Born Again … and Again and Again?

Author Michael S. Heiser

Was Jesus open to the idea of reincarnation? The question may seem odd, but it’s one that many people, even biblical scholars, contend has a positive answer.[1] The idea comes from a passage you’ve likely read dozens of times.

John 9:1–4 ESV

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be made manifest in him (he was born blind). We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

BornAgainNotice the disciples’ question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many presume the question indicates that the disciples believed the man born blind really could have sinned before he was born, and that his pre-birth sins caused his congenital blindness. This presumption is followed by another: that Jesus’ answer wasn’t a categorical denial. Since Jesus doesn’t come out and say, “What a silly idea, don’t be ridiculous!” Some have argued that his response means that in this case the man born blind didn’t sin in a previous life, but perhaps that could have happened in another case. Could this interpretation be correct?

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul migrates from one body to another, different body, in a long (possibly endless) succession. The idea of the “migration of the soul” cannot be found in the Bible, or in other Jewish writers of antiquity,[2] which indicates the disciples were likely presuming something different: People can do good and evil while still in the womb. Paul addresses this misconception in Rom 9:9–13, when dealing with the case of Jacob and Esau. Even if a pre-born person could sin in the womb, this does not involve the migration of a soul.

Romans 9:9–13 ESV

“For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Matthew 16:13, where some people suggest that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets, is also no help to those who want to see reincarnation in John 9:3–4. Jesus and John were contemporaries, born six months apart (Luke 1:8–36), thus John’s soul could not have migrated into Jesus’ body. Elijah never died (2 Kgs 2:1–17), and so the migration of his soul is also not possible. If Jesus were one of the prophets, who had come back to life, then the prophet would be resurrected, not the prophet’s soul in another body. There are other, more technical flaws in this interpretation of John 9,[2] but from this examination alone, it should be apparent that the idea of Jesus approving of one being born again into another physical body,  is dead . . . again.

Notes:

[1] The notion that Jesus embraced reincarnation is usually associated with New Age writers such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Dolores Cannon. However, J. D. M. Derrett, a highly-respected Greek New Testament scholar, recently promoted this view in a scholarly journal article, “The True Meaning of Jn 9, 3–4” (Filología Neotestamentaria xvi 2003), pgs. 103–106.

[2] See “Did Jesus Allow for Reincarnation? Assessing the Syntax of John 9:3–4” at MichaelSHeiser.com/John9.pdf

 

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

A Woman Who Fears the Lord

See the beauty of Proverbs 31 displayed through the Bible-art video below. Share this video with a woman you admire today.

Author Katie Monsma

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” –Proverbs 31:10

The word “excellent” in Proverbs 31:10 is derived from the Hebrew lemma hayil.  The root of this word defines this woman as strong and confident—a woman of substance.

Hayil is a masculine term used 242 times in the Old Testament to reference strong men and armies. There are only two other references that link the Hebrew lemma hayil to a woman. A woman that is “the crown of her husband” in Proverbs 11:24, and when Boaz assures Ruth that she is a woman who exhibits hayil in Ruth 3:11. Hayil was an extremely uncommon way to describe a woman in the Old Testament. Proverbs 31 dives headfirst into the worth of a virtuous woman—this woman is a rare jewel, a gift from God.

The next set of verses continues to dig into the characteristics of this woman with hayil. She is trustworthy, hardworking, nurturing, and has enough resources to give readily to those who are in need. Proverbs 31 paints this woman line by line, creating a picture of a strength, confidence, and wisdom.

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” –Proverbs 31:30

Finally, the chapter ends by praising her as a truly virtuous woman (Prov. 31:28). Everyone treats her fairly and gives her credit for her work, yet she humbly receives such praise because of her fear for the Lord.  She is strong and fearless—truly a woman with hayil.

Take a moment to reflect on the beautiful passage of Proverbs 31 with this video. It seamlessly brings Scripture to life through color, sound, and animation. Share this video today!

Don’t miss the September/October issue of Bible Study Magazine featuring Lysa TerKeust, President of Proverbs 31 ministries. In every issue, you will find useful tools and methods for Bible study, along with insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe today!

 

Why the Dove?

Author John D. Barry

Ambrose of Milan on Jesus’ Baptism

Ambrose (ca. 333–397 AD) was the bishop of Milan, as well as St. Augustine’s teacher. He is most well known for his defense of the Holy Spirit as a divine part of the Trinity.

WhytheDove ‘[H]eaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove’ [Luke 3:21–22]. Why like a dove? For the grace of the washing requires simplicity, so that we may be ‘innocent like doves’ [Matt 10:16]. The grace of the washing requires peace, as in an earlier image the dove brought to the ark that which alone was inviolable by the flood [Gen 8:10–11]. … In that branch, in that ark, was the image of peace and of the church. In the midst of the floods of the world the Holy Spirit brings its fruitful peace to its church. David too taught [about] the sacrament of baptism … with the Spirit of prophecy, [saying,] ‘Who will give me wings like a dove?’ …

Because the Father did not wear a body, … the Father wished to prove to us that he is present in the Son, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased’ [Luke 3:22]. If you wish to learn that the Son is always present with the Father, read the voice of the Son saying, ‘If I go up into heaven, you are there. If I go down into the grave, you are present there’ [Psa 139:8].”[1]

[1] St. Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke with Fragments on the Prophecy of Isaias. Translation by T. Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), pgs. 76–77. Translation amended by A. A. Just, Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament  Vol 3. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), pgs. 66–67.

 

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Figuring out the “Firstborn” in Colossians 1:18

Author Andrew B. Perrin

In Col 1:18 Paul describes Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead.” How can this be when Lazarus was resurrected before Jesus (John 11:44)? To understand what Paul meant here, we must investigate the meaning of the Greek word behind the English word “firstborn.”

Step 1: Make the Switch to Greek and Establish a Preliminary Definition

FiguringOutFirstbornThe easiest way to pinpoint the Greek word translated as “firstborn” is to use The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament. This resource aligns the English translation with the corresponding Greek text. When we look directly below the English word “firstborn” in this resource we find the word prōtotokos.

From here we can use a Greek lexicon to formulate a working definition. If using print resources, take note of the number 4416 in the reverse interlinear, and look this number up in the Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary appended to Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. In Logos Bible Software, I simply double-click on prōtotokos in the reverse-interlinear and am directed to the appropriate entry in my preferred Greek lexicon, which is A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG). Both resources tell us that prōtotokos refers to birth order—in the first century, this signifies rank, or status.

Step 2: Briefly Track the Word through Greek Literature

Since the New Testament was written in a Greek culture, investigating how words were used in other Greek writings is an integral component of our study. Through concise survey articles, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNTA) plugs us into this Greek context.

Looking up “firstborn” in the Table of English words in TDNTA directs us to the article on page 965. In Logos Bible Software, this resource is a double-click away. TDNTA states that prōtotokos is rare in Greek literature; in its place authors often used the synonym prōtogonos meaning “first in rank.”

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, prōtotokos was applied to humans (Gen 38:6) and animals (Gen 4:4), both of whom God uniquely claimed as His own (Exod 13:2). The term also functioned as a national designation for Israel as the object of God’s special favor (Exod 4:22). Closer in time to the New Testament, Philo, a Greek Jewish Philosopher (20 BC–50 AD), described Cain as a prōtotokos since he was very literally the first human physically born (Gen 4:1)—who had a special rank as Adam’s heir. In all of these usages, the term denotes the special rank of the “firstborn” in relation to others.

Step 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the New Testament

We can narrow the scope of our study by focusing on the New Testament uses of prōtotokos. This can quickly be done using Logos Bible Software’s speed search, or manually by looking up the word “firstborn” in Strong’s and counting all of the occurrences listed with the number 4416. Both methods reveal that prōtotokos occurs eight times in the New Testament.

Six of these occurrences refer directly to Jesus. At the most basic level, Jesus is described as Mary’s “firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). Just as Philo referred to the physical birth and rank of Cain, Luke refers to Jesus as the first child of Mary.

In Col 1:15 Paul states that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation.” Paul may be referring to Jesus being the “first” eternal, divine being made flesh and born into the created order. Paul may also be referring to Jesus’ rank as head of creation. Jesus is the preeminent one who entered into the created world (Heb 1:6). The phrase “firstborn of the dead” occurs twice (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5), alluding to the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, not the timing of the resurrection. Because of this event, Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29).

Step 4: Revisit the Passage to Find the Meaning of the Word in Context

Assuming that theology is conveyed at the level of single words is a danger associated with word studies. However, the true indicator of the author’s intended meaning is how the word fits within the immediate context; for us this is Col 1:15–20.

Paul’s use of prōtotokos twice in this short section suggests that the “firstborn” is an important concept for the passage as a whole. The wider context of other New Testament writers, like John, who affirm Jesus’ pre-existence and eternality, also helps us understand what Paul is saying and not saying by this term.

Although Paul’s first usage of prōtotokos evokes the idea of rank and chronology, the second occurrence of “firstborn of the dead” refers to the idea of rank and not chronology. We know this precisely because Lazarus was raised from the dead—making Col 1:18 about the “special status” of Jesus. Col 1:18 extends this priority from creation to re-creation in light of resurrection. As “the firstborn of the dead” Jesus is the resurrected one that guarantees new life for those who follow Him. This understanding is the basis for Paul’s message of reconciliation that is fully dependent on Jesus’ preeminence as prōtotokos (Col 1:17, 20).

 

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Thorns, Thistles and Toiling

Author Jeannine Seery

“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’

To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’” (Gen 3:16–17, NIV).

Perhaps it’s because of the immThorns, Thistles and Toilingense joy and pain I’ve experienced being a parent that I’ve been thinking a great deal
lately about how the actions of Adam and Eve, our first parents, influence our daily lives.

As I’ve read it and heard it preached, the curse itself seems to be pretty straightforward: Women will toil in childbirth while men toil in work. I find myself wondering, though, how is this ancient curse evidenced in our modern existence, as we seek to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

At the very core of the curse is the act of rebellion against God. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with what their Father had given them and deemed it necessary to follow their own interests. They chose to look outside of their relationship with God for fulfillment, instead of trusting that He would satisfy their every need. In doing so, they broke relationship with Him. The rest is history.

I’m not sure if the curse, as seen in 21st century America, is only the actual pain of childbirth and hard work. I believe that we are cursed also (perhaps even more) by our desire to find satisfaction, identity and meaning in our children and work, rather than our relationship with God.

Male and female, it seems that we are endlessly striving to make a name for ourselves—whether that would be in reaching the top of the corporate ladder, or parenting the next Albert Einstein. Take a look at the shelves of your local bookstore: You’ll find countless resources on how to become a more effective, successful person in the world of work. A quick search on the internet can yield a wealth of information on how to best meet the physical and emotional needs of your child, even before birth.

The creators of these resources appeal to our deepest insecurities and deceive us into believing that if we can somehow find the secret formula, our success will be guaranteed.

People typically aspire to be the absolute best at what we do, which in and of itself is a noble pursuit. Our problems begin to arise when we seek to measure our intrinsic value by our successes and failures. Contrary to what we’ve been told, we are not what we do. It has never defined the essence of who we are, and it never can. We have been created by a loving God to bring glory to His name in all the circumstances of our lives. And often the very circumstances that bring Him the most glory are the times of our greatest failure, times when we give up trying to work in our own power and instead allow His power to be made perfect in our weakness.

The Word of God says in Eccl 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” While our daily struggles may not appear in the same form as our first parents’, their essence is quite similar. We often find ourselves dissatisfied with the path that God has ordained for us, which leads us to pursue our own agenda. Instead of taking our confusion and dissatisfaction to the one who knows us best, we are tempted to look outside of our relationship with God to find answers to our failures and disappointments. We toil, not against actual thorns and thistles, but against “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things [that] come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 NIV). We seek the forbidden fruit of this world that will never satisfy, while God waits for us to come and walk with Him in the cool of the day. He can meet our every need, if only we would let Him.

 

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

 

“Soul” Searching in Deuteronomy 6:5

Author Andrew B. Perrin

Soul Searching in Deuteronomy

In Deut 6:5, Moses admonishes the Israelites to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV).

But how well does the English translation “soul” in this verse convey the meaning of the underlying Hebrew word? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers eight definitions for the word. Since we can be certain Moses did not have a copy of this dictionary in hand, we must delve into the Hebrew text in hope of gaining fresh insight into this ancient verse. We can do this in four easy steps.

 

STEP 1: Make the Switch to Hebrew and Establish a Preliminary Definition

Locating the Hebrew word behind the English word “soul” is made easy with The ESV English-Hebrew Reverse Interlinear Old Testament. In this resource, each word of the English translation is aligned with its corresponding Hebrew word. When we look directly below “soul” in Deut 6:5 we see that nephesh is the Hebrew word behind the translation.

Now that we have this Hebrew word in mind, we establish a preliminary definition, what scholars call a “gloss.” If using print resources like Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, we look up the English word “soul” and locate the reference to Deut 6:5. We then note the Strong’s number, 5315, to the right of the passage and look it up in the numerically-keyed Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary appended to Strong’s. With Logos Bible Software we just double-click the word in the reverse interlinear and our preferred lexicon opens, which for me is A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Holladay.¹

A survey of the entry for nephesh in Holladay shows us that the word has up to 10 potential meanings including: “breath,” “living being,” “man,” “life,” “soul” and even “corpse.” Since words function in context, we need to investigate what our word means in various contexts, not just lump all the definitions together.

 

 STEP 2: Briefly Explore the Word in Other Ancient Semitic Languages

It is often valuable to investigate the cultural contexts from which a word emerged. The most efficient way to detect the potential influence of other languages on our Hebrew word is to consult a resource such as the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT).² For Logos Bible software users this resource is a click away. For those using the print edition, a convenient index coded with Strong’s Numbers allows readers to easily access the dictionary.

By looking up the Strong’s number 5315 we are directed to the TWOT numerical entry 1395a on nephesh. This article informs us that similar words in Ugaritic and Akkadian were associated with breathing and by implication the throat. Further nuances are seen in equivalent Arabic words that can also mean soul, mind, life or appetite.

With this broader context of associated meanings in mind we can now move on to isolate the unique contours of nephesh in the Old Testament.

 

STEP 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the Old Testament

There are two perspectives that must be considered when understanding the usage of a word: (1) frequency (how many times a word is used); and (2) distribution (where the word is used). Investigating usage along these two axes allows us to establish a spectrum of meaning for our word in the Old Testament context.

To determine the frequency and distribution of a word we can use Logos’ concordance function or Strong’s. If using Strong’s we must look up the English word “soul” and tabulate only the number of occurrences with the Strong’s number 5315. In total there are 757 occurrences of the noun nephesh in the Old Testament. We can consult a selection of these passages to ascertain the spectrum of potential meanings.

At this stage we already see that nephesh in the Old Testament is a diverse term touching the many facets of life and living.

By narrowing the scope of our study and focusing on the distinct features of the occurrences of nephesh in Deuteronomy, we see that the term has special significance in light of Israel’s conduct and relationship with God. While Deuteronomy often uses nephesh to simply denote existence (Deut 12:23) or desire (Deut 14:26), the word is afforded a unique nuance that extends the spectrum of meanings provided above. Of the 35 occurrences in Deuteronomy, nephesh appears in close proximity with the word “heart” 11 times. This consistent pairing is seen most often in the phrase “with all your heart and all your soul” referring to the diligence and commitment the Israelites were to exhibit towards God’s laws (compare Deut 10:12).

With the broader palette of Old Testament usage, as well as the unique coloring of nephesh (שׁפנ) in Deuteronomy in mind, we can now return to the beginning of our investigation and examine Deut 6:5 once again.

Nephesh is often used to denote:

The very essence of existence (Gen 2:7) which departs at death (Gen 35:18; 1 Kgs 19:10).

The seat of human emotion and/or desire (Psa 35:25; Song 1:7; Ezek 24:25).

The organs, or physical actions, associated with breathing (Ps 105:18; Job 41:21; Isa 5:14).

 

STEP 4: Revisit the Passage to Find the Meaning of the Word in Context.

Our study has shown us that the English translation “soul,” especially when paired with “heart,” is ambiguous and lacks the precision required for an accurate interpretation of Deut 6:5. In this context nephesh is primarily a synonym for life and is distinct from other words such as “heart” (lev) that is closely associated with the mind rather than emotion. Instead of understanding “soul” as the immaterial spiritual component of a person, this concise understanding better conveys the passage’s call for an all-encompassing and lived-out devotion to God.

 

Notes:

¹A lexicon is an in-depth dictionary about a specific corpus of writings. Because of this, lexicons contain more lengthy and detailed entries than dictionaries.

 

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

What does the Bible teach about … Righteousness and Truth?

Author Craig C. Broyles

Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.  Isaiah 45:8 NRSV

Some words from the Bible are used so frequently in Christian vocabulary that we assume we know their meaning. What does the bible teach acout righteousness and truth?But often they have been so colored by our traditions that their meaning has shifted from biblical times. Fortunately, to recover these ancient meanings we do not have to rely on archaeology and inscriptions (though these resources are often helpful). Most scholars use the same resource every Christian has access to: the Bible.

A word’s meaning or definition is best determined by how it is used. The usage is found through considering the following contexts:

1. The sentence (grammar and syntax)

2. The genre (a literary type) and literary context

3. The situation (historical and sociological contexts)

Let’s now examine two words—righteousness and truth—to see how these features can shed light on a word’s usage and meaning.

 Righteousness

God’s Righteousness in Isaiah 40–55

For many Christians “righteousness” (sedeq or sedeqah) can simply mean conformity to God’s moral law. This conformity should then be exemplified in moral behavior. There are indeed biblical references that support this perspective (Deut 6:25). But there are other facets to this diamond of biblical “righteousness,” especially when we focus in particular on God’s righteousness in Isaiah 40–55.

1. The Sentence. “Parallelism” is characteristic of Hebrew poetry, and it can provide an immediate clue to the field of meaning (often called the “semantic field”) of a particular word in a particular context. In this verse we see that as “righteousness” rains down from the skies, it produces “salvation.” While there are different kinds of parallelism, in this case “salvation” and “righteousness” appear as near synonyms.

2-3. The genre and literary context, and the historical situation. This hymnic fragment follows a pivotal oracle (44:24–45:7) in Isa 40–55. These chapters are addressed to the Jews exiled from their homeland to Babylonia in the mid-sixth century BC. They had little hope, except for “the word of our God” that “stands forever” (Isa 40:80). In this pivotal, prophetic word, God announces that he will use Cyrus, king of Persia, as his agent to restore the Jews to their homeland and to rebuild Jerusalem. He even calls this Persian king “my shepherd” and “anointed” (or “messiah”)! Now we can make sense of why “salvation” and “righteousness” are one and the same thing for these Jewish exiles. God, by “saving” his people from deportation, “puts things right” for these oppressed people. This amounts to nothing less than “rescuing righteousness.”

“My righteousness” and “my salvation,” that is, God’s salvation and righteousness, are parallel terms in Isa 46:13 as well. In this speech the Lord challenges His people to believe that “the man of my counsel from a far country” (46:11), namely Cyrus the Persian, will bring God’s “righteousness” and “salvation” to Zion/Jerusalem. Similarly, three times “my righteousness” and “my salvation” appear as parallel terms (51:5, 6, 8) that bring the Lord’s comforting and restoring of Zion/Jerusalem (51:3). Finally, in Isa 45:21 the Lord characterizes Himself as “a righteous God and savior”—in contrast to the idols of the nations. In this speech against the nations, they are given an altar call, so to speak (“turn to me and be saved”), wherein they may confess, “only in the Lord … are righteous deeds and strength” (i.e., rescuing acts; 45:22–24). Indeed, “in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified” (or “made right,” yisdequ). This verse uses the verbal form of the Hebrew word for “righteousness.” The righteousness of God in Isaiah 40–55 does not denote the absolute, moral standard by which He judges and condemns people. What is decisive here is that God’s “righteousness” is virtually synonymous with His “salvation”—even though his people disobey His “law” (Isa 42:24) and His “commandments” (48:18). In fact, it is in spite of Israel’s being “far from righteousness” that God declares “I bring my righteousness near, it is not far” (46:12–13; compare, 48:1). Thus, the “righteousness” of God in Isa 40–55 anticipates the rescuing righteousness of God that is fundamental to Paul’s epistle to the Romans (see esp. 1:16–17).

Truth: Truth in the Psalms

As with the term, “righteousness,” many in Western society conceive of “truth” (’emet) as an abstract, absolute standard or norm of reality. But the Old Testament tends to treat “truth” in the context of relationship.

In the Psalms ’emet, (תמא) is frequently paired with khesed, which is translated as “steadfast love” (NRSV, ESV), “lovingkindness” (NASB), and “love” (NIV). All fifteen of these pairings describe attributes of God. This pairing of terms, along with the psalmic prayers and praises that use it, associates ’emet, (תמא) with relational loyalty. Hence, the NRSV and ESV translators use “faithfulness” in these contexts. The echoes in Ps 86:15 point to the famous confession in Exod 34:6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (’emet).”

At this moment during the Golden Calf incident, the Lord revealed His merciful “faithfulness”—in spite of His people’s rebellion.

In some cases where “truth” is used in reference to humans in the psalms, it is better understood and translated as “authenticity.” When the hymn, Ps 145, celebrates that the “Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (145:18 NRSV), it refers to those who call on the Lord with sincerity and authenticity and not necessarily to those who are in full conformity to an absolute standard of “truth.” Ps 51 is a classic confession of personal sin.

The claim, “you desire truth in the inward being” (Ps 51:6 NRSV), points to the sincere, authentic confession exemplified in the psalm itself. The temple entry liturgy of Ps 15 echoes this same notion: “those who … speak the truth from their heart” (15:2). These uses of ’emet do not point to “truth” in the sense of moral perfection but to “true” speech that authentically reflects one’s heart.

Word studies can be fruitful endeavors. By listening closely to how the Hebrew writers used their words we can get closer to how they thought. In the cases of “righteousness” and “truth” they primarily considered them not as external, moral standards or norms, but within the context of a committed relationship. In Isaiah 40–55 and the Psalms, God’s “righteousness” and “truth” exhibit themselves as salvation and fidelity. Human righteousness in the Psalms exhibits itself as authenticity.

 

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

Love Potion: Numbers 5

Author Michael S. Heiser

When’s the last time you heard a sermon on Numbers 5:11–31?

One of the things I enjoy telling people in conversations about Bible study is that “if it’s weird, it’s important.” This passage certainly qualifies in both respects. The strangeness of the passage is easily detectable, but only careful Bible study makes its importance apparent.

LovePotion#5Numbers 5:11–31 describes a water ritual to determine the guilt or innocence of a woman suspected of adultery. A husband is to bring the wife under suspicion to the priest, along with a required grain offering that will “bring iniquity to remembrance.” The priest in turn prepares a jar of water mixed with dust from the tabernacle (5:16–17). To this mixture is added the curses against her written “in a book” (5:23). Either the curses were written and erased, so that the erasures are swept into the water mixture, or the ink is washed off into the water mixture. The woman is compelled to drink the concoction after saying “Amen, Amen” in response to the priest’s invocation of blessing or cursing upon her, depending on her innocence or guilt. If she is guilty, the ingested mixture will cause pain and sterility; if there is no such reaction, she is deemed innocent (5:27–31).¹

Since the instructions in Num 5 were given by God (5:11), the water ordeal is a means of divination, whereby it is expected that God will use the ritual to answer a question human beings cannot. That the Israelites could use such divination comes as no surprise, as the high priest had the Urim and Thummim at his disposal, and various biblical characters utilize the casting of lots for discerning the mind of God on a matter (Josh 18:6-8; Prov 16:33; Acts 1:26).²

This passage provides a useful starting point for discussing why biblical characters were permitted to practice divination at all, when elsewhere such methods are condemned (e.g., Deut 18:9–14).³ But let’s instead focus on one practical implication of this passage.

Students of the Bible know that adultery was punishable by death in ancient Israel (Lev 20:10–11). Surprisingly, death is not the penalty for the guilty woman in Num 5:11-31. The normal word for adultery (na’af, נאף)—the word used in connection with the death penalty—does not occur in this passage, further distancing it from being a capital crime. Why these discrepancies?

The answer lies in the fact that the guilty woman was not discovered in the act of adultery (5:13). Since this is the case, the community and, particularly, the angry husband, is effectively prohibited by the law of the water ordeal from taking matters into their own hands. This would serve as a protection for women suspected of adultery, or who might be the target of someone’s animosity or jealousy. The point is that secret adultery can and will be punished only by God.

 

Notes:

¹There are explicit parallels to this procedure in the literature of the ancient Near Eastern world of biblical times. For example, one of the laws in Hammurabi’s code (COS 2.31) concerns a river ordeal for a woman accused of adultery.

²Urim and Thummim: The exact nature of the Urim and Thummim and how they were used is unknown. A literalized translation of the terms would be “lights and perfections.” The Urim and Thummim are distinguished from the casting of lots as a method of divination in the traditional Hebrew text (the Masoretic Text) of 1 Sam 14:36–42, though this is often obscured by English translations that follow the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (e.g., ESV).

³See Michael S. Heiser, “The Old Testament Response to Ancient Near Eastern Pagan Divination Practices.”

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

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John Chrysostom on Paul’s Attitude toward the Galatians

Author John D. Barry

John Chrysostom (ca. AD 347–407) was the Bishop of Constantinople, a position which he took against his will. A very prolific theological writer, as well as an articulate speaker, he wrote homilies (sermons) on about half of the New Testament books.

John Chrysostom on Paul’s Attitude towards the Galatians

John Chrysostom“Now that this Epistle [to the Galatians] breathes an indignant spirit, is obvious to everyone even on the first perusal; but I must explain the cause of his anger against the disciples. Slight and unimportant it could not be, or he would not have used such vehemence. . . . What then was the offence which roused him? It was grave and momentous, one which was estranging them all from Christ, as he himself says further on, ‘Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing’ [Gal 1:2]; and again, ‘Ye who would be justified by the Law, ye are fallen away from Grace’ [Gal 1:4]. What then is this? For it must be explained more clearly. Some of the Jews who believed, being held down by the prepossessions of Judaism, and at the same time intoxicated by vain-glory, and desirous of obtaining for themselves the dignity of teachers, came to the Galatians, and taught them that the observance of circumcision, Sabbaths, and new-moons, was necessary, and that [Paul’s abolishment of these things was to be ignored.] For, said they, Peter and James and John, the chiefs of the Apostles and the companions of Christ, forbade them not. Now in fact they did not forbid these things, but this was not by way of delivering positive doctrine, but in condescension to the weakness of the Jewish believers, which condescension Paul had no need of when preaching to the Gentiles; but when he was in Judea, he employed it himself also.”¹

1John Chrystotom, Homily on Galatians. Translated volume edited by Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. XIII.

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

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