Saturday, December 20, 2014

When was Jesus Born?

Christians did not celebrate Christmas as a regular festival at the end of December until the middle of the 4th century. The date of December 25th was likely chosen because it was already the date of a major celebration in the Roman Empire. Even most Christians recognize it is almost certain that Jesus was not born on December 25th 2,014 years ago. If not on December 25th year zero, when was He born?

The Gospel writers provide very little in terms of specific dates and the precise timing of Christ’s birth remains a matter of debate among scholars. There is, however, some information that we can piece together that gives us some clues.

Unfortunately, the most specific reference in the Gospels turns out to be of little help. Luke specifically records that Jesus was born during a Roman census ordered by Caesar Augustus when Quirinius was a governor in Syria (Lk. 2:1-2). Unfortunately, historians have found no records of any such census, order by Augustus, or evidence of Quirinius in Syria at that time. Despite Luke’s detailed reference for establishing the timing, it does not help us today.

There are, however, other clues. We know from the Bible that Jesus was born near the end of the reign of Herod the Great (Mt. 2:19). Josephus records an eclipse just prior to Herod’s death and that eclipse occurred March 12th in the year 4 B.C. We also know that Herod died prior to Passover and the Passover in 4 B.C. began on April 11th.  Therefore, Jesus could not have been born any later than March or April of 4 B.C.

Matthew’s gospel indicates that Jesus may have been as much as 2 years old when Herod ordered the massacre of the male children (Mt. 2:16). If Jesus was 2 years old, he may have been born as early as 7 B.C. This means Jesus must have been born between 7 and 4 B.C.  

Another way to try to determine the timing is to work backward. It seems likely based upon the dating of John’s ministry (Lk. 3:1) that Jesus was probably baptized and began His ministry in the summer of 29 A.D. It is likely that Herod expanded the age range of the children to be killed to be sure that Jesus did not escape. If so, Jesus would have been slightly younger than 2 years old during the massacre and was probably around 32 years old in A.D. 29. This matches up with Luke’s comment that he was “around” 30 years old at the time (Lk. 3:23).

There is potentially another clue in John 2:20 that supports this date although it is not easy to see in many English translations. Most translations of John 2:20 make it sound like the conversation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders takes place 46 years after the construction of the Temple began. A number of scholars, however, argue that the meaning of the Greek text is not that “it took 46 years to build”, but rather that “it was built 46 years ago”.

According to ancient records, Herod began the construction in 19 B.C., the 18th year of his reign. Although the entire complex was not completed until AD 64, Josephus records that the priests completed the inner sanctuary in less than 2 years. The Passover that would have occurred 46 years after the completion of the sanctuary would have been in spring of AD 30. This aligns with Jesus beginning His ministry in summer or fall of AD 29.

John’s Gospel records three Passover celebrations during the course of the ministry of Jesus. It is likely there is an additional year of ministry between the first (Jn. 2:13) and second (Jn. 6:4) where Jesus ministered in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. This would suggest a crucifixion in A.D. 33. We know Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday (Mk. 15:42; 16:1,6). We also know that it was the time of the Passover and that the night before He was crucified, Jesus shared a Passover meal with His followers (1 Cor. 11:23). Since the Passover meal was eaten on the 14th of Nissan the year of Christ’s death had to be a year when Nissan 14 fell on a Thursday. The two possibilities are AD 30 and AD 33. As we have already shown, a date in A.D. 33 works well.

Therefore, working backward also supports a range of 6 to 4 B.C., but was it December 25th?

The earliest tradition of the Church places the birth of Christ in winter and nothing in the New Testament contradicts this (yes shepherds may have been in the field at this time). Various arguments have been offered for a winter birth and although they are not conclusive, they do show the traditional winter birth is plausible. It is therefore possible that Jesus was born in December. It is, however, unlikely that He was born on the 25th. Around A.D. 194, Clement of Alexandria provided the first precise date given by a Christian teacher. He argued that Christ was born on November 18th. A date in mid-November fits nicely with the chronology discussed above. In fact, a date much later than this requires a birth in 4 B.C. near the latest possible time and compresses the early events of Christ’s life.

It cannot be proven with certainty, but it is likely Jesus was born between mid-November and the first week of December in 5 B.C.

This article closely follows Kostenberger, Kellum, and Quarrels, treatment in The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown, and Paul L. Maier The Date of the Nativity and The Chronology of Jesus’ Life which is available online here:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why Did Esther Not Have Mercy on Haman?

One of the most heroic figures in the Old Testament is the Hebrew maiden Hadassah who becomes the Persian queen Esther. Esther demonstrates great courage and intercedes to save her people from a high-ranking official named Haman who was determined to kill all of the Jews. Near the end of the story, the tables are turned and Haman is sentenced to death by hanging (likely impaled) on a pole he had prepared for Esther’s cousin Mordecai. While we celebrate her courage in stopping a potential genocide, many commentators are bothered that Esther did not intercede to save Haman. They argue she would have been a more admirable figure had she demonstrated mercy to her enemy. Why does Esther not try to save Haman’s life?

Like all of the Old Testament characters, Esther is imperfect, just like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, Paul and every other character other than Jesus Christ. In the case of Haman, however, it is possible that that author actually intends her lack of mercy to highlight her covenant faithfulness. There is a dynamic in the narrative that many people do not pay much attention to that might explain her actions and the way the author intends us to think about her.

