Placed in God’s Garden

And YHWH God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed (Genesis 2:8).

When we think of the Garden of Eden, we tend to do so in terms of paradise lost: man sinned and was forced out (Genesis 3:1-22). Yet we can gain lessons about man’s relationship toward God based on what God sought to accomplish in Eden.

Genesis 2:4-25 provides greater detail regarding the creation of man and woman as mentioned in Genesis 1:26-30. Much is made of Genesis 2:4-25 as a “competing” account of creation; the Genesis author has no such idea in mind, but presents to further explain man’s creation. We make much of God making man from the dust of the ground and breathing into him the breath of life (Hebrew neshama, Greek psyche; Genesis 2:7), and for good reason: such explains how man is both earthly and divine, energized dust. Thus man returns to the dust from which he came (Genesis 3:19); the breath of life in him is a gift and is not to be treated flippantly. Yet what does God then do with the man? YHWH planted a garden, made every tree with fruit good to eat grow there, and He put the man into that garden where he was to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:8-15). God does not just drop the man anywhere in the creation. He places the man in His garden.

“Eden” seems to connote delight and pleasure, as can be seen in the related Hebrew word found in Genesis 18:12, 2 Samuel 1:24, Psalm 36:8, and Jeremiah 51:34; not for nothing does the Greek translator of the Septuagint translate “garden” with paradeison, “paradise,” in Genesis 2:8. The Greek term itself derives from a Persian word describing a “walled enclosure”; a “royal park” is really in view, a well-planned, well-maintained garden, not terribly unlike the gardens of palaces, manors, and estates still visible in Europe, even if reflecting different tastes. Thus Eden was never really “raw nature”; it was a divinely created and organized garden estate, featuring aesthetically pleasing plants, plants good for food, and most likely embodying divine creativity and organization throughout.

A garden, by its very nature, is artificial; if left untended it will become overgrown and lose the properties which distinguish a garden from a forest or other form of natural environment. Man, therefore, was to work and keep God’s garden. Man is made to work; the ultimate futility of the endeavor is the curse of the fall, not the desire for the endeavor itself (Genesis 3:17-18; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11). But man is not made to work in a vacuum: he is made to work and keep God’s garden. Man does not make the garden; man does not innovate in the garden; man is placed in God’s garden to keep it, to enjoy it, and to relish the sublime beauty and truth established in how God has composed that garden.

Since the fall man has been removed from that garden and has lost his innocence; from Eden man will end up at Babel, using his creative energies to make monuments to his own greatness (Genesis 11:1-8). Not much has changed since. Man was made to explore God’s garden and world in wonderment; we have perverted that impulse into a desire to become the masters of the universe. When we “discover” something, we presume some sort of ownership or control over it. In the grand scheme of things such claims seem petty, as a child’s game. It reminds us of the claims of certain Europeans having “discovered” America and other places; the Native Americans of the time were unaware that their lands needed “discovering,” and were quite aware of its existence for millennia without any Europeans around. Likewise, when humans learn about things, they are not really new; they have always existed, testifying to God’s majesty and power (Romans 1:19-21). We could learn about such things and give glory to God; instead, we tend to try to take them back to the Babels which we have built and use them to magnify ourselves. The results are less than aesthetically pleasing.

And yet, ever since the fall, God has called humanity back into restored relationship with Him. We now have opportunity to return to God and seek His purposes through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-11). In Jesus we have the hope to return to paradise, to recover what was lost in the fall (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4, Revelation 2:7, 22:1-6). We yearn for full restoration and to bask in the glory of God’s presence without hindrance for eternity (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-27). We want to go back to the Garden.

While we do await that full restoration, we are also told that we are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God “undoes” the curse of Babel on the day of Pentecost when the assembled Jewish people hear in their own languages the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11). In our lives as Christians we are again invited to participate in the work of glorifying God in His Kingdom, to do His work for His purposes (1 Corinthians 15:58, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:10). Thus, in a real way, Christians are invited to “keep God’s garden” by working in His vineyard, the Kingdom (Matthew 21:33-44).

In many ways God invites us into His garden to enjoy its delights and to work and maintain it. The whole creation is, in a real sense, God’s garden. Through science and technology we learn much about God’s creation; we should not presume to be able to master and manipulate it fully to our own ends, to bring it back into our philosophical boxes to serve our ends, but should glorify God in wonderment for what He has made and how (cf. Psalm 8:1-9). God has given us of His Word (Hebrews 1:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We ought to spend time in that Word, diligently applying ourselves to learn it and to accomplish its purposes in our lives (2 Timothy 2:15). Yet, just as Adam could never truly innovate in or master Eden, so we should never presume that we can discover something new through our investigation or mining of the Word, or imagine that we can take God’s Word to our Babel of philosophical ideologies and structures and in that way improve on it or understand it better than all who have come before us (cf. Colossians 2:8). We will never master the Word; we submit to God through the message of the Word and find ourselves mastered by it (Hebrews 4:12). The Word is to be one of God’s gardens of delight for us, a place in which we may find constant surprise which is to lead to confidence in God, adoration of His beauty, and praising and glorifying His name. God has given us important people and relationships in our lives; man was not made to be alone, for God Himself is not alone, but one in relational unity (Genesis 2:18, John 17:21-23). Those people in our lives are not there to be mastered or manipulated; instead, we are to enjoy their presence, seek to encourage them and help build them up, and glorify God for their presence. Every time we are tempted to make a Babel of something which God has made we do well to instead frame it as part of God’s garden, something on which we cannot improve, but something which we can cherish, enjoy, and learn about, all to the glory of God.

God has made us; in Him we live and move and have our being; we are made to seek Him (Acts 17:26-28). It is not for us to master, manipulate, and presume that we can make better than what God has already made. Instead, since the beginning, it has been for us to enjoy with wonderment God’s garden, to work in God’s creation and maintain things, and to give God all the glory. May we seek alignment with God’s purposes, renounce our impulse for mastery and control, submit to the Lord Jesus, and work in His Kingdom to His glory for all eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Basis of Torah

YHWH is my portion / I have said that I would observe thy words.
I entreated thy favor with my whole heart / be merciful unto me according to thy word.
I thought on my ways / and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
I made haste, and delayed not / to observe thy commandments.
The cords of the wicked have wrapped me round / but I have not forgotten thy law.
At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee / because of thy righteous ordinances.
I am a companion of all them that fear thee / and of them that observe thy precepts.
The earth, O YHWH, is full of thy lovingkindness / teach me thy statutes (Psalm 119:57-64 ח).

God’s instruction has great value, but only because God gave it and God stands behind it.

Psalm 119 is the great paean to torah and faithful observance thereof. Torah is the Hebrew word most frequently translated as “law” throughout the Old Testament; a fuller definition would be “instruction” since the Torah involved a lot more than just “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” but included explanations and illustrations. Psalm 119 is full of praise for YHWH’s Torah, expressed with meticulous order and care. Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm in octets, with each verse in each octet beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Toward the middle of Psalm 119 we have the ḥet section, Psalm 119:57-64, with each verse beginning with the Hebrew letter ḥet (ח).

Each octet of Psalm 119 maintains a type of theme regarding torah; ḥet in many ways summarizes the primary themes not only of Psalm 119 but the Psalter in general. YHWH is the portion of the Psalmist; thus the Psalmist has promised to keep the words which He has established (Psalm 119:57). The Psalmist knows he cannot live by his own righteousness or according to his own standard, and so he implores YHWH to obtain His favor and mercy (Psalm 119:58). The Psalmist considers the way he lives his life and on its basis recognizes his need to follow the ways or testimonies of God, to not delay in observing God’s commandments (Psalm 119:59-60). The Psalmist experiences adversity but does not forget the law (Psalm 119:61). Even in the darkness the Psalmist will give thanks to YHWH because of His righteous ordinances; the Psalmist maintains communion with all who fear YHWH and keep His precepts (Psalm 119:62-63). The Psalmist perceives that the earth is full of YHWH’s ḥeṣed, a term often translated “lovingkindness” or “mercy,” yet with the connotation of “covenant faithfulness” or thus “loyalty” (as you can tell, an essentially untranslatable term!), and thus asks YHWH to teach him His statutes (Psalm 119:64).

The Psalmist has laid it all out well in Psalm 119:57-64: he praises YHWH for His torah consisting of the Word of YHWH, His testimonies, commandments, law, ordinances, precepts, and statutes (cf. Deuteronomy 4:40, 45, 5:10). The Psalmist confesses how the earth is full of YHWH’s ḥeṣed; in other psalms such a declaration is a confession of how YHWH created the heavens and the earth and thus could fill it with His ḥeṣed (Psalms 33:5-9, 104:24-31). The ḥeṣed of YHWH, especially as it is granted to Israel, is a major theme throughout the Psalter, and part of the bedrock of trust in YHWH expressed throughout the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 23:6, 25:10, 85:7, 86:5, 89:1, etc.). Thus we have the theme of Psalm 119:57-64: YHWH has maintained His ḥeṣed, lovingkindness/covenant loyalty to Israel, manifest in His creation and in giving His torah, or instruction, to Israel. On account of this the Psalmist praises YHWH, promises to observe all the laws, ordinances, testimonies, and statutes of YHWH, and desires to be further taught in YHWH’s torah. Yet the Psalmist can only obtain these blessings through God’s favor and mercy, all because YHWH is his portion.

Likewise this understanding of how YHWH’s torah relates to His covenant loyalty, favor, and mercy, and how it is YHWH Himself who is the Psalmist’s portion, helps us to keep the rest of the Psalmist’s praise of torah in all its forms in proper context. It would be easy to reduce the praise of the law in Psalm 119 to mere law keeping for the sake of keeping and observing it, and many have gone down this path. Yet the Psalter does not commend keeping torah just for the sake of keeping torah as if it is a checklist to be marked off and then one can move on. There is great value in observing YHWH’s precepts and statutes, but their value is not in and of themselves; their value is in the fact that they are the expression of the will of YHWH, the Creator God of Israel who has continually displayed covenant faithfulness to His people and in fact to all the earth. The torah is not the Psalmist’s portion; YHWH Himself is. It is because YHWH is, has made all things, expresses covenant loyalty to His people and to His creation, and provides favor and mercy to His people, that the Psalmist upholds and affirms the great value of torah.

Torah was uttered by YHWH for the sake of His people; Torah was not God. Israel was supposed to follow torah because God had spoken it as His Word, the same Word which generated the creation, all life, and allows existence to continue (Psalm 33:5-9, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:1-3). To disconnect torah from YHWH by attempting to observe torah to its own end would not only be impossible but also worthless: as the Apostle Paul will later note, none save Jesus have kept the Law perfectly, and no one can be made righteous before God on the basis of works of the Law (Romans 3:1-20). One continues to need God’s covenant faithfulness, favor, and mercy, and for such things you have to turn to YHWH Himself. YHWH was Israel’s portion, and thus Israel should follow torah.

We serve God in Christ under a new covenant enacted with better promises (Hebrews 7:1-9:27), yet the premise of Psalm 119:57-64 remains quite important. Not for nothing does the New Testament speak of the Word of YHWH as God and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1-18). The Word of God has great power to save (Romans 1:16, Hebrews 4:12), yet that power is not on the page or in ink but in God who both sent the Word to the earth as Jesus and testified to that Word through the Spirit who proclaimed the message of this Life (John 1:1-18, 3:16, Acts 2:1-12, 5:20). In understandable attempts to defend the importance of the Scriptures many well-intentioned Christians will speak so as to suggest that the Scriptures are themselves God, and we must be on our guard about such a presentation, for just as torah was not Israel’s God, so the New Testament is not the Christian’s God. Instead the New Testament makes known to us what is true about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and how God has wrought salvation and forgiveness of sins through Jesus of Nazareth and gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth (Romans 5:6-11, Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is Lord; such is why the New Testament has great value for us. Jesus is risen from the dead; such is how the Word of God gives us hope for eternal life (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

As with Israel, so with us. God must be our portion; if we have any hope to stand before Him it is because He has been faithful to His covenant, displaying to us lovingkindness, favor/grace, and mercy, and we cannot find such things from a book, but only from a Person. We can have all confidence in God and the message He has revealed to us because He is the Creator and the creation is full of His lovingkindness/covenant loyalty. Therefore we observe God’s commandments, not as an end unto themselves, but as the embodiment of our trust in and loyalty to the God who loved us and saved us in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 John 2:1-6). Let us be sure that God in Christ is our portion, that we seek His favor and mercy, and seek to observe His commandments because He is God, our Creator and Sustainer and loyal to His people!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The God of the Living

On that day there came to him Sadducees, they that say that there is no resurrection: and they asked him, saying,
“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.’ Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first married and deceased, and having no seed left his wife unto his brother; in like manner the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And after them all, the woman died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.”
But Jesus answered and said unto them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:23-32).

The Sadducees no doubt loved their “gotcha” question for all those who believed in resurrection. How could they expect to be thoroughly upstaged and humiliated by this Man from Galilee?

After Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph He threw down the gauntlet in Matthew 21:12-13, overthrowing the tables of the money-changers, uttering forth the same condemnation on the Second Temple as Jeremiah had done on the First (cf. Jeremiah 7:11). The Sadducees, named from Zadok the High Priest in the days of David (2 Samuel 8:17), were one of the three principal Jewish sects of the late Second Temple period; most of their number primarily included the priests and others who had a vested interest in the perpetuation of the Temple and the status quo. They were not many in number, but they had great wealth and prominence among the people. Jesus’ challenge to the Temple could not go unopposed; the Sadducees were going to put this Galilean in His place.

The Sadducees accepted the legitimacy of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Since they found nothing explicitly in it regarding the resurrection of the dead, they rejected it; their views on this issue were one of the frequently disputed matters between them and the Pharisees, who believed in the legitimacy of the Prophets and the Writings and thus the resurrection of the dead as well (Matthew 22:23; cf. Acts 23:6-10). It is highly unlikely that this was the first time this “gotcha” scenario in Matthew 22:24-28 had been posed; it was quite likely a common question to a Pharisee or to someone else who believed in resurrection. The purpose of the question was to put Jesus in an awkward position, humiliate Him before the crowds, and cause Him to lose legitimacy.

The scenario is outlandish and to the extreme but one that nevertheless remains possible. The Sadducees focus on Moses’ legislation regarding levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10: if a man dies without offspring to inherit his property, his widow shall marry a brother or a near kinsman so as to raise up offspring to inherit the dead man’s property. Therefore the Sadducees posit a family of seven brothers with extraordinarily bad luck: the first marries a woman, but dies before any offspring are born. The woman then marries the second brother with the same result; the same happens for brothers three through seven (Matthew 22:24-28). So they pose their “gotcha” question: if this resurrection of the dead is possible and true, to whom will this woman be married? To all seven brothers? Just the first? After all, they all had her as wife!

No doubt this question had caused great embarrassment and consternation to many Pharisees and others over the years, yet it rested on an assumption and presupposition that Jesus immediately exploits. The Sadducees presume that marriage would continue in the resurrection; Jesus declares it is not so (Matthew 22:29-30). In the resurrection there is no need for marriage; all who obtain the resurrection of life will share in fellowship with God and each other, and since they will never die, there is no need for further procreation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Instead, those who share in the resurrection are like the angels who have no need to marry or procreate (Matthew 22:30).

Jesus then expertly turns the tables with a masterful piece of exegesis. The Sadducees intended to cause Him consternation, embarrassment, and thus humiliation before the crowd on account of their “gotcha” scenario; upon their own ground Jesus exposes their lack of understanding and faith in God’s Word and power. He does so by quoting Exodus 3:6 in which YHWH declares He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus, as the second book in the Torah, was held as sacred by Jesus and the Sadducees alike. Jesus points out the implication of YHWH’s declaration: how can God “be” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if those three patriarchs are dead? If they were no more, then YHWH was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus Jesus declares that God is not the God of the dead but of the living; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still live and await the day of resurrection (Matthew 22:31-32). The crowd was astonished at this teaching (Matthew 22:33). The Sadducees were put to silence, having no ability to respond to what Jesus had declared (Matthew 22:34). It must have been a bitter pill to swallow; not only would every Pharisee and anyone else who believed in resurrection give a similar answer to their “gotcha” question, now they would also get called out on the basis of Exodus 3:6. Little wonder many of the scribes thought Jesus had answered well in Luke 20:39; they now had ammunition against the Sadducees!

We can gain much from this story. We see that outlandish scenarios are the desperate last stand of false doctrines; they frequently rest on assumptions and presuppositions that are easily challenged and undermine the legitimacy of the doctrinal position of the one posing it. We learn about the nature of the resurrection: there will be no marriage in the resurrection, nor will their be any need for procreation. While some may have great desire for sex in the resurrection, Matthew 22:30 suggests this is but wishful thinking. Greater glory and joy, after all, awaits us in the resurrection (Revelation 21:1-22:6). Jesus affirms the power of inference: it would be easy to miss the detail of God’s present standing as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to not automatically connect such with the resurrection. Jesus proves willing to rest His entire affirmation of the resurrection before the Sadducees on this inference since they all affirm the canonicity of Exodus.

Jesus proves willing to depend upon Exodus 3:6 to support His argument not because it is the only way to defend resurrection from the Torah but because of the great importance of the revelation of God in Exodus 3:6. God is revealing Himself for the first time to Moses; in Exodus 6:2-3 God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH. YHWH is a nominal form derived from the Hebrew word for “to be,” thus, something akin to “Is-ness”, “Being,” “the Existent One,” and thus “the Eternal One.” As the Creator, Source, and Sustainer of life (Genesis 1:1-2:4, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), YHWH is the God of life and thus of the living. God is not the God of the dead; in Sheol there is no remembrance of God or praise for Him (Psalm 6:5). If God is the God of the living, then He will give life to those whom He loves.

Exodus 3:6 therefore is not properly “proof” of the resurrection; instead, resurrection is perhaps the unexpected but absolutely the logical conclusion of the fact that God is the God of the living, that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is the God of the living, then those who stand before God must do so in life, and that is precisely what God has promised all people who serve the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 36, 6:40, 10:10, 11:25).

The Sadducees’ great error came long before they stood before Jesus with their “gotcha” question; it came when they did not properly understand the Scriptures, the power of God, or really the essential nature of God. God is YHWH; God is, and is thus the God of the living, not the dead. In God there is life; those who are in God will share in life, both spiritual life in Jesus and life in the resurrection on the final day. Let us put our trust in the YHWH, the God of the living, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and glorify Him in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Distorting Scripture

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).

As Peter is concluding his letter, describing what will happen at the end of time and exhorting Christians to understand that God is not “slow” or “delayed” but patient and longsuffering toward us so that we might repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:1-15a), he goes out of his way to show that Paul had also written to them regarding “these things” (2 Peter 3:15b-16). Peter says they are written according to the wisdom given to him, and that some things are hard to understand. These difficult matters are “distorted” (Greek streblousin, “to torture, wrest,” thus, to pervert) by those who are “ignorant” (Greek amatheis, unschooled or unlearned) and “unstable” (Greek asteriktoi, unfixed, vacillating, unsteadfast; used also in 2 Peter 2:14; these three Greek terms used only in these instances in 2 Peter in the New Testament). Peter then encourages those Christians to whom he writes to beware lest they also get carried away with the error of the lawless and fall from their own steadfastness, but should instead grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:17-18).

Peter’s affirmation of Paul and his writings is quite important: it represents a strong challenge those who seek to find discontinuity and inconsistency between Peter and Paul, making much of Galatians 2:11-14. Peter affirms that he and Paul have taught the same things; not only that, but Peter proves willing to cite Paul’s writing as further confirmation of the things which he is teaching, giving great credibility and honor to Paul’s writings. Paul is not an outlier in Christian theology and thought: Peter makes that clear.

What are “these things” to which Peter refers (cf. 2 Peter 3:16)? Perhaps Peter refers to “salvation,” the nearest concept (cf. 2 Peter 3:15): Paul has much to say about the nature of salvation in terms of election, grace, faith, obedience, etc., throughout his writings. Yet “these things” are plural, and the final section of the letter, 2 Peter 3:1-15a, has focused on Jesus’ return, the end of time, and the Lord’s patience, another theme regarding which Paul has many things to say (cf. Romans 2:4-11, 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-2:12, among others). Peter’s letter has also featured encouragement through testimony and warnings about false teachers, other themes which feature in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 1:6-2:10, 1 Timothy 4:1-4, 6:3-10, 2 Timothy 2:14-19, 4:3-4, although the parallels are stronger between 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Jude 1:3-23). Peter, therefore, likely has Paul’s warnings about false teachers and particularly discussions of the end of time in mind.

While the tone of the passage is negative in many ways, we can derive positive encouragement from it. Some things in Paul’s teachings are hard to understand: yet many things are more easily understood, and even though some parts may be difficult, it is not impossible to understand them. Yes, the unlearned and unstable distort the Scriptures: but we can be learned and stable, and handle the Scriptures properly (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Peter 3:14-15). The Scriptures can be understood; we can gain encouragement from them. We can learn of God’s will and purpose for us.

Yet the focus is undoubtedly on the negative in 2 Peter 3:16: the unlearned and unstable distort and pervert not just what Paul writes but also other parts of Scripture. We do well to consider these matters so that we may not be guilty of them!

Peter warns about the “unlearned” distorting Scripture. “Unlearned” is not synonymous with “a lack of formal or higher education”; Peter himself is reckoned as one without formal education and a common man in Acts 4:13. One can have many degrees in higher education and still be “unlearned” or at least “unstable”; one may not have a lot of formal education but be wise in the Scriptures. Yet Peter’s warning is apt: many people, even good-intentioned people, end up distorting Scripture because they are not familiar with much of the story. Many false doctrines have begun and spread because men with less than stellar understanding of Scripture began teaching what made sense to them and refused to accept correction from those with better understanding of what God has made known through Scripture. We must remember that the sum of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160); many times people will focus on some passages or statements in Scripture to the detriment and neglect of others and come out with unbalanced, unhealthy teachings. These days many teachings of Scripture are discussed and attempted to be applied without any consideration of or respect given to their original contexts: this is a particularly relevant concern in light of 2 Peter 3:15-16 and discussions of the “end of time” (apocalypticism or eschatology), when many seek to understand apocalyptic images purely in terms of the present day, as if Ezekiel, Daniel, and John were talking specifically and directly about the early twenty-first century.

Peter also shows concern regarding the “unstable” distorting Scripture. Some perhaps are “unstable” because they are “unlearned”; nevertheless, one could be “learned” yet “unstable.” Few persons prove more dangerous in a congregation than one who has great Scriptural knowledge but is seriously lacking in practicing the message of Scripture and developing in maturity. They are “puffed up” by knowledge, and do not “build up” in love (1 Corinthians 8:1). There is a vast difference between an academic understanding of Christianity and a practical, “full-of-faith” understanding of Christianity. The practice of Christianity leads to proper understanding of love, humility, grace, mercy, and compassion; an academic understanding of Christianity often leads to presumption, pride, division, and often perversion of and departure from the message of Scripture when people begin to think they “know better” than that which has been revealed. So it was with the Gnostics in the first centuries after Christ; so it is to this day.

Peter affirms that Scripture can be understood, but warns that it can be misunderstood and distorted. Let us take Peter’s warning to heart: none of us are “above” or “below” distorting Scripture, however intentional or unintentional. Let us instead continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, derive encouragement from Scripture, and do all things for God’s glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Written For Our Learning

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Why do we have the Scriptures, and what benefits can we gain by them?

These are simple questions, and yet the answers we give to them tell a lot about how we view the Scriptures and their role in our lives. To many people, the Bible is a curious relic of an earlier age, treated as mythology. Yet, for most Christians the Bible is truth, representing the revealed Word of God, providing instruction and exhortation in faith and practice (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Bible is described variously as a “road map to eternity,” “life’s how-to manual,” and the source of answers to every question. Many then come to the Scriptures in order to find direction in life, solutions to their problems, and answers to questions. These descriptions of the Bible have some accuracy, but they are not the way that the authors of Scripture describe the purpose and value of Scripture.

As Paul concludes a discussion of how Christians are to treat one another, he quotes the Old Testament in Psalm 69:9 and speaks of how it relates to Jesus (Romans 15:3). He then takes the opportunity to explain why he would quote the psalm and apply it to Jesus, even though he has already quoted the Old Testament often in Romans: that which was written before our time was written for our learning, that through patience and through the comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

According to Paul, therefore, the Scriptures were written for our learning: we are to be taught and gain instruction from what they say. This instruction has an end goal: through patience and through the comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope. Paul’s understanding of Scripture has much to commend it: he gives a very holistic view of its place in life.

Scripture was written for our learning. The Greek word for “learning” is didaskalia, and it refers to learning, teaching, and instruction. From the Scriptures we can learn about God and His interaction with mankind. We can see God’s standards of holiness and how to live by them.

The reader of Scripture quickly discovers, however, that the Scriptures do not represent any sort of systematic treatise. It does not have a “FAQ” (Frequently Asked Questions) section. There is no systematic presentation of a series of true statements describing God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, salvation, etc. There are maps added to the Bible to assist in understanding of the locations of various places, but God did not provide a graphic laying out a road map to life. While the Scriptures provide answers for many or even all of our questions, the way in which those questions are answered are not necessarily the way in which we would choose or prefer. Instead, most of the Scriptures are narratives, telling the stories of God and the people of God from creation until the first century of our own era. In Scripture we meet people and learn about their behavior whether for good or ill. We learn about the situation of early Christians in their various local churches, the problems and questions they face, and the direction given them by the Apostles. It all ends with a vision full of fantastic imagery which seems to confuse more than it encourages.

For many of us, the Scriptures are not written in the way we would write it, and its way of communication seems foreign to those with modern, “Western” sensibilities. The Scriptures were not written in the way we wanted them to be written, but according to how God intended to communicate His purposes to mankind. God’s ways are greater than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and the way Scripture communicates is masterful. We are different people: we learn in different ways, process in different ways, conceive of the world in different ways, but Scripture can speak to all of us because it speaks through narrative. We all can learn from stories. Systematic analysis is well and good and has its place, but it is also two-dimensional, cold, and leaves unaddressed far more than it could ever address. God, through Scripture, tells us about people and situations, and speaks of divine truth in terms of descriptive imagery. Despite our differences, we all understand in metaphors and communicate in metaphors. We can live at different times in different cultures but understand light versus darkness, scattering seed, and such things. We can understand character studies and learn from examples of what to do and what not to do. We can find among the personalities of the Bible people with whom we relate on account of personality or circumstance. Our learning is to involve far more than just head knowledge; it is designed to change our hearts, minds, and actions!

The end goal is to live in hope. People will live either in hope or fear: they either have reason to look to the future with hope for something better or fear of something worse. Hope is the better decision, but hope can be difficult at times. Hope demands patience: we have to wait for our hopes to be realized, and that kind of patience must be developed (cf. Romans 8:24-25). Yet the Christian has every right to live in hope because of the comfort he or she derives from the Scriptures.

The Scriptures provide comfort because they provide the justification for hope. In Scripture, above all things, we learn of God’s faithfulness to His promises. All He promised Abraham came to pass; Israel received what God had promised; in Jesus all of the things which God had promised and predicted beforehand came to pass. Therefore, when God makes promises in Christ regarding His care, protection, Jesus’ return, the resurrection, and eternity with Him, we have every reason to trust those promises. You cannot get that kind of comfort from a systematic list of truths, a road map, or a FAQ. That comfort comes from learning about people like us in many ways placing their trust in God and not being disappointed and recognizing that God will see us through this life with its problems, challenges, sufferings, and distress.

The Scriptures are written for our learning. Through patience and the comfort of Scripture we can maintain hope. Let us be thankful to God for the Scriptures, learn from them, apply their messages to our lives, and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus: The Way, the Truth, and the Life

Thomas saith unto him, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?”
Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also: from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him” (John 14:5-7).

Sometimes it is all a matter of emphasis.

John 14:6 is a famous Scripture, and rightly so: in it Jesus neatly encapsulates the essential claim He makes as the Son of God: He is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father is through Him. When discussing this Scripture we often emphasize “the”: Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. This is well and good: since the fulness of Godhead dwells in Jesus bodily, and He is the exact imprint of the divine nature, He truly is the embodiment of God and all God is (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). In our day and age the claim seems arrogant but is really the necessary conclusion: if God is life, love, holiness, and truth, and Jesus is God embodied, then He is the way, the truth, and the life, since anything can only be true if it is consistent with Him and His purposes.

But Jesus is not making this statement in a vacuum. He is speaking to His disciples and is trying to encourage them. He encourages them to believe in God and in Him, trusting that He is going away to prepare a place for them and will return to receive them to Himself (John 14:1-3). He assures them that they know the way to where He goes (John 14:4). This sounds strange to the disciples: Thomas speaks up, confessing that they do not know where Jesus is going, and therefore, how can they know the way (John 14:5)? Jesus tells them: I AM the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He will go on to show them how they have seen the Father through Him since the Father has spoken and worked through Him (John 14:7-11). The Spirit will come to assist them; if they love Jesus, they will do His commandments (John 14:12-19). Therefore, the disciples really do know the way: they have lived with Jesus, they have seen Jesus teach and work, and it is now for them to follow after Jesus and think, act, and feel like Jesus!

So yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But it is also true, as Jesus says, that I am the way, the truth, and the life.

It would be difficult to believe that this I am has no theological undertones. In John 8:58, Jesus declares that before Abraham was born, I am, and the Jews picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:59). I am is the name which God gives to Moses to tell the people of Israel in Exodus 3:13-15; the Divine Name YHWH (likely pronounced Yahweh) is a nominal form of I am and means “The Existent One” or “The One Who Is.” Jesus says that if you have seen Him you have seen the Father; He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6-7). Jesus is YHWH just as the Father is YHWH! As God, He most certainly is the way, the truth, and the life.

In many ways this declaration is the type of statement on which the entire Christian religion is built. Christianity is based upon the Person of Jesus and the “good news,” the Gospel, of His life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and ultimate return (Acts 2:36, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). So much of Christianity is tied up within Jesus as a Person: the Gospel is superior to all which came before it because God has now spoken to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:3). Law codes had existed for years; in Jesus we have truth embodied, walking around, teaching, doing, serving (John 1:14, 18). Little wonder, then, that Paul encourages Christians to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and how after saying that we know that we know Jesus if we do His commandments, John says that we know we abide in Jesus if we walk as He walked (1 John 2:3-6).

We do well to remember that Jesus says that He, Jesus, is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Yes, the Scriptures have been inspired by God, and we do well to know them and to use them to guide our thoughts, feelings, and deeds (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17), but we must remember that even the Scriptures confess that they are written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him we may have life in His name (John 20:31). The Scriptures are the way by which we learn about Jesus, the Way. The Scriptures tell us the truth about Jesus, the Truth. Through Scripture we are directed to Jesus, the Life. They provide the means to the end and are not the end in and of themselves. One can know the Scriptures from cover to cover, but if that knowledge does not lead to trust and confidence in Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then it is all in vain, and will not save (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

The Bible testifies to the truth that Jesus is Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only Way to the Father. The Bible is not Lord; Jesus is Lord. As we seek to understand the truth of God in Jesus as revealed in Scripture, and as we affirm our faith in Jesus as the exclusive way to the Father, let us keep in mind that we are serving an actual Person, fully God and fully man, and it is that Person, Jesus, who embodies the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us pattern our lives after Jesus, abide in Him, and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Contend for the Faith

Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3).

Jude would have much rather written a different letter than the one he wrote. Perhaps he wanted to speak about the hope and joy he shared with his fellow believers; maybe he wanted to remind them of the story of what Jesus had done for them and the promises of what He would do in the future. Regardless, more pressing issues were at hand.

Teachers promoting false doctrines and practices were afoot. They sought to turn God’s grace into sensuality, denying the truth regarding Jesus (Jude 1:5). They defiled the flesh on account of their vain imaginings and rejected proper authority (Jude 1:8). They reviled that which they did not understand and lived according to their “instincts” (Jude 1:10). They grumbled, were never satisfied, boasted, and sought their own advantage (Jude 1:16). And they were not afar off, leaving Christians alone; they remained in the midst of the Christians and sought to advance their ideas among them (Jude 1:12).

Many such teachers were likely advancing Gnostic ideas, professing to have “greater” and more esoteric “knowledge” of spiritual truth than can be found in the pages of Scripture. These teachings did not respect the unity of the body, soul, and spirit; they were especially dismissive of the body. Some later Gnostic groups would insist on strict discipline upon the body; other groups, however, taught that whatever one did in the body would not touch or tarnish the soul, and it became powerful justification for committing all sorts of immorality and doing whatever felt right.

This was not the same message which Jesus and the Apostles promoted. Jude felt compelled to remind the Christians of that important difference.

He encouraged the Christians to “contend” for the faith (Jude 1:3). To believe, maintain, promote, and teach the faith is not automatic; it takes effort. In the face of false doctrines and idols it will be quite the struggle to stand firm in the message of Jesus. Christians must resist the temptation to compromise the message, to distort the message through emphasizing some aspects over others, and to water it down to seem more palatable. Christians must also stand firm against the attempts by others to adapt and manipulate the faith, whether people claim to have received superior insights or deny some of the claims made regarding Jesus and the faith in Scripture.

While maintaining and promoting the faith will demand struggle, it need not demand contentiousness or ungodliness in argument. There are good reasons why Paul lists contentiousness and outbursts of anger as works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). We are to make a defense for our hope, but it must be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). One cannot promote the Gospel with one’s words if one’s demeanor, attitude, and perhaps even conduct are more consistent with worldliness, ungodliness, and the Evil One!

Jude has good reason to exhort the Christians to contend for the faith, because it is “the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). The novel interpretations and “insights” of the Gnostics were not part of that which was delivered “once for all.” We can see the core message of the Gospel declared from the very beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:14-38; the next twenty years would show the advancement of that message first just among Jews but then also among the Gentiles. Thus the implications of the Gospel and to whom it should be promoted were clarified in those first few years, but the message remained the same (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). God did not intend to make continuous revelation regarding the Gospel and how we are to follow after Jesus; the very fact that Jesus lived for a particular period of time, died, was raised from the dead, but then ascended to the Father exemplifies this. What more can be known about the nature and character of Jesus that is not somehow already revealed by Jesus and the Apostles? What more is necessary to promote the Gospel than was necessary when Peter, Paul, and the others promoted it in the first century? If it is all about following after Jesus and to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6), what can be added to what has already been established?

The message was delivered to the saints, and these are Jude’s concern. He wants to make sure that they remain in God’s love, seeking Jesus’ mercy, and seeking to show mercy and to save others in return (Jude 1:20-23). They are to stand firm against the false teachings promoted in their midst, but they must always remember how God is the Judge, and we all remain in need of grace and mercy (cf. Romans 14:1-13, James 4:12, Jude 1:20-21).

There have always been people who have sought to distort the message of the Gospel for their own ends; there always will be. Therefore, believers must engage in the struggle to maintain, preserve, and promote the faith delivered once for all to the saints. We must not compromise it, distort it, or water it down, but we must also never betray it by using ungodly methods while struggling to defend it and advance it. Let us contend for the faith, honoring and glorifying God through our thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds!

Ethan R. Longhenry

When They Ask

“And it shall come to pass, when ye are come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, ‘What mean ye by this service?’ that ye shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.'”
And the people bowed the head and worshipped (Exodus 12:25-27).

After so many years, things were proceeding very quickly.

God had been terrifying the Egyptians with plague after plague. The final plague was about to come upon them; Israel would soon be released. Moses is preparing the people for their imminent departure.

One would think, in such circumstances, that there was enough to deal with for the present. Mobilizing a large group of people for a treacherous journey is a daunting proposition. And yet we see Moses providing legislation regarding the Passover and its expected future observance in the land of Canaan! What is going on?

Moses understands the immense significance and meaning involved in what God is doing for Israel. Yes, God is delivering this specific generation of Israelites out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage, and toward deliverance and the land of promise. But this is the story of God and Israel and the basis of everything that will come later. God is the God of Israel because of His promises to their fathers and because He delivered them from the land of Egypt. God loves Israel, and that love was declared powerfully in that deliverance. God is worthy of all honor, praise, glory, and obedience, because He is the Creator and acted powerfully against the Egyptians in ways no other god ever even claimed to act.

Therefore, the Passover was not merely for this generation of Israelites. The Passover was for every generation of Israelites as a way of continuing the story of Israel and its God. Each successive generation, in turn, would come to an understanding of the God of Israel and the acts of deliverance He wrought for their ancestors. For those Israelites enjoying the blessings of the land of Israel, it was a moment to give thanks and to appreciate what was done to allow them to enjoy the life they lived. For those who found themselves cast out from the land of Israel, the remembrance fostered the cherished hope that God would again act powerfully in their generation for their deliverance as He had so long ago.

The observance is very intentional, designed to be full of meaning. It is the perfect means of communicating a message across the generations: children will participate and will want to know what is going on. God has provided Israel with the most important teachable moment for successive generations: if the children do not understand why they should honor the God of Israel as their God, the time will come when they will have no reason not to turn their backs on Him and to follow after other gods. If they do not understand what makes the God of Israel distinctive and special, worthy of all honor and glory, they will not honor or glorify Him.

That generation of Israelites did not prove to be as far-sighted in their understanding; they would end up dying in the wilderness. The next generation would enter the land of Israel; but of the generation afterward it could be said that they did not know the LORD or the work He had done for Israel (Judges 2:10). Little wonder, then, that we read of all the sinfulness, rebelliousness, and idolatry of that and successive generations in the days of the Judges. Far later, in the times of the later kings of Judah, we are told that they observed the Passover in ways not seen since the days of old (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:1-27, 35:1-19). If the Passover is not being observed, then Israel is not remembering the act of deliverance which God wrought for them. If the Passover is not being observed, then the next generation has no opportunity to ask for understanding as to what it means. If the next generation never has that opportunity, they never learn about who God is and what He has done for Israel. All of a sudden, Israel’s idolatrous and rebellious history makes more sense.

Religious experience in activities that are laden with spiritual meaning are extremely important. They remind us of God’s saving acts of deliverance, His goodness, His power, His love. They are designed to help us to keep a proper perspective, always thankful for what God has done, remembering why we honor God as the Lord of our lives and how all things are to flow from that submission before Him. Yet, just as importantly, such experiences give children the opportunity to learn about God and what is really important. God has provided such teachable moments for us so that we may have opportunity to impart such understanding to our children as we have received from those who have gone on before us. This is not a task to be off-loaded upon someone else; we are given the opportunity to explain to our own children the reason why we believe God is Lord and how He has powerfully acted in order to provide deliverance and salvation for all mankind.

But that conversation can only happen if we are participating in God’s work and participate in those actions invested with spiritual significance. That conversation can only happen when we really believe that God is Lord of our lives and that all things should flow from our submission to Him. Our children can only see the power of God’s saving activity when they see it not just explained but lived as well. If we merely pay lip service to God while serving idols, our children will see it. If we live as if we do not know God and what He has wrought for mankind, then our children will more likely than not continue in that same path. But if we honor God as Lord, our children will likely do the same.

Children’s questions are extremely important; that is how they learn about life and what is really important. Let us take the opportunities we are given not only to explain to the next generation what God has said and done, but why we should even follow God in the first place, recounting His glorious saving acts for mankind!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Living Letters

Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or from you? Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh (2 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Somehow, things had gotten worse in Corinth.

A cursory reading of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians exposes enough problems: flagrant sexual immorality in their midst, Christians taking other Christians to court, abuse of spiritual gifts, denial of the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, the Corinthian Christians still had some respect for Paul and gave him some credence.

Yet by the time of the writing of Paul’s second letter, Paul’s credibility is at stake. We get the impression from comments throughout the letter, but especially in chapters 10 through 12, that certain ones have come to Corinth from among the Jews, perceived to be some type of “super-apostles,” who are undermining the Corinthian Christians’ view of Paul. They challenge his credentials, his manner of speaking, his authority, and thus his message. The Corinthian Christians have clearly been influenced by these people. They begin questioning whether Paul really is who he says he is. They would like to see some sort of commendation for Paul to vouch for his standing.

Paul is thus in quite the predicament. How should he go about justifying who he is and the work he does when the Corinthians should already know better?

Ultimately, Paul decides to highlight the work that has been done among the Corinthians themselves as a demonstration of his commendation (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). What need does Paul have for a letter written by ink on papyrus, one that theoretically could be forged or compromised in some other way? He has a far greater letter of commendation: the Corinthian Christians themselves.

While the Corinthian correspondence highlights the flaws of the Corinthians, it is still good to bear in mind just how far those Corinthians have come. The congregation seems to be made up mostly of Gentiles, people from the Greek world who lived in a city famous for its immorality. Yes, some of them still struggled with the rampant sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:12-20); some struggled with balancing the understanding that an idol is nothing with the weaker consciences of other Christians (1 Corinthians 8:1-13); others had difficulties with the doctrine of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58). But the amazing thing is that they had been delivered from all such immorality and more through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11), having turned from dead idols to serve the living God. If you could get Gentiles in Corinth to seek to try to change their ways and to follow God, you could probably get Gentiles anywhere to try to do so!

And so Paul does have reason to feel that the Corinthians themselves represent a letter of commendation. They are a letter of Christ, not of Paul, as he strenuously emphasizes; Paul is the servant, the minister, whose sufficiency is only from God (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). The Corinthians testify to the power of Christ to transform people, even if there are many kinks that still need working out. This letter is not written on papyrus with ink, nor, for that matter, by chisel on stone, but instead by the Spirit of the living God on hearts of flesh (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). Paul and his associates carry this “letter” in their hearts, using their example in their exhortations to others, so that all may know and understand how powerfully God has worked among the Corinthians. With such a testimony and such a “letter,” what good would papyrus and ink, or stone and chisel, really be?

Yes, Paul writes as he does to persuade the Corinthians, and it has strong potential to persuade, since it speaks highly of them, and if nothing else, people always like being spoken of in such glowing terms. Yes, there is also probably a tinge of irony here, since Paul (or Paul’s amanuensis) is writing these words with ink on papyrus. But the point remains powerful: the greatest testimony to the Lord cannot be written down on paper with ink or on tablets with a chisel. The greatest letters of Christ are living letters.

It is the same way today. It is right and appropriate to appreciate Scripture and to use Scripture as the means of coming to a better understanding of who God is and what God would have us to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is great power in the message of God (Hebrews 4:12). Nevertheless, the message loses its force quickly when its contents do not lead to transformation of the mind, heart, and deeds of the believer. One can know the Scriptures intimately, but if one is not actively seeking to conform to the image of Christ, all that knowledge goes for nothing (Matthew 7:21-23, Romans 8:29, James 1:22-25).

There is unparalleled power in the message brought to life; this is why the revelation of the new covenant is centered in the embodiment of the divine in Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). The New Testament Scriptures seek to communicate in words who Jesus was, what Jesus taught, what Jesus did, the message of Jesus as it was communicated by His disciples, and the practical ways in which that message is to be lived and communicated. The message always points to its Source– God in Christ– and exhorts everyone to entrust themselves to that Source (Romans 1:16-17). The message lays forth all the equipment the believer will need in order to entrust himself to Christ and to follow after Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But that is not enough. The believer must then seek to put it to practice, to become that living letter of Christ of which Paul speaks.

A lot of people know that there are many good teachings in the Bible. Most people do not have a high tolerance for people who push the message of the Bible without living that message. Yet it is amazing to see how people respond when they see the message not just preached by a believer, but also lived by him or her (Matthew 5:13-16, Romans 10:14-17). There is no greater commendation of God’s message in the Gospel than to see it being lived by believers submitting themselves in all things to God’s will. It is not enough, therefore, to just tell people about Jesus; we must also show Jesus to people. It is not enough to just point to the letter and the ink; we must embody the message that has been recorded for us by letter and ink.

One of the saddest objections to the Bible is when people believe it to be irrelevant to modern life because of its antiquity. The Bible might be 2,000+ years old, but the message of God is supposed to be always alive through the believer who seeks to embody that message in his or her life. It may be that the last letter of an Apostle was written over 1,900 years ago; yet there should be living letters of Christ circulating around the world today, still proclaiming God’s redemptive work in word and deed, in the form of believers seeking to obey the Christ. Let us be those living letters to a sinful world and commend the faith in our words and deeds!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Bereans

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Beroea: who when they were come thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the Greek women of honorable estate, and of men, not a few (Acts 17:10-12).

The Bereans have received a lot of “press” on the basis of the six verses that mention them in Acts 17:10-15. A few cities have been named after the town; not a few religious groups use “Berean” as the descriptor for various congregations.

They have earned their favorable views for a good reason– as Luke says, they were “more noble” than the Jews of Thessalonica, because they “received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). On account of this attitude, many believed in the Gospel message; even some of the Greek women– many of wealth– and men came to the knowledge of the truth and were saved (Acts 17:12). On account of their example, a “Berean” is one who has a love for what is true, willing to investigate Scripture to determine what is truly accurate according to their message. A “Berean” is one not to be swayed by public opinion or received tradition if they are found at variance with truth. There is a nobility of mind among “Bereans” that is most exemplary and worthy of emulation.

The exemplary nature of the example of the Bereans is both a warning and a sober reminder for us. In the ideal world, the Bereans would not be notable– they would just be doing what everyone automatically should be doing. Everyone should be willing to question their presuppositions and their received understanding of things in light of truth. Everyone should be willing to give the Gospel message a fair hearing. When the Gospel message is given a fair hearing, uncolored by prejudice against the message or the messenger, its truth is hard to escape and easy to obey, as the Bereans demonstrate. The problem is, of course, that we do not live in an ideal world. Luke takes the time to tell us of the example of the Bereans because Paul’s reception there was utterly unlike the reception he received in most synagogues. Yes, it is true that some of the Jews in any given synagogue would come to the understanding of the truth and be saved, but more often than not, the Jews would become fierce opponents of Paul and his message (cf. Acts 13, 14, 17, 20, etc.). The Bereans were not automatically wedded to their traditions– they were willing to hear the word Paul preached, to investigate the Scriptures to see if the message he presented was consistent with what had been revealed, and were willing to change their ways because of that message. That is why Luke tells us– it is a wonderful abnormality, but an abnormality nevertheless. Most of the Jews and Greeks did not prove to be as noble minded as the Bereans.

The same is true today, and it is a sword that cuts two ways. We should not be surprised when we proclaim the Gospel and most people to whom we speak do not share the Bereans’ mindset. The power of cultural skepticism and suspicion of inherited authority still runs deep in American culture, and despite the fact that true Christianity has been rarely lived and properly applied, there is a general feeling that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. Many others will provide lip service to the message of Christianity, but when it comes to the nitty gritty of applying the lessons of Christ to life, prove far less enthusiastic about the whole matter. There is a great lack of the Berean mindset in our culture; very few prove willing and able to give the message a fair hearing, to be willing to question every assumption and every form of skepticism, and to be willing to change their ways when convicted that their views and ways are at variance with the truth. In fact, the very idea that there is something out there that can be called “the truth” is a hotly contested subject in our day!

Yet this is not just true of those who are “out there” in the world. Do you think that the Jews of Thessalonica would have agreed with Luke’s analysis? Of course not! They would have protested strongly. They would have attempted to justify their opposition to Paul and the Gospel which he taught in terms of holding firm to the truths taught by Moses and handed down by their elders ever since. They most likely believed themselves to be noble and holding firm to what is true.

This is not to challenge or dispute Luke’s analysis, for Luke has spoken truly. It is to remind us that, if asked, most everyone would declare that they have the Bereans’ mindset. Everyone thinks they are being noble, objective, and striving to hold firm to truth. But merely declaring oneself to be akin to the Bereans– or to describe one’s congregation as Berean– does not automatically make it so. Even among religious people, the true Berean mindset is depressingly rare. There are still plenty who are wedded to inherited tradition, cultural norms, or some form of experiential lesson that are at variance with truth. A spirit of questioning and investigation is rarely appreciated and, sadly, too often squelched or thrust out.

Truth has no fear of investigation; the Gospel message has always welcomed its detractors to try to show its error, and those detractors have failed for two millennia. Those who are noble minded will maintain the Scriptures as the anchor of truth and will compare any other message to it. Whatever is true according to Scripture they will embrace and promote; whatever is inconsistent with that message will be rejected. The time is well nigh for us all to have the mindset of the Bereans, not in pretense or name, but in deed and truth. Let us be noble as the Bereans, searching the Scriptures to see what is so, and follow after Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry