Saturday, December 29, 2012

Guardian angels

Paul Manuel — 2002
[While Paul was in Madison, WI, doing graduate work at UW, he attended our church and taught the adult bible study. From time to time he would solicit questions from the class, do the requisite study, and bring back an answer based on his study of scripture. This is an example of that. An older member of the class had asked whether each one of us has a "guardian angel."]
We saw in our general study of angels that the beliefs of our society—what angels look like and what they spend their time doing—rarely match what the Bible teaches. One other popular notion suggests that we each have a guardian angel who protects us from danger. This week we will consider what scripture says about the interaction divine messengers have had with human beings that has promoted this idea.
I. Angels act on behalf of groups.
A. Nations: Daniel speaks about an angel ("prince") in connection with several countries.1
1. Israel has an angelic prince.
  • Michael (Dan 10:21b; 12:1)2
  • Dan 10:21b No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.
    • Dan 12:1 "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time Your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.
      2. Persia has an angelic prince.
      • Unnamed (Dan 10:12-13)
      • Dan 10:12 Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.
      3. Greece has an angelic prince.
      • Unnamed (Dan 10:20b)
      • Dan 10:20b Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come.
      B. Congregations: John speaks about an angel in connection with several churches.
      Each church may have had an angelic representative.3
      • Unnamed (Rev 1:20b)
      • Rev 1:20b The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches....
        II. Angels act on behalf of individuals.
        Righteous:4 On several occasions God sends an angel to help one of His people in distress.
        1. Lot had two angelic guardians.

        Thursday, December 27, 2012



        Necromancy (attempting to contact the dead) was a common practice in religions of the Ancient Near East. God strictly and repeatedly prohibited His people from seeking mediums or spiritists, those who trafficked in ghosts and spirits.
        Lev 19:31 Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.
        So strongly does God despise such activity that He prescribed the death penalty for those guilty of it.
        Lev 20:6 As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.... 27 Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
        To underscore the seriousness of this offense, God groups it with other practices He despises, including child sacrifice and witchcraft.
        Deut 18:10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God.

        Sunday, December 23, 2012

        Christmas Devotional: "And it came to pass..."

        Luke 2:1-20

        Several years ago, Linda and I were doing graduate studies at a small Christian school in Jerusalem, Israel. As November turned into December, she remarked that it did not "feel" like Christmas, and for us it was indeed a very different holiday than we had spent before. Circumstances made trimming our own tree impractical. Our lean financial situation, coupled with final exams right to the last minute, meant that we would not exchange presents. The most obvious contrast to previous seasons, however, was that in Israel the merchant community was not geared up for its biggest push of the year, so the streets and shop windows were not creating an atmosphere of expectation. Oh, there were special activities and decorations in our school and in many churches, but for the vast majority of us in Israel, it was "business as usual." Although we certainly missed our family and friends, those different circumstances enabled us to catch a fresh glimpse of the birth of Jesus.

        It is this concept of "business as usual" that we often miss in the States. I am not suggesting that our preparation is bad or that the commercialism surrounding Christmas does not in some way focus public attention on the event the holiday commemorates. There is little doubt, though, that the build-up here does obscure to some extent what God has done in history by sending his son, for in those days it was, after all, "business as usual."
        • The emperor, Caesar Augustus, in his on-going efforts to streamline Roman administration, ordered an empire-wide census, probably with an eye toward taxation (Luke 2:1).
        • The governor, Herod, after finally realizing his political aspirations, was beginning to reap the fruit of the political intrigue he had sown earlier and was extremely suspicious of anyone he thought might usurp his position (Matt 2:3).
        • The common people, those not traveling to their home towns for the census, were engaged in their normal occupations, like the shepherds tending their flocks (Luke 2:8).

        Friday, December 21, 2012

        Christmas Devotional: Born of God

        It Is Your Choice
        John 1:12-13

        Many of you are familiar enough with the nativity passages and the Christmas carols at this time of year, that you need not refer to a Bible or a hymnal. Still, no matter how familiar you are, you come to this season with another year's worth of experience and reflection that may enable you to appreciate some element of your celebration in a new way.

        As I was reading the opening chapter in John's gospel, the contrast he makes in vv. 12-13 struck me with renewed force.
        To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
        When you were born the first time, you had no choice, no say in the matter; no one asked: "Would you like to be born?" Your parents made that decision for you. John says here that it is different the second time. God gives you a choice as to whether or not you will to be born again. He presents the opportunity, but it is not a decision He makes for you. He will not force anyone into His realm who will not go. It is your choice.

