What’s In Your Hand?

Moses, sweltering in the heat of the Sinai desert, is engaged in a pity party. “I can’t do what you want, Lord, because of this excuse and that excuse. People won’t accept me. I can’t talk good. Let somebody else do it.”

But arguing with God is never a good idea. You don’t win. Even if you say “No” (and God may let you), you lose. When you say “no” or “I can’t,” you miss out on the great adventure God has for you when you’re in the center of His will for your life. But what is that will?

In the barren wastes of the Sinai, God asks Moses a simple question: “What’s in your hand?” Moses is a shepherd. That’s all he’s done for 40 years, and he’s ready to retire at age 80. “What’s in your hand, Moses?”

Moses looks at his hand. “A staff,” he tells God — as if God didn’t know. Duh!

The Lord says, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses does so, and it becomes a snake. God tells him to pick it up by the tail and it turns back into a staff. Hmmm. Over the next 40 years of Moses’ life, God uses that simple wooden stick to deliver the Israelites from Pharaoh, to open the Red Sea, to win a battle with the Amalekites, to bring water from a rock.

Who would have thought?

As Moses learns to use in faith what God has put in his hand, his life is changed — as well as the course of world history.

My question to you is: What has God put in your hand? Do you wonder how God might use you? See what He has given you. God equips people in various ways. I like to have people over to my home, you might say. Another might respond, I’m good with my hands. I can help a group get things done. I like to cook. I have the gift of gab. I like to keep things tidy. And so on.

Offer to God in faith what He has given you, no matter how simple, and God will use it — sometimes supernaturally — to do His work. You’ll have a new sense of meaning, since you’ll begin to realize how God is using simple things in new and wonderful ways.

When Jesus sees a hungry crowd he says to his disciples: “You feed them.” They are stunned by the magnitude of the need. So Jesus brings it down to their level. “Okay, Andrew, do a little inventory. Find out what food we have on hand.” Andrew checks around. “There’s a boy here with five loaves and two fishes. So what?” Jesus ignores his unbelief. He takes the bread and the fish, lifts them to God in thanksgiving, and then begins to distribute them to the people until all 5,000 plus women and children have been fed.

That’s how God’s work gets done. By weak people doing an inventory, then offering to Jesus what they find.

God has a world to save. You’re just one person. What difference can you make? I encourage you to do this simple inventory — count up your blessings, see what God has given you. That way, when God asks you, “What’s that in your hand?” you won’t answer: “Duh.” You’ll be able to tell Him — and then you can let Him use the gift / skill / resource / interest / relationship / opportunity to His glory.

Okay. Once more. What’s in your hand?

New, New Resolutions

I’ve had this rundown of resolutions around my work area all year. Dan replicated this from Neal Pollard toward the start of the year, and issued this test with his article in January—pick only one of them in 2008 and make it a reality!

Things being what they are, how could you do in 2008? Did you address the difficulty? Would you be able to accomplish more in 2009? Take a gander at it once more.

Convey only one non-Christian to chapel administrations with you.

Concentrate on one quality in the product of the Spirit (love, satisfaction, peace, patient, generosity, goodness, dependability, delicacy, poise—Gal. 5:22-23) where you most need to develop and take a shot at it consistently.

Concentrate on one quality among the blessednesses (Matt. 5:3-12) that you have to fuse to be more similar to Jesus.

Patch fences and construct spans with one individual with whom you are inconsistent.

Observe no less than one approach to be associated with the congregation’s work (choices incorporate going to the individuals who go to our administrations, those hospitalized, those in nursing homes, close ins, transporting those in need to administrations, aiding Bible examinations, instructing a class, volunteer with the adolescent, serving at suppers, and so on.).

Invest energy this year endeavoring to ace only one Old Testament book and one New Testament book.

Offer your home by welcoming only one new family consistently.

Increment the sum you provide for God this year by no less than one percent.

Enable your family “to receive” only one close in and fulfill their life in 2008.

Spend no less than one more hour every day with your family—pick table games over TV, design exercises that permit quality time with them.

Go ahead no less than one date with your life partner every month, progressively in the event that you don’t have youngsters.

Enhance your petition life by offering more thanks to God, and supplicating particularly for specific individuals—the lost, seniors, ministers, foes, and so forth.

Figure out how to offer genuine, accommodating support to no less than one individual seven days.


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Producing Spiritual Fruit in Spiritual Ways

Jesus said that he appointed us to bear fruit – fruit that will last (John 15:16). The Christian is to produce the fruit of Christ and of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are to trust in Christ, be conformed to the image of Christ, and produce the Christ-life in our lives, our ministries, and our dealings with people. This means that the ways and will of God are to converge in our lives as we proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel everywhere we go. We want people to see Jesus and experience life with Him through our lives. This is the goal, but it is easy to take shortcuts. Perhaps you are dealing with a relational problem and you don’t know what to do. So, you look to “experts” who have strategies for how you can get what you want out of your relationships. Or, perhaps you are dealing with wrong behavior and you want to change it – so you follow some moralistic principles that seek to manage your behavior so you can stay in line. Or, perhaps you have some goals for your life that you want met, so you try to develop strategies to reach them by following life management techniques. The issue could involve your marriage or family or your children, so you look for some tried and true way to fix the problem. Maybe you want to see success in your ministry, so you gravitate towards some methods that have worked in other ministries or churches and you think that they will solve the problems you face. Or, you see a moral decline in America and you think that the way to address it is through trying to grab hold of power and reclaim America for God. The goal often involves fixing the problem so you can find peace. But, this is the wrong goal. John 3:6 says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” We have to make sure that our approach to every challenge involves the way of Jesus. You can only produce spiritual fruit in spiritual ways. We cannot produce the Christ life apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. We must embrace the Cross, humble ourselves, die to self, and be raised up in newness of life by the Spirit. We all face challenges in our lives and relationships. But, those challenges should drive us to Jesus. Real joy only comes from Christ and it does not come in the world’s way. Maybe you will suffer or will have to wait or be ignored. Look to Jesus anyway and live!

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The Grace Of God

The usual definition for grace, “unmerited favor,” is not broad enough in its scope to fully define all that is meant by the term (see Luke 2:40; Col. 4:6). W. E. Vine defines it as, “That which bestows or occasions pleasure, delight, or causes favorable regard;…on the part of the bestower, the friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds, graciousness, lovingkindness, goodwill generally…especially with reference to the Divine favor or grace, e.g., Acts 14:26…” (Expository Dict. Of New Testament Words, pp. 509–510).

As seen in the Bible, grace, in respect to salvation, is a summary of all God has done to effect the salvation of man. It includes all of His acts which show favor to undeserving mankind. But God’s grace is more than mere passive pity. It expresses itself in real, concrete acts of love (Rom. 5:8).

Considering several New Testament passages makes it easy to see how His grace runs through all God has done for man’s salvation. By grace He sacriflced His Son (Heb. 5:8–9). By grace He revealed His plan of salvation (1 Cor. 2:9–12; Gal. 1:11–12; Eph. 3:1–5). It is by grace that God raises sinners to a new life in Christ (Eph. 2:4–7; cf. Rom. 6:4–5). By His grace, God commissioned His Son to build the church (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28).

