Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Scripture v Jehovah's Witnesses

See the pdf (18 pages) for the entire paper.
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

I. Differences in Bibliology
  • Only their interpretation of scripture is correct.2
  1. "...be it known that no other system of theology even claims, or has ever attempted, to harmonize in itself every statement of the Bible; yet nothing short of this can we claim." (Russell 1917 1:348)
  2. "...Jehovah had chosen the publication we now call The Watchtower to be used as a channel through which to bring to the world of mankind a revelation of the divine will and, through the words revealed in its columns, to bring a division of the world's population into those who would do the divine will and those who would not." Watchtower 1959:22, quoted in Gruss 1980:218)
2 Pet 1:20 ...no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation.3
II. Differences in Theology
A. God does not exist in three persons (trinity).4
  1. "...such a doctrine is not of God." (Watchtower 1959:22, quoted in Gruss 1980:218)
  2. "The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that Satan is the originator of the trinity doctrine." (Watchtower 1952:100)
  3. "...sincere persons who want to know the true God and serve him find it a bit difficult to love and worship a complicated, freakish-looking, three-headed God." (Watchtower 1952:101)
  4. "The trinity doctrine was not conceived by Jesus or the early Christians. Nowhere in the Scriptures is even any mention made of a trinity.., the plain truth is that this is another of Satan's attempts to keep God-fearing persons from learning the truth of Jehovah and his Son, Christ Jesus. No, there is no trinity!" (Watchtower 1952:102)
a. Matt 3:16-17 And Jesus, when he was baptized... saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove...and lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved-Son —
b. Matt 28:19 ...baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
c. 2 Cor 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 27, 2017

New Testament Judaism

Dr. Paul Manuel—2000

In this study we will examine various political and religious groups in the Second Temple Period. The chart (at the end) should help to keep things straight, as it is a list of these groups, some of which do not appear by name in the New Testament. In most cases, I have listed all the references in Matthew for each group, as well as a few references elsewhere in the New Testament.

I. Major (mainstream) Parties
A. Sanhedrin
Matt 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Matt 26:59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.
Acts 23:6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead."
The Sanhedrin was the supreme religious, political, and judicial body in Palestine during the Second Temple Period.1 Its powers were restricted during Roman rule, but the council continued to exercise considerable authority. For example, of all Jewish courts in Israel, only the Sanhedrin could try a high priest or a false prophet.2 It was composed of members from both Sadducean and Pharisaic parties,3 with one group generally predominating. In New Testament times the Sadducees had control of the council, over which the high priest Caiaphas (also a Sadducee) presided.4
B. Sadducees
Matt 16:1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
Matt 22:23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.
Acts 4:1 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
Acts 5:17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.
Acts 23:6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." ...8 The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
Sadducees were a political and religious party composed mainly of members from the upper-class (priests, merchants, aristocrats).5 They held the majority of seats on the Sanhedrin and were, consequently, the ruling force during the Second Temple Period. Their primary field of influence was in the Temple, as many of the Sadducees were functionaries there. Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in Oral Torah, the resurrection, immortality of the soul,6 or a developed hierarchy of angels.7 Although the Sadducees' position on the Sanhedrin gave them considerable influence in the religious life of Israel, they ceased as a political and religious force after the destruction of the temple in 70 c.e. (Mansoor 1972:620-622).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Canaan and Israel

Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

Israel has similar concerns as its neighbors: how to relate to the environment, how to relate to each other, how to relate to the divine. Many, perhaps most, aspects of culture are neutral, devoid of any moral content (that is, moral in the broad sense of the term, as it relates to holiness).1 For example, just as the people of Canaan cultivated grapes, so the Israelites, upon entering the land, cultivated grapes. Grape production is morally neutral.2 Other aspects of culture, however, have definite moral implications. Although the Israelites had vineyards, like their pagan neighbors, unlike their neighbors, they could not harvest the entire vintage but had to leave the gleanings for the poor.
Lev 19:10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.
It is in such cases of morality that the Bible defines how Israel, though part of the greater Ancient Near East (ANE), is to be distinct from it.3 The following illustrations demonstrate this distinction between amoral and moral from various aspects of ANE culture.