        The idea of a second birth is not reincarnation, where you get to do this life over again in the hope that you will do a better job. You only get one shot. As the author of Hebrews writes, "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Heb 9:27).

        The second birth is a metaphor of what happens when a person turns to God; but it is a good metaphor, because it illustrates the kind of change that decision involves.

        Thursday, December 20, 2012

        Christmas Devotional: "The true light that gives light..."

        Let There Be Light
        John 1:4,9

        Light is a prominent theme in scripture, one that first appears during the creation account. God introduced light into the physical realm untold millennia ago, and the record of that event is very impressive, perhaps because the account is so understated: "God said, "Let there be light," and there was light" (Gen 1:3). He did not have to build a generator, or connect to the local electric utility, or even flip a switch. The description is even shorter in Hebrew: "God said, 'Light be!' and light was."

        This dramatic change from the darkness that existed previously, brought a host of benefits, some of which we have only recently discovered:
        • Photosynthesis uses light to foster growth in plants.
        • Photo-catalysis uses light and hydrogen to produce energy.
        • Phototherapy uses light to treat medical and mental disorders. The list goes on. Evidently, God knew that light would be good for us.
        How different the world would be had God skipped that step in the creative process or—worse—if suddenly you found yourself without it. Light has so many positive associations:
        • Light connotes guidance: Turning on the light before you enter a room enables you to avoid things in your path that might otherwise make you stumble.
        • Light connotes safety: A well-illuminated parking lot dispels the apprehension and fear you feel of what might be lurking.
        • Light connotes hospitality: The end of the Motel 6 commercial—"We'll leave the light on for you"—hints that you will be welcome there. Life without light would be unpleasant, to say the least.
        In addition to physical light, God also provides spiritual light, and life would be quite different if suddenly you found yourself without it. In a figurative sense, life without God is like being in darkness, lacking those positive associations.

        Tuesday, December 18, 2012

        What difference did Pentecost make?

        The Holy Spirit's Ministry in the Old Testament

        The primary activity of Holy Spirit— at least as scripture portrays it— is in the lives of believers. In fact, Paul says "that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you" (1 Cor 3:16). Theologians disagree, however, as to whether or not that has always been the case, especially for believers who lived before Pentecost.1 Was the Holy Spirit's role in the lives of believers different in the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT)? Do we have any advantage over OT saints because of a change in the Spirit's ministry?

        1. The Common View: He had a different ministry.

        A. Some Christians think that the length of the Holy Spirit's ministry changed: He came temporarily "upon" believers before Pentecost and dwelt permanently "in" believers after Pentecost.2 Proponents of this view base their understanding on two factors.
        1. NT passages suggest he had not yet come.3
        • The Spirit was not given to believers before Pentecost.4
        John 7:37 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.5
        • The Spirit was not dwelling in believers before Pentecost.
        John 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.6
        2. OT passages suggest his ministry was limited.
        • The Spirit was with Saul temporarily, until he sinned.7
        1 Sam 10:6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.... 10 When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.
        Cf. 1 Sam 16:14 Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.
        • The Spirit was with Balaam provisionally, for a specific task.8
        Num 24:2 When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him 3 and he uttered his oracle: "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, 4 the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
        B. Other Christians think that the breadth of the Holy Spirit's ministry changed: He worked nationally with Israel before Pentecost and internationally with all after Pentecost.9 Proponents of this view base their understanding on two factors.
        1. OT passages describe his work among Jews, with no mention of gentiles.
        • The Spirit was with Israel since the exodus.10
        Hag 2:5 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'
        2. NT passages describe his work among gentiles, as well as Jews.
        • The Spirit has been with "all people" since Pentecost.
        Acts 2:16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams."11
        Cf. Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.12

        II. A Better View: He had the same ministry.

        Sunday, December 16, 2012

        Sermon: Response to September 11, 2001

        Our Response to Terrorism

        A sermon preached on September 15, 2001

        This week, Islamic terrorists launched an attack against America. With typical cowardice, as they have done repeatedly in Israel, they directed their violence against civilians: men, women, children. Thousands are feared dead or missing; many will never be accounted for. As we watched the horrific events unfold on Tuesday, our initial response was shock that such a thing could happen. What kind of people would perpetrate such acts? What kind of people would have such disdain for others' lives? What should be Our Response to Terrorism?