While grace includes all God has done to bring about the salvation of man, it excludes salvation by meritorious works (Rom. 4:4; 11:6). Salvation by works of this nature would demand a life of perfect obedience to divine law — it would be of debt. Salvation by grace, on the other hand, bridges the gap between our imperfection and God’s perfect law by means of pardon and forgiveness (1 John 2:1).

The presence and reality of sin is what makes the grace of God necessary. Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23), all, therefore, are under the sentence of death, the penalty for or the wages of sin (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8).

God, in His matchless love, provided His Son to die in man’s place (1 Pet. 1:18–19). While the grace of God is demonstrated in many ways, none is greater than its manifestation in His Son (Rom. 3:23–24). Since man has sinned, he deserves the punishment of the second death in hell and no works he could do would earn or merit his salvation from it. Therefore, salvation is that which is given by the grace of God, a favor man has not merited. Hence, salvation is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8–9).

Some have erroneously concluded from Romans 6:14–15 that we are “not under law but under grace” and that law and grace are mutually exclusive. However, the fact we are under grace does not mean we are not subject to law and that it is not essential for us to keep divine law.

We are subject to law from God. The teaching of Christ is called “law” (1 Cor. 9:21; 1 John 3:4; Isa. 2:1–3). We are required to obey that law (1 John 3:4; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; John 4:24; 1 Pet. 4:11). Whenever God has spoken to man or given a law, He has expected strict obedience and the utmost respect for His word (Deut. 4:2; Lev. 10:1–2; Rev. 22:18–19).

Grace does not mean we are not subject to law, rather, it means that we have a means of forgiveness when we violate that law, if we meet the divine conditions. The teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 6:14–15 is that we are not under a system of mere law without grace as a means of justiflcation. Depending on mere law would require perfect law-keeping for justiflcation. Such would make one a legalist. Our justiflcation is by grace through faith.

Though salvation is by grace (Eph. 2:8), it is not by grace alone. Some teach otherwise: “We believe the scriptures teach that the salvation of sinners is wholly by grace” (Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, ch. 8, art. 4). Actually, one is saved by nothing alone. The many factors of salvation include: faith (Rom. 5:1); repentance (Acts 11:18); blood (Rom. 5:9–10); works (Jas. 2:24); baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); the gospel (Rom. 1:16); confession (1 John 4:2); and grace (Eph. 2:8–9).

Salvation by grace is through the teaching of the gospel, God’s “power unto salvation” (Rom.1:16). It is called “the word of His grace” (Acts 14:3) and “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). It is by the gospel that the kindness of God redeems man and provides him all spiritual blessings. The word is the medium of His grace (Titus 2:11–12). The word of His grace is able to build up and strengthen the Christian so that he might grow in Christ, grow unto salvation (Acts 20:32; 1 Pet. 2:1–2).

But God’s grace is conditional. It is conditioned upon obedient faith made perfect by works (Eph. 2:8–9; Rom. 5:1–2; Jas. 2:17–26; Matt. 7:21). The obedient works upon which salvation is conditioned do not nullify grace for they do not earn salvation. The examples of Naaman (2 Kings 5) and the blind man (John 9:6–7) show that these gifts were given by grace but conditions had to be met to receive them.


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The Evidence And Results Of Faith

Written by my friend Gene Taylor – this text can also be found at http://www.centervilleroad.com/articles/faith-4.html

Many things are accepted and acted upon by faith. Before we were born, the pyramids of Egypt were built. We were not present at that time so we have no immediate knowledge of it, yet, we believe that intelligent beings erected them because they show evidence of intelligent design and construction. Using that same logic in the spiritual realm brings us to similar conclusions.

Before we were born the universe was created by God. We were not present at that time so we have no immediate knowledge of it, yet, we believe that an intelligent being created it because it shows evidence of intelligent design and construction. That intelligent being is the God who reveals Himself in the Bible. As we come to know Him, His character, power and wisdom, we have faith in Him that He is able to do all He promises. Ephesians 3:20, in speaking of God, says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Romans 4:21 says that the great Old Testament patriarch Abraham was “fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.”

The evidence of one’s faith in God is obedience to His will. James 2:17 states, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (cf. Jas. 2:20, 24). Faith enables one to obey in the absence of understanding the why and how of the thing commanded. Faith is a trust that assures one that he will receive a promise, though the means of fulfillment is not obvious because he has confidence in the one who revealed it. The evidence of faith is seen in the actions of the faithful as seen in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.

The Results of a Strong, Obedient Faith

The cleansing or purifying of the heart. The apostle Peter, in reference to the Gentiles and how they were acceptable to God without being circumcised, said, “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:7-9).

Justification before God. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1; cf. Rom. 3:28).

Salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Great boldness and confidence. Addressing the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy, for by faith you stand” (2 Cor. 1:24).

Life. Romans 1:17, in speaking of the gospel, says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'” (cf. Gal. 2:20, 3:11).

Protection from the evil one. As part of the “whole armor of God,” the believer takes up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:16).

Triumph. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4).


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Self-confidence, confidence in your ability to do a good job, is very good. Totally different is self-esteem.

SELF-ESTEEM got Satan out of heaven. Self-esteem got Adam and Eve out of paradise.

Most of the arguments in marriage are born out of self-esteem, injured pride, injured ego.

Matthew 18:420:26-27
4. Whosoever therefore shall HUMBLE HIMSELF as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
26. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be GREAT AMONG YOU, LET HIM BE YOUR MINISTER;                    (minister means servant)
27. And whosoever will be CHIEF AMONG YOU, LET HIM BE YOUR SERVANT

Kiddo, forget all the gold and wealth in this world. The Lord God Himself is THE only real treasure. Can anyone imagine the greatness, the love and the good will in the character of our truly most wonderful Lord?

Philippians 2:3
3. doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting the other better than himself;


Philippians 2:6-8 
6. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7. But made himself of NO REPUTATION, AND TOOK UPON HIM THE FORM OF A SERVANT, and was made in the likeness of men: 8. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross


2 Timothy 3:15 
1. This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2. For MEN SHALL BE LOVERS OF THEIR OWN SELVES, covetous, boasters, PROUD, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3. Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4. Traitors, heady, HIGHMINDED, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
1 Timothy 3:6 
6. Not a novice, lest being lifted up with PRIDE he fall into the condemnation of the devil. .
James 4:6 
6. But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, GOD RESISTETH THE PROUD, but giveth grace unto the humble.
Proverbs 13:1016:516:18
5. Every one that is PROUD IN HEART IS AN ABOMINATION TO THE LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
18. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. 


Isaiah 66:2
2. For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a CONTRITE SPIRIT, and trembleth at my word.
Matthew 11:28-30
28. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am MEEK AND LOWLY in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.:
Matthew 23:12
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall HUMBLE HIMSELF SHALL BE EXALTED. 

John 13:14
James 4:10
10. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Zephaniah 2:3
3. Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, SEEK MEEKNESS: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.

Self-confidence (trusting your ability to do a specific job) was almost eliminated from the vocabulary. It was replaced with raw pride, EGO, but with “sanitized” language, as “self-esteem”.



You may be surprised that God does not agree with psychologists. Who defends criminals, so they can come back and burglarize or shoot at you again? Who demands that you do NOT DISCIPLINE your children, so that monsters may grow up? It is your dear psychologists and psychiatrists, no?

They say that Freud considered SEX to be the greatest and most important motivator of all. According to him, free sex (uninhibited) was real freedom! Karl Jung insisted that PRIDE, EGO was the greatest motivator. To him, any boost of ego was a boost in happiness! They say that all the great lights in psychology and psychiatry were heavily demonized men. Read the true life history of Freud, Jung, Maslow, etc. It is something scarcely believable.

You don’t need to imagine, what promotion of irresponsible sexuality would do to society. Merely OBSERVE the wrecked lives, the heartbreak, the destroyed marriages and demonized children, all around you now. The same applies to EGO or SELF-ESTEEM.

Examine your own experience.


WEE Johnny has been beaten up repeatedly at school. His ego is crushed. Wailing and weeping he’s hiding from the world. Mommy takes Johnny to a psychiatrist. The great man (after charging her a king’s ransom) declares that JOHNNY NEEEDS MORE SELF ESTEEM. He insists, that the whole family must avoid EVERY criticism, every demand and every discipline. Johnny is to learn and practice KARATE, Judo, Kung-Fu, and a few other horrid things.

Soon Johnny can and DOES beat up everybody, including his mother and siblings. No more hiding or wailing .No more school either. There is just one thing, though. He has now taken up residence in jail, for robbery, attempted homicide, drug abuse and rape. You can imagine the future, how the rest of the case history will turn out.

Let’s examine the underlying facts. The reason Johnny was hurt is BECAUSE HE HAD ENORMOUS SELF-ESTEEM. Usually, it is not the physical blows; it is the humiliation, the EGO that hurts.

Johnny did not need more self-esteem. HE NEEDED TOLERANCE, GOOD WILL AND REAL LOVE. What do you suppose the message of Christianity is all about? But we don’t have A FREUD, JUNG, ADLER and their fellows promoting Christian LOVE, do we?

Why do you suppose the Rockefellers of this world want to gain more money? Why do Kings make war? Because they’re hungry? You and I may get hungry, but never “our betters”! They strive for power, because it provides EGO, superiority, endless SELF-ESTEEM, a sense of POWER over others, the ability to humiliate others without retribution.


If you must have counselling, let it be out of the BIBLE, not out of demonism.

The BIBLE IS A LOVE STORY; written with blood, upon a wooden cross; the story of God’s love for you.

Men are not lost because they are sinners; they are lost because they have rejected Jesus who died for them. The ultimate treasure is not creation, it is the Creator. Any CONCEIVABLE sacrifice in this world is worthwhile to find our Lord and to belong to Him!


After this, check out the guide in “How to read the Bible and clean up your life” in
www.remnantonly.info, under “Articles”. It contains much information not easily found anywhere else. Curious?

Exodus 20:3-7




Exodus 20:3-7

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. 4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  3. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
  4. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

1 John 5:21

  1. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

(Is it not curious, that no Catholic ever knows –they say- the Second of the Ten Commandments? Why, do you suppose, is that?)

Matthew 4:9-10

  1. And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down andworship me.
  2. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him onlyshalt thou serve.

(Consider attitude of prayer: Fall on your knees, incline your head, raise your hands? What did Satan want from Jesus? Fall down and worship him! That constitutes worship. How does one pray to idols? To anything other than God?)

Revelation 22:8-9

  1. And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I felldown to worshipbefore the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
  2. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.

Revelation 19:10

  1. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

(Twice John fell on his knees before the Angel. Each time the Angel forbade it, saying worship only God.)

Acts 10:25-27, 14:13-15

  1. And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
  2. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
  3. And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
  4. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.
  5. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul,heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,
  6. And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

(Peter refused worship from Cornelius. Pagan priests tried to sacrifice to Barnabas and Paul, impressed by miracles. The Apostles rent their clothes in anguish, telling them to turn to the Living God in worship, not men. You think Peter or Paul would accept worship, -what doubletalk about reverence-, today, now? Some people pray to them now.)

Ezekiel 16:17-18

  1. Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them,
  2. And tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them.

Deuteronomy 18:11-12

………or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

  1. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
  2. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

(Necromancer is a person who speaks to the dead (spiritist). Paul, Peter, John – all are dead; only one came back from the dead: Jesus. It was explicitly forbidden by God to speak to the dead. Has anybody ever seen a Jew praying to Moses? Or Isaiah? Or Abraham? Speaking to the dead has always been the beginning of spiritism, demonism and idol worship.)

A great gulf is provided between the living and the dead, both, those still in sheol (the lost) and those in paradise.

Demons utilize every opportunity to impersonate and play theater. Turning from the living God to idols (Demons) gives the demons more than opportunity, it gives them authority to affect the life of that person. What happened to Adam when he turned to Satan?) 

1 Chronicles 16:26, 29

  1. For all the gods of the people are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.

 (Not idols, but worship God)

Jeremiah 7:18:20 For more detail read Jeremiah 44:16-25

  1. The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make CAKES TO THEQUEEN OF HEAVEN, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
  2. Do they provoke me to anger? saith the Lord: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?
  3. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be pouredout upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.

(Some Jews got mixed up with this religion of Nimrod and Semirabis, the “Queen of Heaven”, rejecting Gods Law. This choice brought destruction to every one of these idol worshipers. The cakes had to be exactly and precisely round, representing the SUN which they worshipped, their symbol for Baal or Moloch, Osiris)


What looms ahead of Mankind now?

The moral battle may now be lost in this sad world and the future of mankind might actually drown itself within a forthcoming immense sever of evil. But they still CAN NOT take your salvation from you. Only YOU can do that.

If you are unsure about your salvation, please dear friend, continue reading.

With infinite love God gave us a Savior, to pay our penalty and a Bible, a guide and light on our path! The Bible is a love story; written with blood, upon a wooden cross; the story of God’s love for you.

Men are not lost because they are sinners; THEY ARE LOST BECAUSE THEY HAVE REJECTED THE JESUS OF THE BIBLE, who died for them.


Something most especial is waiting for those who seek the immense goodness of our Lord. God Himself said, that “The ear has not heard and no eye has ever seen, neither can man even imagine the HAPPINESS which God prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9, paraphrased, if you please)!

God’s Word, Sir. Look it up.

People might wonder about the inclusion of this prayer in nearly every article I write. I never take money for writing. Every article is free to copy, free to republish. The most important feature in these articles is this prayer to invite Jesus. It changes lives, changes eternity. If even one person, only one, becomes a Christian because of it, it would have made my own life (and all its troubles) worthwhile.

