Christ "Pitched His Tent" Among Us

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In a pivotal verse of the Fourth Gospel's prologue, the Apostle John writes,"The Word middle_eastern_tentbecame flesh and lived for a while among us" (John 1:14 NIV). Lying behind the italicized words is the Greek verb skēnoō, one member of a whole group of words that share the root skēn- ("tent"). This root is the origin of our word 'scene'--the original scenery in plays was made of canvas, just like tents. The NIV translation attempts to convey the temporary nature of a tent dwelling by adding to 'lived' the phrase 'for a while.' But is transient the symbolism intended in this passage?

A couple of times in the New Testament, a skēn- word does have this transitory connotation. For evample, in 2 Cor. 5:1,4, Paul uses 'tent' (skēnos) to describe the mortal human body in contrast with the immortal resurrected body, which he calls a building. Likewise, Peter can refer to his own physical body as "this tent" (skēnōma, 2 Peter 1:13-14).

But at other times, the temporary aspect seems to be lacking. Besides John 1:14, all of the other occurrences of the verb skēnoō occur in the Book of Revelation, and those contexts can help us to clarify the meaning in John's prologue. Rev. 7:15 says that the martyrs serve God day and night in his sanctuary and that "he will spread his tent" over them. The significance is shelter, protection. Rev. 12:12 and 13:16 refer to those who "dwell" (literally "tent") in heaven. Rev. 21:3 once more refers to God, whose "tent is with people, and He will dwell with them."

Of all of these verses from the Apocalypse, we must ask whether their contexts indicate a temporary housing situation. The answer is consistently no. The shelter God gives to the martyrs is permanent (7:15). Those in heaven are there permanently (12:12 and 13:6), and Rev. 21:3 is referring to the permanent communion of God with His children, as confirmed in 22:5's "forever and ever."

The nouns in the skēn- word group sometimes lead us in the same direction, for Jesus counsels his hearers to "make friends for yourselves with unrighteous Mammon [money] so that when it is gone, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings (pl. of skēnē)." Impermanence is certainly not the point here. In Acts 7:46, Stephen speaks of David asking to find "a dwelling [literally, 'tent' skēnōma] for the God of Jacob." In the next verse, Stephen says Solomon was the one who built a house for Him. The context seems to make 'tent' and 'house' synonymous.

So what is the meaning of skēnoō in John 1:14? If impermanence is not the point, what is? Another possibility arises from the use of 'tent' in the Synoptic accounts of the transfiguration. Peter, seeing Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, offers to build three shelters (literally, 'tents'--pl. of skēnē) for them (Mark 9:5; Matt. 17:4; Luke 9:33). Peter's motivation seems to be the opposite of impermanence; he wants to prolong the meeting. His purpose was to facilitate the fellowship the three were having by giving all three of them some shelter from the elements.

This idea of sharing a common existence may be the point of John 1:14. All human beings among whom Jesus came have pitched their "tents," and Jesus did too. He came to be, not just among them, but also one of them.

Nor is this a temporary identification. His oneness with us, begun in the virginal conception, continues through all eternity. At the resurrection, He received a transformed, immortal, glorified body--His flesh became incorruptible, yes, but it was, and is, still flesh. Jesus became human, became one of us, and He remains human, remains one of us (2 Tim. 2:5--the man Jesus Christ is [present tense] mediator between God and humans; see also Phil. 3:21). It is a profound mystery, but one of the wonders of redemption.

Want to go deeper?

ckauborne_radicalRecommended to purchase:

Millard J. Erickson. The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (1991).

The church first answered conflicts over the deity and humanity of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. But Erickson finds Chalcedon's definition too narrow and negative a response to the "Christs" of liberation, feminism, blackness, functionalism, universalism, and postmodern theologies, among others. There must be a new Chalcedon - a doctrine that confesses what Jesus is not, but also affirms all that He is. The Word Became Flesh returns the theological discussion to what Christ said about himself and what Scripture deems important to stress. Erickson is a research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His Ph.D. is from Northwestern University, with postdoctoral studies at the University of Munich.

Recommended for online reading:

Wayne A. Grudem. "Jesus Will Be a Man Forever," 542-543 in his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (1994).