I. Man's relationship with nature
A. Food
  • People in the ANE, Israelite and pagan, had access to a wide range of potential food items.4 Because they both lived in the same geographical area, they had common agricultural practices; Israelites raised some of the same crops as their Canaanite neighbors.
Deut 6:10 Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied,
Nevertheless, whereas pagans apparently had few restrictions on what they could eat,5 Israelites had a broad but not completely open diet.
Lev 20:25 You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. 26 Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.
Even items that might otherwise be acceptable to Israelites become unacceptable in certain circumstances, although they remained sources of food for other residents in the land.6

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Bible

Dr. Paul Manuel—Seventh Day Baptist Youth Retreat

As followers of Jesus, we hold The Bible as the Core of Christian Belief. In this session, we will be discussing how it has come down to us from long ago and how we have managed to keep it largely unchanged. Unlike other books we might read, the Bible was not written by a single human author over the course of a few years. The Bible is a far more extensive work, composed over a much longer period and written by a host of authors.

I. How did we get the Bible?
A. Its Creation: Is the Bible a book? (Yes and no)
  1. The Bible is 66 books by at least 45 authors written over a period of about 1500 years.1
  2. The Bible grew from several collections of books.
  3. The Bible is now a single book that Jews and (with the New Testament) Christians recognize as inspired by God.2
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
  • The Bible is a collection of many books.
What makes this collection different from a regular library is that these books claim to speak for God and to have authority from God, which makes them our main source for information about God and about what He expects from us. Nevertheless, the Bible is only useful for those who understand it, and to grasp the significance of a passage, we must ask two simple but important questions:
  • What does it mean?
  • Why does it matter?
Later, we will see how answering these questions can help us understand a sample passage.

The Bible is not merely one book but a collection of many books. Moreover, they are not all the same kind of book. They may have stories or poetry, laws or prophecy, whatever type of literature the biblical authors choose to write.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The tetragram

Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

The biblical scholarly community has made extensive and free use of the tetragram(maton) for many years, both in writing and teaching. The practice is gaining acceptance among pastors and is even prevalent among the laity of certain denominations (e.g., Sacred Name). Some view this as a positive trend, one that enables people "to call on the name of the LORD" (Ps 116:13, 17), yet the result may actually be to make profane (common) what should remain sacred. Although use of the divine name is not a doctrinal issue basic to the faith, it is a concern to some of God's people and, as such, is a matter about which others should be aware. This brief discussion, in part, reflects the attitude and custom of many observant Jews (Messianic and non-Messianic), but the position it espouses derives support from what God has said on the matter, from the many traditions that have arisen as a result, and from the likely negative implications of a more tolerant approach.

The third commandment of the Decalogue is a suitable place to begin. Its most obvious meaning is that people should not use God's name in any way that would reflect improperly on His character, whether directly or by inference.
Exod 20:7 [= Deut 5:11] You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Commentators and preachers frequently read this passage as a prohibition against vulgar language1 or (less directly) as a metonymy for wrong behavior. The most obvious meaning, however, does relate to speech, and examples from the biblical text point primarily to speech of a specific kind: the use of the Name in oaths.2
Lev 19:12 Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
Deut 6:13 ( 10:20) Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
The Bible offers one other example of improper use of the tetragram in speech: blaspheming the Name.
Lev 24:10 Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. 11 The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) 12 They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them. 13 Then the LORD said to Moses: 14 "Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. 15 Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; 16 anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death."
The seriousness of blasphemy is evident not only in its penalty (death) but in the associated crimes that God lists, some of which (e.g., murder) require the same punishment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Peter and Paul

Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

The movement Jesus established sees its greatest growth first under the ministry of Peter, then under that of Paul, although they are not the only ones engaged in spreading the gospel. Moreover, from the beginning, the good news is decidedly ecumenical in its appeal, culturally and ethnically. Those to whom Peter directs his Pentecost invitation are either Jews or converts to Judaism, and they are the ones who constitute the initial Jerusalem assembly.1
Acts 2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.... 10c visitors from Rome 11a (both Jews and converts to Judaism).... 22a "Men of Israel, listen to this...." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
As they meet in the temple court (and in home s),2 their number increases gradually,3 but it jumps significantly after Peter remarks on the healing of a lame beggar.
Acts 4:4 ...many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
This growth also includes members of the temple staff.
Acts 6:7b The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Stephen's murder seems to galvanize opposition to the gospel, initiating a wave of persecution that forces many believers to leave Jerusalem and take the good news to other areas.4 Philip, for example, wins a number of converts among the Samaritans.
Acts 8:5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.... 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
A delegation from the Jerusalem confirms the status of these new converts and spreads the news in other Samaritan towns upon its return.
Acts 8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.... 25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Peter's experience with Samaritans, who bear a quasi-ethnic relation to Jews,5 may prepare him for the more radical notion that the gospel will also find acceptance among gentiles. For his next assignment, Peter becomes the first apostle to bring the good news to non-Jews.6
Acts 10:28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Because of stubbornness

Dr. Paul Manuel—2000

Does God harden peoples' hearts and, thereby, doom them from the start? Paul seems to suggest as much.1
Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
A more careful look at Pharaoh's example, reveals a less arbitrary action—that God hardens those who, by frequent and consistent refusal to obey His commands, make it evident they will not repent.2 Because Pharaoh did not obey God...
  • His "heart became hard"
  • Before the first plague (blood; Exod 7:13)
  • Before the second plague (frogs; Exod 7:22b)
  • He "hardened his heart"
  • Before the third plague (gnats; Exod 8:15 [Heb v. 11])
  • His "heart became hard"
  • Before the fourth plague (flies; Exod 8:19 [Heb v. 15])
  • He "hardened his heart"
  • Before the fifth plague (blight; Exod 8:32 [Heb v. 28])
  • His "heart was unyielding"
  • Before the sixth plague (boils; Exod 9:7b)
Only after demonstrating a consistent pattern during most of the plagues does Moses write that...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The highest calling (Isa 41-45)

Dr. Paul Manuel—20017

The leaders of Israel repeatedly exhort the people of Israel to "serve the Lord."2 To do that, though, they must be able to answer two questions:
  • Whom do you serve?
  • Who is the Lord? What is He like?
  • How do you serve?
  • What does He expect? What is your responsibility to Him?3
Whatever servanthood entails, it must deal with these two questions. Answering them does not exhaust the subject, and you may discover things that relate to other aspects of the topic, but begin by addressing these basic issues with two sets of passages in Isaiah: The first set of passages describes the coming messiah as God's servant (the so-called Servant Songs).4 The second set of passages depicts the nation of Israel as God's servant.5 In both sets, the messiah and the nation, the servant does the Lord's biding and advances His agenda. The second set especially provides an example for you of what it means to serve God and it is the second set of passages, those describing the nation, that we will consider in this study.

Isaiah addresses the second half of his book to the nation in exile. There is trouble on the horizon. The relative security of life in Babylon is being threatened by the military expansion of the Meo-Persian Empire. What will happen? In the almost 70 years since their deportation to Babylon, the Israelites have settled down, built homes, raised families, and established businesses. If they survive the coming conflict, what will happen to their communities, especially if Babylon falls (which seems very likely)? Many think God has forsaken them. So Isaiah attempts to convince them that God is with them, moreover, that God is behind this political upheaval and will use it to return them to the land.

Isaiah has another task as well which is to convince the exiles that they should return to their ancestral home. The Babylonian captivity may be drawing to a close, but the people have made a home for themselves in Babylon and are, understandably, reluctant to tear up their roots again. Besides, to what would they be returning? Would those other peoples who had since moved into Canaan welcome an influx of immigrants, even if they were the previous inhabitants? Isaiah tells them their return is indeed part of the Lord's plan for them, because Israel is God's servant, and He is a benevolent master.

In our examination of passages depicting the nation of Israel as the Lord's servant, pay particular attention to two things, repetition and opposition.
1. Repetition
a. Sometimes the biblical writer will use a phrase over and over because it is formulaic (e.g., "This is what the LORD says" in Isa 43:1, 14; 44:2, 6, 24).
b. Other times, repetition is for a particular rhetorical effect: The writer (or speaker) wants to convince his audience of something. It is this second use of repetition that occurs in the nation-as-servant passages of Isaiah. God, through the prophet, is trying to convince Israel of certain things that concern their relationship to Him, certain things about being a servant. So He will say something a number of times to make sure they get the point.
2.. Opposition (contrast)
a. God lets them know their choices are limited. Either the people serve the Lord or they serve the gods of their pagan neighbors.
b. He lays out two alternatives:
1) He tells them what it is like to serve Him, the true God.
2) He tells them what it is like to serve pagan deities.
In our sessions together, then, watch for repeated material and for contrasting material.

I. Whom do you serve? (Isa 41:8-13; 43:10; 44:1-2; 45:4)
A. God has a claim on you because of what He did in the past.
Isa 41:8 "But you, Israel, My servant,6 Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend, 9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,7 And called from its remotest parts And said to you, 'You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.

Isa 43:10 "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.

Isa 44:1 "But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.... 2 This is what the LORD says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.

Isa 45:4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Christian walk: Walking in truth (3 John 3-8)

Walking in Truth (3 John 3-8)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

In school, a test reveals how much the student knows about a subject. Tests are not limited, of course, to school; nor are they limited to revealing a student's mastery of the subject. Sometimes they reveal other things as well.
Two young engineering graduates with the same academic qualifications applied for a single position at a computer company. To determine which individual he should hire, the department manager gave the applicants a test. Both men missed only one of the ten questions: the last one. After informing them of their scores, the manager went to the first applicant and said, "Thank you for your interest, but we've decided to give the job to the other applicant." "And why would you do that?" asked the rejected graduate. "We both answered nine questions correctly." "We based our decision not on the nine questions you got right," said the manager, "but on the one question you missed." "And just how would one incorrect answer be better than the other?" the rejected graduate inquired. "It was simple," said the manager. "In answering the last question, your fellow applicant wrote: 'I don't know.' You put down... 'Neither do I.'"
Of the many subjects students encounter, ethics is rarely one of them. If they do not learn the value of truth elsewhere, they will not likely get it in school. Where can they study this virtue? They should, of course, encounter it at home; they should also get exposure to it in church, especially as they see the members Walking in Truth.

John writes three letters to churches in Asia Minor. He addresses the first letter to several congregations facing the rise of Gnosticism, a way to God that makes no ethical demands, and exhorts his readers to walk in the light of what God has revealed and to walk in the love that God expects from His people. He addresses the second letter to a particular congregation, warning about itinerant Gnostic teachers, and admonishes his readers to walk in obedience to what God expects. In John's third letter, he addresses a particular person, Gaius, an elder in one of the churches where Gnosticism does not seem to be a problem. Please turn to 3 John and follow as I read, beginning in 3 John 3, where the apostle mentions reports he has received from visitors to the congregation Gaius oversees, because Gaius is Walking in Truth, and...1

I. It impresses those who watch...who see the truth in others (3 John 3).

That is John's satisfaction as he writes this letter. Look at...
3 John 3 ...I was very glad when brethren came [to me] and testified to your truth, [that is], how you are walking in truth.
There are at least two stages in the learning process of any subject, and an individual must pass through both before he can claim to know something in more than a superficial way. One must not only understand an issue, he must grasp the implications of it for his life, making it his own. Gaius has apparently done that, which is why John says he is "walking in truth." He has not only come to understand the truth—in this case, the truth of God's word—he is living it.