Thanks so much to Fort Walton Beach Tree Service for sponsoring my blog!

Don’t Take Genesis 1-3 Too Literally

When we read any passage in the Bible, it is very important that we interpret it as it is supposed to be interpreted.  If a passage is meant to be understood literally, then taking it purely figuratively is obviously going to lead to wrong conclusions about what it is saying.  Similarly, if a text is meant to be understood figuratively, then to take it purely literally would be a big mistake.

It is very common for readers of the Bible to go wrong in both of these ways.

On the one hand, there are those who deny literal interpretations to passages that should be understood literally.  Sometimes even passages that refer to key components of the Christian faith, like the resurrection of Jesus or His future return, are interpreted purely symbolically.  This leads to extremely serious error.

On the other hand, there are those who take literal interpretations of passages that should be taken purely figuratively.  In fact, many Christians today seem to think that interpreting literally means holding true to what the Bible teaches, while interpreting figuratively means compromising on biblical truth.

This is actually a serious mistake.  The Bible contains a lot of non-literal teaching.  The Psalms, for example, constantly use vivid metaphors.  Books like Daniel and Revelation use powerful apocalyptic imagery.  And it is noteworthy too how in John’s Gospel we repeatedly find Jesus making statements that those listening to Him misunderstand precisely because they take His words literally (see John 2:19-21; 3:3-4; 4:10-15, 31-34).

One part of the Bible that Christians often interpret too literally is the first three chapters of Genesis.  Many believers, who are rightfully distressed by godless theories of how the universe and mankind originated, seem to think that one way to oppose these theories is to insist on a fully literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

In fact, a close reading of these chapters shows that it is a mistake to take them fully literally.  Let’s look at some reasons why this is the case:

Daylight created three days before the sun

In Genesis 1:3-5, we are told:

‘3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.  4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  5 God called the light ‘day’, and He called the darkness ‘night’.  And there was evening and there was morning, one day.’

However, in verses 14-19, we read:

‘14 Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the canopy of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years; 15 and let them serve as lights in the canopy of the heavens to give light on the earth’, and so it happened.  16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night; He also made the stars.  17 God placed them in the canopy of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.  19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.’

We see in verses 3-5 that on the first day God creates light that He calls ‘day’, i.e., day-time as opposed to night-time.  However, we read in verses 14-19 that on the fourth day He creates the sun, moon and stars.  But the light that gives us day-time obviously comes from the sun!

These verses stand as a strong piece of evidence that we are not supposed to understand Genesis 1 as a purely literal account.  On the level of the text, six 24-hour days are referred to.  But the reader is surely not supposed to think that these are literal 24-hour days on which God did His creating.  Instead, these six days are far better understood as a literary device that provides a framework for God’s creative activity.  When Genesis was written, Jews worked for six days of the week and rested on the seventh.  God is therefore portrayed doing likewise.

On the first day in Genesis 1 the focus is on God’s creation of light, darkness and 24-hour days.  And on the fourth day the focus is on His creation of the sun, moon and stars.  The point that is being made is that God created all these things: light, darkness, the 24-hour day, sun, moon and stars.  But the text is not meant to be taken as a literal, chronological account of when God made them.

Sometimes Christians who insist on taking all these verses literally come up with forced interpretations in an attempt to hold on to their view.  For example, it is sometimes said that God created the sun on the first day, but the sun appeared from behind clouds on the fourth day.

Solutions like these are extremely unconvincing:

In verses 14-19 God seems clearly to be portrayed creating the sun on the fourth day.  Note how verse 16 says that God ‘made’ the sun, moon and stars on that day.  And note too how verse 17 tells us that He ‘placed’ them in the canopy of the heavens on that day.

And in verses 3-5 God seems clearly to be portrayed creating the light for day-time (which, in reality, comes from the sun) on the first day.

The fact that there is an overlap between what is created on these days is not a problem, because the chronology in the text is a piece of art that is not meant to be taken literally.

After God’s activity on the first day of creation in 1:3-5 has been outlined, there follows immediately the sentence, ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day.’ Similar sentences, referring to evening and morning and giving the number of the day in question, are also found after the other five days of creation (1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31).

It might be thought that the explicit references to evening and morning suggest that God literally created in six 24-hour days.  However, there is no need to think this.  It is true that in the story line God is portrayed creating on six consecutive 24-hour days.  But, as I have already said, these days can easily be understood simply as a literary device that is used to give a framework for God’s creative work, and the references to evening and morning can just be seen as part of this device.

The earth producing vegetation and animals

Genesis 1:12, referring to the third day of creation, states:

‘The earth produced vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their kinds, and trees yielding fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good.’

And then Genesis 1:24, referring to the sixth day of creation, states:

‘Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock and creeping things and animals of the earth according to their kinds’.  And so it happened.’

It is interesting that these verses speak about the earth ‘producing’ plants and animals.  There may well be a hint here that natural processes were involved in God’s method of creating these things.  If so, it seems reasonable to think that these processes would have taken much longer than a literal 24-hour day.

The snake that speaks to Eve

In Genesis 3:1-5 we read:

‘1 Now the snake was more crafty than any animal of the field which the LORD God had made.  And it said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You are not to eat from any tree of the garden?’’

2 The woman said to the snake, ‘We are allowed to eat fruit from the trees of the garden. 3 But God has said, ‘You are not to eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you are not to touch it, or you will die.’’

4 The snake said to the woman, ‘You certainly will not die. 5 For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’’

Some Christians try to interpret this passage literally.  There are two ways in which this is attempted.

First, there are those who claim that the passage refers to Satan manifesting himself as a snake and speaking to Eve.

This interpretation is very problematic, however:

To begin with, we must note that the first sentence of verse 1 tells us that the snake was more crafty than any animal of the field.  The way that the snake is set alongside other animals and compared to them surely shows that we should understand the snake in the same way that we understand the other animals.  The other animals are surely understood to be real animals.  So in the first sentence of verse 1 the snake should be understood as a real animal too.

In the second sentence of verse 1 we read, ‘And it said to the woman’.  The subject of this clause is the snake that has been referred to in the first sentence.  Because the snake in the first sentence is a real snake, this means that the snake that speaks to Eve must be a real snake.  In the story line, then, a real snake speaks to Eve.

However, if this passage were simply about Satan manifesting himself as a snake, there would be no real snake involved.  It would just be some sort of appearance of a snake.  Therefore, the fact that the story line refers to a real snake seems to rule out the idea that this passage is about Satan manifesting himself as a snake to Eve.

There is a second way in which some Christians try to make this account literal.  This second method acknowledges that the account portrays a real snake speaking to Eve, not just an appearance of a snake.  But it claims that the passage refers to Satan speaking through the snake in a way similar to the way God speaks through Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22:28-30.

There is also a huge difficulty with this interpretation:

When the passage says that the snake was the most crafty of the animals, this implies that each animal has a certain amount of craftiness in itself.  And this obviously includes the snake.

Therefore, the craftiness that the snake uses to deceive Eve is surely portrayed as its own craftiness.  But if Satan is simply speaking through the snake, it would be Satan’s craftiness that was involved, not that of the snake.  So the passage is surely not about Satan speaking through the snake.

Both attempts to understand this account literally therefore fail.

The snake in this passage certainly symbolises Satan.  The passage is teaching us that Satan was instrumental in tempting the first human beings to fall into sin.  But on the actual level of the story, it is the snake as an animal that talks to Eve and tempts her to sin.  And this cannot reasonably be taken literally.  To interpret this passage in a literal way is to seriously misunderstand the type of literature that is present here.

We should also note carefully that in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 Satan is described as ‘the ancient snake’, which is surely a reference back to this passage in Genesis.  These verses in Revelation fit perfectly with a symbolic interpretation of the snake in Genesis 3.

The tree of life

Genesis 2:9 and 3:22, 24 refer to ‘the tree of life’.

There is great difficulty involved in understanding this tree literally.

Importantly, we need to take account of the references to the tree of life that are found in the book of Revelation.  This tree is referred to in Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19.

Revelation 2:7 states:

‘To the person who overcomes, I will grant to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’

The tree of life here is a symbol of God’s provision of abundant spiritual life to those who reach heaven.  It should certainly not be taken literally.

Revelation 22:1-2 says:

‘Then he showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  And on each side of the river stood the tree of life . . .’

The Greek of these verses is rather obscure in places, and English versions translate and punctuate differently.  Regardless of any obscurities, however, the tree of life in this passage cannot be understood literally.

Revelation 22:14 tells us:

‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life . . .’

Once again, it is completely implausible to take the tree of life in this verse literally.

Revelation 22:19 states:

‘And if anyone removes any of the words of the book of this prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life . . .’

Yet again, the tree of life in this verse should certainly not be taken literally.

In Revelation, then, the tree of life cannot be taken literally.  To think that people in heaven will actually eat the fruit of a literal tree of life would be literalistic interpretation at its most absurd.

It is very important to recognise, however, that the end of Revelation clearly corresponds in a significant way to the beginning of Genesis.  The work of Christ on the cross means that the final outcome of the universe will have much in common with how things were before the fall of mankind into sin.

So, given the correspondence between the end of Revelation and the beginning of Genesis, and given that the tree of life in Revelation cannot be interpreted literally, we have a strong piece of evidence that the tree of life in Genesis 2:9 and 3:22, 24 is not supposed to be interpreted literally.

God walking in the garden

Genesis 3:8 tells us:

‘They [Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.’

This should surely not be interpreted literally.  Literally God is spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a body with which to walk around.

Some claim, however, that this verse refers to an occasion on which the divine Son of God clothed Himself with humanity, an incarnation that was a kind of foreshadowing of the incarnation when Jesus came as redeemer.  The footsteps that Adam and Eve heard, it is claimed, were therefore the literal footsteps of Jesus Christ.

This is a very forced interpretation.

First, it is theologically questionable whether an incarnation was really possible in any meaningful sense without a virginal conception.

Second and much more importantly, when we are looking for solutions to things, it makes sense to take the easiest solution.  And it is so much easier to understand this verse as a symbolic account of the broken relationship between the first humans and God than as an incarnation.

Summing up

There are other parts of Genesis 1-3 too, which suggest that these chapters are not meant to be taken fully literally.  But I think I have given enough examples to make my point.  To insist that this part of the Bible should be interpreted completely literally is simply to misunderstand the type of writing that we have here.

How Christians relate to modern science

One reason I have for writing this article is a concern for Christians to be wise and balanced in their dealings with modern science.

The standard scientific teaching about the origin of the universe is that it originated 14 billion years ago.  There seems to me to be nothing in Genesis 1-3 that would conflict with this.  Once we recognise the high degree of symbolism in these chapters, it becomes apparent that they tell us little, if anything, about when or how God created the universe and all that is in it.  These chapters teach us that God made the universe, that human beings are created in God’s image, that we fell into sin through the tempting of Satan, that we have some degree of authority over the earth, etc. etc.  But they don’t really tell us how or when God did His creating work.

Mainstream biologists also teach, of course, that all biological life-forms today, including humans, evolved from earlier species of plants and animals.  So what should Christians make of this?

Well, I think the scientific basis for so-called micro-evolution, i.e., evolution within species, is very strong.  Nor does there seem to me to be anything in this that conflicts with the Bible.

I am much more unsure about evolution from one species to another.  From what I have seen, there may well be some good evidence for this.  And certainly God could have created in this way if He wanted to.  Nor am I aware of biblical passages that would clearly conflict with some form of evolution between species that God caused.  Nevertheless, I don’t feel that I have the necessary knowledge about this issue to make clear statements on it.

Even if we do accept that there has been evolution between species, however, there are still massive problems with how theories of evolution are typically portrayed and understood in modern Western society.  At least in the UK, where I live, whenever theories of evolution or of the origin of the universe are referred to in the mainstream media, there always seems to be an underlying assumption that people or the universe originated by chance.  This is never made explicit, but it always seems to be implied that God was not the creator.  The seriousness of this error, of course, can hardly be overstated.

However, as long as we are clear that God made all that exists, we should not be closed to theories of exactly how He did this.  If a theory certainly conflicts with the Bible, when the Bible is properly interpreted, then it should be rejected.  But we must not be too quick to say that a theory contradicts Scripture before carefully considering the matter.  And, as we consider, we must beware of interpreting Genesis 1-3 too literally.

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Know What and Why You Believe

If someone asks you to explain your spiritual beliefs, could you do it? What if they ask you to defend your view that Jesus was (and is) God? Would you know where to turn in the Bible so you could demonstrate why you believe this? What if they question you about Christianity’s ‘intolerance’ of other religions, or if they challenge your belief in the existence of God? Would you know how to respond? What if they wanted to know how they could receive God’s forgiveness? Could you explain how to receive salvation and support your claims using Scripture? In 1 Peter 3:15, we are told: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ This verse assumes that Jesus makes such a positive difference in our lifestyle that people notice and inquire about it, which should motivate reflection on how our words, actions, and attitude impact those around us. But I specifically want to highlight Peter’s admonition to ‘be prepared to give an answer.’ In Greek, the word in for ‘give an answer’ is apologia. This word means ‘to give a defense’ or ‘to explain yourself.’ Peter makes it clear that we should all be ready to explain what we believe and why we believe it. When I became a Christian in college, I was blessed to be surrounded by mature Christians who were passionate about ‘apologetics’ – knowing how to reason about the Christian faith. Six months after I came to faith in Christ, I jumped into an Apologetics study led by a Christian student majoring in philosophy. It definitely stretched my thinking. One of the reading assignments was a chapter called The Taming of Truth: The Hermeneutical Morass; I knew I was in for a challenge when I had to use a dictionary to understand the title! The reading in that study was hard work, but I got through it, and over time, I learned how to ‘love my God with all my mind’ (Matthew 22:37). I began reading books on apologetics, digging into Scripture on my own, and regularly discussing spiritual topics with others. This provided such a valuable foundation for my faith. Let me give you a few examples of how it has helped to know (and be able to explain) what I believe and why I believe it. Senior Pastor By Brandon Lemons • When I have doubts about God, knowing why I believe what I believe keeps me grounded rather than ‘being blown here and there by every wind of teaching’ (Ephesians 4:14). • I’ve found apologetics to be invaluable when talking with those who have errant views of Christianity. For several months in college, I talked extensively with Mormon missionaries. I already had a decent biblical basis for my faith, and talking with the Mormons forced me to study more about the Trinity, salvation, heaven, etc. Since my mind was already primed to know what I believe and why I believe it, I was ready to dig deeper. This has also helped in recent months as I’ve been conversing regularly with a few Jehovah’s Witnesses. My understanding of what and why I believe enables us to have very engaging, Bible-based conversations. • Our culture is becoming increasingly skeptical and secular, which means that Christianity is frequently disregarded and even mocked. However, I have found that being able to speak cogently about the scientific and historical basis of Christianity leads to thoughtful conversations that gives skeptics genuine ‘foodfor-thought’ rather than validating their opinion that ‘Christians are gullible and out-of-touch.’ • Many young people are abandoning church and God. While there are myriad reasons for this, a big factor is the perception that Christianity is anti-science, repressive, and irrelevent. Fostering environments, at home and at church, where people humbly dig into what and why they believe goes a long way toward helping young people remain faithful to Christ throughout their lives. We don’t need to be intimidated by is topic. (For reference, that Apologetics study was quite advanced; its philosophical nature still makes my head spin.) Here are reasonable places to start building your grasp of what and why you believe: • Read your Bible on a consistent basis, and join a Huddle or Bible study where you can study Scripture with other Christians. • Gotquestions.org is a trustworthy resource for all kinds of biblical topics. • Read books about apologetics and theology, such as: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller Know What You Believe and Know Why You Believe by Paul Little • In our OUT section of Sunday-morning classes, we frequently have at least one apologetics class. It’s important to remember that, according to 1 Peter 3:15, we should ‘be prepared to give an answer…with gentleness and respect.’ We can’t argue someone into God’s Kingdom, but knowing what and why we believe goes a long way!

The Bible Is Often Very Imprecise about Things

Most Christians are well aware that although the Bible is divinely inspired, this hasn’t stopped its human authors from expressing their own writing styles.

What Christians often fail to recognize, however, is that the inspiration of Scripture has also allowed the authors, and Jesus, to express the particular ways of thinking and speaking that were present in ancient Jewish culture.

Often, modern Western Christians approach the Bible assuming that the authors thought and spoke like we do, when in some key respects they actually didn’t.  This frequently leads to puzzlement and mistakes in interpretation.  Many of the problems that modern readers of Scripture experience when reading it can be solved by taking account of the authors’ cultural ways of talking about things.


One important difference between the authors of the Bible and us concerns attitudes to precision.  The biblical writers (and Jesus Himself) often spoke much less precisely about things than we do.  They also tended to be less concerned about precisely sticking to traditions that they held in high esteem.

To be sure, when it was important, the authors of the Bible could be very precise.  But often they were imprecise in ways that we find strange, at times even amazing.

In what follows, I will highlight some areas in which this difference in attitude to precision reveals itself in Scripture.  I will concentrate on the New Testament, since that is the part of the Bible that I know the most about.


To begin with, here are two general examples of how first century Jews could use astonishingly imprecise language by our standards.

Matthew 12:40

First, there is Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 12:40:

‘For just as Jonah was in the sea monster’s stomach for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.’

Being in the heart of the earth here refers to the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And three days and three nights, at least on the face of it, is approximately 72 hours.  Yet Matthew himself, who records the words in this verse, portrays the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection as roughly 36 hours (Matthew 27:46-28:7)!

In Matthew 12:40 the three days and three nights must be referring to three consecutive Jewish calendar days.  Jewish days began and ended at sunset.  So the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection fell on the last part of the day before the Sabbath, all of the Sabbath day, and probably a bit less than half of the day after the Sabbath.  Therefore the time between His death and resurrection fell on part or all of three consecutive calendar days.

Matthew clearly regarded it as true to say that this period of about 36 hours was three days and three nights!  But in modern Western culture we couldn’t possibly truthfully describe a period of about 36 hours as three days and three nights!

In comparison with how modern Westerners speak about things, the lack of precision in Matthew 12:40 is truly amazing.

1 Corinthians 1:14-15

Consider also 1 Corinthians 1:14-15.  In this passage Paul tells the church in Corinth:

‘I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say that you were baptized in my name.’

Paul has clearly been concerned that some of the Corinthian Christians were putting him on a pedestal and regarding him more highly than they should.  And he is implying that he baptized so few of them to counter this.  But the way he refers to why he acted as he did is astonishing in comparison with what modern Westerners are used to.

Paul speaks as if the Corinthians had said to themselves:

‘This guy Paul is amazing.  You know what, when I was baptized, I think I was actually baptized in the name of Paul.’

But Paul cannot possibly have thought that Corinthian Christians who had been baptized in the name of Jesus, or in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, would really have thought this!  Yet he speaks as if they had!

The difference between the concern that Paul really has and the words used to describe that concern is amazing in comparison with modern Western ways of speaking about things.

I have given these two examples to set the scene for what follows by showing to what extent the biblical authors could be imprecise about things in a way that we wouldn’t be.  I am in no way criticising this imprecision.  I am just noting that it is a way of speaking that is very different from what we are used to.

Let’s look now at some specific types of imprecision in the Bible.


First, there is the issue of hyperbole.  This is a figure of speech that uses deliberate exaggeration for effect without any intention to deceive.

Modern Western culture uses hyperbole very frequently.  For example, someone might pick up a bag and say, ‘That weighs a ton!’  In this case, ‘a ton’ is not meant to be taken literally, and both speaker and hearers understand this perfectly.  The idea is that the bag is extremely heavy, and the exaggeration is used to stress this.

Although we commonly use hyperbole, first century Jews used it more often and in ways we wouldn’t.  Here are some New Testament examples:

Mark 10:29-30

In Mark 10:29-30 Jesus promises:

‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, who will not receive a hundred times as much in the present time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields . . .’

In comparison with the way Westerners use language today, the hyperbole in this passage is really amazing.  We can note too that Jesus even emphasises this promise by beginning it with ‘Truly I tell you’, yet the promise can hardly be taken literally.  Jesus is promising blessing before death to those who give up things for His sake.  But the language used to describe this blessing is astonishingly exaggerated when compared with what we are used to.

Mark 1:5

Another example can be found in Mark 1:5.  Here Mark tells us:

‘And all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to [John the Baptist].  And they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.’

Actually, we know that there were many Jews, including Pharisees and Sadducees, who didn’t do this.  The point is that large numbers of people went to be baptized by John.  But this is stated in very hyperbolic language.

Hyperbolic ‘every’ and ‘all’

In fact, there are many places in Scripture where ‘every’ or ‘all’ is used hyperbolically.  In addition to the example I have just given, see, e.g., Luke 6:30; Acts 3:24; 17:21; Hebrews 4:15.  There are also numerous places in the Old Testament where the phrase ‘all Israel’ doesn’t literally mean all Israel.  See, e.g., 1 Samuel 7:5; 25:1; 1 Kings 12:1; 2 Chronicles 12:1; Daniel 9:11.

Failing to recognise hyperbole

Failing to recognise hyperbole can sometimes lead to misinterpretation of a biblical passage.

One such text is Revelation 5:9, which refers to those who receive salvation as coming from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’.

It is a fact that there have been tribes that have existed and died out during the Christian era without ever having heard the gospel.  And it is often claimed that because this verse says that the saved come from every tribe, some members of these tribes must therefore have been saved without faith in Christ.  This also means, the argument goes on, that we can expect significant numbers of people today to be saved without faith in Him.

However, once we recognise that ‘every’ in Scripture is often used hyperbolically, it immediately becomes clear that this verse doesn’t prove this at all.  It could easily just mean that those who are saved come from a huge diversity of ethnic groups.


Another way in which Jesus and the authors of the Bible tended to be more imprecise than we are used to concerns exceptions to things.  This actually overlaps with the issue of hyperbole.

First century Jews often didn’t mention that there would be exceptions to something, even when there might be many exceptions.  Here are a couple of New Testament examples:

Matthew 5:42

In Matthew 5:42 Jesus teaches:

‘Give to the person who asks you, and do not turn away from the person who wants to borrow from you.’

There are in fact obviously many situations when we shouldn’t give to someone who asks us for something or wants to borrow from us.  For example, if someone asks us for money to buy illegal drugs, we should certainly not oblige!

Jesus, in line with ancient Jewish cultural habits, sees no need to mention the fact that there will be many exceptions to the principle that He is outlining.  We wouldn’t speak like this in our culture.  We would express the same concept differently.

Luke 16:15

Luke 16:15 is another example.  Here Jesus states:

‘That which is highly valued by people is detestable in God’s sight.’

Actually, we can think of many things that would have been highly valued by people in Jesus’ day but which wouldn’t have been detestable to God.  For instance, helping someone who has been hurt in an accident is just one of a multitude of examples that could be given.

Again, in line with His Jewish culture, Jesus takes it for granted that there will be numerous exceptions to the principle He is outlining, although He doesn’t refer to these exceptions.  We wouldn’t speak like this in the modern West.  We would probably express the same concept by saying, ‘Much that is highly valued by people is detestable in God’s sight.’

Failing to recognise unexpressed exceptions

Sometimes, failing to recognise unexpressed exceptions to things causes difficulties for modern Western Bible readers.

For example, in Mark 10:2-12 Jesus teaches that whoever divorces his wife and ‘marries’ another woman is in fact committing adultery.  That might seem to conflict with Matthew 5:32; 19:9, which allows for divorce and remarriage in the case of sexual immorality.

However, once we understand that first century Jews often allowed for unexpressed exceptions to a principle, the difficulty disappears.  Mark provides a general principle whose exceptions have been left unexpressed.  Matthew then goes into a bit more detail, specifying exceptions to the principle in Mark.  There is no need at all to see a conflict between these passages.


Something else that modern Western Christians find strange is how the New Testament writers sometimes altered the Old Testament text that they were quoting.  They had enormous respect for the authority of the Old Testament.  But often that didn’t stop them changing the wording to make it more relevant for their purposes.

Comparing Acts 2 with Joel 2

There is an example of this in Acts 2:17-21, where Peter quotes Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32.

The Greek words in this passage of Acts correspond very closely to the Greek words in this passage of Joel in the Septuagint, i.e., the standard Greek Old Testament translation of the first century.  And this correspondence shows that Peter is quoting Joel in these verses, not paraphrasing it.  What is more, the first Greek words in Acts 2:17 – kai estai – are the same as the first words of this passage in the Septuagint, which shows that the quotation starts at the beginning of Acts 2:17.

In the Septuagint this prophecy begins:

‘And it will be after these things . . .’

Very similarly, in the original Hebrew underlying our English translations of Joel the prophecy begins:

‘And it will come to pass afterwards . . .’

In Acts 2:17, by contrast, in Peter’s quote, the prophecy begins:

‘And it will be in the last days . . .’

‘In the last days’ is not in the Old Testament text.  Luke (and also Peter, if the quote is strictly historical – see the discussion on history below) has correctly understood that Joel’s prophecy applied to the last days that began with Jesus’ crucifixion/resurrection/giving of the Spirit.  But instead of just realising this, he actually alters the Old Testament quotation to make this connection clear!

This is another example of how the Jewish mindset of the first century could allow imprecision in a way that a modern Western mind finds problematic.  (Even if Luke wasn’t a Jew himself, he was certainly very influenced by Jewish ways of thinking, as scholars agree.)

Comparing Galatians 4:30 with Genesis 21:10

Another example can be found in Galatians 4:30, where Paul cites Genesis 21:10.

In the Septuagint, Genesis 21:10 reads:

‘Expel this slave woman and her son.  For the son of this slave woman will not be an heir with my son Isaac.’

The original Hebrew underlying our English versions of Genesis 21:10 has a virtually identical meaning.

In Galatians 4:30, however, Paul writes:

‘But what does the scripture say?  “Expel the slave woman and her son.  For the son of the slave woman will not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” ’

Apart from the last few words, the words Paul uses correspond very closely to the Septuagint translation.  And this shows that Paul is quoting Genesis, not paraphrasing it.  His initial question, ‘But what does the scripture say?’ also suggests quotation.

Note, however, the big change at the end of this passage.  ‘My son Isaac’ in Genesis has been changed to ‘the son of the free woman’ in Galatians.

Paul has altered the Old Testament text that he received in order to help him further his argument in Galatians.  At this point in the letter he is rounding off his allegorical treatment of Sarah and Hagar.  And he wants to emphasise that Christians, whose allegorical mother is Sarah, are free.  He therefore modifies the text of Genesis to aid him in making his point.

It is, of course, true that the points that are being made from the Old Testament in these examples from Acts and Galatians are legitimate ones.  Nevertheless, it tends to strike us as a bit dishonest to alter the text in this way.  But Luke and Paul apparently didn’t think it was dishonest at all.  And, more importantly, apparently neither did the Holy Spirit who inspired the text!


At times, then, the New Testament authors clearly felt a liberty to modify the Old Testament text they were quoting.  And they did so despite holding that text in very high esteem.

Similarly, when writing their historical accounts of Jesus and the early church, at times they clearly felt free to make certain modifications to their traditions, despite holding those traditions in very high regard.  If they were prepared to alter the Old Testament text, it shouldn’t surprise us that they were also prepared to alter their historical traditions.

Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew and Luke

An example of this can be seen when we compare Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.

In Luke’s resurrection account, on the Sunday Jesus rises from the dead He appears to the inner circle of eleven disciples (Judas Iscariot having defected) in Jerusalem (Luke 24:1, 13, 33-49).

In Matthew’s account, however, on the day Jesus rises an angel appears to Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’, who instructs these women to tell Jesus’ disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see Him (Matthew 28:1-7).  Immediately after that, Jesus meets the women and repeats the instruction: they are to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see Him (Matthew 28:8-10).

Then in vv. 16-17 we are told:

‘The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain that Jesus had designated.  And when they saw Him they worshipped Him, but some doubted.’

There can be no doubt that in Matthew’s account, this meeting in Galilee – a few days’ journey from Jerusalem – is being portrayed as the occasion on which the eleven see Jesus for the first time after His resurrection.  It is impossibly implausible to suppose that the eleven are being portrayed as those who have already seen and spoken to Jesus in Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection.  Verses 16-17 cannot reasonably be read in that way.

This means that Matthew’s and Luke’s portrayals of the first resurrection appearance to the eleven cannot both be historical.  And the best solution is that one or both of these authors felt a liberty to depart a little from writing pure history.  Unless we assume that at least one of them has made a mistake, there must have been a conscious decision by one or both of them to modify historical traditions or to accept already modified traditions.

Jesus’ ascension

Another example of modification of historical tradition can be seen when we compare Luke 24 and Acts 1.

As I have just noted, Luke 24 has an account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances on the Sunday He rises from the dead.  This narrative includes words of Jesus to His disciples in vv. 46-49.  And these words are certainly portrayed being spoken either on that Sunday or perhaps in the early hours of the following Monday morning.  Then immediately following these words, Luke continues in verses 50-51:

‘And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up to heaven.’

By far the most natural way of understanding vv. 50-51 is that they are portraying Jesus’ ascension taking place on the Sunday of His resurrection or early the following Monday.

If we turn to Acts 1:1-11, however, we find that Luke – the same author! – portrays the ascension taking place forty days after the resurrection!

To claim that there must have been two ascensions is a very dubious explanation.  And this is surely not what the church has believed down through the centuries.

Similarly, trying to force the interpretation of one or both of these passages to make them agree historically is the wrong thing to do.  We need to let the Bible stand as it is.  Instead, the best solution is that in at least one passage Luke felt a liberty to modify his traditions.

Altering historical traditions

Just as with altering the text of the Old Testament, so altering the history of Jesus and the early church strikes us as strange and even dishonest.  Besides, it is in the psyche of us modern Westerners to want to know exactly what happened.

But a close analysis of the New Testament text shows that the authors of the Gospels and Acts were often not as concerned as we are about recording history precisely.  If they could modify their historical traditions to a certain extent to make them more edifying for their readers or to simplify things, they frequently did that.

Imagine we were able to ask Luke, for example:

‘Luke, after looking closely at your Gospel, it seems clear that you haven’t written pure history.  Is that right?’

I am sure he would reply by saying something like this:

‘Yes.  I’ve modified some of the historical traditions I received to make them more applicable to my audience and to simplify things.  Nevertheless, my Gospel approximates fairly closely to history.  I’ve done something similar in some of my quotations of the Old Testament.’

It is important for us to recognise that the Gospels and Acts are first and foremost works of theology.  They are aimed primarily at teaching us important spiritual truths.  They are only secondarily works of history.  Once we understand that, the fact that the history has at times been modified is a bit easier to understand.

It is surely also true that God wouldn’t have allowed the Gospels to give us portraits of the life of Jesus that are basically unhistorical.  They doubtless give us largely historically accurate portraits of His life.  Similarly, Acts surely gives us a basically historical account of what went on in the early church.

Treating the Gospels and Acts as history

The Gospels and Acts are historical enough that a pastor need not bother to try to differentiate between what is historical and what is modification of history when teaching.  When I write about Christian matters and I want to cite the Gospels or Acts, I myself usually just treat the text I am dealing with as though it is fully historical.  Treating these works as if they are fully historical will not cause any problems.  And, in any case, these works infallibly teach us what is true in all that is of importance for life and faith.

Ancient views

It is also worth noting that understanding the Gospels and Acts as something other than pure history is not an invention of modern theological liberalism.

For example, the second-third century theologian, Origen, stated:

‘There are many . . . points on which the careful student of the Gospels will find that their narratives do not agree.’  (Comm. Joh. 10.2)

Similarly, the fourth-fifth century church leader, John Chrysostom, wrote:

‘But if there be anything touching time or places, which [the Gospel writers] have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said . . . [but those things] which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed . . .’  (Hom. Matt. 1.6)

Problems with insisting that the Gospels and Acts are pure history

We can only read the Gospels and Acts as pure history, if, over and over again, we take very unnatural interpretations of passages.  However, this is problematic for various reasons.

To begin with, there is the matter of honesty.  In my experience, when Christians interpret biblical passages in very unnatural ways, they almost never admit that this is what they are doing.  However, when someone does something and claims not to be doing it, they are being dishonest.  And dishonesty is a sin.  What is more, when non-Christians think they see Christians being dishonest, they are often put off the Christian faith.

Non-Christians are also put off the faith when they are given the impression that in order to be a Christian, they must interpret biblical texts in ways that seem very unnatural.  And those who insist on taking the Gospels and Acts as pure history frequently give this impression.

Finally, when a Christian takes a very unnatural interpretation of a Bible passage, this gives a green light to those who want to do so in other passages too.  So trying to make the Gospels and Acts pure history unintentionally encourages people to misinterpret the Bible.


The examples I have given show that in various ways the Bible refers to things much less precisely than modern Westerners are used to.  Many other examples could also be cited.

We should accept and embrace this feature of Scripture.  However, sadly, there are large numbers of Christians in Western countries who fail to do this.  Time and time again Western Christians can be found explaining away imprecision in the biblical text.  These Christians rightly have a very high view of the authority of Scripture.  But they fail to understand that Jesus and the authors of the Bible didn’t always speak about things as precisely as we do today.

Other modern Christians, who are more honest with the text, will admit that the features I have discussed are present when it is really forcing things to deny them.  But in cases that are not so clear-cut they will always deny that they are there.

This not only makes no sense, but also shows that these Christians are not really at peace with the ancient Jewish mindset of the Bible.  They are still trying to fit Scripture into a modern mould whenever it is conceivably possible to do so.

Instead, what we should do is let the Bible stand as God inspired it.  And that includes accepting all its ancient Jewish ways of thinking and speaking about things.


A large part of the problem is that the modern Western mind connects precision very closely with truthfulness.  If writing is imprecise in any way, modern Westerners often tend to feel that there must be something untruthful about it.

It seems clear, however, that this is not how the ancient Jewish mind worked.  Ancient Jews were happy to regard some things as truthful even when they were more than a little imprecise.

Of course, there must have been a limit to this.  There is only so far a person could have gone in speaking imprecisely before they were regarded as untruthful.

Nevertheless, there was clearly less of a connection between truthfulness and precision in the ancient Jewish mindset than there is in the modern Western one.