        What has made us targets is largely our support of Israel. America has inclined toward the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel is not perfect, but it is a far more open and egalitarian society, with values closer to ours, than any of its Arab neighbors.

        Why are radical Islamic elements opposed to the presence of Israel? Since Islam swept through the region in 750, their belief is that land which has at any point been under Muslim control must return to and remain under Muslim control. Following Nazism's attempt to exterminate Jews, the UN decision in 1948 to restore some of Israel's ancestral home met with stiff and violent opposition that has continued to this day. Vowing to push the Jews into the sea, neighboring Arab states have repeatedly attacked Israel. To keep the struggle alive, those same states have refused to accept their own brothers, the Palestinian Arabs displaced by the conflict. Instead, those states have kept Palestinians in squalid refugee camps, blaming Israel for their situation.
        Adding religious motivation to this political turmoil removes all hope of a reasonable solution. Muslim extremists, encouraged by equally radical religious leaders, believe that dying in this struggle for Islam will guarantee immediate entrance to Paradise, where they shall dwell for ever by flowing rivers, praising God, reclining on silken couches, enjoying heavenly food and drink and the company of dark-eyed maidens and wives of perfect purity" (Gibb 1970:41-42).
        That is why young men are so willing to sacrifice their lives in order to eradicate the enemies of Islam.

        Perhaps the best solution is to give up our support for Israel and attempt to remain neutral. Alas, it is too late for that. We have exerted too great and too long an influence in the region, arousing other resentments in addition to our support for Israel. Besides, we would then have to face a far more dreadful prospect, for God has indicated His approval of those who help His people and His disapproval of those harm them.1 So, there is good reason for our position, but as the events of this week have made painfully clear, we must be ready to defend our position. What should be Our Response to Terrorism?

        In the days and weeks to come, we must do at least three things. First and foremost, we must...

        Second Advent

        Dr. and Mrs. Paul Manuel December 11, 2012

        Dear Friends and Family,

        Are you ready? ...Normally, such a question would refer to Christmas-related activities, like decorating or shopping. This year, though, it implies something dire, not festive, an event that will overshadow even the impending, national fiscal cliff and one that is more imminent. It is nothing less than the end of the world.

        If one believes the hype, the Mayan calendar has supposedly marked December 21, 2012 when a global catastrophe will destroy life on earth. Actually, most Mayan scholars assert that is not a proper interpretation of the documents, but doomsday is a more sensational story, even if it is not a credible one. This scenario is the latest prediction but is probably not the last. (Previously, the world was to end on October 21, 2011, but that day passed without incident.)

        So, as the world will likely continue, even if we do go over the fiscal cliff, what does the Christmas holiday hold? It is an annual reminder, this year as in years past, that God has expressed His concern for us and has demonstrated that concern in a most personal way, by sending His son to live among us and, eventually, to give his life for us.

        To be sure, there will be other significant events, including the end of the world. But they will not occur until God's program has run its course, and that program includes an encore appearance of Jesus. As we await that appearance, Jesus' admonition to his followers is "be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matt 24:44).

        The difference between the supposed end of the world and the return of Jesus is that one has a specific date; the other does not, which makes preparing a different process in each case. When there is a specific date, you may wish for more time, but at least you can manage what time remains to your liking, such as eating excessive amounts of ice cream and chocolate cake without concern for cholesterol or weight gain. An unspecified date makes preparing more difficult (and dieting more practical). It means you must be on constant alert, with no opportunity to cram in the final hours.

        Friday, December 14, 2012

        Bible study: Beyond time

        Out of Time:
        What Scripture Says about Pre-History and Post-History
        2007 (Revised)
        I have somewhat revised Paul's study as it was originally designed for a bible study using workgroups. The original paper, including its endnotes and appendices, can be found here as a pdf.


        When we have a deadline to meet, we are conscious of the passage of time. We are especially concerned that we finish before we are Out of Time. God, however, views the passage of time differently than we do. Complete the following verse: "In the beginning...." ...There are two possible answers. "In the beginning..."
        • "...God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1).
        • "...was the Word" (John 1:1).
        Both these verses speak about pre-history, before man was around to keep records. How did we get this information if there were no witnesses? . . . As these verses indicate, God was there, and He passed on certain observations to people later. Today we will consider what scripture says about pre-history. . . and post-history.

        Usually when we turn our attention to what lies outside the realm of history proper, we look only to the future. Systematic theology devotes an entire discipline to that aspect, called eschatology, the study of last things. We tend to focus on the future, in part, because we are less interested in the past, in "old news." Nevertheless, a study of pre-history provides an informative glimpse at conditions before the world existed and offers the encouragement of realizing God's concern for His people even before such a people existed. It also provides a point of comparison for what happens later, showing how post-history, on the one hand, continues pre-history and, on the other hand, includes some important innovations.

        Pre-History to Post-History
        We can divide pre-history and post-history in two periods each: Pre-history includes Eternity (past), before the universe existed, and the Beginning of the universe, events that start the clock of recordable time. Post-history includes the End of the universe, events that stop the clock of recordable time, and Eternity (future), after the universe, as we know it, no longer exists. The biblical writers distinguish these four periods with certain stock phrases.

        Wednesday, December 12, 2012

        The Ten Commandments

        The Decalogue: A Summary of Torah

        (2000; revised 2011)
        this document can be found here as a pdf

        Christian attitudes toward the law generally range from ambivalence to hostility, with those who see law as a threat to God's grace advocating the more extreme view. Most, however, make special concession for the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments),1 attributing to it a higher morality or authority than other precepts. This argument relies chiefly on what proponents claim is the special attention God gave the Ten Commandments:2 
        • He spoke them.
        Exod 20:1 And God spoke all these words:
        • He did so directly to the people.3
        Deut 5:22a These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to Your whole assembly.... • He wrote them on stone tablets.
        Exod 31:18b ...he gave him...the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
        • He placed them in the ark.
        Deut 10:2b Then you are to put them in the chest.... 5 Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the LORD commanded me, and they are there now. 
        Such distinctions, however, do not make the Decalogue superior to the rest of Torah, which God also authored.4
        • He gave a larger corpus to the nation.
        Exod 25:22b I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
        • He instructed Moses to record the larger corpus.
        Exod 24:4a Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.
        • He made the larger corpus available for reference and instruction.5
        Deut 3 1:11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing.... 12b so they can listen and learn to...follow carefully all the words of this law.
        • He expected His people to obey the larger corpus.
        Deut 30: 10a ... obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law....

        Tuesday, December 11, 2012

        Gentiles and the Law

        Gentile Responsibility before God

        (2003; revised 2011)
        This document can be found as a pdf here.

        God holds gentiles responsible for natural law (particularly the dictates of conscience)—that which He gave to all. This is essentially Paul's assertion.1
        Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
        Rom 2:14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.
        God does not hold gentiles responsible for revealed law (an expansion of natural law)2—that which He gave to Israel.3 This is essentially Moses' and the psalmist's assertion.4
        Deut 4:8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
        Ps 147:19 He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. 20a He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws.
        Because Israel has greater revelation, it has greater responsibility. As Jesus said,
        Luke 12:48b From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
        Nevertheless, non-Jews are far from exempt. Gentile violations of universal prohibitions often elicit condemnation in the Bible, especially in the prophets. God censures the nations for violating natural law, the social norms of ethical behavior.5

        To whom does the Law apply?

        Legal Limits: Recognizing the Recipients of Biblical Regulations

        (April 27, 2007 Addendum added March 2, 2010)
        This document, including the Hebrew, can be found as a pdf here.

        When God gave the law at Sinai, He was not issuing a universal mean but establishing a code for His people Israel,1 His chosen representatives among the nations.2 Consequently, many of the specific regulations include wording that reflects a limited scope, focusing their application on relationships within the covenantal community.3 
        Lev 19:11c Do not deceive one another .... 13a Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.... 15c ...judge your neighbor fairly. 16a-b Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life.... 17 Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 18a-b Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people but love your neighbor as yourself.
        Lev 25:14 If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15a You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee... .17a Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God.... 25 If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.... 36 Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you.... 39 If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave.... 46b .. .you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
        That commands specified in this manner do not apply broadly, outside God's people,4 is clear in the way other people are mentioned separately.5
        Lev 25:35 If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident so he can continue to live among you.... 47 If an alien or a temporary resident among You becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien's clan,
        Deut 1:16b Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien.
        Deut 14:21a-c Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner But you are a people holy to the LORD your God.
        Deut 15:2b-c Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother....3 You may require payment from a foreigner but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you.
        Deut 17:15b [The king] must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite .... 20 [He must] not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
        Deut 23:19a Do not charge your brother interest.... 20a You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite....
        Deut 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.
        In this way, God indicates that His people have a responsibility toward each other greater than their responsibility toward those who are not His people.6 

        In the NT, Jesus indicates that the circle of those whom Israel should regard as brothers (neighbors) includes Samaritans,7 descendants of the Northern Kingdom who had become estranged from their southern relatives.8

        Monday, December 10, 2012

        Bible Study: Spiritual Hunger

        Cultivating Spiritual Hunger: 
        Six Satisfying Sources from the Psalms
        June 28,20081
         A pdf of this document can be found here.

        Hunger may not be the best topic to discuss right before lunch, especially if it turns your attention to your growling stomach. Furthermore, the title of this session may seem odd, as hunger is not something we need to develop and which may, even now, be growing on its own. Nevertheless, that is the topic of this study, albeit not cultivating physical hunger but Cultivating Spiritual Hunger.

        As I said, most of us do not have to cultivate our physical appetite; quite the opposite, we need to curb our physical appetite. We eat too much or eat the wrong things. We put on weight without effort and need to limit our consumption, which we do periodically by reducing our caloric intake. This vigilance pays off, though, because it enables us to maintain the ideal body weight we all currently hold.

        In contrast, most of us do need to cultivate our spiritual appetite. We eat too little or eat the wrong things. We take in a sermon once a week, perhaps with a SS side dish. We may supplement that meager diet by watching a religious program or by reading a page in a daily devotional, but there is still too little nutritional value, and we remain spiritual lightweights.

        Most of us have enough physical food to eat. At times, we may be hungry, but we are not starving. Still, if you have ever had to fast before a blood test, which usually means not eating after a certain time the night before, the mere prospect of delaying your next meal, even for a few hours, is often enough to focus your attention on food, especially if you see other people eating and know that you cannot.

        Unfortunately, forgoing spiritual food does not have the same effect. In fact, denying your soul often has the opposite effect. It deadens your spiritual appetite. Instead of expectancy, depriving yourself of spiritual nutrition makes you complacent, less interested in spiritual things. As a result, you do not grow and, in fact, become spiritually stunted.

        Whether you are on a spiritual low-calorie or no-calorie diet, you need to develop a spiritual hunger if you want to experience spiritual growth. Unlike physical hunger (and physical growth), spiritual hunger does not arise naturally. It requires intention. It also requires direction, if your efforts are to be most productive. You must ingest the right things, what is spiritually nutritious, if you would have the right result, which is spiritual growth.

        Just as certain foods can stimulate your desire for more—the concept behind appetizers and Lays potato chips ("Nobody can eat just one")—so some spiritual sources of nourishment can stimulate your desire for more. In other words, what may not arise naturally, you can encourage: 

        To foster your spiritual hunger, you need to feed your spiritual hunger.

        It is like not recognizing you are hungry until you actually start eating, then, suddenly realizing you were famished. So it is spiritually. By engaging in the things of God, you soon find yourself enjoying those things, wanting more, and wondering why you ever neglected them. 

        To help focus our study, we will concentrate on Six Satisfying Sources from the Psalms,2 specifically those written by David, who had a well-developed spiritual hunger, being "a man after [God's] own heart" (1 Sam 13:14).
        • Hunger for the person of God
        • Hunger for the presence of God
        • Hunger for the praise of God
        • Hunger for the plan of God
        • Hunger for the precepts of God
        • Hunger for the people of God

        Saturday, December 8, 2012

        "Immanuel" in Isaiah

        The Meaning of the Immanuel Sign

        (Isa 7:14)

        This document [including the words in Hebrew] can be found here as a pdf.

        "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign,
        Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son,
        and shall call his name Immanuel."

        Few passages in the book of Isaiah have attracted as much attention among biblical scholars and, consequently, elicited as many varied interpretations, as 7:14. Nevertheless, as one reads the literature on this verse, it is evident that, for all their differences, commentators realize that any understanding of the text must identify the person called Immanuel and explain the purpose of the prophecy.

        The Person Called Immanuel

        Exegetes have offered four major alternatives for identifying the person called Immanuel: (1) He is the son of Ahaz, usually considered Hezekiah; (2) he is the son of Isaiah, usually considered Maher-shalal-hash-baz; (3) he is the messiah, usually considered Jesus; or (4) he is no one in particular. As with any passage, the controlling factor in choosing between interpretive options is context. So here, 7:14 and the verses around it provide information that enables the reader at least to narrow the field if not to arrive at a clear decision. V. 14 gives the terminus a quo and v. 16 the terminus ad quem. The sign is to Ahaz, thus the event of the birth must occur within his lifetime. Although the child has not yet been born when Isaiah utters this prediction (sometime after the king's ascension in 736), his advent cannot be far off, because he will not have reached the maturity necessary to make certain decisions before Assyria conquers Syria and Israel (722/721). Given these temporal parameters, the predicted son can be neither Hezekiah, who had been born several years previous (2 Kgs 16:18:1-2), nor Jesus, who would not be born until hundreds of years later.1

        A decision between the two remaining options depends, in part, on the significance of the definite article (v. 14).2 According to Gray (1912:125; followed by Kaiser 1972:103), the grammatical ambiguity attending this form allows one to read "the damsel, or a damsel, or even damsels," and it is the latter two meanings that he adopts (ibid., p. 124):
        [W]ithin a few months at most, and perhaps immediately, a child (or children) now in the womb will be receiving the name Immanuel, God is with us: for the present popular tension will be relieved; and mothers will express the general feeling of relief at the favorable turn in public events.., when they name their children. Such children with their names will be a reminder that the terror of the King and of the people (v. 2) was groundless, and the confidence of the prophet justified.

        Thursday, December 6, 2012

        Anointing with oil: James 5:14

        The Practice of Anointing in James 5:14

        May 3,2009
        A pdf of this document is here. The pdf contains Greek and Hebrew
        words that could not easily be rendered below.

        Some biblical practices transcend their original setting and remain relevant to this day (e.g., baptism, communion). Other practices cease to be obligatory as the context in which they existed changes (e.g., head coverings), or their expression adjusts to new conditions. The practice of anointing the sick, which James recommends to the readers of his letter, continues in some churches today, including German Seventh Day Baptists. What was the purpose of that act, and should it still be part of the Christian's response to illness? Distinguishing timeless from transitory observances requires attention to several aspects of interpretation. In this case, the two most informative factors are:
        • Lexical: What does "anointing" mean?
        • Cultural: How is 'anointing' used?

        I. Lexical: What does "anointing" mean?

        The English word "anoint," especially in religious discussions, brings to mind an ancient and solemn rite. By far, the most common occurrence in scripture is in describing a sacred act—the pouring of oil on a person's head to mark a spiritual event: his ritualistic consecration to hold a particular office.1

        OT authors use the Hebrew word to designate the consecration of people to several important positions.

        A. Sacred act—the pouring of oil to mark a spiritual event (Hebrew mashax, Greek crio)

        • Ritualistic consecration (to hold office)2
        a. Priests (Lev 8:12; Exod 40:15)3
        Lev 8:12 Then [Moses] poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him.
        Exod 40:15 and you shall anoint [Aaron's sons] even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations."
        b. Kings (1 Sam 10:1; 1 Kgs 1:39)4
        1 Sam 10:1 Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on [David's] head, kissed him and said, "Has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?
        1 Kgs 1:39 Zadok the priest then took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then.. .all the people said, "[Long] live King Solomon!"
        c. Prophets (1 Kgs 19:16b; Ps 105:15)
        1 Kgs 19:16b Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
        Ps 105:15 "Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm."
        The Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for the sacred act of anointing with oil the NT writers use most often in reference to Jesus, God's anointed—the Messiah, the Christ.5
        d. Messiah (Acts 4:27; 10:38)6
        Acts 4:27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
        Acts 10:38 "[You know of] Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and [how] he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
        e. Believers (2 Cor 1:21; 1 John 2:20)7
        2 Cor 1:21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God,
        1 John 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
        These passages, and others like them, are what shape our understanding of the word "anoint." We may not consecrate people to God's service by pouring oil on their heads, but the image is so common in scripture that we identify immediately the sacred nature of this act. Unfortunately, that perception can also mislead us, especially when we apply it in cases where it does not belong.

        Wednesday, December 5, 2012

        Jesus, Pharisee?