I enjoyed my days as a college and graduate student, except for having to take tests. I enjoyed my days as a teacher of college and graduate students even more, except for having to grade tests. In the educational setting, though, students and teachers process information differently.
  • A student learns the material in order to pass the course. As such, he can store most things in short-term memory and dump them after the final exam to make room for what the next class will cover. He assumes he will not need the information again. Taking that approach, though, a student never adopts the subject as his own.
  • A teacher learns the material in order to present the course. As such, he must store most things in long-term memory and be able to retrieve them at a moment's notice. He knows he will need the information again. Taking that approach, a teacher adopts the subject as his own.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Christian walk: Walking in obedience (2 John 4-6)

Walking in Obedience (2 John 4-6)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

When I was growing up, I enjoyed the prospect of snow. Now, the thrill of snowball fights and building snowmen has been replaced by the less enthusiastic prospect of shoveling it and driving in it.
It was snowing heavily and blowing to the point that visibility was almost zero when the new secretary got off work. She sat in her car while it warmed up and wondered how she was going to make it home. Then she remembered her father's advice that if she ever got caught in a blizzard, she should wait until a plow came by and follow it. That way she would not get stuck in a drift. This made her feel much better, and soon a plow went by. As she followed it, she was feeling very secure. She was not having any problem with the blizzard conditions.

After a while, she was surprised when the snowplow stopped and the driver got out, came back to her car and signaled for her to roll down the window. "Ma'm, you've been following me for quite some time. Are you all right?" he asked. "Oh yes," she replied, and told him about her father's advice to follow a snowplow when caught in a blizzard. "That's fine, ma'm," he said. "Follow me as long as you like. I'm headed for K-Mart...as soon as I finish with the WalMart parking lot."
Before you follow someone, it is good to know where he is heading. That is what John cautions the readers of his second epistle as he advises them to be Walking in Obedience.

In the late first century, a nascent version of Gnosticism is competing with orthodox Christianity. Both belief systems have reaching heaven, where God dwells, as their goal, but they employ different and contrary methods of getting there.
  • For Gnostics, knowledge is the way to heaven, which is only available through them.
  • What is important is what one knows, not how one lives. You can exhibit all the acts of the sinful nature that the apostle Paul condemns:
Gal 5:19b ...sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
How you conduct yourself here is entirely irrelevant. Your behavior in this life has no bearing on the next life. The goal in Gnosticism is to escape this physical realm and enter the spiritual realm, where God dwells, and only Gnosticism provides the directions for that transition. For Gnostics, knowledge is the way to heaven.
  • For Christians, forgiveness is the way to heaven, which is only available through Jesus.
  • What is important is who one knows and how one lives. You must exhibit all the fruit of the Spirit that the apostle Paul commends:
Gal 5:22b ...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23a gentleness and self-control.
How you conduct yourself here is immensely relevant. Your behavior in this life demonstrates if you belong to God, and you must belong to God if you want to be with God and live where He lives.
For Christians, forgiveness is the way to heaven.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Christian walk: Walking in love (1 John 2:3-11)

Walking in Love (1 John 2:3-11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

"We love [God] because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19), and He expects us to demonstrate our love for Him by acting in like manner toward others, a task that is not always easy.
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. As the boys waited—not too patiently—they began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother, seeing the opportunity for a moral lesson, said, "If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait." Hearing this, Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan...you be Jesus."
Not everyone sees the importance of brotherly love. If it is difficult for siblings to grasp, it is more difficult for those not related in this way. Nevertheless, God still expects Christians to behave toward Him and one another by Walking in Love.

I mentioned last time that one of the quasi-religious movements in the first century competing with Christianity is gnosticism, which asserts that reaching the spiritual realm where God dwells depends not on what you do but on what you know. According to the Gnostics, whose name comes from the Greek word for "knowledge," how you behave in this life is largely irrelevant—good or bad; it makes little difference1—what matters is whether or not you acquire the information necessary to transcend the limits of the physical realm and make that all-important leap into the place where God dwells.

This theosophical mumbo-jumbo is confusing many Christians in Asia Minor, who are wondering if, perhaps, they have backed the wrong horse, so to speak. John attempts to set the record straight. God is not aloof, waiting for us to come to Him. He has come to us. On more than one occasion, God has entered our world, most recently and notably in the person of His son Jesus, with whom John and others spent considerable time. As the apostle says in his opening remarks,
1 John 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard....
Unlike Gnosticism, this is not some pet theory about how things may be; this is the testimony of those who have witnessed how things are. It is what makes Christianity different from its competitors, the fact that its defining moments—particularly the life of Jesus—rest on eye-witness accounts rooted in history.

As John continues the discussion he began in the first chapter, he confronts two more claims of gnosticism in the second chapter, and he introduces those claims the same way, by presenting the Gnostic view: "The one who says...." He also employs some of the same contrasts he used earlier: truth and falsehood, light and darkness, this time adding love and hate. It is the last contrast—love and hate—that especially concerns him here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Christian walk: Walking in light (1 John 1:5-9)

Walking in Light (1 John 1:5-9)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

We usually do not appreciate the value of something we never had. In 1983, when I was in my first year of seminary, some of the students were raving about a product that had recently appeared on the market—the personal computer. Not being familiar with this new device, I did not realize the potential benefits it offered...until I got one. Even after we acquire some new gadget, though, we may not grasp its true significance.
When electricity first came to a little Scottish village, almost everyone switched from propane lanterns as soon as they were connected. The oldest couple in the village was the last on the line and had to wait for the installation of poles and wire to reach their cottage. The day finally came and, as it completed the modernization of the entire village, was a festive event for which everyone gathered. The old man waited until it got very dark, then told his wife to turn on the switch. When she did, light filled the room, and everyone cheered. The old man, grinning from ear to ear, picked up a propane lamp and said, "It sure makes lighting this easier." ...He then lit the lamp and turned off the electricity. (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:210-211)
Even after we acquire something new, we may not grasp its significance. Light, electric and natural, is truly wonderful because it enables us to penetrate the dark that obscures our vision and to see what we could not otherwise. Spiritual light is similar, but better still, because it enables us to penetrate the dark that obscures our thinking and to understand what we could not otherwise.

Late in the first century, a quasi-religious movement arises that challenges Christianity. This movement is called gnosticism, from the Greek word gnosis, which means "knowledge." It purports to have a better way to reach God, based on special information (or "knowledge") that only the initiated possess. They alone walk in the light, because they alone know the truth. Everyone else walks in the dark.

Gnosticism also claims that the physical realm counts for nothing, that only the spiritual realm is important. Hence, the very idea that God, who resides in the spirit realm, would assume human form and enter the physical realm is absurd. God wants nothing to do with this place, which was actually created by a lesser deity, and cares nothing about what happens here. Christianity claims that what separates us from Him is our sin, an erroneous notion (according to the Gnostics) that our deeds in this world affect our standing in the other world. There is no such thing as sin, and it matters not how we behave. What matters, what gets us to where God resides, is not what we do but what we know.1

For Christians in Asia Minor, this movement is causing quite a stir. Is gnosticism right? Are those who believe in Jesus actually in the dark? Is sin something that should concern them? To answer these and other questions, the apostle John writes a series of letters in which he exhorts them about how they are to live, using a common metaphor—walking. He advises these early believers that they should be...
  • Walking in light (1 John 1:5-9),
  • Walking in love (1 John 2:3-11),
  • Walking in obedience (2 John 4-6), and
  • Walking in truth (3 John 3-8).
In each case, he urges his readers to behave in a certain manner, then he provides an explanation with examples of what that behavior should entail.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Why did He come? (1 John 3:4-10)

WHY DID HE COME? (1 John 3:4-10)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

We are not always aware of the serious ramifications our actions can have. This is especially so when we are young.
Tom loved school, but Jerry, his younger brother, absolutely hated it. One weekend Jerry cried and fretted and tried every excuse not to go back on Monday. Sunday morning on the way home from church, the crying and whining built to a crescendo. Finally at the end of his rope, their father stopped the car and explained, "Jerry, it's the law. If you don't go to school, they'll put your mother and me in jail." Jerry looked at his father, thought a moment, then asked... "How long would you have to stay?"
We are not always aware of the serious ramifications our actions can have. Unlike the possibility that Jerry's whining might result in his parents' incarceration, Jesus was well aware that his actions would result in more than his incarceration, they would lead to his execution, but for a very good cause, answering the question: Why did he come?

The apostle John, in his first epistle, reiterates one reason Jesus gave—to save the lost (1 John 3:5)—then adds one of his own—to destroy Satan's work (1 John 3:8b). It is these two reasons I would like us to consider this morning, from 1 John 3:4-10, because the author does not give them simply to make the list more complete. As far as the John is concerned, our knowing why Jesus came should affect our doing in service to him.

The recipients of this letter are predominantly gentiles, who believe that Jesus, God's son, came as a man, died for their sins, and rose physically from the dead. Recently, they have encountered some who teach a strange philosophy called Gnosticism, claiming that the human body is evil and that only the spirit is good. The Gnostics say a person needs special gnosis, or knowledge, to achieve salvation, which they describe vaguely as escaping the realm of matter and entering the realm of spirit.1 Their ideas are causing some of these Christians to question what they believe, and John writes to strengthen their faith.

John closes chapter 2 by exhorting his readers to live now, in the present, with an eye to the future.
1 John 2:28 ...dear children, continue in [Jesus], so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
"The greatest obstacle to being able to meet him with confidence...is a life of sin" (Brown 1982:427), which John addresses in chapter 3, with a look back at the past, to Jesus' first advent, because...

I. Jesus came to deliver us from the penalty of sin.
1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us....
John begins this section with a general statement: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness." In other words...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ezra and Nehemiah

pdf (56 pages)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Outline of Ezra and Nehemiah

"Cyrus Returns the Temple Vessels" by Gustave Doré

I. The exiles' first return is under Zerubbabel in 539 (Ezra 1-6).
A. They prepare to go back (Ezra 1:1-2:70).
  1. Cyrus authorizes the (first) return (Ezra 1:1-4).
  2. Sheshbazzar leads the return ( Ezra1:5-11).
  3. Zerubbabel lists the returnees (Ezra 2:1-70).
Application: Where do you go for help in making decisions? While you should certainly pray, you should also study (2 Tim 3:16-17).
B. They rebuild the main structures (Ezra 3:1-6:22).
  1. The exiles reconstruct the altar (Ezra 3:1-6).
  2. The exiles reconstruct the sanctuary (Ezra 3:7-6:22).
a. They commence the reconstruction (Ezra 3:7-13).
b. They encounter some opposition (Ezra 4:1-24).
c. They resume the reconstruction (Ezra 5:1-5).
d. They encounter more opposition (Ezra 5:6-17).
e. They complete the reconstruction (Ezra 6:1-22).
Application: If God can make a secular king amenable to the divine agenda, then He can bend any force you may face to accomplish His will (Rom 8:28).

"Ezra Reads the Law" by Gustave Doré
II. The exiles' second return is under Ezra in 458 (Ezra 7-10).
A. They prepare to go back (Ezra 7:1-8:36).
  1.  Ezra leads the return (Ezra 7:1-10).
  2. Artaxerxes authorizes the (second) return (Ezra 7:11-28).
  3. Ezra lists the returnees (Ezra 8:1-36).
Application: Although this world is not your final destination, you have a part to play while you are here that contributes to your present status and to God's plan for His people, a part you play through prayer (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lean not on your own understanding

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
(Prov 3:5-6)

According to Euclidean geometry, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It is a mathematical axiom that applies to biblical wisdom as well as to daily life. When you plan a vacation, for example, especially if you drive, you may elect the scenic route to your destination, which makes your path somewhat meandering. You may also make multiple stops along the way, to fill one tank or to empty another. For such a venture, economy of movement is not necessarily a concern. In other cases, however, you will choose the most expeditious route to your destination, the shortest and quickest. But the most economical route generally requires careful planning.1 The same is true for life. Where are you going? What is your destination, and (how) can you be certain you will arrive there without unnecessary detours?

The author of Prov 3:5-6, giving counsel to his son,2 offers both guidance and assurance with two pieces of advice for facing the uncertainty of life's road ahead: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
  • The first piece of advice: God is the right source for proper directions.
  • He will confirm your confidence (so you should trust Him).
  • He will prepare your path (so you should heed Him).
Have you ever asked someone for directions? "Hey, that guy looks like a local. Surely he knows where the place is," only to drive around in circles looking for that landmark "you can't miss." But God is the right source for proper directions in life. He alone is worthy of your complete attention: "with all your heart [and] in all your ways." This father does not recommend that his son put confidence in "an impersonal code of ethics inherited by tradition" (Waltke 2004:243) but trust in Israel's personal God who has His people's best interests at heart.
  • The second piece of advice: You are not the right source for proper directions.
  • You cannot confirm your confidence (so you should not trust yourself alone).
  • You cannot prepare your path (so you should not heed your leading alone).
Have you ever been certain of your own ability to get where you want to be? (For some reason this is a trait more common in men than in woman.) "I don't need to ask for directions. I can read a map," although here as well you may end up driving around aimlessly. But you are not the right source for proper directions in life. You do not have the necessary foresight.3 Hence, the sage says, "Do not rely 'on your own understanding," because regardless of what you think, it is not well informed. The father does not recommend that his son put confidence in his own intellectual prowess but in the one who is omniscient, making known "the end from the beginning" (Isa 46:10).

To have this assurance in God, a believer's confidence must be complete, encompassing all areas of life and all aspects of one's being. Moreover, "personal knowledge of God ensues from risking oneself [emphasis added] to obey the specific teachings that pertain to all sorts of human behavior in full reliance on God to keep his promises coupled with them" (Waltke 2004:244).

The sage says that God will make your path straight, not necessarily smooth, simple, spacious, or even safe (as you might define it), but it will be the most direct route to the goal He has for your life. You may think you know where to go and how to get there but, if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you do not. Whether the destination of life is in this world or the next, it is not anywhere you have been before. To be sure, there is a map to guide you (the Bible), and there are people further along and somewhat familiar with the route (other believers), but God is the one who built the road,4 He alone is the one who knows where it leads, and He is the one who will accompany you the entire time you are on it.5

As you look back over the course of your life, there are probably a few decisions you would have made differently had you known their outcome ahead of time, perhaps a job or a move that did not turn out as well as you hoped. While God does warn you against making choices that will be bad for you ("Thou shalt not..."), there are other choices you face about which He may say nothing except: "Trust me."6

Much of life's journey is a mystery, and you will not know the short term outcome ahead of time. That is why the sage's advice is important. As long as you are in this world, you will face decisions that will benefit from more guidance than you alone possess. In those cases, it is good to know someone who will point you in the right direction, the direction that leads to the most beneficial outcome, which is actually The Shortest Distance:7 As the sage says:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

For the Bibliography and Endnotes see the pdf here.