Steve Singleton,
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Hyperabundantly: Paul's Challenge to Move Beyond

Friday, October 23, 2009

In three passages Paul uses a very unusual Greek word. The adjective perissos, perissē, perisson means "abundant" or "going beyond" what is necessary (e.g., John 10:10). If you prefix the preposition ek to it, you intensify the meaning, yielding the adverb ekperissōs, "excessively" (e.g., Mark 14:31). Add another prepositional prefix, this time huper (meaning with the accusative, "over and above, beyond" the source of our word "hyper"), and you rocketintensify the word even more, resulting in the adverb, huperekperissou or in some manuscripts huperekperissōs, defined in the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon (840) as "quite beyond all measure," adding "(highest form of comparison imaginable)."

Paul uses this adverb twice in First Thessalonians. While expressing his intense concern for the welfare of the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul says in 3:10 that night and day he is petitioning (God) beyond all measure for permission to see them again. What is the adverb expressing about Paul's prayers? Is it the frequency with which he makes this request, or the intensity and depth of passion he infuses into each one of them. Perhaps we do not have to choose between the alternatives, for the one certainly goes with the other, at least when the Apostle Paul is concerned.

Then near the end of the epistle, Paul tells his readers how they should treat their leaders: "Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work" (5:13). The word "highest" falls short of expressing the degree of amplification that huperekperissou conveys. Paul is speaking of a respect that borders on reverence, conditioned of course by his description in the previous verse of the work these leaders are doing: "they are laboring among you," connoting strenuous effort.

Years later, Paul wrote Ephesians, concluding the first half of the epistle with this doxology: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen" (3:20-21). God's ability to work through us, His power at work within us, Paul says is limitless. It is, as the King James Version says, "exceeding abundantly above" the limits our small minds place on it.

God's hyper-abundant power was what was at work within Paul when he offered those 24/7 hyper-abundant prayers for the Thessalonians. And Paul was hopeful that the same hyper-abundant power would work among them as they paid hyper-abundant respect to their hard-working leaders.

That same power is available to us today. It is a power that bursts through all barriers we would place on it, that stretches any confines, and that challenges us, rather than resisting its dynamism, to "go with the flow" and become radical Christians. It inspires us to invest our brain power, our passions, our muscular force, our time, money, talents, interest, and our imagination--to intensify what we are doing for Christ. By the word "hyper-abundantly," Paul urges us to step it up, not a notch, but peg it out, all the way to the top and beyond.

Want to go deeper?

ckauborne_radicalRecommended to purchase:

Shane Claiborne. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (2006).

During college, a professor remarked, "Being a Christian is about choosing Jesus and deciding to do something incredibly daring with your life." Taking up that challenge, Shane's faith led him to dress the wounds of lepers with Mother Teresa, visit families in Iraq amidst bombings, and dump $10,000 on Wall Street to redistribute wealth. This book challenges you with a radical Christianity passionate for peace, social justice, and alleviating the suffering found in the local neighborhood and distant reaches of the world. Live out your faith with little acts of radical love as you join the movement of God's Spirit into a broken world.

Recommended for online reading:

Charles H. Spurgeon. "Paul's Doxology," 661-672, in his Metropolitan Tabernacle Sermons, vol. 21 (1875).

Steve Singleton,
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Truthing One Another in Love

Sunday, October 18, 2009
When Paul wanted to explain to the Ephesian Christians what it means to reach maturity in Christ, he uses a term that strictly has no English equivalent. Instead of sincere womanthe Greek noun for "truth," alētheia, he employs the corresponding Greek verb, alētheuō, which literally translated would mean "to truth someone."

I suppose you could translate it "to tell the truth" or "to speak the truth," which is in fact the translation we encounter in most English version of this verse, Eph. 4:15: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ." But it's possible that "truthing one another" means something more.

Alētheuō might suggest communicating truth in all of the others ways besides just words, such as (to name a few): body language, intonation, facial expression, actions (which "speak louder than words"), intentions, attitude, and spending habits ("put your money where your mouth is"). In his article on truth for the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, A. C. Thiselton comment about the use of alētheuō in Eph. 4:15: "It is possible that alētheuō here entails integrity of life in addition to truthful speech" (3:887).