        Common Beliefs of Jesus and the Pharisees

        Revised April 2000
        This document can be found as a pdf here.

        The following list consists of doctrinal convictions that characterize the Pharisees and Jesus. Of all the groups in Palestine during the Second Temple Period (e.g., Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots, Essenes/Qumranians), Jesus identified most closely with the Pharisees, and it is possible (even likely) that Jesus himself was a Pharisee.1 References in plain type are to pharisaic doctrine; boldface references are to Jesus' beliefs.

        1. Bibliology

        a. Relevance of Written Torah2

        Mark 12:28 One of the teachers of the law [a Pharisee in Matt 22:35] came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." 32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
        Matt 5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

        b. Validity of Oral Torah3

        Ant 13.297 [T]he Pharisees have passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down (in Scripture), and that those which had been handed down by former generations need not be observed.
        Matt 15:2 Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!
        Matt 23:2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3a So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.

        2. Theology

        a. Foreknowledge of God

        m Avot 3:15 All is foreseen [by God], yet freedom of choice is granted....
        Matt 24:36 No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

        b. Providence of God

        Ant 13.172 ...the Pharisees ... say that certain events are the work of I providence l, but not all....
        Ant 18.13 [Tlhey postulate that everything is brought about by [providence]....
        War 2.162 . . .the Pharisees. . .attribute everything to [providence] and to God;
        Matt 5:45b He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
        Matt 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

        Tuesday, December 4, 2012

        Three times?

        Trine Baptism

        This document can be found as a pdf here

        In addition to disagreements about the proper mode of baptism (i.e., immersion, effusion, or aspersion) and the proper age of baptism (adult or infant), there are also differences about the proper manner of baptism: its direction (whether forward or backward) and its number (whether once or thrice). The historical precedence in Judaism for the mode and age of baptism is clear. Rabbinic sources assume the correctness of adult immersion,1 stating the importance of ablution for proselytes.2
        b Ker 9a Rabbi says: ... [proselytes] enter the covenant only by circumcision, immersion, and the sprinkling of blood.
        b Yeb 46a A man cannot become a proper proselyte unless he has been circumcised and has also performed ritual ablution; when, therefore, no ablution has been performed he is regarded as an idolater.
        The direction of baptism is also clear. Nowhere in rabbinic sources does another person administer the ablution. Those who attend the event do so primarily as witnesses.
        b Yeb 46b ...the initiation of a proselyte requires the presence of three men [and] the ablution of a proselyte may not take place during the night.
        Rather, the candidate—indeed, anyone undergoing ablution—immerses himself.
        m Eduy 5:2 If a non-Jew becomes a proselyte...he immerses himself....
        Therefore, the only way to avoid unnecessary contortions and maintain one's balance is to bend forward or, given enough water, to sink down. The practice in the church of leaning backwards would not have arisen until the addition of clerical assistance,3 and it may have developed as a reenactment of Jesus' burial and resurrection.4

        There is also evidence in early Christian sources to support the contention that the triune formula5 and trine immersion were common from the second to the fourth centuries.6

        Sunday, December 2, 2012

        Bible Study: Prophecies of Messiah

        Recognizing Old Testament Predictions about the Messiah


        This document is available as a pdf here.

        Once upon a time, merchants and municipalities used the end of Thanksgiving to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. Now it seems they start decorating before Halloween. So as not to be outdone, we will start early as well. In fact, we will begin a whole lot earlier, because I want to look at Old Testament predictions of the messiah, in particular, how to recognize them.

        How can you determine which Old Testament passages are messianic prophecies?
        • If an Old Testament text appears in the New Testament, does that make it a messianic prophecy?
        ... No, it does not; for example...
        Matt 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' [= Exod 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:211
        • If someone in the New Testament applies an Old Testament text to Jesus, does that make it a messianic prophecy? 
        ... Not necessarily; for example...
        Matt 4:6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" [= Ps 91:11-12]
        • If a New Testament author says that some event in Jesus' life "fulfilled" what one of the prophets said, is that a messianic prophecy? 
        ... Not always; for example...
        Matt 2:15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." [= Hos 11:1]
        Old Testament quotations in the New Testament do not always relate to Jesus, and when you look at those that do bear some connection, at least for the New Testament writer, you may wonder what that connection could possibly be, because the Old Testament context has nothing to do with the messiah.