A Trustworthy Statement – 2 Timothy 2:11-13

It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Tim 2:11-13)

It is a trustworthy statementIn 2 Timothy 2:11-13, Paul provided Timothy a short theological statement that seems to reflect a doctrinal creed in the early church. The words may have been set to music as a hymn. Paul’s statement can be broken into four parts, each beginning with a conditional clause (εἰ). The four parts are: “if we died with Him”, “if we endure”, “if we deny Him”, and “if we are faithless.” Paul introduces these four parts with the phrase, It is a trustworthy statement (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος). The phrase is common to Paul, as he employs the exact wording elsewhere (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Tit 3:8). The phrase is intended to emphasize the trustworthiness of what follows. The NASB changes the typeset in verses 11-13 to show the saying is poetic or hymnic in nature. According to Thomas Constable, “It may have been part of a baptismal ceremony, a hymn, or a catechism. It consists of four couplets: two positive and two negative. Each couplet represents a condition that Paul assumed to be real, not hypothetical, since each is a first-class condition in the Greek text.”[1] Paul’s four couplets are as follows:

If we died with Him, we will also live with Him.First, “For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tim 2:11b). This phrase parallels Paul’s words in Romans, where he states, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom 6:8; cf. Col 3:3). The phrase, For if we died with Him (εἰ γὰρ συναπεθάνομεν) refers to our being united with Christ in His death on the cross. In a very real sense, we were with Jesus on the cross. His death is our death. Death means separation. Spiritual death is separation from God in time. The Second Death is separation from God in eternity (Rev 20:14). Those who died with Christ will never experience the Second Death in the Lake of Fire. As Christians, we died with Christ when He died on the cross (Rom 6:8-11). He bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Though Christ’s death is sufficient for all (1 John 2:2), it is effective to those who believe in Him as Savior (John 3:16; Eph 1:7). The blessed benefit for us who have trusted Christ as Savior is that we will live with Him (καὶ συζήσομεν). The phrase, we will live, translates the future active indicative of συζάω suzao. The future tense points to a reality yet to come for the Christian, and the indicative mood is declarative for a statement of fact. This seems to refer to the future resurrection life that is ours in Christ (1 Cor 15:20-23).

If we endure, we will also reign with Him.Second, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12a). The phrase if we endure (εἰ ὑπομένομεν) refers to phase two of the Christian life; that is, our sanctification, in which we advance to spiritual maturity, which glorifies God and edifies others. Biblically, there are three aspects to our salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Put differently, it means we are saved from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 8:1, 34; Gal 2:16), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2-3, 5; cf. Rom 8:17). The first and third aspects of our salvation are entirely the work of God. However, our sanctification requires us to exercise our minds and wills in conformity with the mind and will of God. As Christians, we must endure the hardships of life and advance spiritually. To endure (ὑπομένω hupomeno), according to BDAG, means “to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one’s ground, hold out, endure.”[2] It means we don’t back down or give up in the face of pressure or opposition. This requires reinforcement in one’s soul, a doctrinal fortress in one’s thinking that enables the Christian to remain strong when circumstances get tough. This statement was intended to encourage Timothy to face difficulties with the certainty that there will be a future reward for obedience; namely, the blessing and honor that we will also reign with Him (καὶ συμβασιλεύσομεν).

There are two major aspects of God’s reign over His creation. First is His ongoing universal rule. According to Scripture, “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a), and the “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6). It is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17), and “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35).

Second is the future time when God will rule through His Son, Jesus, who is the ideal theocratic administrator over His creation. God promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world, saying, “I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa 2:8). In the future, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan 2:44). This refers to the future kingdom of Christ, when Jesus will be given “dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14). The establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom will occur after the seven-year Tribulation; at which time it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15; cf. 20:4). Jesus’ kingdom and reign is prophesied all throughout Scripture and will come to pass, because God will make it happen (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 35-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Luke 1:31-33; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 11:15; 20:4-6). And, for believers who are obedient-to-the-Word in this life, we will reign with Christ in the eschaton (Rev 5:10; 20:4-6). Our reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom is what Paul is referring to in 2 Timothy 2:12.

If we deny Him, He also will deny us.Third, “if we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Tim 2:12b). To deny (ἀρνέομαι arneomai) means “to disclaim association with a person or event, deny, repudiate, disown.”[3] Though this word is used of unbelievers in several NT passages (Acts 3:13-14; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23), it is also used of born-again Christians who fail to live as they should (1 Tim 5:8). The apostle Peter publicly denied (ἀρνέομαι arneomai) Jesus three times (Matt 26:70-74; John 18:25-27), yet did so as a believer, not an unbeliever. In the context of Paul’s words to Timothy, the phrase if we deny Him (εἰ ἀρνησόμεθα) refers to the potential reality that we, as Christians, may fail in our calling to walk with the Lord and advance to spiritual maturity. That is, we may choose to walk according to the flesh and Satan’s world-system, which is a very real possibility and danger (1 John 2:15). Some Bible teachers take this verse as a prooftext that we can forfeit our salvation. According to Norman Geisler:

Some Arminians take this to mean that believers who deny Jesus will be denied heaven. There is a better way, though, to understand Paul’s teaching. The immediate context reveals that he is speaking about a denial of reward, not of eternal life [bold mine]. The preceding phrase says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” Reigning is part of a believer’s reward (cf. Rev 20:6; 22:12), and he has already received eternal life, whether he is rewarded or not (cf. 1 Cor 3:15).[4]

It’s no surprise that Arminians would regard this as a prooftext for forfeiting salvation. However, John Piper, a Strict-Calvinist, uses this verse to argue that a person who denies Jesus proves he was never saved. Piper states, “The ‘we’ here includes Paul. If Paul denies Christ, Christ will deny him. The salvation of the elect depends on their not denying Christ and on their enduring in faith and obedience.”[5] But is that Paul’s meaning? Is Paul writing about Christian salvation? The Arminian and Calvinist would say “yes.” However, if we look at the statement in its context, we see where Paul had just said, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12a). The enduring believer obtains the privilege of reigning with Christ. It is better to take this statement as referring to Christian rewards, not as a prooftext that one can lose his salvation, or as evidence he was never saved from the outset.

The phrase, He also will deny us (κἀκεῖνος ἀρνήσεται ἡμᾶς), does not mean Jesus reverses our salvation with the result that we will be cast into the Lake of Fire with unbelievers, or as proof that we were never saved. Paul is not talking about salvation. He’s talking about rewards. It means Jesus will deny us the right to reign with Him in His millennial kingdom. Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). It is a serious and shameful thing when a Christian fails to walk with the Lord and grow spiritually. Such a one is subject to divine discipline in this life (Heb 12:5-11), and forfeiting rewards in the future (1 Cor 3:15).

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.Fourth, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). Some Bible scholars believe Paul shifts here to talk about unbelievers who are faithless (MacDonald, Farstad). However, Paul’s use of we—which would include himself and Timothy—seems to rule out that possibility. To be faithless (ἀπιστέω apisteo) refers to “one lacking a sense of obligation (of disloyal soldiers) of relation of humans to God or Jesus.”[6] It speaks of the potential disloyalty that Christians can display when they turn away from the Lord and fail to think and walk as they should. The active voice means the Christian produces the action of being unfaithful to the Lord. The present tense implies ongoing action, which means this is not the occasional failure, but continuing failure. The action means the Christian fails in regard to his sanctification, or life as a disciple.

Though Christians belong to the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), it is possible for a believer to live carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3) and help Satan advance his agenda by loving his world-system (2 Cor 11:3; Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christians who abandon their walk with the Lord are in real danger of divine discipline if they choose a path of faithlessness (Heb 12:5-11). Failure to advance spiritually means loss of reward (1 Cor 3:15), not loss of eternal life, which cannot happen (John 10:28; Rom 8:1; 33-39).

