.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stigmata

Q: 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 – Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and so do his servants.

How do we know if its from GOD or from the Devil? There are many miracles, strange events that take place across the world, i have read your post about Wondering Signs and wonders but i am still confused, i am not able to get a clear picture on how to distinguish which and what is right!!

For example:

STIGMATA - it's not mentioned in the bible, anyone receiving these marks or anything related to it or is it mentioned anywhere?..i don't remember coming across anything like that in bible.

There are quite few strange signs that is going around this world.

And i agree and stick with your point, anything that deviates from god and his words isn't genuine.

But what about stigmata?


A: If I am understanding your question correctly, you have read through P. Scott's post on Signs and Wonders, and agree that God's Word is the tool that we are to use in order to distinguish between genuine supernatural works of God and false signs which have their origin in the kingdom of darkness. However, the exact process of how to use God's Word to distinguish, particularly as it relates to stigmata, is where you'd like some direction.

Regarding the methodology, I think that P. Scott did a good job of presenting the purpose of signs and wonders throughout the Scriptures and showing that the best defense against false signs and wonders is a thorough understanding of the fullness of God's written word: the Bible. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to this process.

If you want to get to know the content of the Bible, the best thing you can do is read, read, read! And when you are finished, start over and read it some more.

It's impossible for us to give a shortcut to gaining a more thorough knowledge of the Scriptures here, but what we can do is try and work through an examination of stigmata in particular as it relates to the revealed Word of God as an exercise in our shared faith that the Bible is our source of truth and it is able to help us make sound judgments on these types of issues.

In the case of stigmata, we are fortunate that this particular sign seems to manifest itself in a particular segment of the "Christian" population: members of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, we are able to gain an understanding of the purpose of stigmata from their perspective:

"...the substance of this grace [of stigmata] consists of pity for Christ, participation in His sufferings, sorrows, and for the same end--the expiation of the sins unceasingly committed in the world." (The full article on stigmata, from which the above is quoted, is available here)

According to their understanding of this "sign," it is a grace given to certain individuals to produce "pity for Christ," allow the individual to "participate in His sufferings, [and] sorrows" and has the result (or "end") of actually expiating sins.

This interpretation of the phenomena contributes to their official teaching that the Church (of Rome) is the dispenser of the "Treasury of Merit" to the world. The Roman Catholic teaching on Indulgences is worth reading in its entirety and was a huge factor in contributing to the Protestant Reformation according to Luther's 95 Theses.

Essential to these claims of Rome are that the "merits of the saints" (read: the good works of followers of Christ) are added to the infinite merits of Christ's work, and are distributed by the Church to those who need it. Therefore, the suffering of people like St. Francis with the stigmata are accruing "merits" that can then be distributed through the Roman Church to "expiate" sins. The Roman Catholic understanding of suffering as "purging" venial sins (as opposed to "mortal" sins which require Hell fire) is associated with this view and points to the need for the un-biblical Purgatory.

Indulgences can lessen or even eliminate the need to spend time in Purgatory as venial sins can be "purged" through suffering in the present life, according to this view.

Unfortunately, all of this contributes to the false gospel of Rome. As a "sign" that contributes to this false gospel, I can confidently assert that stigmata is a false sign which is very possibly still of supernatural origin, but that origin is not from God.

Some will object, however, and state that stigmata is, in fact, a biblical sign and that St. Francis was not the first to participate in this "grace" in the 12th-13th century. If you read the wikipedia page (which, contrary to popular opinion is not usually the best source of information!) on stigmata you'll see that the first name listed under "Notable stigmatics" is Saint Paul the Apostle!

Saint Paul the Apostle? A stigmatic?

According to some interpretations, Paul expressed that he participated in the "grace" of stigmata:

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17, NIV)

This verse is a very important one to consider because the Greek word which is translated "marks" is stigmata.

If we simply transcribe that original word instead of translating it, the verse reads as follows:

...for I bear on my body the stigmata of Jesus."

Of course, as Paul was using this word originally, it did not have the same connotations as it does today. It is a mistake to assume that our current, modern usage of a word is the same as their usage. Language changes over time, and we have certain connotations that are associated with "stigmata" as a result of cases like Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, and Hollywood movies. These things were not in Paul's mind as he originally wrote what we read in Galatians 6:17.

So how was this word used in Paul's day and time?

Stigmata in Paul's contemporary usage literally meant "mark" or "brand." In their culture, masters of slaves would often "brand" their slaves to denote ownership and this practice also occurred in some religious rites. This practice was common and "natural" in his day, so why should we assume that he is referring to some "supernatural" miraculous sign?

Paul experienced severe beatings and trials as a result of his following Jesus (read through 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 and notice that these physical trials follow his self-identification as a "servant" or "slave" of Christ in 11:23). These events would have likely left significant "marks" on Paul's physical body as a result of his service to Jesus. Why should we assume that these stigmata are supernaturally imposed when Paul would have had plenty of scars without them?

Nothing in the text indicates that Paul experienced a supernatural event in his flesh. In fact, the idea of followers of Christ suffering to "expiate" sin is contrary to clear biblical teaching (quoted from the Roman Catholic version, NAB):

For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NAB)

The idea of "adding" to the infinite merits of Christ's work is absurd scripturally, theologically, philosophically, and mathematically. Adding to "infinity" doesn't increase it! If the Scriptures tell Christ suffered for sins once for all, why would others need to suffer for sins too, in order to add to the infinite merits of Christ? This is needless suffering!

To conclude, examining the Scriptural teaching regarding the plan of salvation leads me to conclude that occurrences of the stigmata in the church of Rome serve to lend weight to the false gospel of works based righteousness and detract from the completed work of Jesus Christ through His death, burial, resurrection and exaltation. As a result, I conclude that stigmata are a false sign which either have their origin in the kingdom of darkness as a supernatural sign or that these marks have a natural explanation (e.g. they are fraudulent hoaxes or the result of some other physical, emotional or mental disorder).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Demons?

Q: A couple weeks ago, in class, you asked how many believed that demons were fallen angels. That has always been my perception, but the question wasn't answered. So, this morning after class I asked a couple other people about this question and what they thought. They mentioned that it was not answered and that they too had thought demons to be fallen angels. So, we are looking for your answer to the question you posed. If demons are not fallen angels, where did they come from? Have they always been? Who created them? Inquiring minds want to know.

A: You're right ... I did raise this question and then move on quickly without giving any further commentary. Thank you for following up!

The purpose of asking the question was simply to see if that assumption -- namely, that Demons are Fallen Angels -- was held by everyone; which it turns out was the case. The reason I asked the question during our study, was because the Bible never actually states this "fact" clearly. My intention was simply to raise an issue that most of us believe to be true, even though the Bible doesn't teach it explicitly. There are many "truths" of our faith that we hold in our minds that are a product, not of our reading of the Scriptures, but instead of our culture and/or up-bringing.

In this case, being in the church has resulted in everyone around the table of our Bible study believing that Demons and Fallen Angels are the same entities. However, it's possible that this is not true.

In the question above, there are three explicit parts: 1) If demons are not fallen angels, where did they come from?; 2) Have they always been?; and 3) Who created them? All of these questions are excellent, and it's possible that I won't be able to answer any of these questions definitively. Sorry!

The reason for this is because Angels and Demons are secondary characters in the biblical testimony. P. Scott dealt with some of the related issues for questions 2) and 3) in his excellent post about the origin of Satan and evil. In that post he wrestles with some of the difficulties of discerning the "origin" of Satan and other details because Satan (and Angels and Demons, too!) are included in the narrative as they relate to the salvation and redemption of human beings by the Triune God. We don't get as much information about these other entities as we'd like, simply because the Book isn't about them!

All that being said, let's try and address your questions in order.

1) If demons are not fallen angels, where did they come from?

While everyone around our table took for granted that demons are simply fallen angels, this is only one theory that has gained support over the course of Christian history. Each of the views have difficulties and there is a good possibility that other views exist with which I am not familiar. As a result of the varied views, it will be impossible to delve into any of these individual views in great detail.

The first possibility has already been raised (demons = fallen angels) and this has been the predominant view since the end of the first century, although it was certainly not unanimous.

A proponent of the second view to be described was the early church "father" Justin Martyr. He wrote in Chapter 5 of his Second Apology that demons were a product of fallen angels having intercourse with human women, with the resulting offspring being "demons." Justin Martyr is alluding to this passage from Genesis:

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NASB)

This thread of teaching, of which Justin Martyr is only one advocate (e.g. the non-canonical Book of Enoch teaches something very similar, and Athenagoras teaches this explicitly in Chapter 25 of his A Plea for the Christians), believes that after the Flood (Genesis 7), the disembodied spirits of these offspring between the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" became what the Scripture later refers to as "demons."

Keep in mind that the exact teaching of this passage is hotly debated, even to our day. However, whatever it is that the text explicitly teaches, it nowhere teaches that the spirits of these offspring became what we know as demons. This view is based on speculation beyond the explicit teaching of God's word.

A third possibility has been suggested throughout history, and still prevails into our modern day, that there is a "Gap" in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 where a "Pre Adamic" (or before Adam) race inhabited Earth. This race was destroyed by God prior to the (re)creation of the world which is described in Genesis 1:2 and following. It's important to point out that not everyone who holds to the "Gap theory" believes that the disembodied spirits of the Pre Adamic race became what we now know as demons, as the "Gap" is also postulated to allow for millions and billions of years into the biblical text for some (certainly not all) who hold to various forms of "Old Earth Creationism."

Watchmen Nee has propagated a form of this "Gap" teaching that believes that demons are the disembodied spirits of this hypothesized Pre Adamic Race of beings that lived during the gap between the first two verses of the record in Genesis. Again, this is speculative at best.

A fourth view is held regarding the origin of demons, at the very least, in common folklore: demons, or "bad spirits," are disembodied spirits of "bad" people who have died or even the result of those dying with "unfinished business." These views are commonly expressed in Hollywood movies and have a profound impact on the views of our culture. This view is also prominent in many developing countries.

Unlike the other views considered so far, this view is more than speculative; it is anti-biblical. Despite the reality that many Christians do believe that the spirits or souls of people can be "trapped" on Earth and haunt people or do other poltergeist-like things, this view is contrary to what the Bible teaches regarding what happens after death. For a more detailed biblical look at why this view is not appropriate for the person who believes the Scriptures, take some time to read these posts about Ghosts and about the present reality of both Heaven and Hell.

A fifth commonly held view about demons is that they originated in the minds of unsophisticated, non-scientific people as a result of ignorance about the way the world works. You may think that it is only atheists who believe that the stories recorded in the Bible are a product of people attributing things like sickness to "malevolent spirits" because they didn't know anything about the real cause: germs. However, this is an incorrect conclusion.

Many modern-day Christians do not think that "demons" have anything to do with our modern world... that's only for people in developing countries and in the "Bible times," but we don't really believe in such things anymore. In this view, everything that was attributed to "demons" in the Scriptures can now be explained scientifically. The idea of "demons" causing any physical ailments in today's world is absolutely laughable to some, particularly those who put a lot of weight on the advances of medical science. In my opinion, the accounts in Scripture make the reality of the demonic world more than a simple explanation of previously unexplainable phenomena. Therefore, I do not agree with the conclusion that demons are no longer applicable to modern, "sophisticated" believers.

There is at least one final possibility: demons are a separate and uniquely created group of spirit-beings. This view is likewise speculative, as there is no passage in Scripture that tells us this is the case. This view is possible in the fact that it does not contradict any explicit teachings of the Bible, either.

Since the Questioner asked for my answer to the question, I would (very hesitantly!) put myself in this final camp, although I could probably be persuaded that the Fallen Angel idea is right.

The main reason I would place myself in the "separate creation" camp is because it seems to me that the Bible gives contrary teaching for how the believer is supposed to interact with demons and with fallen angels.

First, the Scripture teaches that followers of Jesus are given authority over the demons (e.g. Matthew 10:8; Mark 16:17). However, regarding angels believers are given a strict warning not to revile angelic majesties (see 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 1:8)! To me, there is a disconnect between the power and authority that is given to angels and to demons, which points to some inherent difference of their being. As a separate created group of spiritual beings, this makes sense to me. However, I am the first to admit that this, too, is speculative.

After surveying these possibilities, we can now move on to question 2) Have they always been?

This question is easier to answer: No. Like all created things, demons have a "beginning." It is difficult to determine exactly when these beings were created, especially considering the wide array of views from above. Some believe they were formed in the "Gap", others would claim they were created after the Flood, while still others would claim that they are still currently being created (either via the imagination or in reality as a result of God's judgment or the continued sinful and rebellious choices of human beings)! Still others would maintain that these beings were created during the 6 days of creation along with everything else.

No matter what view we take, the Scriptures clearly teach that God alone is eternal. Every other thing that exists was created either directly or indirectly as a product of God's creative work.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17, NASB)

Whatever "demons" are, we can be sure that they are accountable to God and that they operate within His sovereign design for the universe. God is not worried about the demons and their plans, as He knows the beginning from the end, and they will all be judged in the proper time. Even the demons acknowledged this before Jesus (see Matthew 8:28-29).

Finally, 3) Who created them?

God's creative act made the spiritual beings that we know as demons. In keeping with the character of God and the revelation of His word, sin corrupts His good creation. Therefore, as with Satan and human beings, sin has distorted these spiritual beings from their previous glory.

In conclusion, this is one of several areas that I wish the Bible gave us more information. However, the Bible doesn't exist to answer all of our questions. Instead, it exists to give us the information we need in order to be saved from this evil generation through the only Savior and Lord of All, Jesus the Christ. As a result, the Bible is content to simply tell us that demons exist and that we should be aware of their reality.

To ignore the demonic realm is foolish. Likewise, to be too interested in the demonic realm is also foolish. We are taught to seek the Holy Spirit and promised that He will guide us in the truth. May we be a people led by the Spirit of the living God, busy with His business, until He returns or calls us home.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Preaching Schedule

Q: Does the pastor have a sermon schedule he goes by? I Love this church! Thanks.

A: First of all, thanks for your encouragement! I am thankful that you are blessed by our fellowship and pray that the Lord will continue to bless you through our ministry with a closer walk with the living God.

In a very general sense, the answer to your question is No, the pastors do not use a sermon schedule, especially if you mean something similar to what would be followed by ministers in some more traditional denominations that follow a strict liturgy. In these cases, ministers are somewhat bound to follow the schedule that they are given. Such a situation can have both positives and negatives, which will not be explored any further in this post. This is not how the sermon topics and passages are chosen for our pastors.

In some sense, those who are called to preach on a regular basis from our pulpit are bound by the theological persuasion that we have the responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). This means that we are not "free" to select only the portions of Scripture that make us comfortable or which we know for sure that the congregation will agree with, but that as Pastors of God's flock we are to preach the full Word of God without apology as those who are seeking to please God rather than men.

Of course, it is impossible to preach the "whole counsel" in one 30-40 minute message!

Therefore, there is a schedule that I keep personal record of that indicates what passages I have and have not preached from the pulpit that God has entrusted to me as the speaker who fills it most often. In this sense, there is a loose schedule to preach through the entire Bible before returning to my "favorite" passages.

Of course, anyone who comes to our local church on a regular basis will find that we do not preach straight through from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 and then repeat. I have respect for those Pastors and Teachers who follow this model of preaching, but you can't find a passage that teaches that this is how it must be done. We seem to have the freedom as Pastors to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in how we work out our calling to preach the whole counsel.

Therefore, we tend to reserve the pulpit for those whom we believe to be led by the Holy Spirit and called to this particular ministry of "preaching the Word." Part of this conviction is that those who are called will walk in obedience to this leading, and will preach on what the Spirit is giving them to speak on.

It's possible that, depending on your particular religious heritage, this description either sounds perfectly natural or maybe a little kooky. There is a sense in which this structure is very "loose" but there is also more structure than you might first think.

Part of the leading of the Holy Spirit for Pastors (I believe, anyway) is a vision for where we are headed as a local body. The shepherds of God's flock have to have some idea of where the body is headed in order to properly "shepherd" them! In this regard, there can be a loosely defined "schedule" that there are particular areas of teaching, reproof, correction, or encouragement that are more appropriate at different times than others. For example, last Sunday P. Scott preached from Romans 13. This was "scheduled" more than a month in advance because we knew this was a timely message leading up to the election (although, keep in mind that his message was a theological one, not a political one!) but it was the Spirit that guided Scott to pick that particular passage and gave him the leading in how to arrange and prepare that message for God's people that fellowship with us, instead of a "schedule" that dictated that this was the passage for Sunday, November 4th.

How the Spirit leads can be very different at different times. There have been seasons of my personal preaching ministry where God had me focusing on certain areas of doctrine or specific issues, simply because that was what was needed. These messages would sometimes cover many passages in one message (some would call this "topical" preaching, however we still maintain our commitment to expositional preaching which pays close attention to the context and original intention of the inspired authors of Scripture) and would jump from "book" to "book" each week as necessary.

Other seasons of my preaching ministry have allowed for more methodical preaching through individual books, allowing for careful explanation of each passage from the beginning of the book to the end with no interruption, taking as many weeks as necessary to complete the task.

Since there is no "schedule" which is necessarily followed, we have the freedom to address issues as necessary and to modify the "schedule" as necessary to best shepherd the flock.

I know of some pastors who create their own "preaching schedule" and plan for an entire year in advance. This is another method which has both positives and negatives, but I can't say that the Lord speaks to me (personally) that way. If I were to do this (personally), it would be me following the flesh and not the Spirit!

In many ways, I wish there was a preaching schedule for us to follow and I can sometimes catch myself being envious of those who have one! This, of course, is sin on my part that needs to be repented of. Instead of being covetous of other ministers who have this aspect of their ministry planned further ahead, I am (or at least should be!) thankful that the Lord has chosen to keep me dependent upon Him week-to-week in order to receive the preaching schedule from Him.

As a Pastor, I do not believe that it is my job to entertain the congregation or even to teach them some spiritual "nugget" each week. Instead, my job is to be used as the mouthpiece of God and to speak His word to His people as He directs. I am not supposed to speak my agenda, but His! And although this is constantly a struggle for me (because, believe it or not, I have many opinions about many different things!), I can testify of the amazing things that I have seen and heard from the Lord through having this "open schedule" and allowing the Lord to direct our sermon topics.

First and foremost, some people wouldn't believe that we do not coordinate the musical aspect of our worship service with the message content. What I mean is that our worship leaders each week follow the lead of the Spirit in choosing their songs without personal interaction or discussion with the person who will be preaching the message that same week ... however, on a consistent basis these elements of our worship service fit together so perfectly in theme and content that it is difficult to believe they weren't planned to fit together!

Some weeks, I have been so discouraged prior to preaching a message or even in the middle or afterwards that I thought for sure I mis-heard from the Lord and went "off the reservation" (so-to-speak) by preaching my own agenda and message, only to hear the worship team had been led in the same direction and that individuals from the congregation needed to hear this message desperately at this exact time. Now, I recognize that these are attacks from the Enemy (who seeks to steal, kill and destroy and who always speaks in his native tongue of lies) in order to distract us from what God is doing in our midst.

All of God's Word is worthy of being proclaimed, taught, and explained. God's Word is relevant to all people in all places at all times by virtue of the fact that it is inspired by God ... when the Word fails to be "relevant" it is a problem in the hearer or the speaker, not in the Word itself. Therefore, it is certainly not wrong to preach according to a schedule as long as the Bible is being faithfully preached and explained.

However, for us, we try and allow the Lord to lead the timing of the messages which are preached because we trust that His timing is better than ours and that His planning is superior to ours.

There are risks to this format, just like with any other, the biggest of which is that we will fail to listen properly and will walk in the flesh. However, this is equally possible in any format. Do we succeed every time? Certainly not. I have preached my fair share of "duds" -- but I recognize that these were times that I ran ahead of the Spirit of God or lagged behind Him, not the times that I was walking with Him step-by-step.

If you are interested in knowing how to pray for the pastors and those who will be called to fill the pulpit here, pray that we would continue to be humbled before the living God and that we would have the wisdom and discernment to hear from Him and to obey without delay His leading in our lives -- for His glory and for the building up of His body.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where Did the Bible Come From?

Q: How was the Bible put together? How did they decide that they needed a new testament and what was included/left out?

A: What a great and foundational question! It is truly unfortunate that more Christians don't ask this question and simply assume that the collection of writings that we base our life and eternal destiny on are reliable and worthy of our trust!

It's important to note at the beginning that not everyone who calls themselves a "Christian" group believes in the same collection of writings referred to as "the Bible." Most Protestant groups agree that "the Bible" is the collection of 66 books found in most modern English translations (e.g. the NIV, ESV, NASB, etc.) which contains 39 books in the "Old Testament" and 27 books in the "New Testament." Some other groups, like the Mormons, add to the canon of Scripture by adding additional books outside of the Bible to the authoritative writings. This isn't an addition to "the Bible" per se, but is an attempt to add to "the canon" which is the group of authoritative books for our faith.

Other groups, like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, have additional books within the Bible itself, in addition to added sections to books held in common. The most common additions to the Bible are referred to as "The Apocrypha" by Protestants and "Deutero-canonical" (literally, "second-canon") by Roman Catholics. These different terms refer to the same sections of the Bible that are found in Roman Catholic translations (e.g. The New American Bible) that are absent in other translations (i.e. the versions listed above and many others).

There is a helpful chart available on wikipedia that shows the range of what is included in the various "canons" of what is considered to be the sacred writings (or Scripture) along denominations and groups that all claim to follow Christ.

One of the reasons that this question is so good, is because it strikes at the heart of what genuinely belongs in the Canon of Scripture ... clearly, what is included in "the Bible" varies depending on which group you are talking to!

For the purpose of this post, it will be impossible to answer the question in a historically comprehensive manner which would explain why each varying iteration or version of the canon exists across the spectrum of Christian traditions.

As a Protestant (for those who like labels), I believe that the canon is limited to the 66 books included in the modern English translations such as the New American Standard and New International Version. However, it is important to understand that this conclusion is based on my reading of history, not simply because of my upbringing! In fact, I was raised in a Christian Tradition that held the Deuterocanonical books to be Scripture.

It is the claim of some groups, that the Church decides what is Scripture. This is not an accurate claim. A more accurate claim is that the Church discerns or discovers what is properly in the canon.

Part of the claim of what is actually "Scripture" is that it was written under the inspiration of the living God. It is wrong to deny either the human or the divine element of such writings, but to be inspired by God means that God (in some sense) gave us these words and is the author. If this claim is true, then clearly only God-authored books are rightly included in the canon.

If this is the case, then no group can make a book "inspired" by including it in a list of books ... God must inspire a book for it to be rightly included in the canon! Therefore, the process of canonization was really a process that attempted to discern all of the books that were properly included in the inspired writings and to eliminate everything that is not inspired from being considered authoritative (at least, as authoritative as those writings that are actually inspired by the living God).

Therefore, the process of canonization extends beyond "the Church" (which began at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2) to include God's people throughout history. While most groups accept the same list of 27 New Testament books (the Ethiopian Orthodox church has a longer canon that accepts additions to the New Testament writings), the majority of disagreement over the canonical books occurs over the inclusions in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible).

Part of the disagreement relies on the fact that the Jewish people rejected the apocryphal books, but many early church councils included these books in their list of canonical writings. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to settle the argument over who is right!

The deciding factor for me personally relies in two major points: 1) the Jewish people are the ones to whom the "Old Testament" writings were entrusted to (e.g. Romans 3:1-2), therefore, they were in the best position to evaluate the canonicity of the writings and the ones to whom this task was entrusted in the first place; and 2) the decisions of the early church to include these writings in the canon still came after Jesus' earthly ministry and the lives of the Apostles! It is incredibly difficult for me to believe that Jesus and the Apostles were using a deficient set of Scriptures!

It is argued by some that the most often quoted version of the Old Testament in the New is the Septuagint (LXX), which was a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into the Greek language. Included in the LXX were the books commonly referred to as the apocryphal or deuterocanonical writings. Therefore, some conclude, that Jesus and the Apostles were giving approval to these additional books and sections which Protestants have ignored and eliminated from their canon.

However, this is not as clear cut as it may seem at first. First of all, it is not certain that the version of the LXX which Jesus and the Apostles used and quoted from did contain the Apocryphal sections since the earliest Greek manuscripts date from the 4th century AD. More important, however, is that even if the Apocryphal sections were included, they were never once quoted by Jesus or the Apostles as authoritative! Even one direct citation in an authoritative manner (e.g. "The Lord says..." or "It is written...") would be a strong piece of evidence for the inclusion of these Apocryphal sections. Unfortunately, for those who claim these sections are authoritative, they have no claim from Jesus or the Apostles. Instead, they have to base their claim on the decision of Christians in the 4th century which is dubious.

In fact, to base this decision on this historical fact is to ignore other historical evidence to the contrary. Several prominent church fathers denied the inclusion of the Apocrypha, including Athanasius, Origen, and Jerome (the translator of the Latin Vulgate).

Quite frankly, it is bold for the Christian Church (composed of believing Jew and believing Gentile) to modify the canon of the Hebrew Bible after the fact! Had Jesus or the Apostles included any citations from the Apocryphal sections as authoritative, I could probably be persuaded, but I am not convinced simply because of the actions of early Christians.

In fact, the second question -- how did they decide that they needed a new testament... -- is helpful for further making the case that the actions of the early church are not always "right"!

I think it would be difficult to make a case that anyone did decide that a "New Testament" was needed. Instead, the book of Acts records that the earliest ministry of the early Christians included them demonstrating that Jesus was the Christ from the Scriptures, which refers to the Old Testament! Never was anyone quoted as saying, "Bummer we don't have new writings to make our claims! How are we supposed to be Christians without a New Testament?"

Instead, the earliest Christians were taught the foundational truth of the Old Testament scriptures and listened to the eye-witness testimony of the Apostles! Over time, writings began to emerge from these Apostles and their companions (e.g. Luke, who was not an Apostle but ministered with Paul) for various reasons.

One of the primary reasons for most of the epistles was because the early Christians were making poor decisions and acting... well, un-Christian! Therefore, to claim early Christian practice as authoritative can be extremely dangerous because many early practices by Christians were wrong!

The epistles to the church in Corinth were at least partially a result of rampant sexual immorality in the church, in addition to abuses and misunderstandings of spiritual gifts and the practice of communion.

The epistle to the Galatians was a result of these Christians attempting to finish by the flesh their Christian walk after beginning by the Spirit. They were falling into a dead legalism, which is an error that is still prevalent in the Church today!

The epistles to the Thessalonians were in part written to address misconceptions about the return of Christ.

Many more examples could be given. The clear truth is that God's people (both Jew and Gentile) throughout history have gotten a lot of things wrong. In the early church, thankfully there were Apostles who were eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry and who saw Him alive from the dead after He was resurrected bodily from the grave who could address these errors with the same authority that the Old Testament Scriptures carried. The Apostles could claim, "thus saith the Lord..."

Over time, these new writings began to be recognized as Scripture during the lifetime of the Apostles.

Two examples should suffice. First, 1 Timothy 5:18:

For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." (NASB)

What interesting about this passage is that the Apostle Paul cites as Scripture two passages, the first from Deuteronomy 25:4 and the second from Luke 10:7! Somewhere along the line, the Apostle to the Gentiles recognized that the book his ministry partner wrote about the life of Jesus was rightly considered "Scripture."

The second example is found from the Apostle Peter's writings:

...and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16, NASB)

Notice that Peter is discussing the Apostle Paul's writings and mentions that people twist his (Paul's) writings as they do to the rest of the Scriptures! Peter is putting Paul's writings in the class of sacred writings and recognizing them as being authoritative and inspired by God, just like the Old Testament Scriptures.

The two most prominent Apostles put their stamp on these particular writings, recognizing that God was doing something through them and their ministry. They didn't sit down and decide that they needed to write a New Testament, they instead recognized during the process that what was being written was inspired by God and rightly added to the canon because of their inspiration.

This is in accordance with a promise that Jesus made to the Apostles prior to His ascension in John 14:26, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (NASB)

As the early church progressed, these writings were recognized virtually immediately as something special and early lists of the canonical books (keep in mind that these writings were written by hand well before the printing press or copy machines were invented ... therefore, lists of the authoritative books were prominent before the writings were ever actually collected together into single volumes like our modern Bibles!) include the same 27 books as our modern New Testament.

As early as AD 160, the church father Irenaeus was using the same four gospels that are included in our New Testament today and by the mid-2nd century the canon was clearly set. Although some discussion continued as to whether or not certain books belonged in the canon, the 27 books that are currently included rightly survived the disputes.

It is important to understand that the books that were disputed were most often disputed because of their difficult content or their perceived lack of Apostolic authority. The list of disputed books in the New Testament includes James, Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Ultimately, the discussion for possibly excluding these books was not as strong as their original inclusion and recognition amongst the inspired writings.

I would highly encourage you to read this short transcript of a Q&A session with one of the most prominent scholars in the field of biblical studies, particularly as it relates to the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Dr. William Lane Craig gives a concise overview of virtually the same question as our Questioner and gives some different information that is helpful.

In conclusion, God has entrusted his oracles to His people throughout history and the people who received those writings were in the best place to recognize, preserve and protect those writings. The Jewish people preserved the 39 books included in our present, Protestant canon, which was validated by Jesus and the Apostles. The early church was entrusted with the writings of the Apostles and their ministry partners and were preserved despite intense persecution in the earliest stages of the church. Those brothers and sisters of our who were willing to lose life and limb for the Apostolic writings were not interested in losing either for spurious books that popped up such as the Shepherd of Hermas or the gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

The 66 books we have today in the canon are the full extent of the writings inspired by God and we should not expect new revelation to come or new books to be added. Our faith is a faith of revelation, completely dependent upon God revealing Himself and giving us the necessary information. He has delivered this faith once and for all in the Scriptures (Jude 1:3).

The God who created this world is able to reveal Himself and to preserve His writings for His people. Studying the history of canonization should inspire greater faith in our modern Bible as it is historically reliable and was assembled by those who were in the best position to evaluate and receive these truths for the glory of His name.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Water Into Wine

Q: Why does Jesus turn the water into wine in John chapter 2, when he tells his mother that it is not yet his time?

A: This is a really great question! If you briefly survey commentators and notes on this passage, you'll see that the significance of this particular statement and passage is not uniformly agreed upon!

Some groups maintain that this passage (among others) teaches that Jesus can never say "No" to His mother and thereby proves the efficacy of prayers to Mary, while other groups vehemently deny this claim saying that Jesus' response to His earthly mother is disrespectful or at least indicative of a change in their relationship as He is entering into public ministry.

Clearly, opinions vary greatly as to what this passage in John 2 is here for and what God is communicating through His word to His people. Part of the reason for such varying opinion is the reality that the text simply doesn't explain exactly why Jesus responds to his mother in this way and then changes the water into wine anyway! Let me put this another way: Scripture is giving us what we need, and not necessarily what we want. The text of Scripture gives us what happened without an explicit description of why, which is what the Questioner is asking.

Since there is no explicit answer to "why" in this chapter of John's Gospel, we have to first understand that our answer is at least partially speculative. Instead of me simply weighing in and giving my opinion, let's try and address this question by looking closely at the context and purpose that the author (John) had in recording this event. It seems that the Big Picture view is the best clue to "why" that we're going to get!

Often when reading the books of the New Testament, we have to do some background study to understand the historical situation that led to the book being written. For example, most of the epistles are written to real people who are experiencing very specific circumstances and situations, and these New Testament letters reflect those scenarios (sometimes explicitly like in Philemon, and other times not-so-explicitly like in II John).

Fortunately, for us, John tells us exactly why He records what He does near the end of his gospel:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31, NASB)

John is writing specifically for the purpose of recording those events in Jesus' life (particularly His signs) which will bring about belief in his readers that Jesus is the Christ, and through their belief that they may find life in His name. If we go back and read this particular event at the wedding in Cana, we see that John includes one other detail that is important to him and further explains why he includes it in his gospel (but it's not recorded in any other gospel!):

This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. (John 2:11, NASB)

Now, we can give a definite answer as to why John recorded this event... but that still doesn't answer why Jesus responds to Mary this way! (Bummer.)

There are many passages, particularly in "narrative" sections of the Bible, where people do things that seem strange to us.

This is to be expected, since the Bible records real life events. Think for a second about your life and things that you've experienced ... (seriously, do it!).

Can you think of many examples of situations that you were involved in or observed where people acted, reacted and responded to others exactly as you expected them to?

I'm not a prophet, but I'm guessing that there are very few (if any!) situations where that has been the case for you.

There is truth to the cliche statement that reality is stranger than fiction. In this case, John is recording an event as it actually happened, and it shouldn't be surprising that Jesus (or anyone else) acts in ways that seem somewhat strange.

Even stranger, however, is that the interaction between Mary and Jesus is part of the narrative at all, since John's focus is on the miracle and the result (his disciples believed, and hopefully so will you, the reader). John must have had some reason to be inspired to include this interaction between Jesus and Mary.

A clue is likely found in the fact that John wants us to believe something very specific about Jesus; namely, that He is the Christ.

It's important to note that "Christ" is not Jesus' last name, but is a very specific title that points to Jesus' mission, identity and work. As the Christ, Jesus had a very specific agenda -- perfectly obey His Father and fulfill His ministry.

If you sit and read the Gospel of John from beginning to end, you'll notice that Jesus is always consumed with doing the will of His Father (e.g. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40; 7:16-17) and that He has a clear vision of His purpose in coming to Earth through Mary's womb (e.g. John 1:1-14; 12:27): He came to die for the sin of the world by laying down His life (e.g. John 1:29; 10:11-18; 15:13).

If we understand that greater context of what Jesus was doing and how He understood His purpose and mission, we can see how he might respond with this figure of speech to Mary when asked to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding. The NET Bible has a great translational note on this passage, which I am copying here in full:

8 tn Grk “Woman, what to me and to you?” (an idiom). The phrase τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι (ti emoi kai soi, gunai) is Semitic in origin. The equivalent Hebrew expression in the Old Testament had two basic meanings: (1) When one person was unjustly bothering another, the injured party could say “What to me and to you?” meaning, “What have I done to you that you should do this to me?” (Judg 11:12, 2 Chr 35:21, 1 Kgs 17:18). (2) When someone was asked to get involved in a matter he felt was no business of his, he could say to the one asking him, “What to me and to you?” meaning, “That is your business, how am I involved?” (2 Kgs 3:13, Hos 14:8). Option (1) implies hostility, while option (2) implies merely disengagement. Mere disengagement is almost certainly to be understood here as better fitting the context (although some of the Greek Fathers took the remark as a rebuke to Mary, such a rebuke is unlikely).

Jesus is disengaged with this "work" because it does not pertain directly to His mission. Jesus was not simply a miracle worker, but He worked His miracles for a purpose!

Jesus' answer also includes a phrase that is repeated often in John's Gospel: "my hour." It is worthwhile for you to read all of these passages (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 12:27; 13:1; and 17:1) to see that clearly Jesus knew that He was to go to the cross at a very specific time (for more on this, study Lesson 27, especially the Going Deeper section), all in accordance with the will of the Father.

A very similar theme occurs with slightly different wording when Jesus' brothers are giving Him a hard time before the feast in John 7, and He tells them His time is not yet to go to the feast... then He goes a little later!

After considering the relevant themes, I think it is safe to conclude that Jesus took His orders from the Father and the Father only. Nothing that Jesus did was by mistake or an accident and every action and word had a purpose. Often, well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning!) people would try and get Jesus to do things for different reasons, but Jesus only did that which His Father directed through the Holy Spirit for Him to do (John 5:19-20).

My interpretation of this passage in John 2 is that Jesus didn't change the water into wine because Mary asked Him to, but instead because it was time to begin His public ministry and so He did this "sign" so His disciples would believe (John 2:11). I think John included this passage because it demonstrates an important principle that even though Jesus always honored His mother in fulfillment of the Scriptures (John 19:28) He did not take orders from her, but only from His Father. Here, it just so happens that He ended up doing what she asked, but only because it lined up with His Father's will for beginning His public ministry. Compare this to what happened when his family came looking for Him during His public ministry, and His response towards them and the inclusion of the theme of obeying the will of the Father in Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; and Luke 8:19-21.

Although still speculative, I think this answer is founded squarely on the entirety of John's Gospel.

A lesson for us in this could be as follows: sometimes our desires line up with the will of God, but Jesus sought only to do the will of God (no matter who was asking!).

My question for everyone reading is this -- how serious are you about this truth: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 John 2:6, NASB).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Origin of Diseases

Question - "Hello Pastors, today in Biology class we were talking about Malaria. We discussed that the only way a person can become infected with Malaria is if they get bitten by a mosquito that has the disease, and the only way a mosquito is carrying the disease is if they bit an infected person; and I was wondering what came first and who created diseases? Thanks."

Answer - No, thank you! It has been over 35 years since I took High School Biology so it was about time I "brushed up" a little.

I'm not sure about everything your Teacher taught, but the dilemma you present in an accurate one. Where did the Malaria come from in the first place and how did the first person infected with it...well, get infected?

I checked out the science stuff...and here is what I was able to find. Malaria is actually a living organism that is a "parasite". The Malaria that infects humans is called p. falciparum or p. vivax depending on the strain. I believe the "p." classifies it as a parasite (but remember, I am a Bible teacher not a Biology teacher).

The way I understand it...parasites are living organisms that feed off of and live on or in other living organisms. Sometimes, even causing the death of the "host" that they are living off of.

 The "scientific" community tries to explain how the first person was infected with the Malaria parasite this way...
  • Supposedly, these Malaria parasites existed thousands of years before humans in some form or another.
  • They think that since a similar parasite can be found in the Ape family (Gorilla's, Monkeys, etc.) which is known as p. reichenowi , that at some point in time a mosquito sucked blood from an infected ape and transferred this parasite to a human and that parasite mutated into one of the two Malaria parasites known to infect humans.
  • This would make sense to most scientists since they believe that apes and humans share a common "ancestor" from way back millions of years ago.
Even if I were to accept this "theory", which as a Christian I do not, it still doesn't satisfactorily answer the question of where the first Malaria parasite came from does it?

Because I am a Bible teacher and a Christian, I will attempt to answer this question for you from a "biblical worldview".

You may also benefit from a previous answer that I gave to the question of the origin of Satan and Sin. (Pastor Joel is a great resource for this as well, as he has studied the whole Creation vs. Evolution debate in depth.)

Just as with all answers that deal with "origins", it is best to start at the beginning!

In the book of Genesis (which conveniently enough means "origin" or "in the beginning") we find the account of how God created everything out of nothing.  Genesis chapters 1 and 2 tell us the story of how God spoke everything that was created into creation or existence, in 6 days, including people.
Does that mean that God also created mosquitoes and parasites during that time? Yes, in one form or another when God created everything, He created everything (John 1:3). This doesn't mean that the mosquitoes or living organisms that we know of as parasites were created to be the "same" as what we deal with today, but that is where they came from.

Wait a minute! Are you saying that these things "evolved" over time? Well, yes and no. I'm not qualified to educate you on the difference between "micro" and "macro" evolution, but that would be a great question for Pastor Joe or Pastor Joel to answer!

What I am saying is this: According to the Bible, when God was done creating everything, He declared that everything He had created was "very good" or "perfect". Think about that. Everything God had made was perfect and without corruption, including plants, animals, bugs, all living organism's and people! No death, no disease, no worry, right?

So... what happened to this perfect creation?

Sin happened!

In Genesis 1:26-28, God gave the "pinnacle" of His creation (mankind) "dominion" or rule over the rest of what He had created on the Earth. He also gave us a choice. We could choose to love and obey Him and remain in this "paradise" forever or we could choose to reject and disobey Him and "sever" our connection with the Creator and Source of life!

God warned the first man (Adam) that if he rejected God (to disobey God is the same as to reject Him), then this thing called "death" would enter into the picture. To reject God is to reject life, and the only other option is death (Genesis 2:17; see also Deuteronomy 30:19).

In Genesis chapter 3 we find the account of how Satan (the adversary) tempted the first people (Adam and Eve) into choosing "self" over God, and in doing so, they sinned! When sin entered the picture, it corrupted everything, starting with the man and the woman. Their connection to God was severed and death and corruption was the result (Romans 5:12).

 All of creation was cursed because of mankind's choice to reject God. In His wrath against sin and death, God cursed the man, the woman, and the entire animal kingdom! Everything changed... including those microscopic living organisms.
  • Gen. 3:14 - The "serpent", and all domestic and wild animals were cursed. Even the way they related to mankind changed and would continue to change. (Lions didn't eat people, and mosquito's didn't suck blood in the Garden of Eden.)
  • Gen. 3:16 - The "natural" process for the multiplication of mankind was cursed and became  extremely painful for the woman. Her relationship with the man also became corrupted by sin and death.
  • Gen. 3:17-19 - The whole earth was cursed because of the man's sin and his "rule" over it was corrupted. The very ground was cursed because of our sin! Man would now have to fight against creation in order to live instead of ruling over it. And in the end only death awaited him no matter how hard he worked.
  • Gen. 3:22-24 - Mankind's access to the "tree of life" was cut off, and without life, death is the rule!

Romans 8:19-22 shows us the devastation caused by our sin: death and disease spreads to everything!

Romans 8:19-22 - "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now."

Why was creation subjected to futility or corruption? Because corrupt people have no place in a perfect creation.

Also, creation was corrupted when we gave up our "dominion" over it and allowed Satan in. Now it was corrupted by the "dominion of darkness". Sin and death are the "disease". When Jesus said that Satan was a "murderer from the beginning", in John 8:44, this is exactly what He meant. (Also, look at James 1:15.)

Sin brings death. And death, whether it comes in the form of the "diseases" that we call Malaria, Cancer, ALS, etc., (or even the disease we call "old age"!) the origin of all diseases is the same: sin is corruption of God's perfect creation!

Whatever the Mosquito was supposed to do for or with mankind in the beginning, it has been corrupted and now sucks out our blood and leaves us pain and disease in its place. Whatever the "Malaria" bug was before the fall, it is now a corrupt parasite that does its best to bring death to the people it lives off of.

So, if death is "the" disease, then is there a cure? YES!

Jesus is the cure! 
  • John 10:10 - "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
  • Romans 8:2 - "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."
  • 1 John 3:8 - "The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil."
  • Romans 5 - The whole chapter!
When Jesus called Himself "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" in John14:6 that is exactly what He meant. The truth is that Jesus is the only way for us to get back to true life. Jesus is the only way we can cure the disease's of sin and death. Jesus did what we could not. He lived a perfect, un-corrupted, sinless life, and then gave up that life as the payment or "atonement" for all of our sins. Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross and offers the "cure" to all who will repent of their sins and give their lives to Him; making Him their Lord and Savior!

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 - "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

When death ends, disease goes with it!

Life or Death is still our choice while we live. You have to make the choice before you die. See, there is a day coming when the One who defeated sin and death will return to once again make everything "perfect". In His kingdom there is no place for corruption. Check this out:

Everything and everyone that is still "corrupted" will end in eternal death (separated from God forever in hell):

  • Revelation 20:10 - "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."
  • Revelation 20:14-15 - "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

But those who have accepted the cure, whose names are written in Jesus' "book of life" will spend eternity with Him in the new "paradise":
  • Revelation 21:1 - "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea."
  • Revelation 2:7 - "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God."
  • Revelation 21:4 - "...and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
  • Revelation 21:27 - "...and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
  • Revelation 22:1-5 - "Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever."
(I strongly suggest you read all of Revelation to get the full picture of God's wrath against sin, death, and all who refuse the cure and the gift of life. Pay close attention to chapters 21 and 22 to get a glimpse of what eternal life will look like when there is no more disease.)

Bottom Line: Disease came into creation with death as a result of our sin. Death, disease, and corruption are the curses that come from rejecting God. Science can try to explain disease, cure disease, and prevent death, but in the end, they always fail, and always will! Even the healthiest among us are all terminal. Death is the great equalizer, and it will come for all of us.

Jesus is the only way to overcome disease and death, and to find true life. He's coming back and He will make all things new, set all things right, and do away with disease once and for all!

Ask your teacher what they want to do with that! As for me, I say, "Jesus, come!"
  • Revelation 22:17 - "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."
I hope this helped answer your question, either way it was kind of fun. Gotta go... just spotted a mosquito trying to get through my window screen... yuck!