Early in the story we learn that Haman is an Agagite (Esther 3:1). This is a fact that the author mentions 5 times at key points throughout the book. This means that Haman is a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag. The Amalekites were a historical enemy of the Jews having opposed them as they came out of Egypt. From that time forward, the two nations were in constant opposition to one another. This is probably why Esther’s cousin Mordecai refuses to bow down to him. It may also be why Mordecai’s refusal leads Haman to plan to kill all the Jews rather than just Mordecai. The history between the two people was one of constant strife and Haman’s desire to have people essentially worship him would have been particularly repulsive to Mordecai and all other faithful Jews.

Haman, however, is not just an Amalekite; he is an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag. This is a very significant detail and helps explain how we should understand Esther not interceding to save him. Back in 1 Samuel chapter 15, the Jews were preparing to battle the Amalekites and God commanded that they not spare any of the Amalekites or their animals (1 Sam. 15:3). The armies of Israel were victorious but Saul failed to obey God and spared the life of king Agag and some of the animals. When the prophet Samuel confronted Saul, he tried to justify his actions rather than repenting of his sinful disobedience. Samuel killed Agag himself and informed Saul that because of his unfaithfulness, God would strip the kingdom from him and give it to another.

The name Agag is therefore associated with failure to keep the covenant and disobedience. Saul was a monarch from the tribe of Benjamin who ignored the command of God by showing mercy to Agag. As a result, he failed to keep the covenant, failed to protect his people the way God intended, and lost the monarchy from the tribe of Benjamin. What is interesting in the book of Esther is that we have a second encounter between a monarch from the tribe of Benjamin and an Amalekite from the family of Agag (Esther 2:5, 2:7).

The Bible does not include random details and it seems almost certain that the pairing of royalty from Benjamin with the name Agag is intended to recall the story from 1 Samuel. Saul relied on his own strength rather than obeying God. By contrast, Esther throws herself upon the providence of God regardless of the outcome for her (Esther 4:16).

Although Esther only becomes queen because she married a pagan king she ends up fulfilling the monarchial covenant requirement that King Saul failed to keep. Esther displays sacrificial leadership, protects her people, and destroys their enemies. Although in exile, Esther is doing what we would expect from any faithful Jewish monarch. Some may assume that Esther should have tried to save Haman but it is likely that the author intends us to recognize the parallels to Saul in a way that is favorable to Esther. Ultimately, God is the hero of the story and Esther is an instrument of God’s providence. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Painted Fire: The Bible and Spiritual Experience

“For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So, also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:11-13 ESV)

It is becoming increasingly common for people wanting a deeper experience of God in their lives to seek it in mystical or emotional experiences rather than through the Bible. The irony is that the Bible helps believers experience God in a way far deeper than mystical or emotional experiences can provide. Christ redeems the whole person, not just the intellect or emotions. In Biblical faith our minds are transformed and so are our deepest desires. In Christianity, our “spiritual” experience is crucial but it is never separated from the Wisdom and Truth of God. We achieve the most powerful spiritual experience in our union with Christ through the Word.

The apostle Paul explains us why in the verses quoted at the beginning of this article. Notice first that Paul establishes the transcendence of God. It is not possible for anyone to comprehend the thoughts except the Spirit of God. This fatally undermines the philosophical method of knowing God. Philosophers attempt to know God through a rational analysis of what they observe about the world and the mind. Paul, however, tells us that only the Spirit of God comprehends the thoughts of God. The philosophical method is therefore ultimately doomed to fail. Knowing God is not achievable based upon a purely rational or intellectual method. Does this mean the mystics are correct? No, it does not.

Paul says what is understood is “freely given by God”. The Apostles have received the Spirit of God so that they are able to understand what God wishes to reveal to them. This is a crucial point because it establishes revelation as the source of Divine knowledge. The apostles did not receive their doctrine from men. It was not the result of philosophical speculation or insight. Neither was it the result of religious discipline. It came from the Spirit of God who freely gave it. Since the Apostles experienced direct revelation, it might appear that we might come to know God through a similar mystical experience but what Paul says next is as devastating to mysticism as his earlier comments were to rationalism.

 Paul says “And we impart this in words”. The “this” he refers to are the things freely given, namely the thoughts of God. This is significant because if the Apostles communicate God’s thoughts in words then they are contained in statements that are either true of false (propositions). The revelation of God is therefore rational and must be understood using reason. It also means that we have access to the very thoughts of God through the words of the Apostles, which is the Bible. Through the Word, we have access to a pure knowledge of God because it contains His very thoughts.  

Paul says that the words are not the result of human wisdom but are “taught by the Spirit.” Not only does the Spirit give these truths but also interprets them for those who are “spiritual”. We see therefore that the work of the Holy Spirit is required both in the giving of Scripture and in the spiritual rebirth of the believer who receives the Word. The Spirit prepares the minds of the believer to receive His Word. We therefore have a subjective (new birth) and objective (Bible) component of our experience of God. Biblical Christianity therefore rejects both pure mysticism and pure philosophy as legitimate ways to know or experience God. Both experience and reason are required, neither is autonomous, both are subjected to the rule of Christ.

This is an amazing thing to consider. When we read or hear a statement from the Bible what happens? Our physical sensations of the scribbles on the paper or the sound waves are transformed into a thought in our minds. Remarkably, Paul tells us that this thought, to the extent that it actually conforms to the Word of God, is also a thought in the eternal mind of the transcendent God. This is why Paul can make the bold claim a few verses later “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

By meditating on the Word, we experience within same action the combination of intimate communion with God and rational, conscious activity. It is a remarkable thing to claim that Sprit, working through the Word, transfers the very thoughts of God to our minds. The New Testament frequently discusses the mystical union of the believer with Christ as an objective reality. It is, however, something we can experience in a special way through our meditation upon His Word. Philosophy and mysticism can never elevate beyond our creaturely mind and feelings. The Bible, however, provides access to the mind of the Creator.

I cannot imagine a deeper or more satisfying experience of God than what Paul describes. The Word of God is what deepens and sustains our experience of God as we live out the Christian life. The Puritan Thomas Manton put it this way, “he that labors must have his meals, otherwise he will faint.” Adding, “Painted fire needs no fuel.” There are many who appear to be on fire for Christ but if their zeal is not fueled by the Word of God, then I fear it will either soon burn out, or it is merely painted fire that provides no true light or heat.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Few Free Smartphone Apps for Christians

A friend asked if I could share which smartphone apps I have found most helpful. I have quite a few apps that I use but I am going to limit this article only to free apps and only to those that have been helpful to me specifically as a Christian. I am not claiming that these are the best free Christian apps available, only that they are the ones that I have found helpful. I have an android phone but I believe that all of these are also available for Apple phones. Feel free to add any others you have found helpful.

 The Holy Bible app from You Version includes many different resources. It allows you to read the Bible in various translations as well as bookmark, make notes, highlight, and share Bible content. You can look at devotional texts, verses of the day, and setup a Bible reading plan. It also includes text, audio, and video links to supplemental material and teachers/preachers addressing the selected texts. I am sure that it has many other capabilities but I almost exclusively use it to stream audio of the Bible text itself. The narration is well done and the audio controls are easy to use.

One of the best applications for streaming audio is the app. This app allows you to have access to the content on the website. As of this afternoon, there are 797,820 sermons on the site from conservative Christian Churches. The site includes not only contemporary sermons but also recordings of the reading of many sermons preached prior to the invention of recording equipment.

The Biblical Training app gives you access to the content on the website. The Biblical Training program is designed to provide foundational, leadership, and pastoral training to believers around the world who might otherwise not be able to get training. The teachers include many well-respected Evangelical scholars who allowed their college and seminary lectures to be shared. You can tailor your courses to your interests and can choose to listen to introductory or advanced classes on the subjects that interest you.

 Another seminary that is making course lectures available free is Reformed Theological Seminary. The RTS mobile app gives you access to seminary lectures by teachers such as Ligon Duncan, John Frame, Douglas F. Kelly and others. There are a number of courses available providing many hours of instruction.

The Ligonier app contains articles, sermons, and audio from Ligonier conferences. When most people think about Ligonier ministries they think of R.C. Sproul who is the chairman of the ministry and has spent years growing it but there are many other very good teachers and preachers who provide content to the various Ligonier outlets (Reformation Trust publishing, Table Talk magazine, RefNet etc.) and the app is no exception. Over 50 Reformed teachers from various traditions (Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc.) have content available through the app.

 The Reformation Network is an extension of Ligonier ministries. The RefNet app provides access to a continual lineup of programing from a Reformed perspective. I did not realize everything available until I looked up the programming schedule while writing this post. Honestly, I only downloaded the app so I could listen to the Christian news program The World and Everything in It at 5:30pm. I was surprised at the quality list of programming they have assembled. You can view the schedule HERE .

 When I need to do a quick Bible search on my phone or just look up a text, I generally use this ESV app. It does not contain many of the options of other Bible apps but I have been using it so long that I am used to it and it is the first one I pull up when I need a quick and simple verse check.

One of the best free study apps available is the Logos Bible app. I mentioned that use the ESV app if I just need to do a simple search or verse check but if I need to do anything else I go to this app. It contains a series of resources that I have not found available in other free Bible study apps. You have access to original language, word study, and cross-reference resources. An exegetical guide, text comparison tool, translation map, and various other tools are also included. In addition, the app gives you access to other resources beyond just the Bible tools. It also allows you to sync your study across any web-enabled devices so you can pick up where you left off. Just like the computer software, you can continue to add to your digital library and work with the content in many ways.

As you might have noticed, one of the main ways that I use my phone is to stream audio when I am driving. I sync the phone to the vehicle so that I can listen to the streaming content through the car stereo system. This way, I do not need to download content as long as I have a cellphone signal. Most of the time, even if you cannot pair your phone to your car, you can often do the same thing by connecting your phone to your stereo using a standard 3.5mm double male cable. Simply plug one end into the phone headphone jack and the other end into your auxiliary input on the stereo. You can then stream the phone using the auxiliary setting on the stereo.

As frustrating as this technological age can be, it is amazing how much information is now available literally at our fingertips. Please feel free to share others that you have found helpful.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Review: Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word (Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me)

The doctrine of the Bible has inspired books in every generation, especially since the Reformation. This new book by Pastor Kevin DeYoung offers no revolutionary new information or perspectives. He did not intend it to do so. What it does do, however, is an excellent job of providing a short, clear, and solid introduction to what the Bible teaches about itself. The average Christian is not likely to have the time or inclination to plow through the voluminous historical resources on the doctrine of the scripture. However, average Christians more than anyone else need to have a firm foundation in these truths if our churches are to be healthy.

Pastor DeYoung has written a wonderful little book that I believe will be a great resource to those looking for an introduction to the doctrine of the Bible. It is short without shortchanging the reader and is straightforward without being dumbed-down. He structures the book around the four traditional major attributes of scripture using the S.C.A.N. acrostic. The emphasis of the book is the Sufficiency, Clarity, Authority, and Necessity of the Scripture showing not only the doctrinal truths involved but also the practical implications of each of them. Recognizing that there is much more to the topic than he was able to say in 150 or so pages, he includes an appendix of additional books that will be helpful to those who wish to study the topic further.

The writing was well done and the personality of pastor DeYoung comes through without distracting from the message. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Lee DeYoung who I thought did a good job with the reading. Of course, no book is perfect. Even so, in light of the overall quality of the book, whatever quibbles I might have border on being pedantic. It is a great introduction to an important topic.

This book addresses an important need in our churches today. Pastor DeYoung has written a clear, readable, and well-written summary of what the Bible teaches about itself that is accessible to the average reader. It is the sort of book that we should share. I think it would be particularly helpful to newer believers who have not yet read widely enough in the Bible to have a sense of the fullness of this important doctrine. One of the most useful books I have read this year and I expect to recommend it often.

* I received a free copy of this book from as part of their Reviewers Program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

30 Things the Gospel is NOT

One of the Devil’s favorite tactics is to create confusion by manipulating the definitions of words so that they are no longer clear. When language becomes muddy so does our ability to understand the thoughts the words represent. One of the things that weigh most heavy on my heart is when I encounter people who are convinced they are trusting in the Gospel, but what they believe is a mixture of confusion and is not what the Bible teaches. I have had a couple of these experiences this week and it got me thinking about the various confusions I have come across or heard about regarding this.

In just a few minutes I was able to list 30 things just off the top of my head that are not the Gospel but that I have heard presented as such. Some of these are blatant falsehoods while others are connected to, flow from, or are related to the Gospel. It is also true that some of these are connected to our salvation and are biblical but none of these is the Gospel.

The Gospel is NOT:

  1. A feeling
  2. A portal to magical power
  3. Following the example of Jesus
  4. Living a moral or good life or being nice
  5. Opposition to homosexuality
  6. A promise of physical healing
  7. A promise of wealth
  8. Conservative politics
  9. Liberal politics
  10. Your testimony
  11. Social compassion
  12. Environmental consciousness
  13. Opposition to abortion
  14. A system of philosophy
  15. A religious system
  16. Unfinished, incomplete or waiting for you to finalize it
  17. A method of ministry
  18. Raising a Christian family
  19. Prayer
  20. Keeping the 10 commandments
  21. Church attendance
  22. Being at peace with your “inner self”
  23. A membership card
  24. A relationship
  25. Having a purpose filled life
  26. Engaging the culture
  27. God responding to us
  28. A set of rules
  29. Evangelism
  30. A life we live

The Gospel is not something we do. It is not a set of rules or standards. It is not a process or an experience. We contribute nothing to it. The word Gospel means “good news” and it is the good news about something that God has done. It is the message of a theological and historical fact of something already completed.

The bad news is that all people are sinners and will stand in judgment before a holy God. All of us are guilty and deserve to be convicted and punished. The good news of the Gospel, however, is that Jesus Christ, the righteous One, sent by God the Father, lived a perfect life in the flesh, not for His own sake but for His people. He did what we by nature could not do for ourselves. Having lived a life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God. God accepts this sacrifice on behalf of those united to Christ though faith.

The Gospel is something God has done. We either accept it in faith or reject it. Once we accept it, many things will flow from it but it remains nevertheless the objective work of God in Christ. When we share or preach the Gospel, we share or preach what God has done in Christ.

Monday, March 31, 2014

If God is Sovereign Why Was The Cross Necessary?

As Christians, we see the work of Christ on the cross as the only solution to the problem of sin. We believe that Christ had to die in order for any sinners to be saved. If God is completely sovereign over all things, however, why is atonement necessary? Why could God not simply decide that He would forgive somebody’s sins if He wanted?

The answer to the question lies not in any limitation of God’s sovereign power but rather in the essence of His character. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign (Ps. 135:6, Ps. 115:3, Is. 46:10). Nothing outside of God limits His power. He is, however, self-limited. God cannot act contrary to His own nature or He would cease to be the God revealed in His Word. The God of the Bible is perfect in all of His attributes. He is perfectly holy, just, and true. His power is therefore always consistent with those attributes, always consistent with who He is, and there is no shadow of turning with Him (Jas. 1:17).

This idea of divine self-limitation is not speculative theology, it is revealed in the Bible in several places. It is perhaps most clear in the sixth chapter of Hebrews where the writer explains that God could not swear by any name greater than His own and that He cannot lie (Heb. 6:13-18). God does what He wills but always does it in a way that is true to who He is. The Bible reveals that not only is God sovereign, but He is also holy, righteous, and just (Is. 6:3, Is. 5:16, Job 37:23).

The perfection of God makes the atonement necessary because God cannot be righteous if He allows sin to go unpunished. Unlike Islam, which teaches that Allah can simply use his sovereign power to disregard the sinfulness of those he chooses and allow them into paradise, the Christian God does not undermine His own law (thus denying His holy character) in order to do so. God is so holy that any sin is a form of cosmic rebellion and if God did not punish such treason, His righteousness and justice are compromised.

Suppose that a man was a guilty of a brutal crime such as rape or murder and the evidence of his guilt was unquestioned. Now, suppose that the man is brought before a judge and despite the evidence, the judge decides to let him go. Not only does the judge let him go, but gives him great honors and comforts. We all agree this would be a great injustice and an unrighteous judgment. In the case of salvation, the offensiveness of the crime is far worse and the mercy of the court is a far more outrageous pardon.

This brings us to one of the most fundamental theological problems for fallen humankind. How is it possible for a holy, righteous God to save sinners without being unjust? How can God fulfill the promises He has made to rebellious sinners without compromising His own perfect character?

The answer is the Gospel. The apostle Paul explains in the letter to the Romans:

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  (Romans 3:23-26)

It was not enough for sinners simply to be pardoned; they must be justified in a way that is consistent with the righteousness of God. Since none are righteous and all have sinned the solution had to come from God (Rom. 3:10, Eph. 2:4-5), while the only appropriate representative to provide atonement had to be human (Rom. 5:15, 8:3-4). Therefore, God was pleased to offer salvation through faith in the God-man Jesus Christ. Our sins, however, are not simply ignored.

Notice what Paul says about this atoning sacrifice, “This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” In order for the righteousness of God to remain uncompromised, He had to judge sin. The suffering of Christ was a demonstration of God’s holy wrath against sin so that no valid charge of injustice or unrighteousness can be made. This is why Paul says Christ is a “propitiation”, which means that He satisfies the wrath of God. All sin is therefore justly punished; the question is if Jesus pays for our sin or if we will have to pay the penalty ourselves.

Paul goes on to say, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  Because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, God is both just and the justifier of sinners. The cross is where God’s mercy and His justice come together.

The atonement is necessary in order to for a holy God to save sinners without compromising His justice. He does not act contrary to His own nature. Salvation is the result of God’s sovereignty, but not as an expression of brute power. Instead, God’s sovereign work in the salvation of sinners is a demonstration of His love and mercy.

The perfect balance of power and love that is expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ is not only a theological necessity but is a great comfort to believers. Since God’s righteousness, grace, and power are all perfectly displayed in Christ, we can look to the cross as assurance that God will keep His promises (Rom. 8:32). Christians are not hoping on the whim of a changing God for their salvation. We trust in the promises of a perfect, righteous, holy, and loving God who has already demonstrated His commitment to those whom He loves.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mathaytes is now on Facebook

I have been frequently advised to expand the content of the site beyond the longer theology & Bible posts. I have also been encouraged to make sharing content from the site easier. In order to provide a wider range of content without losing the focus of the blog, and also to help make sharing information easier we are now on Facebook.

Please like us at

We pray that this addition will be a blessing to you.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Are Adam and Eve in Heaven?

A few weeks ago, I preached on the first Gospel promise in Genesis 3. My emphasis was on God’s faithfulness to this promise in our lives and its development throughout scripture. Later, someone asked me if I thought Adam and Eve were in heaven. I gave a short answer but wanted to develop it a bit more. I hope to do that in this post.

It is important to point out that the Bible does not specifically state whether God saved them or not. However, if we pay careful attention to what the Bible does say, I think we can have some level of confidence that Adam and Eve are in heaven. The question is raised (I think) primarily because throughout the Bible Adam and Eve are used as the example par excellence of human sinfulness, failure, and rebellion (Hosea 6:7; Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; 2 Cor. 11:3). If, however, we remember that the Bible is the record of God’s plan (and work) in redemption then we quickly realize that the emphasis on the fact that Adam and Eve did not deserve salvation serves to glorify God who graciously saves sinners and deserves all the praise and honor for their salvation (Rom. 5:19-20). Adam and Eve are therefore not just examples of human sinfulness but also of salvation by grace through faith.

Before God even pronounces curses upon the people and land, he curses the serpent. It is clear that this is not merely a snake and later in scripture, it becomes clear that the serpent is Satan. Involved in that curse is the first Gospel promise. It has implications not only for some future time but also immediately for them. The second part of the curse on the serpent is:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)

Christian readers immediately focus on the prophesy of the work of Christ and the Gospel contained in the verse. Notice, however, that God declares not only that He will put enmity (opposition) between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, but also between the woman and the serpent. When Adam and Eve chose to believe the word of Satan instead of the word of God, they aligned themselves with the Devil and made themselves enemies of God. In a sense, they put enmity between themselves and the holy God. Satan may have thought his rebellion was succeeding but God declared that He would create opposition between the woman and Satan. The destruction of Satan’s power will result from the offspring of this woman whom he deceived. This is the plan of God and is a declaration of His sovereign grace in redemption.