The phrase, He remains faithful (ἐκεῖνος πιστὸς μένει), means God honors His Word to save us and keep us saved. God has integrity and always keeps His Word. If we are faithless, God remains faithful, as Paul stated, for He cannot deny Himself (ἀρνήσασθαι γὰρ ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται). We are not always our best selves, but what God is, He always is, and cannot be otherwise! When God makes a promise, He always keeps His Word. We must realize that “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Num 23:19a), and “the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind” (1 Sam 15:29a), for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). The faithfulness of God is proclaimed elsewhere in Scripture (Deut 7:9; Rom 3:3-4; 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 1 Th 5:24; 2 Th 3:3; Heb 10:23; 13:5). If we can’t trust God at His Word, who can we trust? Failure to trust God at His Word leaves us on a sea of uncertainty that results in great cognitive instability, where fear dominates our souls and steals our confidence and joy. But God is faithful to His Word, and when we’re living by faith, it produces stability within us.

In summary, because we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we are positionally united with Him in His death at the cross and will enjoy a future resurrection in the eternal state; however, not all will receive the same reward. If we learn and live God’s Word and advance to spiritual maturity, we will be rewarded with the right to reign with Jesus in His millennial kingdom. Discipleship can be tough, but God will honor His faithful children in the millennial kingdom and the eternal state. But if we turn to a life of carnality and deny Jesus’ authority over our lives, marginalizing His Word and failing to walk with Him, then He will deny us future rewards, which also includes the reward of reigning with Him. Though we may be unfaithful—and will suffer divine discipline in this life—we are never in fear of losing our salvation, for God promised us eternal life, and He always keeps His Word. In all this, we can say with Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:11-13).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 2 Tim 2:11.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1039.

[3] Ibid., 132.

[4] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 330–331.

[5] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 107.

[6] William Arndt et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 103.

The Call of Matthew

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:9-13) [Audio message at end]

     The above passage is Matthew’s personal account of being called by Jesus to be His disciple. The location of the event was probably in or near the city of Capernaum. The event occurred shortly after Jesus had demonstrated His power to forgive sins and heal disease (Matt 9:1-12). Matthew opens his account by telling us, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him” (Matt 9:9). This Matthew is the author of the Gospel that bears his name. He is also called Levi by Mark and Luke (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).

Money table     Matthew was identified according to his occupation as a tax collector. Tax collectors sat in booths at the entry points of cities and cross sections of commerce, collecting taxes for the Roman government, and sometimes taking a little extra for themselves. Matthew would have been regarded by many as no better than a robber. Being a tax collector for the Romans would have made Matthew despised by his fellow Jews, who would have regarded him as a traitor, an enemy of the state who took Jewish money and gave it to their overlords. Donald Hagner comments:

Tax collectors, or tax farmers, in that culture were despised as greedy, self-serving, and parasitic. They grew rich at the expense of the poor by extorting from them more than was required by their superiors in order to fill their own pockets. They furthermore often compromised regulations for purity in their handling of pagan money and their dealings with Gentiles. That Jesus should call a tax collector to be his disciple must have been in itself scandalous. We hear no objection to that here, but when in the following narrative Jesus fraternizes with tax collectors and sinners (the “lower” end of society), we do encounter a protest.[1]

     Jesus called Matthew while he was working, telling him, “Follow Me!” The word follow translates the Greek verb ἀκολουθέω akoloutheo, which means, “to move behind someone in the same direction, come after…to follow or accompany someone who takes the lead, accompany, go along with.”[2] In this context, the word connotes following Jesus as a disciple. This began Matthew’s journey as a disciple of Jesus, and Matthew would eventually be counted among the apostles (Matt 10:1-4). In an instant, Matthew walked away from a lucrative and secure job to follow Jesus. This was a radical move for sure. Though he forfeited earthly riches, he obtained new life, a greater sense of destiny, and a personal relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords. He also secured for himself riches in heaven, which are far greater than anything this world could offer.

     Matthew recorded a big dinner he gave for Jesus, telling us, “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples” (Matt 9:10). Luke reveals the dinner was actually a “big reception” (Luke 5:29), revealing Matthew was financially well off. The banquet included several of Matthew’s friends who were fellow tax collectors, and a group of people identified as “sinners” (Grk. ἁμαρτωλός hamartolos). Sinners were the irreligious, “who did not observe the Law in detail and therefore were shunned by observers of traditional precepts.”[3] These were the outsiders who did not play along with the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and were condemned for it. Matthew did not care. He was once classified among them, and now he’d been transformed and was ready to move on with a new life as a disciple of the One who was truly righteous. Matthew’s dinner party for Jesus was, in itself, a form of public confession concerning his new life.

Pharisees     But the antagonists soon arrived and, in typical fashion, began meddling in other people’s business. Matthew records the event, saying, “When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matt 9:11). In the first century Jewish culture, when people fellowshipped at a table of food, it was regarded as a picture of friendship and acceptance. The Pharisees were befuddled when they saw Jesus and His disciples eating with the dregs of society. In addition, the Pharisees had a growing abhorrence toward Jesus, so their observations were filtered through a lens of hatred. This prompted them to bring a question; not for clarification, but to impugn His character. The question they asked implied guilt by association. But Jesus’ disciples did not answer the Pharisees; rather, “when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick’” (Matt 9:12). There was a common image in Jewish culture that compared teachers with physicians. These were regarded as soul-doctors who helped bring about spiritual and mental wellbeing. Of course, to need healing, one must admit sickness, and this the Pharisees were not willing to do. William MacDonald writes:

The Pharisees considered themselves healthy and were unwilling to confess their need for Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners, by contrast, were more willing to acknowledge their true condition and to seek Christ’s saving grace. So the charge was true! Jesus did eat with sinners. If He had eaten with the Pharisees, the charge would still have been true—perhaps even more so! If Jesus hadn’t eaten with sinners in a world like ours, He would always have eaten alone. But it is important to remember that when He ate with sinners, He never indulged in their evil ways or compromised His testimony. He used the occasion to call men to truth and holiness.[4]

     The Pharisees were correct that Jesus was a Teacher, and He promptly gave them something to learn. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:13). The phrase “go and learn” was a common expression used by rabbis when pointing them to a particular passage of Scripture to be considered. This was a poke at the Pharisees, for even though they regarded themselves as the experts of the Law, Jesus treated them as though they were novices. And the passage Jesus pointed them to was Hosea 6:6, which states, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.” Certainly, sacrifice was important to God, and there is much in the Mosaic Law that explains this, especially in the book of Leviticus. However, the activity of sacrifice, no matter how great the offering or sophisticated the occasion, meant nothing to God if the worshipper lacked the qualities of compassion, kindness, and mercy found in the One to whom the offering was brought. Hosea, and other OT prophets mentioned this repeatedly. Note the following examples:

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psa 51:16-17)

To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice. (Pro 21:3)

What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. So, when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa 1:11-17)

For I delight in mercy rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6)

With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what the LORD requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic 6:6-8)

     The Pharisees, like the religious apostates in Hosea’s day, performed the outward rituals of sacrifice at the temple, but their hearts were far from God. They were careful to keep the ceremonial practices, but failed to capture the greater heart qualities the Lord expected of those who claimed to know and walk with Him. How the Pharisees treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated this.

     In summary, Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, and the tax collector left everything to begin a new life with Jesus. Matthew celebrated his new life as a disciple by hosting a dinner party for Jesus and inviting other tax collectors and irreligious sinners to come and meet his new Master. The Pharisees arrived and filtered the event through their hate filled heart, and then tried to trap Jesus with a question concerning His company, which question implied His guilt. But Jesus corrected the Pharisees by pointing out He’d come to heal the sick and therefore needed to be among them. Jesus then instructed the Pharisees to learn a lesson from the book of Hosea, that God desires compassion and not sacrifice. How Jesus treated the tax collectors and sinners demonstrated His compassion, and how the Pharisees treated them demonstrated their self-righteous pride and hatred.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Message

Related Articles:

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 238.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 36.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1235.

