Thursday, December 20, 2012


“Consider it all joy, my brothers, whenever you encounter various trials”
James 1:2

Now why would James write that?  The subject crossed my mind when I was recently hospitalized for a raging infection.  I had plenty of time while I lay in bed with nothing really to do but read a Gideon Bible and an interesting book titled Pilgrim Echoes, a compilation of the sermons of a minister little known outside my own group, the Bible Students, whose ministry as a travelling minister was kind of short, with him finishing his course after ten years, and think.  None of those sermons directly addressed our theme verse, but it got me thinking about the nature of trials and their purpose since he did speak on them in several of the sermons I read.

The word James used for “trials” is πειρασμός (G3986) and the root for this noun is the verb πειράζω (G3985) which Thayer’s gives a meaning of “to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself.”  James uses the verb later in verse thirteen twice when telling the brethren that God does not tempt us with evil.  Since the noun and verb both refer to a testing in a good or bad way we’re clued in by the later verse as to which way James means it.  That is that the testing is done in a good way, with approval as its end.

But how can that be?  After all, trials are hard things, as if we were going through fire!  Well, aside from the fact that it isn’t always the case, please hold that thought a moment and continue on.  We find a fascinating passage addressed to Israel in the last book of the Old Testament in which the thought of fire in the same sense God permits trials is used.  That would be Malachi 3:1-3, where we read:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness.   (Mal 3:1-3)

I underlined the appropriate sections where our master is portrayed as a refiner using fire to refine the tribe of Levi that they may be pure and able present offerings on the behalf of their brethren.  While it may be possible he will refine the tribe of Levi here on the earth, I think I’m on safe ground to say that this really refers to the Church, who are both priests and kings to our God (Rom. 8:14-17; Rev. 20:4-6).  So God is purifying the Church, and he does so through trials.

So how do trials accomplish this?  Well, it really goes back to the purpose of trials as implied through the word James used.  Does God really need to test us to find out if we measure up?  Who would we be kidding with that question?  God already knows the answer.  So the testing must be for somebody else’s benefit.  Could it be for our own?

Refiner’s fire first reveals impurities and then burns them away.  In a similar fashion, my dear friends, trials reveal to us our own weaknesses and give us the opportunity to work on them if we fail the testing the first time around.  This thought is implicit in James’s words when he explained to his brethren that God does not try us with evil:

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death.”
(Jas 1:13-15)

God allows the fire of trials to come upon us to allow us to see where we are weak and to purify us that we will be like fine gold fit for his plan for us.  But it also strengthens us much like subjecting fine steel to heating up and rapid cooling hardens it to a fine temper making it stronger.  So far from being something to avoid, trials are something to desire as they are a sign that God is dealing with us as his adopted sons and heirs (Heb. 12: 5-13).  Then we can be reassured by James’ words at James 1:3 and 4:

“Knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is It Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ or Both?

Greetings again dear reader:

A few days ago I saw a post in Facebook posing a question.  However, I can’t remember exactly where so decided to write on the subject here and post links in several places hoping my reflections might help.  The question was asked why we find in the Greek text Jesus called Jesus Christ in some places and Christ Jesus in others?  After reflecting on the question some while other things were going on I finally figured out how I wanted to address it.  The answer is really kind of simple, but the explanation not so for the layman in linguistics.  So please let me lay a little ground work as simply as I can.

Humans are such a diverse collection of tribes in every sense of the word.  Through the millennia since our creation we’ve tried about every way to live possible, and out speech is no exception.  Of course students know the story of hos our languages became so diverse in the first place.  After the flood of Noah’s day some men succeeded in concentrating most of the early population in Mesopotamia and tried to challenge God.  Their first attempt to frustrate his plans were brought to an end when he went down to where they were and scrambled the people into many languages, the Bible hints at around 70 were created.  The story is found at Genesis chapter eleven.

Those who study languages, of which there are now thousands, find an astonishing number of ways to express meaning in human languages.  But the two most common ways, which to some extent can be found in almost every language on earth either singly or together are word position in a sentence and word inflection.  The first is self-explanatory; words derive their function from their position in a sentence.  The second, inflexion, is the method whereby words derive their function from adding endings, prefixes or both to a root, or foundational word.

English combines both methods.  I see Jane. Is a simple sentence in English where the first word is the subject, the second the verb, indicating action, and the object, indicating the recipient of the action.  We instinctively know the function of each word from it’s position.   But look at word two in the same sentence, see.  The meaning of the sentence would change completely if we changed it to saw or have seen.  Notice the word itself has three different forms.  That is an example of inflection.

For hundreds of years students have learned the Latin sentence “pullae poeta amant.”  The means “the girls love the poet.”  Now in Latin the word order is almost irrelevant.  We can write that in any of the nine ways it can be written as far as word order goes and it still means the same thing.  That is because words in Latin primarily derive their function, or relationship to each other from the ending of the word.  True, Latin does have a customary word order which was habitual, and the example is in that word order, but that is almost unimportant, more on that in a minute.

Greek, like Latin, is what linguists call a highly inflected language.  That means that function mostly derives from form.  Take the definite article, or the word the in English, in Greek it has twenty two forms to wit:

Ο, η, το
Του, της, του
Τω, τη, τα
Τον, την

Οι, αι, τα
Των, των, των
Τοις, ταις, τοις
Τους, τας

Although some forms appear to repeat they are considered different, yet all mean the in English.  Verbs, pronouns, nouns, and other classes of words have their own set of endings and these are the prime determinants of relationship and subtlety of meaning for Greek words just like Latin.  It is easily possible to mix up word order and still get the same meaning.  Often dialects of Greek primarily differentiate themselves by subtle differences in the word order the particular Greek population used.  For instance Koine speakers often used Semitic word order simply because their primary language was another, like Aramaic.  That’s much like English speakers today reversing the proper order of Spanish nouns and Adjectives, which in Spanish are in the reverse of English when speaking in Spanish.

Now that we’ve laid the foundation we can move onto the likely answer to the question, which is kind of simple.  Remember the Latin sentence from earlier?  While there was a word order which were “normal” changes in word order were used to subtly lay emphasis.  The general rule in that and Greek is that of any two words, sometimes more, the one on the left had more emphasis than the one on the right.  We can illustrate that in English with the phrase in question.  In the case of Jesus Christ the name, Jesus, or who he is carries the emphasis and the two words are often thought of and used as his name.

However when we reverse the order, placing the modifier first, Christ Jesus, it is the title, what he is which is emphasized.  The stress is laid on the fact he is the Christ or Messiah.  It is a subtle way to indicate meaning for us which those other than we writers often aren’t conscious of but it’s there all the same.

So it is with ancient Greek.  Normally a modifier of a word will come after it, like in Spanish.  Thus a black wall becomes in Greek a wall black.  However, if an ancient Greek wanted to emphasize the wall being black he could reverse the word order and his readers would know that he was talking about a black wall.  So word order had its role in ancient Greek.

In the case of the phrase we’re talking about the order in Greek which Christ follows Jesus is treated much like a name in English and has roughly the same meaning as the Greek through usage that way.  And reversing it has the same effect in English as the Greek.  This is a case of the rule being the exception in English.  Because of that translators render the two words together as they appear in the Greek as a rule.  I won’t get into exceptions here as there is at least one I can think of which involves the presence or lack of the definite article.

I hope this little tour through linguistics and Greek grammar was helpful for those who wonder about that topic.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Paul And the Last Days

Among the false teachings which arose in the early Church it appears that the Apostles had to contend against a belief which arose as the Jewish system fell that they were living in the last days of this world.  Between the shock to the Jews as their temple had been invaded by Romans and the persecution Christians were beginning to experience at the hands of the Romans as well it is easy to see why such a belief would be appealing to the Christians of the time.

Even as he neared the end of his earthly course the Apostle Paul was concerned by the spread of that belief and he wrote to the Thessalonians concerning it.  Let’s have a look at what he had to say:

“Now we ask you, brothers, regarding the coming of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, and our gathering together to him, not to be so quickly upset or alarmed when someone claims that we said, either by some spirit, conversation, or letter that the Day of the Lord has already come.” (2Th 2:1-2)*

Could his concern be any plainer than that?  Somebody was teaching that the last days were already there and even attributing that teaching to Paul.  So he was writing to dispel that notion:

“Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, for it will not come unless the rebellion takes place first and the man of sin, who is destined for destruction, is revealed.”  (2Th 2:3)

Paul uses rather strong language by calling that teaching a deception, yet we know that’s what it was, and continues to be in some circles.  Paul warns his brethren that two things must happen first before the last days come.  The first is a “rebellion,” or falling away from the God.  In short, God would allow a testing in which the majority would fail and embrace false doctrine instead of remaining steadfast in the truth.  They would embrace God dishonoring doctrines and seek the approbation of the world.  That would lead to the next step.

Paul goes on to describe that heretical and powerful “man,” more likely something greater than any one man.  But it is not within the scope or purpose of this post to follow through and expound on the possible fulfillment of that prophecy.  It is sufficient to note that the revealing of that “man" was yet for the future.

Paul was so concerned with the spread of that teaching that as his impending execution approached he thought it important to stress to his fellow worker Timothy that the last days were yet for the future.  In his second letter to Timothy, probably the last of the letters he wrote that we have, he wrote:

“You must realize, however, that in the last days difficult times will come. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unfeeling, uncooperative, slanderous, degenerate, brutal, hateful of what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. They will hold to an outward form of godliness but deny its power. Stay away from such people.”  (2Ti 3:1-5)

Paul points towards those days so his younger friend would not be deceived and would be equipped to oppose that false teaching.  But, again, the point is that those days would be future.  From the foregoing as well as my last post I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the Apostles understood the Lord’s response to his disciple’s question recorded for us at Matthew 24:3, Mark 13:3 & 4 and Luke 21:7 to have a wider fulfillment than the last days of the Jewish nation.  The belief that they didn’t doesn’t comport with the evidence from the teachings of the Apostle.  The puzzle for us is what parts have a fulfillment beyond 70ad and how.  But that is a topic for another time.

* All citations are from the International Standard Version of the Bible courtesy of the E-Sword Bible study program.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Will this world end?

The last days are a subject many folks don’t like to hear about.  There is even one theological view, Preterism, among those professing Christianity which essentially denies such claiming that all the last day prophecies were about the last days of the Jewish polity in the first century and had no significance beyond the fall of Jerusalem in 70ad.  It is understandable that the idea that God might step in and bring an end to human rule as we know it and the things which of necessity might well surround it are understandable.  But God’s word does teach that he will do so.
In his second letter to fellow Christians Peter took the time to address the subject reasoning as follows:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."
(2Pe 3:1-4; ESV)

These words were written during the final days of the Jewish system, around 66-68ad by the reckoning of some.  Yet he speaks of the last days as future, and, as we will see shortly, global in scope.  Peter reminded his fellow Christians that those future days were prophesied by the holy prophets and thus not something to be taken lightly.  Yet, he points out that some would, and even mock those who look for them.  Isn’t it true that we see some doing just that?  Our time has seen the rise of militant atheists who openly mock any such sentiments, whatever the source.  Yet they take special delight in mocking Christians who are still on the look out or have concluded from God’s word that we may be within that period of time mentioned in God’s word.  Peter went on to rebuke such thinking:

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
(2Pe 3:5-7; ESV)

Peter here references both the account of creation, where it appears that God created the earth with an atmosphere which was once filled with water above the breathable layer, and the account of the deluge in Genesis (Gen. 1:6-8; 7:1-12).  Peter’s point, though, is that God’s word tells us about another occasion when God brought about the end of a world including every man, woman and child who wasn’t in the Ark God commanded Noah to make.

God’s willingness to take extreme measures to wipe wickedness from the face of the earth should serves as a warning to all that he would not tolerate the things we see going on indefinitely.  God does have a point beyond which he will not tolerate outright wickedness such as that practiced by those who populated the earth in Noah’s time.  There is a point at which God will arrange for a world to end, and a new one to begin under better circumstances, much as he did when the new world after the flood was one in which Satan and his demonic followers are not able to materialize in human bodies, like they did in Noah’s day, and directly affect human affairs.

Peter then gives us an idea of how far into the future he is speaking of:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
(2Pe 3:8-9; ESV)

Here Peter twice states the fact that time is relative to our God.  So a thousand years is as one day as far as God is concerned.  He isn’t in a hurry.   God has a plan and sticks to it for the good of humankind, but especially the true Church he has called to be rulers according to that plan.  So he takes the time necessary to bring his plan to fruition.  Peter continues:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
(2Pe 3:10)

Note how affirmatively Peter states his case.  From the perspective of time he is writing from that future day will come, no doubts expressed, its coming is a fact.  That is how we should see it.  If the apostle is that affirmative how should we be?  The apostle tells us:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
(2Pe 3:11-12; ESV)

First let me point out that one mistake people make is to forget that the Bible was written by Semitic minds, not Western.  How is that significant for us?  Hyperbole is often used by Semitic writers, including those who wrote the Bible.  Bible prophets often use fire as a symbol for complete and fiery conquest, and who can doubt that the end of human polity as we know it will be a conquest by our Lord, Jesus Christ.  But I digress a little since that is best a subject for another post.

Did you get the message dear reader?  We are to be eagerly awaiting that promised day as if we could personally hasten its arrival with our actions.  It is the habit of many professed Christians to put that day off in their minds, as if it won’t come.  But our attitude should be exactly the opposite.  Jesus himself taught us to pray for that day’s arrival (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2).  So this attitude of eager expectation and desire is what Christians should have.  Peter wraps his thoughts up this way:

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
(2Pe 3:13-14; ESV)

What fine instructions to give us.  While we wait God wants us to do our best to be living holy lives without blemish.  That is our first obligation, to conform our characters more and more to the example Jesus left for us.  That way our personal salvation will be assured when we will finally stand before him.