The curse on the serpent in verses 16-19 is followed by curses on both the man and the woman that end with the curse of death “… you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Remarkably, the next words recorded are “The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Gen. 3:20)

God declares that they will die and then Adam calls her the mother of the living! Clearly, Adam is expressing faith in the promise of redemption given a few verses earlier that God will restore life to his creation and overcome the adversary through the descendants of Eve. Theologians have developed many complex descriptions of saving faith, but in its most basic form, it is simply trusting in the promises of God. When we consider the particular promise Adam is trusting in we see that it is none other than the Gospel. The promise involved in the curse of the Serpent is that God will provide a redeemer descended from Eve, born of the seed of a woman, who will conquer Satan but be wounded in the process, and opposition will be placed between humankind and Satan.

Eve also shows faith in the promise. The promise in chapter 3 entails offspring and in chapter 4 when Eve gives birth to Cain, she says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen. 4:1). It is possible that Eve thought that Cain would be the fulfillment of the promise since the name Cain indicates that she “got” him from God. Ironically, Cain is not among the faithful seed and kills his brother. The result is that Eve essentially loses both sons but we see her faith again when she gives birth to Seth. The name Seth means “placed” or “appointed” and Eve declares concerning him, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (Gen. 4:25). This time she is blessed and it is through Seth that the promise is fulfilled. Her comments and the names of her children indicate that Eve retained her confidence in God’s word.

We also find another clue back in Genesis 3. Just after Adam calls his wife the “mother of all living” the following detail is recorded:

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21) This may sound like a practical detail but its significance is profound. I do not have the room here to explore it in detail but this is the first time in the Bible that blood is shed to provide a covering. Fallen man failed at his attempt to cover himself but God provides a covering through a death (Gen. 3:7,21). This theme of sacrifice as a covering related to sin continues throughout the Bible and finds is ultimate expression in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary. This is another demonstration of the grace of God in dealing with his fallen creatures, is a typological symbol, and foreshadow of atonement. It is not specific stated as the case here, but this action is consistent with God’s care for the faithful that we see throughout scripture. If it is, then it is likely that Adam and Eve are included in the family of faith.

Finally, there are hints in some of the genealogies and lists. Some have pointed out that the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11 does not contain Adam and Eve even though it extends back to their lifetime. That is an interesting observation because the purpose of the list is precisely to highlight the persistent hope of the faithful in the promises of God. Their absence, however, is not conclusive and there may be other reasons why the list begins with Abel. First, the list moves very quickly from Abel to Abraham and there are many believers not mentioned. Indeed, the only ones mentioned are those who had some sort of profound demonstration or confirmation of their faith. It may also be, as John Gill suggested that Hebrews speaks only of those who had received the promise in faith through the testimony of the faithful.

Hebrews 11 is not the only list to look at. Other New Testament lists may also provide insight into the question. Matthew, emphasizing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah understandably begins with Abraham, but Luke whose work emphasizes the inclusion of the Gentiles into the promises begins his genealogy of Christ with Adam. It is likely that Luke is emphasizing Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise and the hope of all people. In structuring his genealogy this way, Luke is connecting the coming of Christ with an anticipation that extends back to the very beginning of human history. It seems likely to me that the implied connection is Genesis 3:15 and that Adam (and Eve) were waiting for Christ.

Although the Bible does not explicitly say that Adam and Eve are in heaven, I think we have enough information in the scripture to think they are. I believe the biblical clues we have indicate that although they had less information that we have, they were trusting in the same Gospel promise. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How to Use the Bible for Devotional Reading

In the last post, I suggested that those who are serious about their spiritual growth should stop using “devotionals” and instead focused on devotional reading of the Bible. Using the Bible for devotions does not take much more (if any) time than using other books but the results are worth the effort. In this post, I would like to offer some practical suggestions on how to get started.

What is it?
The purpose of devotional reading is slightly different from critical reading (the kind of reading we do for study). Devotional reading is not so much an examination of the text as it is an apprehension of the text. Of course, devotional reading should be built upon a correct understanding of the text but the emphasis is on applying what we do understand rather than studying. This is why devotional reading cannot replace Bible study. The two are complimentary. As we grow in our understanding through study, our devotional life will be deeper because we will be seeking to connect and apply even more of God’s Word. Likewise, as we grow in our devotional life, we will begin to have a better understanding of the relevance and importance of the doctrines we learn from studying. Devotional reading is about our submission to the text and our desire for the Holy Spirit to change our lives through its truth.

Where to begin?
A common question is where to start. Often, people want to begin at Genesis 1 and read straight through. If you have that type of discipline great, but most people do not. For those new to devotional reading I suggest beginning with Proverbs or James. Both of these books are rich with practical application of Biblical wisdom for daily life that can be examined in short sections. This is not where I would recommend a person begin to study, but I have found that people who are new to reading devotionally find it easier to identify points of application in these books than in most others.

How Does it Work?
The Bible is like a field planted by God that yields spiritual food to those who labor there. If we keep that in mind, we can easily remember the four steps to this method with the acronym R.E.A.P.

  1. Read
  2. Examine
  3. Apply
  4. Pray

Step 1. Read
The first step in the reading process is praying for God to bless your devotion. Then, if you are unfamiliar with the book you want to use you should quickly read the whole book just to get a feel for how it flows. You do not have to do this all at once but it is better to read large chunks. Trust me, taking the time to read the book first will pay off later, if it takes a few days or a week that is OK. Be sure to read large sections if you cannot read the whole book and do not try to study or figure anything out, just get a feel for what is going on in the book and how it flows. If you are already familiar with the book, the pre-reading is not necessary.

Once you have a general idea about the book, you can begin a more focused reading. Each day, read a passage that contains a single unit of thought. In most books, this is typically not a single verse or sentence. In the New Testament letters for example, it will usually be a paragraph. In Proverbs and James, it is usually a cluster of verses. This tends to be where people have a hard time because our tendency is to want to stop and focus on each verse. Do not put too much pressure on yourself. If you find yourself constantly wanting to stop after each verse, just read the next one and think about how they fit together. With practice, it starts to get easier to see where these divisions are. Just do your best to try to expand beyond single verses while staying within a paragraph.

Step 2. Examine
The next step is to examine what you read. In this step, you are looking to identify what is clear from the passage. If there is something that is unclear, such as a figure of speech, a particular vocabulary word, or reference then you might want to make note of it and come back to it in your Bible study time. For the purpose of the devotional exercise, however, you want to focus on what is  clear from the passage.

  1. Is there a promise given?
  2. Is there a sin exposed?
  3. Is there an instruction or command given?
  4. Is there a truth about the Father, Jesus, or The Holy Spirit revealed?
  5. Is there something that is clear but seems strange?

Step 3. Apply

In this step, you work out the significance of what you understand from the passage for you personally. This is the bridge between merely reading the Bible and submitting to its authority over your life. This step is what makes it truly devotional because it is at this point that you are devoting yourself to living by the Word.

  1. If promises are given, are they for all believers generally? How do they apply to me?
  2. If there is sin exposed am I guilty and in need of forgiveness and repentance?
  3. If there is an instruction or command given, how does it apply to my life and circumstances, and how do I faithfully respond?
  4. If truth about God is revealed how does it help me know Him and serve Him better?
  5. We will address those things that seem strange in the next step.

Step 4. Pray & Meditate

In this step, you pray through the passage you are reading. The Christian life can only be lived through the power of the Lord and if we are serious about being transformed through our devotional time, we must seek Christ’s help through prayer. Praying the actual words of God helps keep us disciplined and focused so that we avoid developing a lazy, shallow, or selfish prayer life.

To do this, simply work your way through the passage taking each statement and rephrase it as a prayer. In order to avoid self-centered prayers, formulate each statement as both a personal prayer and a prayer for others. You might know someone in particular who could use the prayer or it could be a general prayer. Usually, the more specific you can be the better.

You can apply any passage in prayer many ways but let us look at an example:

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)

“Father, forgive me for my grumbling and my complaining. Forgive me for the weakness of my faith and the lack of my maturity and trust in you. Father please give me the faith to count it as joy when I meet trials of various kinds. Remind me Lord that the testing of my faith will produce steadfastness. Let me, a sinner who has inherited all things through the suffering of my savior, not shrink from enduring suffering for a short time. Help me depend entirely upon you so that my faith might produce steadfastness and I pray Lord that steadfastness would have its full effect and that I will be made complete, lacking in nothing because I have you. Father, I know that many brothers and sisters are facing trials far worse than I. I pray that they would be encouraged and strengthened. I pray that your name would be glorified through the testimony of their faithfulness.”

Notice that it is not any kind of rote formula but you want to stick closely to the actual words used by the Holy Spirit. The key is that you are organizing your devotional prayer life around the specific teaching of the Word of God. I promise you that if you do this it will expand and deepen your prayer life and your appreciation for the Bible.


The last part of the “prayer” step is ongoing meditation. Throughout the day try to take every chance you get to think about the truths, you encountered during your devotional time. As you reflect on your reading, you may be surprised how many connections you can make. This brings me back to #5 from the Apply step. When we read the Bible there are often little details that just do not seem to fit in the way we expect. You should consider it a blessing whenever you run across one of those because they are like treasure maps! The more time you spend in the Word the more of these details you will notice. Often, it will require study to uncover the fullness of these gems, but if you just think about them carefully, they will draw you deeper into the Word.

I have written about this a few times before but let me just give you one more example here:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. (Revelation 1:10-13, ESV)

Notice the way that verse 12 is worded, “then I turned to see the voice”. Does that not sound strange to you? How do you see a voice? Is this just a quirk of ancient language? Maybe, but until you study it you will not know. What you can do throughout the day, however, is to think about this passage and what is happening. Why does John record it that way? Who is the voice? Obviously, Jesus is the voice. That is interesting and opens up a whole series of questions. What does a voice do? What is this voice doing? How do those things relate to Christ? Is there a connection between Jesus as The Word and Him being described here as the voice? Are there other places in scripture where God is associated with sound? Where else is God associated with voices?

Perhaps you can see that something as simple as this can open up all sorts of potential connections within the Bible. You may find in study that some of these were dead ends but throughout the process, you will be absorbed in thinking deeply and devotionally about what the Bible teaches and how it does so.

If you follow this process or something similar I am confident that you will be further ahead than spending the same amount of time reading an off the shelf “devotional”. I promise that believers who are looking to grow spiritually who do this type of devotional reading along with regular Bible study (preferably with other believers in a local church) will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If You are Serious about Spiritual Growth, Set Aside Your Devotional

I know that there are good devotionals and I know that many people have benefited from the daily discipline of reading them. Even so, I am confident that most people would be better off if they replaced their devotional books with daily devotional Bible reading. After all, the Bible is the source of truth and life. Anything worthwhile that you will find in any devotional has its source in the scripture. The Word of God is sufficient for every spiritual need and it alone has the promise of God to be effective. Relying on devotional books rather than reading the Bible is like locking yourself into your house at noon on a summer day and shutting up all the doors and windows so you can read by candlelight.

Many people have asked me through the years if I could suggest a good devotional book. I always suggest the Bible. When I give that answer, I often see a look of disappointment come across the face of the brother or sister who asked. Perhaps they think I am being sarcastic or teasing but the answer is truly and humbly the best suggestion that I know to make. Frequently, people think that they do not have time to invest and are looking for a quick dose of spiritual insight. Also common, however, is that many Christians are concerned they are not equipped to use the Bible devotionally. These concerns need not prevent believers from devotional use of the Scripture and the effort to overcome them is well worth it.

In this post, I will briefly discuss a few reasons why the Bible is better for devotional reading than other material. In the next post, I will give examples of how to use the Bible for devotions.

Why is the Bible Better?

1)      The Bible alone is the Word of God. Any other material is only useful to the extent that it accurately communicates the truth found in the Bible (2 Tim 3:15-16). God has provided the scripture for our spiritual nourishment and growth (Mt 4:4). The connection between the Word of God and our sanctification is so strong that it would require a separate series of posts to work through (Jn 17:17). It is probably not an overstatement to say that our spiritual maturity can be measured by our growth in the Word (1 Jn 4:6).

2)      The “good” devotionals I mentioned above are selections of readings from the Bible followed by a few questions. These can be helpful especially to newer believers because they guide you through the process of thinking about the passage. Those who are serious about growing spiritually, however, will benefit greatly from exercising their ability to ask questions and make their own observations and applications of the text (2 Tim 2:15). It may take longer to get going in the beginning but so does chewing your own food. After a bit of practice, you will find that you enjoy the process (Ps 119:103).

3)      Unlike the “better” devotionals mentioned above, most devotionals are really more of a form of commentary or scriptural application on a short passage. Many of these books reinforce bad habits that are not beneficial to disciplines that support deep spiritual growth over time. Often they are filled with examples of taking scripture out of context, oversimplification, or reducing God’s Word to motivational literature. Serious meditation on the Bible involves a respect for what it intends to teach (Heb 2:1). Taking a point (even a true point) and using out of context Bible verses to support it is a bad habit to get into. We are to be people of the Word and our use of the Word should respect it as a system of truth. Likewise, applying promises and platitudes out of context in order to make us feel better or get motivated may in fact be exactly the opposite of what is most needed in our spiritual lives (Heb 12:7).

4)      Connected to the last point is that frequently devotionals have an imbalanced focus. They often focus on what God has done or can do for us out of proportion with reflection upon God’s glory or our weakness. The Bible does talk about God’s love and His blessings but it also convicts us of sin and shatters our selfish pride. God’s purpose in His word is not just to encourage us, but to recreate us. He knows what lessons we need and His word is perfectly balanced (2 Tim 3:16).

5)      Finally, many devotionals often lead to a habit of thinking superficially about God’s word. “Devotional” is often just a code word for “not too deep or complicated”. Real growth occurs, however, when we wrestle with the profound truths of God’s word. Reverence rather than cuteness or pithiness should characterize our devotions (Prov 9:10).

Why Lack of Time is not a Good Reason to Avoid Devotional Bible reading

  1. The fact is that we make time for what is most important to us. If we are simply trying to fit our devotional time into our otherwise too busy schedule then we have the wrong priorities (Mt 6:33). If our devotional exercises are simply a religious ritual that we check off each day then we should probably just sleep in or use the time for something else (Amos 5:21-23).

  1. I talk a lot about the need to invest time in reading and studying the Bible. I think that is very important, but I am primarily talking about sustained engagement throughout years of continual study and meditation. I am not talking about marathon sessions in individual sittings. If the average person spent even 10 to 15 minutes a day, consistently, in devotional Bible reading I think they would be surprised at how significantly their thought life would change.

You do not need to be a teacher or an expert to do it

  1. People sometimes assume that when I suggest that they use the Bible for devotional reading that I am expecting them to become highly trained theologians. When I suggest that the Bible be used for devotional reading, however, I am not talking about systematic Bible study. Proper Bible study should also be something believers learn and that does take time but even young teenagers and new Christians are capable of using the Bible for devotional reading with just a little help to get them started. Devotional reading and Bible study are not exactly the same thing but they are complimentary. We should always seek to base our devotions on proper understanding of the text and our study should always have a devotional end in mind. The more time spent directly in the Bible will increase our ability to do both. In the next post I hope to help make this connection a bit more clear.

  1. I am convinced that most people would actually be less confused about the Bible if they spent more time reading the Bible and less time reading other material. I just typed “devotional” into the search bar and 51,876 entries came up.  I recognize there is an important place for other Christian material, but it should always be supplemental. Unlike other types of Christian literature, people often primarily use devotionals as substitutes for reading the Bible itself. What are the chances these 52,000 books are consistently reflecting upon the truth of the Bible? I am certain that if the goal is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds then the time would be much better spent actually meditating upon the truth (both plain and difficult) contained in the Bible.

In the next post, I will try to help those get started who may want to use the Bible for devotions but are not sure how to get started.