 

The Bible as Divine Revelation

The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psa 119:160).

Bible     The Bible is a self-disclosure of God to mankind. It is true in all it affirms and it stands as the absolute authority over our thoughts, values, and actions. It gives insights into realities we could never know, except that God has chosen to reveal certain things to us.[1] Certainly, there are many who approach the Bible with suspicion and doubt, believing they have sound judgment independent of any absolutes beyond themselves. Some even hate the thought of recognizing the Bible as God’s Word. The implication is obvious, for if the Bible is God’s Word, and He judges some things right and other things wrong, then we are beholden to Him in all we think and do. Rather than prejudge the Bible, we should approach it openly, letting it speak for itself. In this way, we may suspend judgment until we’ve heard its message.

     The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word βίβλος biblos which means scroll or book. The Bible is a library of sixty-six books, composed by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly fifteen hundred years. “The purpose of God in providing the Bible is that man, to whom the Bible is addressed, may be possessed of dependable information regarding things tangible and intangible, temporal and eternal, visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly.”[2]

     The Bible is God’s special revelation to mankind. God has provided both general and special revelation about Himself. General revelation refers to what God has revealed about Himself through nature, as “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psa 19:1-2). And God’s attributes are revealed, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20). General revelation tells us that God exists, but does not reveal specifics about His mind or character. That’s where special revelation is given. God has provided special revelation about Himself both directly and indirectly (Ex 19:9; 1 Sam 3:1-14; Isa 6:9-10). Direct revelation means God spoke directly to people (Gen 8:15; Ex 6:2; 20:1-17; Matt 3:17; 2 Pet 1:17-18). For example, when God spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex 20:1), His voice was audibly heard in such a way that had we been there with a recording device, we could have captured those words and replayed them for others to hear.  God also spoke directly by means of dreams (Gen 28:12; 31:11; Dan 7:1; 12:8-9), and visions (Num 12:6; Isa 6:1; 1 Ki 22:19). However, God also spoke through angels (Dan 10:10-21), prophets (2 Sam 23:2; Luke 1:70), apostles (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 2 Pet 3:2), and most clearly through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; Heb 1:1-3; cf. Acts 10:9-16; 27:21-26). The writer of Hebrews states:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb 1:1-3a)

Bible scroll     Lastly, God has revealed Himself in writing; that is, in the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). God, on several occasions, commanded His prophets to record what He had revealed to them. He told Moses, “Write this in a book” (Ex 17:14), and “Write down these words” (Ex 34:27). To Isaiah He said, “Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll” (Isa 30:8), and to Jeremiah He commanded, “Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book” (Jer 30:2). The divine revelation that was given came by means of God the Holy Spirit. On three occasions Luke makes this very claim, saying, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16; cf. Psa 109:8), and “the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people devise futile things’” (Acts 4:24-25; cf. Psa 2:1), and “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers” (Acts 28:25; cf. Isa 6:9). In each of these examples, the prophets were the mouthpiece of God, reveling His thoughts and expectations to people.

     When writing to his friend, Timothy, Paul said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The word Scripture (γραφή graphe) refers to the written word and not the spoken word. The word inspired (θεόπνευστος theopneustos) literally means God-breathed, and refers to that which originated with God and was breathed into existence by Him; namely, the Scriptures. To be near Scripture, studying and learning it, is to be near to God, close His breath. Paul’s writings originated with God, for his message was “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:13). And, when writing to the Church at Thessalonica, Paul said, we “thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Th 2:13). Paul also equated the writings of Moses and Luke as Scripture, uniting Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7, saying, “For the Scripture says, ‘you shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:18).

     The apostle Peter expressed similar ideas about Scripture, saying, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture [γραφή graphe] is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Pet 1:20-21). Here, Scripture refers again to the written word, which is not the product of human invention. Rather, Peter tells us that Scripture was made by men who were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21b). The word “moved” translates the Greek word φέρω phero, which means to be pulled along by another. Luke uses the same Greek word elsewhere for ships that were carried along by wind and not by their own power (Acts 27:15, 17). Peter also regarded the writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16).

     Though the Bible was written by fallible men, each was superintended by God the Holy Spirit, who guided them in such a way that what they wrote, without compromising their personal choices of words and literary styles, penned God’s inerrant Word (verbal plenary inspiration). Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism.

     There is a parallel between the written Word and Jesus, the Living Word. Just as God took a sinful woman, Mary, and supernaturally produced a sinless and perfect Person, Jesus; so God took sinful men and used them to produce a perfect book that accurately reflects His thoughts and will for mankind. The human authors wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex 17:14; 34:27; Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor 14:37; Rev 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess 2:13; cf. Psa 12:6-7; Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20). In this way, the Bible is a dual authorship.

By the term Dual Authorship, two facts are indicated, namely, that, on the divine side, the Scriptures are the Word of God in the sense that they originate with Him and are the expression of His mind alone; and, on the human side, certain men have been chosen of God for the high honor and responsibility of receiving God’s Word and transcribing it into written form.[3]

Thye Word is Truth     The Bible is truth. The writers of Scripture regarded God’s Word as truth, saying, “Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth” (2 Sam 7:28), “You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth” (Psa 119:151), “the sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psa 119:160), and Jesus said of the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17b). The Bible, being the source of God’s absolute truth in all it affirms, communicates information we could never know independently of it. Our ability to reason, aided by the Holy Spirit, allows us to understand what is said. And, once understood, we are called to a faith response. First, by trusting in Christ as our Savior (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and then by reforming our thinking, values, and behavior to live in conformity with God’s will (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:1; Phi 1:27; Col 1:10).

     The Bible provides absolute standards for ethics. The Bible alone provides absolute standards for what is true and right. It does not address every issue in life, but what it does address is what God deems important for us to know. If God does not exist, and there is no revelation concerning moral absolutes, then we’re left adrift on a sea of relativistic thinking with no way to know anything for certain. Furthermore, we’re unfit to declare any behavior right or wrong, as every evaluation would be mere human opinion. To say we affirm or disapprove something, without an absolute standard to back it up, becomes nothing more than a personal psychology report. Francis Schaeffer understood this well, saying:

If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.[4]

     This is deeply felt within American culture, where morals are personal and constantly shifting, which is consistent with a postmodern mindset. It’s also becoming more obvious among political leaders. The problem with many political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, is they operate by no ultimate standard beyond themselves, so values are manufactured or borrowed as a matter of political expediency. “In their pure forms, both ascribe ultimacy to something other than God. Both lack transcendent norms of their own. And thus, both can lead to a variety of social, cultural, and political ills.”[5] If there are no absolutes, then we must conclude that what is, is right, and the conversation is over. But this would lead to a folding of the hands and eventual despair.

     The Bible is authoritative. Not only is the Bible informative, but it’s also authoritative, rightly commanding belief and behavior. Everyone has an ultimate source of truth and authority. For most people, it’s themselves, their reasonings, experiences, or feelings. For the growing and mature Christian, it’s God and His Word. Paul regarded his writings as authoritative, saying to the Christians at Corinth, “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor 14:37).

The authority of Scripture means that it is God’s absolute standard of truth in all that it affirms. The Bible’s teachings are his criteria for all judgment and evaluation. The authority of God himself has been mediated to man in the Bible in propositions. Scripture doctrine is binding.[6]

     By faith, we accept Scripture as true, and in humility, we submit ourselves to the God who gave it. In contrast, liberal theologians exalt reason, experience, or feelings above God’s Word. When this happens, authority shifts from God to the individual. In this way, “liberalism has certainly made human reason the judge of truth and often the creator of truth. Reason becomes autonomous, governed by no higher or outside authority, but also severely limited by its finitude and fallibility.”[7] If we turn away from God and His Word as that which informs and guides us, we’re left adrift on a sea of speculation and human opinion. To disregard the Bible’s content is to do great self-harm. To acknowledge the Bible as authoritative means we are willing to submit and obey its Author.