Look at the context. In contrast to the charlatans who, in their cunning and craftiness, deceive people with their teaching, Paul anticipates a time when Christians have the maturity to be so open and honest with each other, they "truth" one another--they invest all that they are in what they are saying. Their sincerity is unimpeachable.

The only other time this verb occurs in the New Testament is in Gal. 4:16, where Paul asks, "Have I now becoming your enemy by truthing to you?" Once more, the idea in context suggests telling the truth in a that goes far beyond words. The Galatian opponents of Paul were telling lies to win over his converts. Paul refused to mince words; he truthed them. This was the best proof he had that his deep friendship with them was unbroken.

God wants all of His children to "truth" to one another. He wants us to be honest through and through, to have a unquestionable consistency between our lip, our heart, and our life. That's what it takes to reflect the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, who once "truthed" this: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

Want to go deeper?

Do you own Bible word study on the related terms "truth" and "true." When does "true" actually mean "real," and when is it closer to "faithful"? You will discover some great texts, like John 8:32, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." What does Jesus mean by this promise? Is He speaking about truth in general, or some specific truth? Ask probing questions of other verses you will find.

berger_truthRecommended to purchase:

Daniel Berger. Speaking the Truth in Love: Christian Public Rhetoric (2007).

Approaches public communication from a liberal arts point of view and provides a distinctly Christian perspective of rhetoric. Written and oral rhetoric are interwoven throughout the text. Two foundational ideas control the majority of the text. The first is from Plato's Phaedrus as stated by Paul in Ephesians 4:15, "speaking the truth in love." The second is from the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:11, "if anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God."

The spiritual responsibility of communicating truth in accordance with the nature of God, especially the virtue of love, is an awesome privilege and opportunity. Sound content spoken or written eloquently with charisma will enable words to have a maximum impact. Beginning with a philosophy of language, meaning, and interaction, argument is built against secular deconstructive thought where everyone has a different truth based on language. Alongside philosophy we explore ethics and theology from an evangelical perspective. Following this a brief history outlines rhetorical thought from pre-testament classics to today. Based upon these ideas we take a closer look at communication theory as it relates to public communication.

Recommended for online reading:

Henry Ward Beecher. "Sovereignty & Permanence of Love," 117-134 (esp. 121), in his The Sermons of Henry Ward Beecher in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn (7th series, 1871-1872).

The Blame Game Goes Into Overtime

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shirking responsibility is as old as the first man, the first woman, and the first accusingHumble Pie no one wanted to eat. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent, and the Serpent didn't have a leg to stand on (Genesis 3:9-19).

Where did Bart Simpson learn his famous semi-self-incrimination, "I-didn't-do-it-nobody-saw-me-do-it-you-can't-prove-anything"? From his shift-the-blame father, Homer? Or maybe from watching the press conferences of accused politicians?

At work people repeat the adage, "Fix problems, not blame," even while they back-pedal and ask leading questions, like, "What did you know and when did you know it?" No one wants to 'fess up and admit, "It was my fault, and I'm gonna make it right." We all want to avoid the blame, which is really not the same as being truly blameless.

Yet there has been One among us who, though innocent Himself, was willing to take on our sins, to bear the burden of our mistakes, and to suffer the penalty for our crimes. We who accused really thought He was guilty, but it was our guilt that was laid on Him, our punishment He suffered.

God made Him, who knew no sin, to be made the sin offering for us, so that through Him we might become God's righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

His willingness to bear our sins, however, does not take away the necessity for us to own up to our failures. His voluntary sacrifice prompts us to confess our sins, to renounce them, and to forsake them (see 1 John 1:7-10; 2:1-6). As long as we say, "I didn't do it," or "I'm not to blame," or "I'm not responsible for my actions," we cannot receive the forgiveness He has paid for. It is too precious for us to deny its necessity, too dear for us to squander.

Our pardon is available only when we are willing to plead guilty to our crimes, when we are ready to declare to anyone who will listen, "Yes, I did it. God saw me do it. He can prove everything."

--Steve Singleton

Want to go deeper?

The Greek adjective amemptos, -on ("blameless, faultless") and its related adverb apply to Christians, not because they are sinless, but because they are forgiven and walk after Jesus, having their sins cleansed by His blood (see Philippians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 John 1:7). The eighth-century BCE prophet Isaiah predicted Christ's role as sin-bearer (Isaiah 53:4-6, 8, 10-12), a role celebrated again and again in the New Testament (see John 1:29; Acts 8:30-35; Romans 3:25-26; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:26-28; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:1-2).

cloud_faultRecommended to purchase:

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It's Not My Fault: The No-Excuse Plan for Overoming Life's Obstacles to Enjoy God's Best (2006).

We've all said it, but who is to blame? Other people? Circumstances beyond our control? Genetics? Challenging you to stop hiding behind excuses, Drs. Cloud and Townsend offer eight principles to empower you to overcome self-defeating behavior, accept responsibility for your actions, and implement solutions instead of clinging to empty rationalizations. 272 pages, hardcover.

Recommended for online reading:

Eric Berne and Thomas Harris. "Blame Game".

Description of self-justifying behavior to cope with guilt feelings: blame someone else.

Does God appoint some for salvation and not others? An examination of Acts 13:48

Saturday, April 18, 2009


R. here. My wife and I are studying the Bible with a young couple, and J. has been heavily influenced by Calvinism. Predestination, Total Depravity, Irresistible Grace -- the whole nine yards. His weak points are his children. It bothers him that one of them might be predestined to be lost. You get the idea. If you have any words of wisdom or insight I am your eager student (again). I love your website. It looks good and keep up the good work.

Take care, R.

R., thanks for the update. I just have a minute, but I think I may be able to help you. On, on my systematic theology page, and some study material on Calvinism (which I label "Reformed Theology").

Many of my other links on the Systematic Theology page are from reformed writers, probably because of their tremendous respect for the authority of the Word of God. But on the T-U-L-I-P- part, I just can't reconcile it with Scripture. Look especially at the "Weighed & Found Wanting" article.

I think you should be asking yourself, what is the common ground I can find with what they are saying? Each of the points has an important truth that it would have contributed if it hadn't taken it too far. Focus on that truth and show how the Calvinist teaching went beyond what the Bible really says on the subject. Example: Irresistible Grace, see John 6:44--God draws us through the winsome message of the gospel, though not irresistibly.

I would be happy to dialogue with you as you work your way through this material.

Look also at the available books, especially the two views book. The first one listed, by Hanko, et al., is pro-Calvinist.


Thank you for the input. I have just done considerable reading this evening since getting home from our study. He actually wants to put off further discussions on this till a little bit later. However, I have a question about Acts 13:48. This was the passage brought up last week. I studied the Greek a little bit from a few commentaries but could you give me some of your input on this passage?

Thanks, R.

(Actually Tyndale commentary was pretty good on this, as was Alexander Campbell.)

Stange. I read Acts 13 this week and was already thinking about "As many as were in the state of having been appointed unto eternal life believed." (That is a literal rendering of the periphrastic construction of "was" combined with a perfect participle.)

How can we reconcile these passage, which certainly seems to imply predestination and irresistible grace, with the "whosoever" passages like Mark 16:16, John 3:16, and others, as well as passages that clearly say Jesus died for all, not just some, and that God's desire is for all to experience salvation (e.g., 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:4-5, and 2 Peter 3:9)? One way to harmonize them is to use the analogy of invitations to a class party. All the members of the class are invited, but only a few attend.

Yet we can say that only the invited are at the party without saying those to didn't come weren't invited. Am I talking in circles or guilty of sophistry? I hope not.

Those who responded to Paul's preaching "believed" (in the comprehensive sense of responded to the gospel, for everything involved in responding is prompted by faith in Christ and inspired by His most excellent sacrifice and power to redeem). By "believing," they were demonstrating that God included even them in the invitation.

Keep in mind that this is before the Jerusalem conference in which Paul's "way-out-there," radical teaching of accepting Gentiles as legitimate Christians without demanding that they be circumcised was confirmed by the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem mother-church. Why did the conference make this decision? Because they had substantial proof that it was God's will. What was the proof?

1) Peter's testimony about the conversion of Cornelius and his household, which involved a number of guiding and confirming miracles, as well as the willingness of Cornelius and the others to respond to the gospel.

2) The testimony of Paul and Barnabas about the success of their missionary journey, in which they consistently pursued this policy with regard to the Gentiles. Not only did God empower them to work miracles, something He would not have done if they had been misleading their converts, but He also blessed them with many responsive hearts. In other words, if at the conference they had been forced to admit that their preaching of salvation based on grace through faith met with an icy reception, the brothers in Jerusalem might have relegated the entire discussion to a matter of hypotheticals. But the Gentiles gladly accepted the message of salvation, which demonstrates that God wanted them to be saved, and we can even say "appointed them for eternal life."

The use of the perfect participle suggests that this was a long-standing appointment, as far as God was concerned. That takes us back into the Old Testament to such passages as Isaiah 49:6 (which Paul quotes to the disaffected Jews just before our target verse, see Acts 13:47), and many others, leading all the way back to the "fountainhead," Gen. 12:3. It had been God's intention for Israel to lead the Gentiles to salvation, and when they failed (see Isa. 26:18 and 52:5), God was determined to bring salvation to the Gentiles anyway, through the Messiah (see Isa. 59:1-20). No one else would do it, so He had to do it Himself.

He had appointed the Gentiles for eternal life. So when they heard the gospel, it was possible for them to respond to it, even though they weren't Jews. The forgiveness and salvation Paul offered them was a bonafide offer from God. Their openness to the message was a demonstration that God had a hand in their conversion. But His work was not an election (of some and not others), followed by an irresistible calling of that "chosen few." His work was the gospel "God's power unto salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

Response? How does this compare with the other things you read? Also, is it OK, if I put this on my blog?


Steve, Amen! Put it on the blog! I'm loving it! At first I wasn't sure where you were going (actually in the middle) but you developed the concept extremely well and then brought in the OT passages about God having this in mind from the beginning. With everything put in context it is the best argument I have read.

Actually Tyndale went into the Greek word for appointed and brought up an alternate understanding. That the term can be used (and has, I guess) as a military term meaning "To be set in place," i.e., as a military general would set his troups in place for a certain position in the battle line for instance. The meaning would then take on the idea that the Gentiles by receiving and glorifying the Word of the Lord with joy, they were 'set in place' (a.k.a. ‘appointed’) to receive eternal life. Tyndale makes their action of joyfully receiving the Word a deciding factor that sets them in place for salvation. I may be drawing too much out of his argument but that seems to be the gist of it. I did not do a Greek study to confirm this rather unexpected tack. Anyway, I am going to print off and study your full argument and study it.

Thank you, Steve.


Want to Go Deeper?

Consider the following passages regarding whether individuals are predestined for salvation or for destruction. Our goal is not to pick passages that teach what we want to truth to be and ignore passages that seem to conflict with them, but to go deeper and seek a way to reconcile and harmonize them all without doing violence to the context of each passage.

  • John 3:16 – The "whoever" or "whosoever" of this famous verse leads us to believe that salvation in Christ is available to everyone who responds to it, not just a select group.
  • Mark 16:16 – "Whosoever" in this text is as wide as the "all creation" of the previous verse. The risen Lord places no limitation of who could respond to the gospel proclamation. Other "whosoever" texts to consider include: Mark 3:35 (parallel: Matthew 12:50); Mark 8:34-35 (par. Matthew 16:25; Luke 17:33); Mark 9:37 (par. Matthew 18:4); Mark 9:41; Matthew 13:12; Luke 6:47; 7:23; 8:35; John 11:26; 12:46; Acts 2:21 (quoting Joel 2:32); Romans 9:33 and 10:11 (both quoting Isa. 28:16); 1 John 4:15; and Revelation 22:17.
  • Mark 13:20, 22, 27 (parallels: Matthew 24:22, 24, 31); Luke 18:7 – Jesus calls his followers "the elect," which means the Chosen Ones. This theme of election recurs in the epistles: study Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2, 6; 2 Peter 1:10. Does this mean that those who don't respond aren't "the chosen"? Who does the choosing, God or we? He has chosen HOW, not WHO.
  • An important cluster of elections verses occurs in Romans 9 - 11, dealing with God's choice of Israel: Rom. 9:11 and Romans 11:5, 7, 28.
For online reading:

F. Furman Kearley. "The Biblical Doctrine of Predestination, Foreordination, and Election". – Kearley was one of my mentors and an excellent biblical scholar. His take on Acts 13:48 is similar to the Tyndale commentary.

Recommended for purchase:
Robert Shank. Elect in the Son: The Biblical Doctrine of Election. Westcott, 1970; Reprint: Baker, 1989. – This is a thorough study of election throughout the Bible, treating every passage in its context. Shank studied his way out of Calvinism and shares with us what he discovered.

In the last few years, more and more books have appeared discussing crucial biblical doctrines from different points of view. Here are some helpful books if you want to consider the arguments on both sides regarding election:

Dave Hunt & James White. Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Multnomah, 2004).

Robert A. Peterson & Michael D. Williams. Why I am Not an Arminian (InterVarsity, 2004).

Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell. Why I am Not a Calvinist (InterVarsity, 2004).

Steve Singleton,
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G-Harmony: Just who--or what--are you looking for?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Seeking that Special Someone?
Are you looking for a special relationship with the Divine Being but are not sure where to find it or if having such a relationship is even possible? Well, then, G-Harmony is for you! You can be confident that God is eagerly seeking a relationship with you as well.

Just answer this simple, five-question survey, and you are well on your way to experiencing the spiritual relationship you have longed for.

G-Harmony Questionnaire

  1. How easily can you admit that you were wrong and need forgiveness, and are you willing to accept forgiveness when it is offered?

  2. Is it easy or difficult for you to receive guidance regarding how to improve your life, enhance the effectiveness of your actions, and make your thinking more positive?

  3. Are you willing to be flexible regarding your budget, your work habits, and your schedule?

  4. Are you willing to try new things, go new places, and meet new people?

  5. How willing are you to get involved in the lives of people around you?

About Question 1
God has found that many people either have a hard time admitting they have sinned or feel so overwhelmed that they can't conceive of the possibility of forgiveness. Both are self-centered responses. One of the first gifts God offers you is Grace--His willingness to forgive you through the sacrifice of Jesus, despite what you have done wrong. But if you want to save yourself or sense no need to be forgiven, then God can't help you (Luke 5:31-32).

All He asks is that you trust Him and allow Him to do for you what you are incapable of doing for yourself. He calls this saving experience "the new birth" or identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 3:3-5; Rom. 6:1-7; Col. 2:12-13; Titus 3:5). He wants to make you one with Him, or "in Christ" (Romans 8:1-2).

About Questions 2 - 5
The other four questions turn from Jesus as Savior to Jesus as Lord. A transformed life is possible, but only because God empowers you through His Holy Spirit as a response to your willingness to change (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). God has established a support network called Christ's church to make it easier for you to move from worthless to worthy (Galatians 6:1-5). He makes everyone in genuine relationship with Him a part of this support network (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:18-23).

Some aspects of your new relationship you will immediately find deeply satisfying, such as receiving from God a profound sense of value and acceptance (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:3-8). Other aspects may cause you concern, at least at first, such as His firm demand that you participate in his program for your continuous improvement (Philippians 3:10-16) and His insistence that you connect with those around you (Romans 12:9-13).

You will discover that these requirements, though they be unsettling at first, are in fact, some of the most endearing parts of the relationship.

G-Harmony Caveat
I need to say up front: God is seeking a long-term relationship. There's no guarantee that if you back out, you can regain your former self-centered personality or life-style, at least not right away. These things take time.

Want to Go Deeper?

Here are some of the major biblical passages about the husband-wife metaphor describing God's bittersweet love-relationship with human beings:

  • Song of Solomon – An old tradition applies this celebration of married love to God and Israel (Jewish version) or Christ and the church (Christian version). The entire approach is questionable as probably not part of the original author's intent, but many hymns draw imagery from this source, e.g. "Lilly of the valley," "I'm my beloved's and He is mine," and "His banner over us is love."

  • Isaiah 50:1 – God divorces His people because of her sins.

  • Hosea, chapters 1 through 3 – The prophet's compassion for his adulterous wife corresponds to God's love for His people.

  • Ezekiel, chapters 16 and 23 – Israel's unfaithfulness to God is told as allegories of an adulterous wife.

  • John 3:25-30 – John the Baptizer sees his purpose as ensuring that Jesus and Israel consummate their union.

  • Matthew 22:1-14 and 25:1-13 – Christ's first and second comings are both pictured as a man getting married.

  • Ephesians 5:22-32 – Christ's faithful love for His wife, the church and its benefits to her.

  • 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 – Paul says he presented the Corinthians to Christ as a pure virgin to her husband.

  • Revelation 19:6-9; 21:2-5 – Christ, the One who is "faithful and true," receives His bride, pictured as "the New Jerusalem" and identified as "His holy ones."

Recommended for purchase (at discount)

Gene Edwards. The Divine Romance Tyndale, 1993. – Combines the simplicity of storytelling art with the profound depths of the Christian faith. This sweeping saga spans from eternity to eternity, revealing some of the deepest riches afforded the believer. Like a mighty symphony, here is a majestic rendition of the love of God. The story concludes at the consummation of the ages, when a victorious Lord takes his bride to himself. Truly the greatest love story ever told.

James Bryan Smith. Embracing the Love of God: The Path & Promise of the Christian Life. HarperOne, 2008. – Let God's immense love for you sink into your heart and soul like never before! These days when it seems many Christians are overcome with activities and trying to please people, their faith often becomes legalism. The only way to stop the cycle is to let God's love and approval embrace you, now and every day. Banish feelings of fear and insignificance, and develop a lifestyle of love and acceptance.

Recommended for online reading

John H. A. Ebrard. Commentary on 1 John 3:1-3 from his Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St John. Trans. W. B. Pope. Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1860.

G. G. Findlay. "Christ and His Bride", pp. 91-95 in his The Epistle to the Ephesians from An Exposition of the Bible, ed. by Marcus Dods, et al. Hartford, CT: S. S. Scranton, 1903. – Exposition of Ephesians 5:22-32.

Steve Singleton,
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Is questioning a so-called prophet blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Q. What is the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit"? Why is it called an unforgivable sin? Is there any way for a person to commit this sin today? Is the person who questions a self-appointed prophet guilty of committing this sin?

Jesus taught about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as recorded in Mark 3:20-30 and the parallel passages in Matthew 12:25-32, Luke 11:14-20, and 12:8-10. The people were amazed that Jesus had the power to exorcize demons, but the teachers of the law claimed that he was possessed by Beelzebub himself and that He cast them out by the power of "the prince of demons."

After making several arguments against this claim, Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. --Mark 3:28-29

Mark then adds, "He said this because they were saying, 'He has an evil spirit.'" (v. 30).

The miraculous power Jesus demonstrated was from the Holy Spirit. Here's how the Apostle Peter explains it:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and... he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. --Acts 10:38

The Holy Spirit used the miraculous powers He gave to Jesus as a means of testifying to His divine nature. He authenticated the words of Jesus as having come from God. That's what the anonymous author of Hebrews says:

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. --Hebrews 2:3-4

In other words, the very signs God provided to validate Jesus the Jewish leaders acknowledged as genuine, but they denied the power was from the Holy Spirit, opting instead for a diabolical source. This Jesus will not tolerate. This, he says, God cannot forgive.

The short answer to the question about why this sin is unforgivable, is simply, because Jesus said it was. The person on whom all forgiveness depends is sovereign over sin and over its forgiveness. Jesus takes this offense personally. His eternal, intimate love-bond with the Holy Spirit is at stake. The Spirit is selfless, always pointing to Jesus and lifting Him up. For someone to see the signs and acknowledge their power, yet deny their obvious origin is to insult the Spirit and slander his very character.

Why did the Jewish leaders take this stand? It was because Jesus refused to conform to their preconceptions of what the Messiah would be like and to their traditional way of interpreting the law of Moses. Rather than admit they might be wrong about one or the other or both, they concluded Jesus must be wrong, and therefore His obvious power must be from Satan, not from the "Giver of every good and perfect gift."

Denying or explaining away the very signs that should have prompted faith to grow in their hearts, they turned their backs on their only hope for deliverance.

This volley of rejection against Jesus and the Spirit continued. Later rabbinic writings refer to Jesus as Balaam, the prophet whom the Moabite king hired to curse Israel (Numbers 22 - 24). Try as he did, Balaam could only bless the Israelites. To compare Jesus to Balaam continues the blasphemy of the first century through later generations.

Is it possible to commit this same sin today? Certainly, though people who want to reject Jesus seldom take that approach. Rather than acknowledging his power but explaining it as diabolical, they either deny the historicity of the gospel accounts, or they attempt some rationalistic explanation of his miracles. Often these attempts are made with a self-satisfied pomposity that congratulates its own intellectual elitism: "Of course, no one believes that those poor people were really possessed by the boogy-man. Either they had epilepsy or some form of mental illness." "People were so gullible and superstitious back then. I'm amazed that they could accept at face value a young girl's claim about the Holy Spirit getting her pregnant or that what happened to an even younger girl behind closed doors was a resurrection instead of a fever breaking."

Such a response to the Good News is wrong--it is certainly damning--but it is not unforgivable. It is simply arrogant and closed-minded.

Some would apply the warning about blaspheming against the Spirit to any would would seek to debunk self-appointed prophets, modern-day tongues-speakers, and faith healers. While we should all examine our own hearts and ensure that our motives are pure, a number of passages urge us to put prophecy to the test, and by extension, the same would apply to the other claims of miraculous gifts.

Here's a sampling of such passages, listed in chronological order:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 – Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. Paul is addressing a problem that arose quite early. Some were treating prophecies with contempt. Paul said this should not be done, but neither does he say everything that passes as prophecy should be automatically accepted as such. It all must be put to the test: what passes should be accepted, and what fails should be rejected.

  • 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 – I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders, and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance. Paul is willing for his own powers to be tested, confident that he will pass the test.

  • Ephesians 4:14-15 – Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. – Paul realizes how credulous his fellow Christians are, and he looks forward to the time when they will be more mature, undeceived by charlatans.

  • 1 John 4:1 – Dear friends, do not believer every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. – After this solemn warning, the apostle immediately gives a doctrinal test to determine who is a legitimate prophet. This is similar to the warnings Moses and Jesus himself delivered (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22; and Matthew 7:15-23).

In a future blog, I hope to show how we can test modern prophets, tongues-speakers, and faith healers.

Want to Go Deeper?

Recommended for purchase (at discount)

Graham H. Twelftree. In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians Baker, 2007. 352 pp. – Can evil spirits invade and control individuals---and be expelled? For many biblical scholars, says Twelftree, this is akin to believing in "elves, dragons, or a flat earth." But for Christians worldwide, especially in developing countries, exorcism unlocks the bonds of spiritual captivity. A reliable and historical discussion of exorcism within the early church.

Todd Klutz. The Exorcism Stories in Luke-Acts: A Sociostylistic Reading. Cambridge University, 2004. 314 pp. – Integrates detailed, literary criticism of the exorcism stories in Luke-Acts with wide-ranging comparative study of ancient sources on demonology, spirit affliction and exorcistic healing. Explores the implied author's relationship with Judaism in relation to the stories' original context of reception. Probes largely neglected interfaces between Luke's representation of exorcism and emerging academic discourse about religious experience, shamanism, health care in antiquity, ritual performance and ancient Jewish systems of impurity to shed fresh light on this supremely alien part of the Lukan writings.

Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views. Zondervan, 1996. – Are the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing for today? No, say cessationists. Yes, say Pentecostal and Third Wave Christians. Maybe, say a sector of open-but-cautious evangelicals. What's the answer? Is there an answer? This discussion takes you to the heart of the charismatic controversy by providing an impartial format for comparing the four main lines of thinking: cessationist, open but cautious, third wave, and Pentecostal/charismatic. The authors present their positions in an interactive setting that allows for critique, clarification, and defense. Through this dialogue, you'll find guidance to better understand your own position and the positions of others. 368 pp.

Recommended for online reading

Benjamin B. Warfield. "Mysticism and Christianity." From The Biblical Review, 2 (1917):169-191.

Henry Barclay Swete. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament: A Study of Primitive Christian Teaching. Macmillan, 1904. – Scholarly and balanced presentation of the New Testament teaching about the Holy Spirit. See especially pp. 268-279, 320-321, and 376-388.

Steve Singleton,
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