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Sunday, June 29, 2014

In Defense of the Faith - What About the Manuscripts?

by Dave Hunt - Source Link
Jul 1 2014
Question: It is my understanding that the Bible we have comes from a handful of ancient manuscripts that are copies of copies of copies of the originals that have long been lost. These originals, especially for the Old Testament, could have been several thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts. How do we know that what we have today is even close to the originals?
Response:  Response: Bernard Ramm reminds us: “Jews preserved it [the Old Testament text] as no other manuscript has ever been preserved . . . they kept tabs on every letter. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity—scribes, lawyers, Massoretes. Who ever counted the letters and syllables and words of Plato or Aristotle, Cicero or Seneca [as the Jews did for the Old Testament]?” No wonder, then, that the Isaiah scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls showed no significant variation in 1,000 years of copying. In contrast, as already noted, there are many questions concerning the text of Shakespeare, which is only about 400 years old.
Biblical scholar F. F. Bruce writes: “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament.” J. Harold Greenlee explains: “[T]he number of available manuscripts of the New Testament is overwhelmingly greater than those of any work of ancient literature . . . [and] the earliest extant manuscripts of the New Testament were written much closer to the date of the original writing. . . .” For the sake of comparison, here are some well-accepted, ancient secular works showing the author, the date written, the number of manuscripts surviving, and the number of years after the date written for the earliest manuscript:
Sophocles496-406 BC1001,400
Herodotus480-425 BC    81,300
Euripedes480-406 BC    91,500
Thucydides460-400 BC    81,300
Plato427-327 BC    71,200
Aristotle384-322 BC    51,400
Demosthenes383-322 BC2001,300
Caesar  100-44 BC  101,000
Lucretius         60 BC    21,600
Tacitus       100 BC  201,000
In contrast, there are about 24,600 copies of New Testament manuscripts, some of which date back within a century of the originals and many others within about 300 to 400 years. Then why does one continually hear the false claim that the biblical manuscripts are not reliable? The fact that this lie persists in academic circles demonstrates the extreme prejudice against the Bible  because of what it says.  God’s Word convicts the conscience. How interesting that questions about the accuracy of the manuscripts are never raised for other ancient writings—unless they offer proof of the Bible’s validity.  The Antiquities of the Jews,  by Josephus, offers considerable verification of the New Testament and the life and death of Jesus, so it, too, comes under vicious attack.
The Bible is the most quoted book in the world, thousands of times more so than any secular work. That is not only true today but has always been the case. Consequently, one can reproduce the entire New Testament and much of the Old Testament by quotations contained in personal letters and epistles written within a century after Christ commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel.
Incomparable Reliability
As for the validity of the Old Testament manuscripts and their reliability, consider the following from Princeton’s Robert D. Wilson in his book Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament.  Fluent in over 40 Semitic languages, he was one of the greatest language experts and scholars of all time. Professor Wilson writes:
“For forty-five years continuously . . . I have devoted myself to the one great study of the Old Testament, in all its languages, in all its archaeology, in all its translations.
‘[T]he critics of the Bible who go to it in order to find fault . . . claim to themselves all knowledge and all virtue and all love of truth. One of their favorite phrases is, “All scholars agree.” When a man [says that] . . . I wish to know who the scholars are and why they agree. Where do they get their evidence. . . ? I defy any man to make an attack upon the Old Testament on the ground of evidence that I cannot investigate. . . 
‘After I learned the necessary languages I set about the investigation of every consonant in the Hebrew Old Testament. There are about a million and a quarter of these; and it took me many years to achieve my task. I had to observe the variations of the text . . . in the manuscripts, or in the notes of the Massoretes . . . or in the various versions, or in the parallel passages, or in the conjectural emendations of critics; and then I had to classify the results . . . to reduce the Old Testament criticism to an absolutely objective science; something which is based on evidence, and not on opinion. . . .
‘The result of those 45 years’ study which I have given to the text has been this: I can affirm that there is not a page of the Old Testament concerning which we need have any doubt. . . .
‘[For example, to illustrate its accuracy]: There are 29 ancient kings whose names are mentioned not only in the Bible but also on monuments of their own time. . . . There are 195 consonants in these 29 proper names. Yet we find that in the documents of the Hebrew Old Testament there are only two or three out of the entire 195 about which there can be any question of their being written in exactly the same way as they were inscribed on their own monuments [which archaeologists have to date discovered]. Some of these go back 4,000 years and are so written that every letter is clear and correct. . . .
‘Compare this accuracy with . . . the greatest scholar of his age, the librarian at Alexandria in 200 BC. He compiled a catalogue of the kings of Egypt, 38 in all. Of the entire number only 3 or 4 are recognizable. He also made a list of the kings of Assyria; in only one case can we tell who is meant; and that one is not spelt correctly. Or take Ptolemy, who drew up a register of 18 kings of Babylon. Not one of them is properly spelt; you could not make them out at all if you did not know from other sources to what he is referring.
‘If anyone talks about the Bible, ask him about the kings mentioned in it. There are 29 kings referred to, and ten different countries among these 29; all of which are included in the Bible and on monuments. Every one of these is given his right name in the Bible, his right country, and placed in correct chronological order. Think what that means. . . !
‘While the study of the religious systems of the ancient peoples has shown that there was amongst them a groping after God, nowhere is it to be seen that they reached any clear apprehension of the One True God, the Creator, Preserver, Judge, Saviour and Sanctifier of His people. Their religions were of an outward kind; the Old Testament religion is essentially one of the mind and heart; a religion of love, joy, faith, hope, and salvation through the grace of God. How can we account for this?
‘The prophets of Israel declared that their teaching came from God. The modern critical school is antagonistic to this claim. They say that the prophets gave utterance to the ideas of their own time, and that they were limited by their environment. But if this is so how does it come about that neither from the oracles of Thebes and Memphis, nor from Delphi and Rome, nor from Babylon, nor from the deserts of Media, but from the sheep-folds and humble homes of Israel, yea, from the captive by the river of an alien land, came forth those great messages of hope and salvation?’”
—  An excerpt   from  In Defense of the Faith (pp. 75-79)  by  Dave Hunt

How Should We Study and Interpret the Bible? by John MacArthur

gty.org - Source Link
Truly the Bible is magnificent. Early twentieth-century evangelist Billy Sunday pictured the Bible like a majestic palace. He wrote,
I entered through the portico of Genesis and walked down through the Old Testament's art gallery, where I saw the portraits of Joseph, Jacob, Daniel, Moses, Isaiah, Solomon and David hanging on the wall; I entered the music room of the Psalms and the Spirit of God struck the keyboard of my nature until it seemed to me that every reed and pipe in God's great organ of nature responded to the harp of David, and the charm of King Solomon in his moods.
I walked into the business house of Proverbs.
I walked into the observatory of the prophets and there saw photographs of various sizes, some pointing to far-off stars or events--all concentrated upon one great Star which was to rise as an atonement for sin.

Then I went into the audience room of the King of Kings, and got a vision from four points--from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I went into the correspondence room, and saw Peter, James, Paul and Jude, penning their epistles to the world. I went into the Acts of the Apostles and saw the Holy Spirit forming the Holy Church, and then I walked into the throne room and saw a door at the foot of a tower and, going up, I saw One standing there, fair as the morning, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and I found this truest friend that man ever knew; when all were false I found him true (BillySunday Speaks [New York: Chelsea House, 1970], p. 23).
The Bible is an awe-inspiring book. However, we don't want merely to admire it; we need to understand it. In fact, the majority of people who have an opinion about the Bible--either positive or negative--don't understand what it says. Such understanding is crucial because the Bible is the Word of God, a fact that becomes especially apparent as you study it. So we need to know how to study the Bible. That encompasses four things: reading it, interpreting it, meditating on it, and teaching it
Reading the Bible Bible study begins with reading. Yet, quite frankly, a lot of people never get to that point. At best, they nibble at the text. They may read books about the Bible or devotional materials loosely based on it, but they don't read the Bible itself. Good Christian books and magazines that supplement your Bible reading are fine, but there is no substitute for reading Scripture.
The Old Testament I believe Christians should try to read through the Old Testament once a year. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, and if you read about twenty minutes a day, you should be able to finish it in one year.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, a comparatively simple language to understand. It doesn't have the nuances of Greek, the language of the New Testament. It isn't a theoretical or philosophical language with a lot of abstraction. It is very concrete.
The Old Testament is basically a historical narrative interspersed with biblical laws, poetry, and prophecies. I suggest you read from Genesis straight through to Malachi, indicating in your margin with a pencil the passages you don't understand. If you do that, you'll find an interest­ing thing happening: As time goes on you will be erasing many of your markings, because as you read and reread Scripture, you will have a broader perspective that will answer some of the questions you had. [What you can't answer in your reading, you can study later with a commentary or other source that will provide the meaning.]
One potential cause for confusion in reading the Old Testament is that it is not always in chronological order. Something relatively new on the market is The NarratedBible (Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House Publishers), which rearranges the entire Bible in chronological order, is a helpful tool. In it you'll read, for instance, the psalms of David interspersed at the appropriate times in his life and the words of the prophets as they relate to the kings in power at the time. It is helpful for those who have never read the Bible before or who want a fresh perspective.
The important thing is to be reading through the Old Testament on a regular basis. You'll be amazed at what you learn, for as the New Testament says, "For whatever was written in earlier times [the Old Testament] was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).
The New Testament I have a different approach for reading the New Testament. And by the way, I think our major thrust should be reading the New Testament. In Colossians 1:25-26, Paul says, "I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints ." That mystery is the New Testament revelation. In Ephesians 3:3-5, Paul describes himself as an apostle of that mystery. The New Testament was the major thrust of his ministry. He used the Old Testament to illustrate, elucidate, and support the New.
The New Testament embodies and engulfs all that was in the Old Testament. It summarizes the content of the Old Testament, and leads us into the fullness of God's revelation to mankind. So you must spend more time studying the New Testament because it explains the Old Testament. Also, it was written in Greek, a particularly complex language that emphasizes abstract concepts and subtle shades of meaning. Therefore, studying the New Testament demands greater diligence.
When I was in seminary, I decided to read 1 John every day for thirty days. That's a good place for you to start, too. The first day--the beginning of the month--simply read all five chapters of 1 John. It will take you only twenty to thirty minutes. Do the same thing the next dayand the next. About the seventh or eighth day you will say to yourself, "This is getting old. I think I understand 1 John by now." That's the hard part. But if you push through and stick with your reading for the rest of the month, you'll have a tremendous comprehension of 1 John.
That is the method I use to prepare my messages. I read through the passage I'm studying over and over again until it fills my mind. I suggest that as you read, you jot down the major themes of each chapter on a three-by-five card. Every day as you read the book, look at the card and read through your list. You will soon know by heart the main points of each chapter.
When you finish reading I John, go on to a large book in the New Testament--the gospel of John is a good choice since you've already become familiar with the apostle John's writing style. Divide the twenty-one chapters into three sections, reading the first seven for thirty days, the second seven for thirty days, and the third seven for thirty days. At the end of those ninety days you will have mastered the content of John's gospel. And all the while keep noting the major themes on three-by-five cards and reading straight through the Old Testament.
After finishing the gospel of John, you might want to go back to reading a short book, say Philippians, and then go to Matthew, then to Colossians, then to Acts. By alternating your reading like that for thirty days at a time, you will complete the entire New Testament in about two and a half years. If you're going to read the New Testament anyway, you might as well read it so you can remember it. You won't find yourself forgetting what you read a few days ago, and you won't be dependent on a concordance because you'll know where to find what you're looking for. Scripture will stick with you for life if you keep up this practice of refreshing your mind with the text.
In using this repetition method of reading, I recommend you stay with the same version and the same Bible. That way you will visualize the precise wording and location of a passage. However, once in awhile, it's good to read your text from another version to get a fresh perspective. By habit, I normally read the King James Version, but I will invariably read the passage I'm studying in the New American Standard Bible, which is especially faithful to the Greek and Hebrew texts, and the English Standard Version, which is very well worded and easy to read.
By reading the Bible repetitiously, you will find that your total comprehension increases dramatically. That's because the Bible explains the Bible. God didn't write it to trip us up; He wants us to understand it. Yet invariably you'll hear people say things like, "Whatever you do, don't read the book of Revelation; it's so confus­ing." However, the first chapter of Revelation says, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy" (v. 3). Ob­viously, God intends for us to read it. But you'll never fully understand Revelation unless you have read through Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. It all begins to come together when you read the Word of God in its entirety.
Interpreting the Bible Once you read the Bible and know what it says, the next step is to find out what it means. Only when you've correctly interpreted a biblical passage can you apply it to your life and bring glory to God.
Nehemiah 8 shows us the science of interpretation at work: " And all the people gathered as one man at the square ... and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it ...from early morning until midday" (vv. 1-3). Reading the Bible is where understanding begins. Verse 3 continues, "And all the people were attentive to the book of the law...Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, 'Amen, Amen,' lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground" (vv. 3-6). The people responded to the reading of Scripture by wor­shiping the Lord. Verse 8 is the key: "And they [the Levitical instructors] read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading." That's what's involved in interpreting the text.
In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul says to "give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation [application] and teaching [interpretation]." That's what "handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15) is all about. Anything else leads to misinterpretation, and misinterpretation is the mother of all kinds of mania. For, example, some people are teaching that since the patriarchs practiced polygamy, so must we. Others say that women should suffer in childbirth as a divine punishment and not use anesthesia. Such misinterpretations arise when someone doesn't understand what the Bible is really saying or the specific situation involved.
Things to Avoid Don't make a point at the cost of proper interpreta­tion . In other words, don't make the Bible say what you want it to say. That's like the preacher who proclaimed that women shouldn't wear their hair on top of their heads. His text was "Top Knot Come Down," supposedly from Matthew 24:17, which says, "Let him who is on the housetop not come down" (King James Version). Obviously that's not what the passage is about! Don't try to find verses to support a preconceived idea. I know if I try to make a sermon, I end up forcing the Bible to fit my sermon. But if I try to comprehend a passage, a message will flow out of the understanding that follows.
In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul says, "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God." The Greek word translated "peddling" is kapeleuo, which referred to selling something deceitfully in the marketplace--something that wasn't what it claimed to be. You must not force the Bible to illustrate your preconceived notions. Be careful not to interpret the Bible at the cost of its true meaning.
Avoid superficial Bible study . Unfortunately, some Bible studies consist of nothing more than person's saying, "I guess this verse means..." or "What does this verse mean to you?" Basically that's a pooling of ignorance--a lot of people sitting around telling what they don't know about the verse. To have a successful Bible study, someone has to study the passage beforehand to find out what it really means. Only then can you discuss it intelligently and apply it. Interpretation requires work. Don't take the easy way out and believe what everyone tells you the Bible says. Check the facts out yourself. Don't assume there are many interpretations of a biblical passage. There may be many applications, but there is only one true interpretation. God's Word is precise. It is not ambiguous. God has given us the ability to discover its meaning.
Don't spiritualize the text . The first sermon I ever preached was really bad. My text was, "The angel rolled the stone away" from Matthew 28. I entitled my sermon, "Rolling Away the Stones in Your Life." I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. Doubt, fear, and anger are all legitimate topics, but they have nothing to do with that verse! I call that "Little Bo Peep Preaching" because you don't need the Bible; you can use anything--even "Little Bo Peep."
Picture a preacher saying this: "Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep. All over the world people are lost. And can't tell where to find them. But they'll come home--ah, they'll come." Then you hear a tear-jerking story about sinners who came home "wagging their tails behind them!" Ridiculous? Yes, but unfortunately not too hard to imagine.
Many people tend to do that with the Old Testament. They turn it into a fairy tale with all kinds of hidden meanings--anything but what the text plainly states. Don't spiritualize the Bible. It deserves more respect.
Gaps to Bridge To interpret the Bible properly we have some gaps to bridge:
Language . We speak English, but the Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (which is similar to Hebrew). Many of the Bible translations available today are excellent, but no translation can get across everything that the original language conveys. For example, in 1 Corinthians 4:1 the apostle Paul says, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ." When we think of the English word minister, we think of a prime minister or a minister of defense. It is a lofty term. However the Greek word translated "minister" (huperetes) originally spoke of a third-level galley slave--hardly a lofty concept. Paul wanted it to be said of him that he was nothing more than a third-level galley slave for Jesus Christ. You would never get that out of the English term. That's why you need to bridge the language gap.
There are some excellent tools available. W. E. Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Chicago: Moody, 1985) is helpful for someone who doesn't know Greek. In addition, there are several language helps that are keyed to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, which has a numerical code to English definitions of all the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words in the Bible. You'll learn to trace how a particular word is used throughout the entire Bible, or just in the passage you are studying. Bridging the language gap will bring you to a new level of understanding.
Culture .Parts of the Bible may have been written as long as four thousand years ago. Times have certainly changed since then! If you don't understand the culture of the time in which your passage was written, you'll never understand its meaning.
John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Why didn't John simply say, "In the beginning was Jesus"? By studying the culture of the time, we discover that the term "the Word" [Gk., ho logos] was highly significant to both Greekand Hebrew culture. To the Greeks, it was a philosophical term representing the sum total ofcosmic energy, or that which causes everything to exist. To the Hebrews, the Word ofthe Lord was the personal expression ofGod. John drew in both audiences by describing Jesus as the personal manifestation ofthe Almighty Creator.
Similarly, if youdon't know anything about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other aspects of Jewish culture, you won't understand the book of Matthew. If youdon't know something about Gnosticism, you won't understand the book of Colossians. Some books to help bridge the culture gap are The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim (reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) and Eerdmans's varying handbooks on Bible culture.
Geography . There are many geographical references in Scripture. For instance, we read of going downto Jericho and up to Jerusalem. In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 we read, "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth." From other portions of Scripture, we learn that Paul was just recently in Thessalonica. Knowing something about the geography of the area explains how the word spread so fast. The Ignatian Highway, the main concourse between the East and West, ran through the middle of Thessalonica. Whatever happened there was passed down all along the way. Do you see how an understanding of geography can enrich your comprehension of the text? Consult a good Bible atlas (Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands [Chicago: Moody, 1985]) or geography text and reap the benefits.
History . Knowing the historical backgroundofthe text also enriches your understanding. In the gospel ofJohn, the key to understanding the interplay between Pilate and Jesus is knowing what happened beforehand. When Pilate was first assigned to Judea, he infuriated the Jewish population by trying to force pagan culture and emperor worship on them. There were several incidents, and Rome was displeased with Pilate's inability to keep the peace. Pilate was afraid ofwhat the Jewish leaders might instigate, and that's why he let Christ be crucified. He already had a rotten track record and his job was on the line. Bible dictionaries and The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) are good sources for historical background.
Steps to Follow Be literal . Seek to understand Scripture in its literal, normal, and natural sense. Although symbolism and figures ofspeech appear in the Bible, they will be obvious from the context. When you study apocalyptic passages in Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Revelation, you will read about beasts and images. Those are symbols, but they convey literal truth. Interpret the Bible in its normal, natural sense. Otherwise you're taking an unnatural, abnormal, nonsensical interpretation. For example, some rabbis were zealous advocates of gematria, assigning numerical values to the Hebrew letters to interpret the text. For instance, they said if youtake the consonants ofAbraham's name--b, r, h, m--and add them up with their numerical equivalents, you get 318. Therefore, when you see the word Abraham it means he had 318servants! No, it means Abraham,period. Interpret Scripture in its literal sense, as you would any other piece of literature.
Know the context . The Bible must be studied in its historical context. What did it mean to whom it was spoken or written? You must also study its literary context. How does the passage or verse you're studying relate to the surrounding text? It has been well said that a text apart from context is a pretext.
Analyze the sentence structure . In school, we learn how to diagram a sentence--identify the verbs, nouns, prepositions, and other parts of speech to find out what it is saying. Apply that to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." As you first read it, "Go", "make disciples", "baptizing", and "teaching" all sound like verbs. But when you study the sentence structure, you find there's only one verb, matheteuo, "make disciples." "Go", "baptizing", and "teaching" are only participles, which means they modify the main verb. So the Great Commission is to make disciples, which involves going to them, baptizing them, and teaching them. You have to examine the grammar carefully to fully comprehend and appreciate the meaning of the text.
Compare your interpretation with the totality of Scripture . This vital principle of interpretation is what the Reformers called analogia Scriptura, meaning that all Scripture fits together. One part of the Bible doesn't teach something that another part contradicts. So when you read 1 Corinthians 15:29, which speaks of baptism for the dead, you know it can't mean one can get someone out of hell and into heaven by being baptized on his behalf. That interpretation contradicts the clear teaching of salvation by grace through personal faith in Christ alone.
Look for principles to apply . Reread the text and find out what spiritual principles there are that apply to you and fellow believers in Christ. You can do that only after you have literally interpreted your passage, analyzed its context and sentence structure, and compared your interpretation with the totality of Scripture.
Meditating on the Bible Don't be in a hurry when you study God's Word. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, "These words...shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." In other words, God's Word ought to occupy your mind all the time. And if you're steadily reading through the Old Testament, and if you're reading the books of the New Testament thirty times, that's exactly what will happen!
Meditation is the process that molds the individual parts into a cohesive comprehension of biblical truth. It's another word for deep thinking and reflection. Meditation--in the biblical sense of the word--is a contemplative, intelligent process, where Eastern meditation attempts to disengage the thinking processes.
Psalm 1:1-2 says, " How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. " Like a cow chewing its cud, something it does over and over, we should repeatedly meditate and reflect on Scripture.
Teaching the Bible I have discovered that the best way to retain something is to give it away. That's because the only way you can effectively explain a subject is if you thoroughly understand it first. As a teacher, you are forced to master your subject. Find someone with a desire to learn who knows less than you do, and pass on what you know in a systematic way. By feeding someone else, you'll feed your own heart. I believe that the motivation for studying Scripture largely comes from one's responsibility in this area. If I didn't have someone to teach, I might not produce.
Conclusion Now that you've learned some practical steps to reading, interpreting, meditating on, and teaching Scripture, my charge to you is to make each one a lifelong habit. But should you begin thinking you know it all, remember Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God." We can only scratch the surface of the infinite mind of God, but even that is a worthy pursuit because He has given us His Word so we might know Him. Our purpose in learning the Word of God is not to have knowledge for its own sake. As Paul said, "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" (1 Corinthians 8:1). Our purpose is to know God, and to know God is to learn humility.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Question: What is your take on the “Blood Moons” teachings we’re hearing from John Hagee, Mark Biltz, and others? Is there any validity in what they’re saying?

by The Berean Call - Source Link
Jul 1 2014
Question: What is your take on the “Blood Moons” teachings we’re hearing from John Hagee, Mark Biltz, and others? Is there any validity in what they’re saying?
Response:  We have a number of concerns with this popular distraction. The first eclipse of the highly publicized “blood moon” tetrad—a series of four sequential total lunar eclipses—passed on April 15 without event; yet there is still confusion in the body of Christ.
The term “blood moon” as popularly used misses the biblical sense of the term. There is no evidence to suggest that the perceived discoloration of the moon during a total lunar eclipse is what is referenced in Scripture. Eclipses are of relatively short duration, are entirely predictable, are visible only to part of the planet—and although purported to be a potential herald of Christ’s return to the Mount of Olives, three of the four in this tetrad cannot even be viewed from  anywhere  in the Middle East, and the fourth only partially in the Promised Land. [See NASA maps here: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/lunar.html]
Attempts to connect the tetrad with the Second Advent are based on speculation and faulty interpretation of Scripture, most notablyJoel:2:30-31Matthew:24:29-30, and Revelation:6:12-17.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. (Jl 2:30-31)
…[A]fter the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven…and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mt 24:29-30)
And…when he had opened the sixth seal… the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth.…And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and…[all men] hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us…from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Rv 6:12-17)
The “blood moon” teachers focus on the moon’s apparent color and timing as the primary signs; but as the above scriptures reveal, comparing a total lunar eclipse to this prophetic context is like comparing a firecracker with a nuclear device. Most importantly, while we affirm the doctrine of imminency for a pre-Tribulation rapture (which indeed  could  fall on a Jewish feast day), speculation that the “blood moons” tetrad of 2014-2015 may be a harbinger of the Apocalypse is completely without basis—and quite literally impossible, as we shall see.
Mark Biltz, pastor of El Shaddai Ministries in Bonney Lake, Washington, is generally recognized as the first to report (as early as 2007-08) that all four eclipses in the current tetrad cycle directly coincide with Jewish feast days. Biltz, a popular teacher in the Hebrew Roots Movement, suggested that this tetrad—the last to occur in this century—could herald the Second Advent of Christ:
When I talk about the second coming I am not referring to the rapture but to Messiah’s feet landing on the Mt of Olives in Zech 14. I am not setting dates for the rapture. The only dates I am giving [are] the dates NASA gives us for eclipses and the dates God gives us on His calendar and then I bring in the connection. …I did say, and again say, IF these eclipses in 2015 are what the Lord was referring to, then 2015 would look like a possible year for His feet to land on the Mt of Olives. And, IF this is true then the tribulation could, not would, start this fall [2008] at the Feast of Trumpets.  (http://archive.today/hZES)
This scenario is theologically untenable for all who hold to a pre-Trib, mid-Trib, or post-Trib Rapture. Why? These perspectives would presently place the church in the latter half of the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” Only those who dismiss the biblical timeline of seven years of the Great Tribulation following the Rapture and spiritualize end-times prophecy (e.g., amillennialists and preterists) could possibly expect the Second Advent in conjunction with the “blood moon” tetrad that concludes September 28, 2015.
Believers may be certain of one thing:  All  prophecy pertaining to the Second Coming  must be  literally  fulfilled in order for Jesus to return to Jerusalem. This includes the Rapture, global government, the Gog-Magog war (Ezekiel 38-39), the peace treaty with Israel, construction of the third temple, its desecration by Antichrist, the mark of the beast, etc. Therefore, if even  one  of these prophecies is not fulfilled  by 2015 , then the entire “blood moon” tetrad is nothing more than a delusion.
In spite of this reality, WND (World Net Daily) has just published Biltz’s book,  Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs . Readers may recall that WND founder and publisher, Joseph Farah (another Hebrew Roots proponent), was similarly captivated by Jonathan Cahn’s  The Harbinger . In the Foreword to Biltz’s book, Farah writes:
God is trying to get our attention. And I am convinced He has anointed Mark Biltz to help us understand the times in which we live and the urgent warnings God is trying to deliver to us all. I have not been as enthusiastic about a powerful spiritual teaching since I worked with Rabbi Jonathan Cahn….  Blood Moons …is that kind of message—one so detailed, so improbable, so mysterious it could only be the result of divine handiwork.
In truth, the coincidence of the timing with Jewish feast days is not a mathematical miracle. A total lunar eclipse can occur  only  during a full moon, and the Hebrew calendar is based on lunar cycles. As the website  Israel Today  reminds us: “Since both Passover and Sukkot are scheduled on the full moon, both have occasionally coincided with blood moons, the last time being the start of Sukkot in 1996” (emphasis added). (http://www.israeltoday.co.il/Default.aspx?tabid=178&nid=24559)
Our modern ability for virtually anyone to calculate exactly when and where these events will be visible (using NASA websites and home computer software) raises another question: If  predictable  lunar and solar eclipses are of  prophetic  significance concerning  Israel , why are many of them only visible  elsewhere ? By comparison to the Scriptures, are such relatively mundane events truly a sign from God heralding the Apocalypse—the Unveiling, the  Revelation  of Jesus Christ as Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of all?
Unfortunately—should these dates come and go without any earth-shattering event taking place in conjunction with the tetrad—this rampant speculation by peddlers of false prophetic views will give four more reasons for the world to speak evil of the truth. As Dave Hunt exhorted:
Christ, who rebuked the rabbis for not knowing and heeding the signs of His first coming (Lk 12:56), gave specific endtime signs by which the nearness of His second coming would be recognized—and surely He gave these signs for a purpose. Unfortunately, some prophetic writers and speakers attempt to identify details where only a broad picture is given in Scripture…. Such attempts lead to confusion….[We must] stick to the plain language of Scripture and to the unvarnished facts. (http://www.thebereancall.org/content/may-1999-q-and-a-1)

What Think Ye Of Heaven? Where is Your Treasure?

by T. A. McMahon - Article Link
Jul 1 2014
If I could go back and correct anything attitude-wise about my walk with the Lord for nearly four decades, it would be that early on I would like to have had more of an eternal perspective. I didn’t exactly buy the lie that “to be too heavenly minded is to be no earthly good,” but in some ways my thoughts and actions reflected that idea. I’m much older now, which has certainly increased the amount of time I spend thinking about Heaven. I’m sure that happens to all of us seniors who know and love the Lord. Wanting to be with Him for eternity is an exciting desire soon to be realized by us, unless—better yet—the Lord hastens the event by His imminent return for His saints.
July NL_0.preview.jpgWhat then of those born-again young people starting out on life’s journey, looking ahead to college, careers, marriage, raising a family, and all the rest of the wonderful opportunities life can provide? For many, Heaven is a distant destination and a remote hope. Yes, it’s a nice idea, but that’s “way down the line of life,” according to the thinking of many. Some might even complain that spending one’s life occupied with thoughts of Heaven is a dreamer’s folly or indicates an escapist mentality that shies away from dealing with the truly important issues of life and might be considered impractical to the point of negligence.
People can and do make up their own ideas about Heaven, but all of us are better served by going to the One who created Heaven and who has revealed to us the truth about it and its purpose. That, of course, would be God and His Word. It behooves us to survey the Scriptures for the truth about Heaven—which God alone can and has provided.
First of all, Heaven is an actual place. It’s not some sort of wishful location where it will be “kinda nice to reside” after our life on earth is over. It’s not some sort of Pleasure Island, nor is it our Native American’s happy hunting ground, nor the Viking’s Valhalla, nor the eternal lakeside cottage we’ve always desired. Nothing to inspire self-gratification will be found there—nothing to fulfill the lust of the flesh—as that would greatly diminish the glorious wonders that God has prepared for the believer!
Heaven is a joyous mystery: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians:2:9). It will be an environment of bliss that has no earthly comparison, and we are blessed to read of some earthly experiences that won’t be found there: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation:21:4).
Heaven is presented throughout Scripture as a place where those who are saved will receive rewards for their fruitful works on earth: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews:6:9-10). One’s eternal treasure is generated by good works: “Charge them...that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to [share]; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy:6:17-19). Continually we are told “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew:6:19), but rather produce “a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth” (Luke:12:33). The comparison is between earthly goods that are temporal and heavenly treasure that is eternal. Jesus told the rich young man whose wealth had captured his heart, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew:19:21).
We don’t know what “treasure in Heaven” exactly means, but we do know that its value far and away exceeds anything our earthly life has or could produce. Beginning perhaps with the gracious words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” it will include rewards and crowns, as well as opportunities to rule and reign with our Savior and King during the Millennium (Revelation:20:6). Again, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Furthermore, whatever God has prepared, as supremely wonderful as it will be, it will nevertheless pale by comparison with our being in the presence of Jesus, whom we love and who loves us more than we can comprehend. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John:17:3). “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John:14:2-3). No matter what Jesus has prepared, nothing could be better for believers than to be where He is. Paul was totally aware of that joyful expectation when he wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot [know] not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better ” (Philippians 1:21-23). It’s far better because our “life is hid with Christ in God” and when “Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Colossians:3:3-4). Being with Jesus forever is both the purpose and pinnacle of life. It is the believer’sraison d’ĂȘtre , his or her reason for living.
What then is the criterion for entrance into Heaven? When the religious leaders asked Jesus what they must do to work the works of God, He replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John:6:28-29). That is the only condition that must be met. The Philippian jailer was instructed: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved” (Acts:16:31). Peter, as well, declared, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts:4:12). Believing the gospel—the good news that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, paid the full penalty for one’s sins—reconciles one to God and makes him fit for eternal life with Christ. The psalmist writes, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath [Jesus] removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm:103:12), which Paul underscores in Romans:6:22: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Sin is still a factor in the temporal life of a believer, but its infinite penalty has been completely paid for and its power will cease at Heaven’s door. Again, one’s entrance into Heaven, a place where sin cannot appear, is only possible because of Jesus, “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus:2:14).
The Bible does not present Heaven as a place for believers to move on to after they have done their best to shape up the world into the Kingdom of God. That’s not going to happen. The Kingdom of God will not be manifested on earth until the King himself returns, and He will return with those whose residence has been in Heaven while the earth and its inhabitants will have been subjected to worldwide destruction through God’s righteous judgment. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew:24:21). The prophet Jeremiah refers to it as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” out of which a remnant of Israel will be saved (Jeremiah:30:7).
What does all the above say about one’s activities here on earth? For the most part, what the Scriptures teach has been marginalized if not outright rejected even by those who claim to be Christians. Mankind has attempted to set up its own utopian kingdom from the time of Babel to the Holy Roman Empire to Calvin’s “kingdom” in Geneva to Hitler’s Third Reich to the Kingdom Now and Take Dominion enthusiasts to the Christian Reconstructionists and Coalition on Revival proponents to many of today’s cults. Also of that biblically erroneous mentality are those Christians whose emphasis is on solving the world’s problems such as disease, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, immorality, and social injustice. Although some such organizations include sharing the gospel in their “good works” endeavors, the majority have drifted away from what Christ commanded: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you [always], even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew:28:19-20). Since sin is at the heart of all the world’s problems, then even good works that avoid the salvation that only Christ provides, no matter how sincere, are antichrist endeavors.
Not only is the great commission being undermined by various forms of “works salvation” but a very significant emphasis of Scripture is being rejected: namely, that believers in Christ are to recognize that this planet is not our home but simply a starting point, intended for our temporal existence, which has, as the objective, to be with Jesus for all eternity. We are sojourners here, pilgrims, Heaven-bound to be with our Savior. “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John:12:26; 17:24). We must not forget that Scripture tells us that this present universe is headed for termination following the thousand-year reign of Jesus: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter:3:10).
Those who take a dim view of Christians who are highly motivated by the hope of Heaven have not read the Scriptures, or, if they have, they must not believe them. Chapter 11 of Hebrews characterizes the heroes of the faith as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” who desired “a better country, that is, an heavenly [one],” and adds that the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews:11:13,16,38). The complaint is that a focus on Heaven results in a “do nothing” time here on earth. Again, such complainers aren’t taking the Word of God at its word. Over and over we find verses exhorting us to holiness and fruitfulness as we look forward to Heaven: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians:5:23); “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to [give], willing to [share], laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy:6:18-19); “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter:1:17). “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation [conduct] and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter:3:11-14)
Jesus gave a number of parables that instruct us about how we, as believers, should regard Heaven. Therefore, we need to heed His words in order to keep from being sidetracked in our sojourning through this temporal life. “And the disciples came and said to him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matthew:13:10-11). Those who would reject Christ would also reject Heaven. How important, therefore, should Heaven be in the lives of those who believe? Nothing here should supersede it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew:13:44-46).
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians:3:1-2). “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke:12:34). “For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look  for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Amen and amen. TBC