God’s authority is unconditional and absolute (Psa 29:10; Isa 40), making Him supreme over nature and human history alike. From this intrinsic authority comes that of governments (Rom 13:1–7), employers (Eph 6:5–9), parents (Eph 6:1–4), church elders (Heb 13:7, 17), and others in positions of power. Similarly, the angels function under divine authority (Luke 1:19–20), and evil spirits are also subject to God’s power (Eph 6:11–12).[8]

     The Bible is dynamic. The Bible is effective to accomplish what God desires. As Christians, we put forth Scripture, knowing “the Word of God is alive and powerful” and able to accomplish what God intends (Heb 4:12 KJV). The Lord states:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa 55:10-11)

     Just as rain and snow bring forth vegetation out of parched ground, so God’s Word, when it goes forth, is effective to produce spiritual life and growth in the heart that welcomes it. As Christians, we trust God and His Word will accomplish what He intends. We are to put forth the Word of God, but we do not determine its effect. We’re responsible for the clear output of Scripture, but we do not control the outcome. That’s between God and the person who hears His Word.

The Word of God is active and dynamic. Isaiah declares that it will “accomplish” that which God purposes for it to do (Isa. 55:11), Jeremiah likens the Word of God to fire and to a hammer that breaks in pieces the rock (Jer. 23:29), and in Hebrews 4:12 it is said to be “quick and powerful”—that is, living and active. Happy is he who through knowledge of the Scriptures is able to wield this living power.[9]

     God’s Word is also likened to the rays of the sun which impacts all it touches, for as the saying goes, the same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay. There is nothing wrong with the sun. It accomplishes what God intends with differing effects. Likewise, when God’s Word goes forth, it influences what it touches, and those who are positive to God will be softened by its rays, but those who are negative will be hardened.

     The Bible is beneficial to those who accept and live in its light. Not only is it truth, but it benefits those who learn and live by it. For “the law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119:105), “the unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psa 119:130), and “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The truth set forth in Scripture provides a metanarrative; that is, an overarching account that coherently explains our world.

     Scripture is beneficial in that it reveals there is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2): God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 2 Cor 13:14). All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service. The Bible also reveals the origins of the universe (Gen 1:1), mankind (Gen 1:26-27), marriage (Gen 2:18-24), sin (Gen 3:1-8), moral absolutes (Ex 20:1-17), the creation of Israel (Isa 43:1), salvation through Jesus (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9), the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 10:32), the existence of Satan (Job 1:6-12), angels and demons (Heb 1:13-14; Rev 16:14), heaven and hell (Rev 4:1-2; 20:14-15), and the future (Rev 21-22). The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut 29:29; cf. John 21:25).

How to Read the Bible

     We live our lives on the assumption that language serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.[10] Our survival and success depend on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents. A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic). Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor 2:14-16; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4).

To the mind that by saving grace has been rescued from the insanity of sin and is enlightened by the Spirit of God, the Bible becomes what it actually is, the very Word of God to man which imparts treasures of knowledge as marvelous as the realms of light from whence they proceed.[11]

     The Bible is divinely inspired. Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself. Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor 2:12-13; 2 Pet 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt 5:17-18; cf. Gal 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim 3:16).

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage. There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand. The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people. Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles. These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying. Many liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of readers to make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally. A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[12] David Cooper writes:

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[13]

     A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[14] A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible. 

     In summary, the Bible is God’s special written revelation to mankind, it is true in all it affirms, provides absolute standards for ethics, is authoritative to command, is dynamic in its effect, and beneficial to those who accept and live in its light.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Though I will quote Bible scholars throughout this article, the main focus—and ultimate authority—will be the Bible itself.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel Publication, 1993), 105.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, “Bibliology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 94 (1937): 398-399.

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 145.

[5] Bruce R. Ashford; eds. David S. Dockery and Trevin Wax, Christian Worldview Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2019).

[6] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 15–16.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 20.

[8] R.K. Harrison, “Authority,” ed. Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 45.

[10] A portion of this article is taken from my book, The Christian Life: A Study of Biblical Spirituality, pages 32-35.

[11] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol 8, 44.

[12] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[13] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[14] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm.

Authorial Intent

What is the Meaning

     This picture is commonly used to argue that meaning is found in the reader who is free to interpret words or symbols based on his/her perspective. But this ignores what the author intended when he/she wrote the word or symbol in the first place. In everyday communication, meaning always originates with the author and the context of their writing. 

      If two people are looking at the same word or symbol and have opposing views, the first thing that should be done, if possible, is to contact the author and ask what was intended. If that’s not possible, then one should seek to orient to the word or symbol by looking at surrounding words or symbols. For example, if one sees the numbers 5 and 7 on either side of the number in question, then that means it’s a 6. If the nearby numbers are 8 and 10, then the number in question is a 9. Or, perhaps the number is in front of a building, in which case, the observer is helped by facing the front of the property. 

     Again, authorial intent and context always determines meaning. This is true when listening to a supervisor’s instruction, reading the words on a medicine bottle, following the speed limit on the freeway, paying one’s taxes, or reading the Bible. 

     If one does not have enough information to make an informed decision, then it’s best to suspend judgment rather than provide a dogmatic guess, or argue from one’s limited perspective. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

What is the Church?

[This article is included in the book: What is Dispensationalism?]

     The church refers to the body of Christ which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. It is comprised of Jews and Gentiles who have accepted Jesus as Savior. The church exists universally as an organism, the global presence of Christians who form the body of Christ. The church also exists locally as an organization, a nearby assembly of believers who gather together for Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Christian church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament and is separate from Israel, having a different identity and purpose.

The Meaning of Ekklesia

     ChurchThe term church is a common translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means called out ones, assembly, congregation, or community of Christians.[1] The New Testament writers use the word both in a general and technical sense. When used in a general sense, the word refers to any assembly, such as an assembly of residents in a city (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is interesting that the assembly mentioned in Acts 19 refers to pagan worshippers of the Greek goddess Artemis and does not refer to believers at all (Acts 19:34-35). The word ekklesia is also applied to Israel as a general assembly or congregation (Matt. 18:17; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12). In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus addresses the subject of discipline within the fellowship of a community (ekklesia); however, the evidence of the passage favors a Jewish assembly (i.e. a synagogue) and not the Christian church.[2] In Acts 7:38 Stephen is speaking to a Jewish audience and mentions “the congregation [ekklesia] in the wilderness.”[3] Stephen’s use of the word ekklesia simply refers to the assembly of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt by Moses. In Hebrews 2:12 the writer quotes Psalm 22:22, in which the Septuagint[4] has the term ekklesia, again, used in a general way of an assembly or congregation of Jewish people.

     When applied to Christians in the New Testament, ekklesia takes on a technical meaning and refers to those who have been joined to the spiritual body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22-23) by means of personal faith in Jesus as Savior (Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 2:8-9). The first reference to the Christian church occurs in Matthew 16:18 after Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), and based on the rock-solid truth of Peter’s statement, Jesus said, “I will build [future tense] My church [ekklesia]; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus’ future tense statement reveals a church that was not in existence when He spoke. The Christian church began on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit began His baptizing ministry of placing believers into the body of Christ. Concerning this work of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 3:26-28). “The Holy Spirit of God is the primary agent who identifies the believer with other believers. Each one is a member of the body, and each member is united with the other members and with Christ (Rom. 6:1–4).”[5] The comparison of Acts 1:4-5 with Acts 2:1-4 and 11:15-17 make a compelling case for the church’s origin in Acts 2. It is mainly in the writings of Paul that the Christian church is identified as the body of Christ. Note the following Scriptures:

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23)

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Col. 1:18)

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Col. 1:24)

     Several times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Head of the body, the church. The Greek word soma, translated body, occurs 142 times in the New Testament and is used most often of physical bodies; however, it is used “sixteen times to refer to the church, the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). With the exception of Eph. 5:28, in Ephesians it is always used metaphorically as a reference to the body of Christ, the church.”[6] Paul first learned about this identification when he, as an unbeliever, encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was persecuting Christians and putting them in prison. While on the road, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a bright light, which caused him to fall to the ground, and then a voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Act 9:4; cf. 22:7; 26:14). When Paul asked, “who are You Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Paul learned that an attack on Christians is an attack on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “The question, ‘Why do you persecute Me?’ (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, ‘Why do you persecute My church?’ The reference to ‘Me’ gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ.”[7] When a person believes in Jesus as Savior he/she is united to the body of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This is a new designation in which ethnic, social, and gender identity are all secondary to the believer’s new identity of being in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).[8]

The Universal Church

     The New Testament church is understood both in a universal and local sense. The universal church refers to the global existence of the body of Christ. This is the organic church as it exists all over the planet. Several passages in the New Testament communicate the idea of a universal church, such as when Paul said, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32), and “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28), and “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; italics added). What is noticed in these and other places in Scripture is the use of the term church without a specific location (Matt. 16:18; Acts 8:3; 9:31; 20:28; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:10, 21; 5:23, 32; Col. 1:18, 24). Robert Lightner comments on this:

There are a number of usages of ekklesia that do not seem to refer to a local assembly of believers. Instead, they speak of that company of believers formed on the day of Pentecost into the body of Christ, which has been growing ever since as sinners trust Christ alone as Savior and are added to it. This company of the redeemed is called the church without consideration of whether or not those who are a part of it are members of local churches.[9]

     The universal church exists all over the earth. When the rapture of the church occurs, all believers, wherever they are on the planet, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). That is, the church, as it exists globally, will be removed from the earth and taken to be with Christ. Also, whenever we meet another Christian, we are meeting someone who belongs to the global body of Christ, whether they belong to a local assembly or not.

The Local Church

     The word church is also used to refer to a local assembly of those who regularly meet at a specific location (1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Rev. 2-3). Luke mentions “the church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1). Paul mentions “the church in Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), and “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse” (Col. 1:2) (italics added). The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). These were all local churches that existed in ancient cities, where Christians lived and worked. However, we can narrow the local church down a little further and say that Christians met in the homes of specific church members within each city. The first church—which was Jewish—met “in the temple” in Jerusalem, as well as “from house to house” (Acts 2:46). As the church grew, and included Gentiles, the home continued as the primary meeting place for believers. Luke records Paul’s ministry to Christians in Ephesus and explained that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul mentions several home churches such as the one run by Aquila and Priscilla and “the church that is in their house” (1 Cor. 16:19), and about “Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Col. 4:15), and “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Phm. 1:2) (italics added).

     Who were the members of these local house churches? From several writings in the New Testament we get a demographic breakdown of church members, which consisted of men and women (Eph. 5:22-23), parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4), slaves and free persons (Eph. 6:5-9), rich and poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19; Jam. 2:2-5), spiritual and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 6:1), mature and immature (1 Cor. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:2). We can also surmise that home churches generally had few members because of the size of the homes (probably not exceeding 50 people) and the fellowship probably tended to be personal, with an emphasis on learning God’s Word and enjoying Christian fellowship. Luke gives us a snapshot of some of the values and practices of the early church in which he tells us “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

     We also know the first century church had problems. Churches then, like churches now, are no better or worse than the people who make up their fellowship. Christians who were immature, carnal and selfish tended to cause trouble. Churches struggled with problems such as jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21), relationship conflicts (Phil. 4:2), and legalism (Gal. 5:1-12). But God expected all to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), manifesting “the fruit of the Spirit”, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In the church, Christians were to learn Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:2), grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), seek the interests of others over self (Phil. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Cor. 13:4-8a; 1 Thess. 3:11-12; 4:9; 1 Jo. 4:7-11), pray for one another (Jam. 5:16), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), edify each other (Rom. 15:1-2; Eph. 4:29), be kind and forgiving (Eph. 4:32), serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10), and do good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14). These Christian qualities made the church attractive and productive.

     The primary purpose of the church is to glorify God. Paul states, “we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), and “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21; cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; 1 Pet. 2:5). Other purposes of the church include evangelizing the lost (Matt. 28:18-20), edifying believers through biblical teaching so they might advance to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), praying for one another (Jam. 5:16), and showing love (John 13:34).

A Divided Understanding of the Church

     One of the dispensational distinctives is that Israel and the church are separate. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, made up of Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). The church, as the body of Christ, was revealed to the apostles only in the New Testament (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:1-12; 5:32; Col. 1:24-27). However, covenant theologians see the church existing as one people of God, a single group of people that goes all the way back to Genesis. Covenant theologian Wayne Grudem states, “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”[10] And John Frame comments, “Israel was the church of the old covenant; the New Testament church is the Israel of the new covenant, what Paul calls ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16).”[11] Covenant theologians such as Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Louis Berkhof, Edward Young, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and many others argue that Israel is the church and the church is Israel; they are the same. Though I have a great love for covenant theologians and am profoundly thankful for much of their writings, I respectfully disagree with their understanding of the church.

     When one reads back through the Old Testament there were basically two groups of people on the earth: Jews and Gentiles. This distinction began with the call of Abraham, when God called him into a special relationship and promised to bless the world through him (Gen. 12:1-3). Biblically, a Jew is a Jew because he/she is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:7, 19; 22:15-17; 28:13-14; Ex. 2:24-25). “The biblical basis for defining Jewishness lies in the Abrahamic Covenant which promised that a nation would descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis 12:2a; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1–2, 7; 22:17; 26:4, 24; and 28:14; from which a simple definition of Jewishness can be deduced.”[12] A Gentile is anyone who is not a Jew. And a Gentile, no matter how hard he/she tried, could never be a biological Jew. Certainly Gentiles could participate in the Jewish blessings if he/she embraced God. Rahab and Ruth believed in God, but, though saved and in the line of Christ (Matt. 1:5), they were never regarded as biological Jews. Ruth continued to be called a Moabitess, even after her conversion (Ruth 2:2, 21; 4:5, 10). The Jew and Gentile distinction continued for millennia until the formation of the Christian church. Now, in the church age, there are three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church. This is why Paul makes the comment, “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32; italics added). The church is now a third group that consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ as their Savior and been joined to the body of Christ.[13]

     Though both Israel and Christians are the people of God, the Christian church is distinct from the nation of Israel. Several observations from the New Testament provide a compelling case. First, the term Israel occurs 73 times in the New Testament (30 times in the Gospels, 21 times in the book of Acts, 19 times in the Epistles, and 3 times in the book of Revelation), and not once does it refer to the church.[14] “The term Israel is either used of the nation or the people as a whole, or of the believing remnant within. It is never used of the Church in general or of Gentile believers in particular.”[15] The fact that Israel is still called Israel, even after the church is formed, argues that Israel is not the church. Second, the word Jew occurs 186 times in the New Testament (84 times in the Gospels, 76 times in the book of Acts, 24 times in the Epistles, and 2 times in the book of Revelation), and refers to anyone who is a biological descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The word Jew is never used of Gentiles or the church. The fact that these distinctions continue throughout the New Testament make a compelling case that Israel and the church are separate groups of people.

The distinction between Israel and the church is verified by several facts. (1) In the New Testament natural Israel and Gentiles are contrasted after the church was clearly established (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:19). (2) Natural Israel and the church are clearly distinguished, showing that the church is not Israel (1 Cor. 10:32). The apostle’s distinction would be meaningless if Israel were the same as the church.[16]

     Additional biblical distinctions reveal that Israel is a nation (Ex. 19:6), but the church is not a nation (Rom. 10:19). God’s program for Israel focuses on the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1; 15:18; 17:8), whereas the church is called to go out to many lands (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Israel was mentioned throughout the Old Testament and recognized by other nations (Num. 14:15; Josh. 5:1), but the church was a mystery not known in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:1-6; Col. 1:26-27; cf. Rom. 16:25-26).[17] Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

     In the New Testament, there are Jewish unbelievers (Acts 14:2; 19:8-9), and Jewish believers (Acts 10:45; 14:1). This is what Paul referred to when he said, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, one could be a biological Jew and not belong to the remnant of saved Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah. In addition, there are Gentile unbelievers (Acts 14:2-7), and Gentile believers (Acts 13:48; 21:25). Both Jews and Gentiles are distinguished in several passages (Acts 4:27; 9:15; 14:2, 5; 21:11, 21; Rom. 3:29; 9:24), as well as Jews and Christians (Gal. 2:11-14), Gentiles and Christians (Acts 11:1), and all three at once (Acts 14:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:32). In the book of Galatians, Paul draws a distinction between Gentile and Jewish believers, where he states, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them [Gentile Christians], and upon the Israel of God [Jewish Christians]” (Gal. 6:16). Covenant theologians commonly reference Galatians 6:16 to argue that the church and Israel are the same; but this fails to consider the language of the text. “The first group is the them, the uncircumcision, the Gentile Christians to and of whom he [Paul] had devoted most of the epistle. The second group is the Israel of God. These are the circumcision, the Jewish believers who, in contrast with the Judaizers, followed the rule of salvation by grace through faith alone.”[18] These distinctions in the New Testament make a compelling argument that Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are seen as separate groups.[19]

     God’s current plan in human history is being worked out through His church. However, we should never draw the conclusion that God is finished with Israel. He is not. Israel as a nation is under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39; Rom. 11:25-27), but God has a future plan to restore them and to bless the world through them. God’s covenant promises to Israel are still in effect (Gen. 12:1-3; Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2), which promises point to a future regathering of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15), a King and kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Luke 1:31-33; Matt. 6:9-10; 19:28; 25:31), and a righteous rule (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6; Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16), which will last for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and He will inherit the throne of His father and rule on earth.

Summary

     The church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles. The church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), is a company of believers, from Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:32), who have been spiritually united with Christ by means of the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28). More so, the church exists both in a universal and local sense, globally as an organism and locally as an organization. Once the church is caught up to heaven at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), God will resume His plan with national Israel and fulfill all the promises made to them through the covenants (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1-2; 25-27).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303-304.

[2] There are several reasons Matthew 18:17 does not refer to the Christian church: Firstly, the Christian church did not come into existence until after the resurrection of Jesus. To make Matthew 18:17 refer to the Christian church is to have the church in existence before the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, which is how believers are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15-16). Secondly, Jesus cites the Mosaic Law as the rule for judging the brother in Matthew 18, and this would have been expected of those living under that code (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Currently, Christians are not living under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14), but under the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; cf. Rom. 8:2; Jam. 1:25; 2:8). Thirdly, if the brother refuses to listen to the assembly, he is to be treated “as a Gentile” (Matt. 18:17), a term which would make no sense for the Christian church, since Jewish and Gentile identity is subservient to the greater identity of being united with Christ (Gal. 3:26-28).

[3] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

[4] The Septuagint, or LXX, refers to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was translated circa 250 B.C.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 229.

[6] Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 2002), 290.

[7] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 375–376.

[8] Prior to this transfer, every person is identified positionally as being in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22). However, at the moment of faith in Christ, the believer obtains a new identity and is said to be in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). Paul stresses this positional identification several times in the New Testament (Rom. 8:1; 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Gal. 3:14, 26, 28; Eph. 1:1; 2:6, 13; 3:6).

[9] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review, 228.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 853.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 235.

[12] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 748.

[13] In one sense, Jews and Gentiles retain their ethnic and cultural identity, even after believing in Christ as Savior. However, in another sense, their new identity as a Christian, which is part of the body of Christ, supersedes whatever identity they had before (Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:9-11).

[14] The term Israel is used to refer to the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both saved and lost (Matt. 2:6; 9:33; 10:6; 15:24, 31; 27:9; Mark 12:29; Luke 1:16, 54, 80; 2:25, 34; 4:25, 27; 22:30; 24:21; John 1:31; 3:10; Acts 1:6; 2:22, 36; 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 7:23, 37, 42; 10:36; 13:16-17, 23-24; 21:28; 28:20; Rom. 9:4, 6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-26; 1 Cor. 10:18; 2 Cor. 3:7, 13; 11:22; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12; Phil. 3:5; Heb. 8:8, 10; 11:22; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12), the God of Israel (Matt. 15:31; Luke 1:68), Jesus as the king of Israel (Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:32; John 1:49; 12:13), the land of Israel (Matt. 2:20-21), the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23), and in contrast with Gentiles (Matt. 8:10; Luke 2:32; 7:9; Acts 4:27; 9:15).

[15] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 699.

[16] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 462.

[17] A mystery (musterion) is something “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). Paul then states what that mystery is, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

[18] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 691.

[19] A Christian can be a spiritual descendant of Abraham by exercising faith in the same God as Abraham (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:29), but this should not be confused with the covenants and promises of God which are promised to national Israel (Rom. 9:1-5).

A Brief Analysis of Israel in History and Prophecy

     Israel in History and ProphecyThe history of Israel starts with God who chose the nation to be His representatives from eternity past. Israel was created by God (Isa. 43:1, 15), and He loves them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:1-3). God chose them because of who He is, not because of any greatness or goodness in them (Deut. 7:6-8). Israel began with a unilateral covenant which God made with Abraham, promising “I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). The Abrahamic covenant was later expanded with the Land Covenant (Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10), the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37), and the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Though Abraham had children by different women (Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah), the Abrahamic promises were restated only through Isaac (Gen. 17:19-21) and Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15). Because of a crippling encounter with God, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God” (Gen. 32:24-30). The sons of Israel (i.e. Jacob) went into captivity in Egypt for four hundred years as God had foretold (Gen. 15:13), and remained there until He called them out through His servants Moses and Aaron (Ex. 3:1-10). God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage through a series of ten plagues that destroyed Pharaoh and the nation (Exodus chapters 5-14). Then God entered into a bilateral covenant relationship with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-8), and gave them 613 commands—which comprise the Mosaic Law—and these commands are commonly divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial codes. Under the Mosaic Law, Israel would know blessing if they obeyed God’s commands (Deut. 28:1-15), and cursing if they did not (Deut. 28:16-68). The nation of Israel remained in the wilderness for forty years while God tested and humbled them (Deut. 8:2-5). After Moses died, God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan (i.e. the land promised to Abraham) under the leadership of Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:1-9), and there the land was divided, giving a portion to each of the descendants of Jacob. After Joshua died (Josh. 24:29-31), Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry and suffered divine discipline for their rebellion (read Judges). This went on for nearly 300 hundred years as Israel fell into a pattern of idolatry, after which God would send punishment, then the people would cry out to God, Who would relent of His judgment and send a judge to deliver them, then the people would serve God for a time, and then fall back into idolatry. The period of the Judges is marked by people who did not obey the Lord, but “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges, and then the people cried for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:4-5). God gave them their request (1 Sam. 8:22), and Saul became the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). Though Saul started well, he quickly turned away from the Lord and would not obey God’s commands. Saul reigned for approximately 40 years and his leadership was basically a failure (1 Sam. 13:1; cf. Acts 13:21). Later, God raised up David to be king in Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and David reigned for 40 years and was an ideal king who followed God and encouraged others to do the same (1 Ki. 2:10-11). God decreed David’s throne would be established forever through one of his descendants (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4), and this is Jesus (Luke 1:31-33). Solomon reigned for 40 years after David (1 Ki. 2:12; 11:42-43), and though He was wise and did many good things (ruled well, built the temple, wrote Scripture, etc.), he eventually turned away from God and worshiped idols (1 Ki. 11:1-10), and the kingdom was divided afterward (1 Ki. 11:11-41). The nation was united under Saul, David, and Solomon.

     Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over the two southern tribes (Judah) and Jeroboam ruled over the ten northern tribes (Israel). Israel—the northern kingdom—had 19 kings throughout its history and all were bad, as they led God’s people into idolatry (i.e. the “sins of Jeroboam” 1 Ki. 16:31; 2 Ki. 3:3; 10:31; 13:2). The ten northern tribes came under divine discipline because of their idolatry and were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Judah—the southern kingdom—had 20 kings throughout its history and 8 were good (some more than others), as they obeyed God and led others to do the same (they were committed to the Lord like David, 1 Ki. 15:11). However, Judah repeatedly fell into idolatry—as the 10 northern tribes had done—and were eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The dispersion of Israel was promised by God if they turned away from Him and served other gods (Deut. 28:63-68). Since the destruction by Babylon, Israel has been under Gentile dominance (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25). After a temporary regathering under Ezra and Nehemiah, Israel continued under Gentile dominance with the Medes & Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, God disciplined Israel again in A.D. 70, and the Jews were scattered all over the world (Jam. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). Israel’s current state is one of judgment (Matt. 23:37-39), and a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25).

Israel Present

     For nearly 1900 years God has faithfully kept His word to disperse Israel because of their idolatry (Deut. 28:63-68) and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 23:37-39). Now, since 1948, Israelites are back in the Promised Land; even though the majority of them are atheists who reject God. This could be a fulfillment of prophecy in which God has regathered His people before the time of the judgment of the Tribulation (Ezek. 20:33-38; 22:17-22; Zeph. 2:1-2). Logically it makes sense that God will regather Israel as a nation (Ezek. 36:22-24) before He regenerates them and gives them a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-28). Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues two regatherings of Israel. The first is a regathering of Jews in unbelief, which sets the stage for the Tribulation. The second regathering is in belief, which prepares them for Messiah, who will rule over them during the millennium.

First, there was to be a regathering in unbelief in preparation for judgment, namely the judgment of the Tribulation. This was to be followed by a second worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessings, namely the blessings of the messianic age. Once it is recognized that the Bible speaks of two such regatherings, it is easy to see how the present State of Israel fits into prophecy.[1]

     As Christians, we are glad to see Jews returning to the Promised Land and support the nation of Israel. This support is by no means a blanket endorsement of all Israel does, for the nation may behave immorally like any other nation. However, we recognize that God is working to set the stage for prophetic events, and that Israel being in the Promised Land is a part of that.

Israel Future

     Israel has a future hope because of the promises and covenants God made through the patriarchs and prophets (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15, 17; 15:18; 17:8; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). Though unbelieving Israel is currently under divine discipline (Matt. 23:37-39), and subject to a “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25), God’s covenants and promises are still in effect (Rom. 9:1-5; 11:1), and will remain in force until Jesus returns and is accepted as their Messiah. Once Jesus returns, Israel will possess all of the land that was promised to them, and they will possess it forever.

     Covenant theologians often argue that God has already fulfilled His promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land (see Josh. 21:43-45; 1 Ki. 4:21; Neh. 9:8). God was faithful to bring Abraham’s descendants into the Promised Land, and though they eventually came to control much of it under the reign of Solomon (1 Ki. 4:21-24), they did not possess it all, and this seems plain from other biblical passages where Israelites had to fight the old residents still in the land (Josh. 23:5-7; Judg. 1:21, 27-28).

     “The first chapter of Judges, recording events which took place after the death of Joshua (1:1), records how various tribes failed to take the land allotted to them (1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31–32, 33, 34–36). Never in Old Testament history did Israel possess, dwell, and settle in all of the Promised Land. Nor did it ever happen in Jewish history since.”[2] In fact, several of the prophets who lived after Solomon wrote about Israel’s future possession of the Promised Land (Isa. 14:1; 60:21; Jer. 30:3; Ezek. 11:17; 20:42; 37:12; Amos 9:14-15)

     Furthermore, it was stated in Scripture that Abraham personally would possess the land, and that he and his descendants would possess it forever. Several times God said to Abraham, “For all the land which you see, I will give it to you [Abraham] and to your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15), “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you [Abraham]” (Gen. 13:17), and “I will give to you [Abraham] and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). Yet, Abraham has never possessed the land that was promised to Him. In fact, Stephen makes this very point in his speech in Acts, where he says, “But He [God] gave him [Abraham] no inheritance in it [the land], not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him” (Acts 7:5).

     During his lifetime, Abraham did not possess the land God promised to him. But God will keep His word to Abraham and his descendants. God will, in the future, through resurrections, give both Abraham and Israel possession of all the Promised Land, and they will possess it forever. In addition, Israel will benefit from all the blessings of the New Covenant which are stated in Scripture (Jer. 31:31-34). Lastly, the nation of Israel will be blessed when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, will be seated on His throne in Jerusalem, ruling over them “forever” (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3-4, 34-37; Luke 1:31-33; cf. Matt. 19:28; 25:31).

     Both Covenant and Dispensational theologians agree that God made promises to Abraham of land, seed, and blessing (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:13-17; 15:17; 17:26; Deut. 29:1-29; 30:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:33-37; Jer. 31:31-33). The difference lies in that Covenant theologians believe that God has fulfilled all those promises to Abraham, whereas Dispensationalists believe God will fulfill those promises in the future.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 716.

[2] Ibid., 632.

Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study

A Word Study on Righteousness

Righteous [צַדִּיק tsaddiq] are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments [מִשְׁפָּט mishpat]. You have commanded Your testimonies in righteousness [צֶדֶק tsedeq] and exceeding faithfulness. (Ps. 119:137-138)

     RighteousnessA word study considers the meaning of a word.  An author determines the meaning of a word by how he uses it within a context.  The semantic range of a word is observed by its usage in various contexts.  The more times a word is used in different ways, the broader its semantic range.  The Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, provides a rich semantic range concerning the words righteous and righteousness.  The basic words in Hebrew are the noun צֶדֶק tsedeq, the adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq, and the verb צָדֵק tsadeq.  The basic Greek words are the noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune, the adjective δίκαιος dikaios, and the verb δικαιόω dikaioo

     For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none), or laws He has created.  “As an attribute of God it is united with His holiness as being essential in His nature; it is legislative or rectoral, as He is the righteous governor of all creatures; and is administrative or judicial, as He is a just dispenser of rewards and punishments.”[1]  The adjective צַדִּיק tsaddiq (206 times in 197 verses)[2] means “to be in the right, be right.”[3]  God is righteous; therefore, all His judgments are just.  This is why the psalmist writes, “Righteousness [צֶדֶק] and justice [מִשְׁפָּט] are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2).  The Hebrew noun מִשְׁפָּט mishpat refers to the just judgments that follow from God’s righteous character. 

     The denominative verb[4] צָדֵק tsadeq (160 times in 152 verses) most often means “to be just, righteous.”[5]  The root word “basically connotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard.”[6]  The masculine noun צֶדֶק tsedeq (160 times in 152 verses) refers to “accuracy, what is correct.”[7]  The feminine noun צְדָקָה tsedaqah (159 times in 150 verses) is translated “honesty; justice; justness.”[8]  It is observed, “The masculine ṣedeq [and] the feminine ṣĕdāqâ…do not differ in meaning, as far as we can prove.”[9] 

The Hebrew ṣeḏeq probably derives from an Arabic root meaning ‘straightness’, leading to the notion of an action which conforms to a norm. There is, however, a considerable richness in the biblical understanding of this term and it is difficult to render either the Hebrew or Greek words concerned by a simple English equivalent. One basic ingredient in the OT idea of righteousness is relationship, both between God and man (Ps. 50:6; Je. 9:24) and between man and man (Dt. 24:13; Je. 22:3).[10]

Millard Erickson adds:

In the Old Testament, the verb צָדַק (tsadaq) and its derivatives connote conformity to a norm. Since the character of the individual is not so much in view as is his or her relationship to God’s law, the term is more religious than ethical in nature. The verb means “to conform to a given norm”; in the Hiphil stem it means “to declare righteous or to justify.” The particular norm in view varies with the situation. Sometimes the context is family relationships. Tamar was more righteous than Judah, because he had not fulfilled his obligations as her father-in-law (Gen. 38:26). And David, in refusing to slay Saul, was said to be righteous (1 Sam. 24:17; 26:23), for he was abiding by the standards of the monarch-subject relationship. Clearly righteousness is understood as a matter of living up to the standards set for a relationship. Ultimately, God’s own person and nature are the measure or standard of righteousness. God is the ruler of all and the source of all criteria of rightness. As Abraham confessed, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).[11]

     When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek circa 250 B.C., the translators chose δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune as the closest equivalent to צֶדֶק tsedeq and צְדָקָה tsedaqah and is frequently translated as righteousness or justice.  In the New Testament, the most common words denoting righteousness or justice are δίκαιος dikaios (79 times in 74 verses) and δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune (92 times in 86 verses).  The adjective δίκαιος dikaios pertains “to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair.[12]  All three Persons of the Trinity are righteous and just.  God the Father is called “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 17:25), as well as His laws (Rom. 7:25) and judgments (Rom. 3:26; 1 John 1:9).  Jesus is called “just” or “righteous” [δίκαιος dikaios] (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. 1 John 2:1), and all His judgments are “just” [δίκαιος dikaios] (John 5:30; 2 Tim. 4:8).  And God the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” [δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune] (John 16:8). 

     The noun δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune may be defined as “the quality, state, or practice of judicial responsibility with focus on fairness, justice, equitableness, fairness.[13]  The quality of righteousness is intrinsic to the Person of God.  “Literally, the word righteous (Gk: dikaios) means ‘to be just’ or ‘right.’ Theologically, it refers to the intrinsic characteristic of God wherein He is absolutely just or right and is the ultimate standard of justice and rightness.”[14]  For God’s people, there is both a positional and experiential aspect of righteousness.  Positionally, every believer resides in a state of righteousness which is based solely on the imputation of God’s righteousness as a gift at the moment of faith in Christ (Phil. 3:9).  Experientially, the obedient-to-the-word believer learns to practice righteousness as he/she walks in conformity to God’s commands (Rom. 6:13).  The former necessarily precedes the latter. 

     The verb δικαιόω dikaioo means “to take up a legal cause, show justice, [or] do justice.”[15]  The noun δίκη dike appears briefly in the New Testament.  Once (Acts 28:4) it refers to Justice “personified as a deity”[16] and three times (Acts 25:15; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7) as “punishment meted out as legal penalty.”[17]  The noun δικαίωμα dikaioma refers to “a regulation relating to just or right action, regulation, requirement, commandment.[18]  Righteous persons conform themselves to God’s commandments (Luke 1:6; Rom. 2:26).  The requirements of the Law are met in those who walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).  Jesus’ going to the cross was a single act of righteousness that secured justification for those who believe (Rom. 5:8).

     Throughout the Bible righteousness is also seen as a relationship word that recognizes established standards between a sovereign and subordinate.  A man is recognized as righteous, either before God or men, when he satisfies the legal demands placed upon him.  Any law between God and man, whether the laws in the Garden of Eden, the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai, or the law of Christ found in the New Testament writings to the church, establishes the ground upon which the relationship is declared a success or failure and from which blessing or discipline flows. 

The NT uses righteousness in the sense of conformity to the demands and obligations of the will of God, the so-called ‘righteousness of the law’ (Gal. 3:21; Phil. 3:6, 9; cf. Tit. 3:5). Human attainment of righteousness is at points relatively positively viewed (Lk. 1:6; 2:25; Mt. 5:20), but in the end this attainment in all men falls far short of a true conformity to the divine will (Rom. 3:9–20; Lk. 18:9–14; Jn. 8:7).[19]

     The righteousness of God [δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ dikaiosune theou] is not only the standard for divine acceptance (Rom. 10:3), but it is also that which God gives to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), which gift is the basis upon which a sinner is declared righteous and made acceptable in His sight (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  The believer is judicially declared righteous before God because of the imputation of His righteousness given at the moment of salvation.  The believer is experientially declared righteous before God because he/she conforms to God’s expectations for behavior (Rom. 6:11-16). 

     Laws are part of the fabric of humanity.  It’s our nature to label something good or evil.  The real issue for humanity is the starting point; either by beginning with God and what Scripture reveals about Him, or beginning with humanity and creating an arbitrary absolute.  Much of the Scriptural research up to this point reveals that God’s character is the basis for a relationship with Him as well as the norm upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger et al., “Righteousness” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[2] The number of occurrences of Hebrew and Greek words was obtained using a search on lemma in BibleWorks. 

[3] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1003.

[4] A denominative verb originates from a noun or adjective.

[5] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 842.

[6] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 752.

[7] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1005.

[8] Ibid., 1006.

[9] Harold G. Stigers, “צָדֵק,” et al, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 752.

[10] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1020.

[11] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 883–884.

[12] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 246.

[13] Ibid., 247.

[14] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 323.

[15] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 249.

[16] Ibid., 250.

[17] Ibid., 250.

[18] Ibid., 249.

[19] B. A. Milne, “Righteousness,” New Bible Dictionary, 1020.

The Plain Interpretation of Scripture

     We live our lives on the assumption that language—whether written or spoken—serves as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Our survival and success depends on the plain use of language whether we’re reading the words on highway signs, food packages, or work documents.  A nonliteral reading of the instructions on a medicine bottle could be fatal and we could suffer greatly if we failed to take plainly the words on tax documents, legal papers, or instructions on how to use a chain saw. 

     The Bible is a collection of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning approximately sixteen hundred years.  The authors originally wrote in Hebrew and Koine Greek (some chapters in Daniel were written in Aramaic).  Behind each human author was the divine Author who communicated His thoughts through them and superintended their writings (2 Pet. 1:20-21) so that what they wrote reveals His mind, His work in creation, His will for mankind, His plan for history, and His provision of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  

     The Bible is divinely inspired.  Though there are different views of inspiration, verbal plenary inspiration best fits what Scripture says about itself.  Verbal plenary inspiration teaches that Scripture originates with God (inspired – 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:21), pertains to the very words themselves (verbal – Matt. 5:17-18; cf. Gal. 3:16), and extends to all of Scripture (plenary – 2 Tim. 3:16).  The apostle Paul regarded his letters as divinely inspired when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, saying, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). 

     Several English translations accurately communicate the original meaning of the biblical author (such as the ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET, NAS, RSV), and most people read the Bible plainly as they would any other book, understanding the words and phrases according to their contextual usage.  There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend, but most of it is simple to understand.  The Bible consists mostly of historical narrative which reveals how God acted in the lives of people.  Other biblical genres include law, prophecy, psalms, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles.  These literary genres require a literal reading in order to identify how the author is communicating so we can know what he is saying.  Liberal teachers advocate a nonliteral, non-grammatical, non-historical reading of the Bible, which opens the floodgates of speculation and allows the imagination of the reader to make the Bible say whatever he/she wants it to say.  Ironically, those who advocate a nonliteral reading of the Bible expect their words to be taken literally.  A plain reading of Scripture protects the reader from fanciful interpretations.  “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”[1]  

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, and literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.[2]

    A normal reading of the Bible is commonly called the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.  The grammatical-historical method of interpretation means the Christian reads the Bible in a plain manner, paying attention to the normal rules of grammar and the meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.[3]  A normal reading also considers each word and verse in the light of its immediate context, as well as the larger context of the book, and the whole Bible.  

     In summary, the Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  It was written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly sixteen hundred years.  The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:11) and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Ps. 12:6-7; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:16).  Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, epistles, and apocalypse.  It is best to read the Bible plainly, literally, according to the grammatical-historical approach in which the reader pays attention to the normal meaning of words as they were commonly used in their historical setting.  

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1995), 82.

[2] David L. Cooper, The God of Israel (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1945), iii.

[3] For further reading on the subject of hermeneutics, I recommend Basic Biblical Interpretation by Roy B. Zuck, and Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm.