Archive for the ‘The Bible’ Category
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
This statement is used by many to excuse their disobedience to the words of Jesus and the Apostles – what they would call the “letter.” Anyone who insists on literal obedience to the commandments of God Almighty is accused of making too much of the “letter” which “kills.” The accusers, in their disobedience, are supposedly enjoying “freedom” of the “Spirit” and think they have spiritual life which their “legalist” friend lacks.
What are we to make of such arguments? They may sound intimidating and credible when they are put forward. After all, why be concerned about actually obeying Christ if you do not have to – or if obedience can actually tend to spiritual death? We certainly do not want that! But are our “spiritual” friends using the Scriptures correctly?
There is only one Scripture which uses an expression similar to that at the head of this article. In II Corinthians 3:6, the Apostle Paul writes that God “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” A similar expression is found in Romans 7:6: “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (cf. Romans 2:27, 29).
What is “the Letter”?
The question should immediately rise in our minds, “what letter is Paul referring to?” An examination of the contexts of the above references will reveal the answer.
Notice what Paul is referring to in the first part of II Corinthians 3:6: He is pointing out that he and his coworkers had been made “able ministers of the new testament.” The context, then, is the distinction between the two covenants – the New Covenant of Christ and the Old Covenant under Moses. The “letter” being referred to, then, is the old letter of the Mosaic Covenant.
That this is so is confirmed by a look at the broader context.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious (II Corinthians 3:5-11).
Notice what is being contrasted throughout this passage – the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. (To emphasize this, I have bolded that which refers to the New Covenant and underlined what refers to the Old Covenant.) Notice the back and forth contrast between the two which Paul is making – it goes all throughout this passage. Notice also that he later uses the spirit to refer to the New Covenant – “shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?”
Thus we see that in II Corinthians 3, the “letter” does not refer to the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, but to the Old Testament commands of Moses. What about the other passages where “letter” is used?
Here is the context for the quotation from Romans 7:
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Romans 7:1-7).
Notice again that the context is “the law.” Paul points out that we have died to the Law so that we are no longer under its dominion; instead, we can be married to Christ and bring forth fruit unto God. In verse 6, he restates this principle, saying that we are delivered from the Law, so that we could serve in the “newness of spirit” and not in “the oldness of the letter.” How do we know the “law” in this passage is referring to Moses’ law? Throughout Romans, this has been the predominant usage of the term “law,” although there are exceptions – even later on in this very chapter. However, notice in verse 7 how Paul reveals how he is using the term “law.” It was “the law” which said, “Thou shalt not covet.” What law is this? The Law of Moses (Exodus 20:17).
There is one more passage of Scripture in which “letter” is used in this context, and that is in Romans 2.
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law…For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2:17-18, 25-29).
Notice again the context of the reference to the “letter.” The Law of Moses is that which instructs the Jews. Circumcision, an ordinance of the Law of Moses, is included in the context. The “letter,” then, appears to mean a literal fulfillment or obedience to the details of the Law of Moses. For instance, in verse 29, Paul points out that the true circumcision is that which is in heart and spirit – “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11b) – not the actual operation on the body, i.e., “not in the letter.”
What is the Death which the Letter Brings?
We have noticed from the context of Paul’s usages of the theological term “letter” that it refers to the Mosaic Law. In our search to understand Paul’s meaning, we must now investigate what the death is which this “letter” brings. The answer to this question is clearly given in Romans 7.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful (Romans 7:7-13).
Romans 7 is a controversial chapter, but it appears that Paul is explaining the nature of the Law of Moses and its work in a man’s heart – that is, bringing the sinner to Christ – by his own experience before his conversion. This is particularly clear in this section of the chapter. Paul points out first that the Law is not sin; rather, it reveals sin, such as covetousness. Sin, however, takes the opportunity afforded by a commandment to take action in a man’s heart and life. It is human nature to want that which is forbidden. A preacher who is also a painter said that he used to put up “Wet Paint” signs when he would paint in restaurants. People who came through would inevitably touch the walls, just to see if it really was wet – and of course, would find that it was. When he stopped putting up “Wet Paint” signs, the wall-touching stopped. People want what is forbidden. The Law, rather than restraining sin, actually stirs it up and causes it to increase in strength.
Paul goes on to say that “without the law sin was dead.” Just like the people walking right past un-posted wet paint, evil did not have much appeal for Paul when he had not yet heard the law forbidding evil. He then says that he was alive without the law once. It seems that he is referring to his state as a young boy, before he learned the Law. Yes, Paul was probably a naughty boy at times, but having not yet learned God’s righteous standard nor having made a conscious, mature decision to accept or reject it, he was, in a sense, spiritually alive. However, the day came when Paul learned the Law of Moses. When “the commandment came,” that is, when he learned about it and became conscious of God’s standard for life, “sin revived.” The Law actually produced sin in his life! The result? “I died.” Paul’s entrance into the state of spiritual death occurred when he became a conscious sinner, knowing the Law of God and failing to live up to it. Paul points out that God ordained the Law to be “unto life.”
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
Although God ordained the Law for life, Paul in his experience found it to lead to death. Why? Sin took the opportunity which the Law gave, and it was sin which deceived and spiritually killed young Paul. Paul goes on to vindicate the Law of being evil; on the other hand, it is “holy, and just, and good.” How could something good lead to death? Paul points out that sin, so that it could be revealed for what it was, took the Law in its hands like a sword and killed Paul. Sin took the Law and did with it what it had not been intended for. In this way, the Law revealed the true nature of sin – that it was “exceeding sinful,” in that it could take that which was good and use it to produce death.
So how does this relate to “the letter” mentioned by Paul? Remember that “the letter” refers to the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. This passage reveals what kind of death “the letter” works when it “killeth.” It gives an opportunity for sin to stir itself up and revive in a man’s heart, which then uses the Law to produce spiritual death. That this is a correct understanding of Paul’s testimony in Romans 7 is confirmed by verse 5: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” The killing which the letter performs is done by producing sin in a man’s life; this sin works in our body to “bring forth fruit unto death.”
This is all directly contrary to our friends’ understanding, who insist that the “letter” is the New Testament commands of Jesus and the Apostles, and the “death” is brought about by the “legalism” of those who insist that Christians must obey God. The “letter” does not kill by driving to obedience, but by driving to sin!
What is the “Spirit”?
What is the “spirit” referred to in these passages? This is not made explicitly clear. One meaning which fits the contexts is that it is the spirit or intention behind the Law. Remember that God ordained the Law for life, but in practical experience, it leads to death. The spirit, then, could be God’s intention for man to have life – the heavenly life of God revealed in man’s everyday, practical experience. As Paul discovered, the carnal, unregenerated man cannot possibly keep God’s Law. A practical attainment (or surpassing) of the righteousness of the Law requires an indwelling of the Holy Spirit – God Himself. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9b). This Spirit is only given to those who obey God. “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32).
Let us return again to our friends, who insist that insistence upon obedience is bondage to the “letter” which “killeth.” We have seen that the New Covenant commands of Jesus are not what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the “letter.” Such an interpretation would contradict Jesus’ own words: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Jesus’ words are spirit, and they are life! They are not the letter which kills.
Originally published in The Witness 13(11) November 2015.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“Jonah and the whale” is often the final Old Testament story told in children’s storybooks. Beyond its use as a “Bible story,” the book of Jonah is rarely given much serious consideration. Though the book is short, its message is weighty: God is a radically, amazingly, unfathomably good Being. The book of Jonah is a revelation of a God who loves even His enemies. It is a revelation of a God who is not willing that any should perish. It is a revelation of the fact that it is the goodness of God which leads men to repentance. The revelation of these facts – both to a bad prophet and a wicked city – is the theme and story of this book.
The Religious and Political Situation
Jonah was a prophet in the land of Israel after the division between Israel (the ten northern tribes) and Judah (Judah and Benjamin). Since the reign of Jeroboam, Israel’s first king, the ten northern tribes had been in serious apostasy from God and the truth. This was because Jeroboam I had set up two golden calves, claimed that they were images of Jehovah, and that the Israelites should worship at the shrines he had set up for these calves rather than at Jerusalem, where the Judeans worshipped. Eighteen times it is stated in the books of Kings that Jeroboam “made Israel to sin.”
All of this had been hundreds of years before, and now Jeroboam II was king. He was not a descendant of the original Jeroboam, as Israel had known much political instability, and dynasties had changed several times since the reign of Jeroboam. Immense idolatry had entered, particularly during the Omri dynasty. Omri’s son Ahab, stirred up by his wife Jezebel, introduced the worship of Baal and other heathen gods, in addition to the pagan gods already worshipped by the Israelites and the two golden calves which Jeroboam had set up. Israel had become a corrupt nation of idolatrous, adulterous people.
Following the reign of Ahab and two of his sons, God raised up Jehu with the mission of destroying the Omri dynasty and cleansing the land of idolatry. Jehu eradicated the worship of Baal and other heathen gods, but failed to return completely to following the commands of GOD contained in the Law of Moses. He allowed the two golden calves erected by Jeroboam I to remain and the worship of them to continue uninterrupted. This pagan behavior continued under the reign of Jehu’s descendants and finally ended with the destruction of Jehu’s dynasty.
It was during the reign of Jehu’s great-grandson, Jeroboam II, that Jonah was prophet in Israel. Israel had known little peace since its division from Judah, and Jeroboam II took the throne at a time when Israel was under the oppression of the Syrians – a cruel and ruthless people with no love for the Israelites. Because of the sins of Jehu, GOD “began to cut Israel short” (II Kings 10:32), using the Syrians. Israel lost a significant amount of land to these foes, and all the days of Jehoahaz (Jeroboam II’s grandfather and Jehu’s son), Israel was oppressed by the Syrians (II Kings 13:22). GOD had mercy on the Israelites, however, for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. HE allowed Jehoash, Jehoahaz’s son and successor, to have three victories over the Syrians and reclaim some of the cities which the Syrians had taken.
A breakthrough was to occur in the reign of Jeroboam II, and it was there and then that Jonah’s ministry began.
The Early Ministry of Jonah
In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher. For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter: for there was not any shut up, nor any left, nor any helper for Israel. And the LORD said not that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven: but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, which belonged to Judah, for Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (II Kings 14:23-28)
Jonah was the son of a man by the name of Amittai, and was a native of the city of Gath-hepher, a town on the border of the land of Zebulun. Amittai was a prophet as well, and named his son Jonah, meaning “dove.” He probably trained his son to value the ways of the Lord and to pursue the honor of Jehovah and proclaim His truth to His wayward people, Israel.
Jonah followed his father’s footsteps as a prophet of the Lord. His career as prophet appears to have begun during the reign of Jeroboam II. The people were bitterly afflicted by the Syrians, and although Jeroboam II was a wicked man, God was ready to deliver the Israelites from their affliction. Jonah prophesied and proclaimed that Jeroboam II would restore the borders of Israel, all the way from Hamath, reclaiming the land which the Syrians had taken. He proclaimed that the Lord had declared that He would not blot out Israel’s name, but would save them through Jeroboam II (II Kings 14:23-29).
Jonah’s preaching was probably quite popular in Israel. While the people probably had little interest in returning to obedience to this God Jonah served, they were interested in the patriotic vision of restoring the borders of Israel, and bringing Israel back to international prominence and victory over their hated enemies, the Syrians. While we do not know what Jeroboam II’s attitude towards Jonah was, it seems probable that he liked what Jonah was doing, as it certainly had a positive effect on military morale.
As God had promised through Jonah, Jeroboam II was able to bring deliverance from Israel’s enemies. Not only did he reclaim the land which Syria had taken from Israel, he went on the offensive as far as Damascus, where he apparently occupied the very capital of Syria itself.
A New Mission
Jonah’s early mission, to the people of Israel, appears to have been a fairly easy one. His message was probably fairly popular, and as a result, the people probably liked him as well. He appears to have been somewhat of a patriot himself, and the homeland-exalting mission he was given seems to have suited him just fine. But at heart, he was a bad prophet. God had more in mind for Jonah than Jonah was expecting. A good God was about to reveal Himself to a bad prophet.
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, at that time a loose confederation of city-states. Although not mentioned in the Bible up to this point, the Assyrians were enemies of the Israelites. Ahab had led a large confederation of Middle Eastern kings to fight against the Assyrians at the Battle of Qarqar, and was defeated. Jehu was forced to pay tribute to the same Assyrian monarch.,  Joash, the father of Jeroboam II, also paid tribute to Assyria. The Assyrians would eventually take the ten northern tribes into captivity. Nineveh would eventually become the capital city of the Assyrians, but it was not the capital of the empire at that time.
While not the capital, Nineveh was an ancient and important city in the Assyrian Empire. The city had been founded very soon after the worldwide Flood. Nimrod appears to have begun to build an empire beginning at Babel (Genesis 10:8-10). Another man by the name of Asshur left Nimrod’s land and founded Nineveh as well as three other cities (Genesis 10:11-12). This important city in the Assyrian Empire was violent and licentious; its people were idolatrous and superstitious. It was this wicked city which God had in mind when He came to give Jonah a new prophetic mission.
The Book of Jonah
1:1Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
The Lord had a radically new mission for Jonah – and one rather unheard of for Hebrew prophets. While it was not unusual for God to give a special message of warning and judgment to one of His prophets against a pagan nation, it was unusual for Him to command the prophet to deliver the message in person at the very city which had merited judgment.
At the very beginning of the book of Jonah, we see God’s intolerance of sin, and yet His willingness to send a message of warning and judgment to those who had provoked His wrath.
3But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Jonah was obviously displeased with the new mission he had been given, and he attempted to flee – not only from the mission, but from the presence of the Lord Himself. Why did Jonah dislike this new mission? Why did he want to flee from doing this service for the Lord? The text itself does not yet reveal it. Like the dramatic piece of literature it is, the book conceals the reason for Jonah’s reluctance until the shocking climax.
4But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
Jonah slept soundly through the storm, probably imagining that – as God’s favored prophet – he would be protected through the storm. Too many people today still imagine that God will protect and bless them in the midst of their own disobedience and rebellion against His commands.
6So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou? 9And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Jonah knew who God was. He feared the Lord, but yet was apparently unafraid to disobey Him. (Or perhaps Jonah had just come to “fear” the Lord!) Notice that although the shipmaster asked Jonah to pray, we have no record that he actually did so.
10Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
The sailors seemed to be more afraid at Jonah’s disobedience – and the potential consequences – than he was. They knew that Jonah was there in disobedience to his God because he had been brazenly rebellious enough to report his grievances and disobedience to these pagans, to whom he – as a member of God’s priestly nation, and a prophet besides – should have been a witness to.
11Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
The sailors were showing more mercy to Jonah than Jonah was showing to the Ninevites! They were acting more in accord with God’s heart of love and mercy than Jonah was.
However, Jonah did not ask for God’s guidance for what should be done. He also did not repent. Repentance probably would have been telling the sailors to turn the ship around and head back, that he needed to go to Nineveh – he would pay them what they required. Even in this situation, Jonah was still not headed for Nineveh, and was still being stubborn. He would rather drown than go to Nineveh.
15So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. 16Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
God, the Benevolent and All-Wise Deity, used Jonah’s disobedience to reach yet more pagans – the sailors, who in spite of the poor witness left by Jonah’s rebellion, feared and sacrificed to the Good God Who had revealed Himself to them.
17Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
God was going to teach Jonah a lesson. Jonah first sank into the sea and became entangled in a mass of seaweed (2:5). He was probably near death, if not already dead, when the fish swallowed him. When he finally came to, he found himself in the belly of a fish.
2:1Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. 3For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 5The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.
These phrases (“out of the belly of hell,” “compassed me…to the soul,” “earth with her bars…about me for ever,” “brought up my life from corruption”) indicate that Jonah probably died after being cast out of the ship, and his soul descended to the abode of the dead. He despaired of being in God’s presence ever again, yet hope entered his soul – “yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.” The Lord, true to His merciful character, then “brought up [Jonah’s] life from corruption,” reviving him in the fish’s belly.
7When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
Jonah knew where to turn in his hour of trouble – the very Person Whom he had sinned against. Jonah’s prayer holds regret for his punishment, and perhaps just an ounce of actual repentance for his sin. At the end, Jonah’s tone becomes triumphant, as he is confident that God has heard his prayer, and that he would actually be allowed once more to enter the Temple.
8They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
The word “observe” can have the sense of “protect.” It is possible that the sense of this verse is, “They who seek to protect themselves with idols, forsake the opportunity to experience God’s mercy.”
9But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
With full confidence now in his deliverance, Jonah plans a sacrifice with thanksgiving, and declares that salvation – deliverance from his present disaster – would come from the Lord.
Despite his promise for worship, Jonah does not in this prayer include any confession of guilt or a plea for forgiveness.
10And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
But Jonah received what he prayed for! This action of God’s – delivering this bad prophet from “the belly of hell,” and then from the belly of the fish – reveals God’s loving and merciful character, loving even to His enemies. God very well could have left Jonah to be the fish’s lunch, and picked another prophet to go to Nineveh. He could just as well have told the Angel Gabriel to go warn Nineveh of impending judgment. Gabriel would not have disobeyed. Yet God was good even to the bad prophet Jonah, and He delivered Jonah in mercy, and gave him another opportunity.
3:1And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 2Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
God had delivered Jonah from his disaster, but not from his despised mission. A boat had taken Jonah away from where God wanted him, but a fish carried him right back. Jonah was given the opportunity to demonstrate repentance by preaching in love to those who were headed where he had just been – the “belly of hell.”
3So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.
Jonah obeys – at least outwardly – and this time heads for Nineveh. As we will see, it was not out of love for the people that he went!
Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey. 4And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
Unfortunately, we have no record if Jonah preached anything more than this short, terse message. It was a foreboding, threatening message – and one perfectly suited for the Ninevites’ ears.
Archaeological discoveries have shed light on the history of Assyria at about the time of Jonah’s mission. King Jeroboam II, king of Israel in Jonah’s day, reigned from 793-753 B.C. On June 15, 763 B.C., there was a solar eclipse in Assyria. There had been revolts and plagues before then; there was revolt in Assyria in that year, and a plague two years later. The Assyrians, like so many other pagans, were a very superstitious people, and a solar eclipse was seen as a terrible omen of bad luck. One archaeological discovery is an astrological report to the king claiming that a solar eclipse indicated that the following disasters may occur: “Rise of a rebel king; the throne will change…that king will die…a devastating flood will occur.” One professor of the Old Testament wrote:
If Jonah had arrived in Nineveh around the time of this eclipse, when Assyria was about to fold up and collapse, it would not have taken much of a catalyst to start the kind of mass repentance described in Jonah 3. The behavior of the Assyrian king described in the royal letters took place on certain days specified by experts during time when life was progressing as usual. How much more intense would it be in the New Year following this ominous event? One might even wonder if the book of Jonah understated the situation.
5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
The people of Nineveh did not just believe Jonah; they believed his God.
6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
This incredible repentance came about because the Ninevites and their king saw in the terse, threatening message of Jonah the truth which he wanted to hide from them – that God was gracious and merciful, willing to forgive upon repentance. Indeed – why would God send a prophet to warn them of judgment if there was no hope of mercy?
The Ninevites “believed God” enough that they were willing to turn from their sins in repentance, begging for His mercy. What was God’s response?
10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
What a good God! In response to their repentance, God also “repented” or turned from the pronouncement of judgment. The Judge of all the Earth does right; He does not punish the righteous with the wicked (Genesis 18:23, 25). These men, although formerly wicked, had turned now to righteousness. God responds to repentance by giving mercy.
But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23).
4:1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
As we enter the fourth chapter, we get to the real reason why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place. God saw the repentance of Nineveh, and responded with mercy and forgiveness. Jonah, however – God’s chosen prophet, who should have been close to God and had thoughts like God regarding this situation – is angry with God for showing mercy on Nineveh! Sometimes we, too, are angry when our neighbor receives a blessing.
2And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
The climax of the story has come, with the most shocking element in the entire book – the prophet Jonah reproaches God for being good!
This is the real reason why Jonah wanted to flee to Tarshish and avoid the mission to Nineveh. It was because he knew that God was good, and that if the city of Nineveh would repent in response to his message, the city would be spared! When Jonah finally did arrive in Nineveh, he appears to have given only a short, threatening message of doom. Yet even his unkind preaching was met with the unexpected result that the Ninevites guessed how good God was – the very fact Jonah wished to hide from them! Now, as he had expected, the city had repented, and God had spared the city. Now Jonah is reproaching God for being good. (He was perfectly pleased with God’s goodness and mercy when he was the one in need of it.)
3Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. 4Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Jonah was so angry with his Good God that he would rather die than see God have mercy on his enemies. At this point, the Lord has taken a lot of rebellion from Jonah, and it would seem perfectly natural in the story to see the Lord strike him dead at this point. However, the Lord asked Jonah a gentle question – “Doest thou well to be angry?”
5So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
Jonah seems to have taken God’s question wrong. God’s question was certainly intended to gently nudge him to repentance from his bad attitudes. Jonah seems to have misunderstood, and went out to watch what would happen to the city – as if God had meant, “What are you so upset about? Just watch and I will destroy the city! Just be patient and wait!” So Jonah took his seat on the east side of the city – the side opposite from his own home – and waited.
6And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
Even in the face of this new development, God is still good to His bad prophet. He did not let Jonah sit out in the desert in the hot sun, but gave Him a large plant to shade him. Was Jonah grateful to God for the gourd? Although we are told that he “was exceeding glad of the gourd,” we have no record that he thanked God for it.
7But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
God’s purpose in giving Jonah a gourd was more than just to give him something to sit under – although that was part of it. Rather, God was going to give Jonah a lesson. The very next day, the gourd died, and a strong wind blew over Jonah, and the sun beat down on him.
Jonah was a man of emotional extremes. He was very angry when God had mercy on the city in verse 1; then he was exceeding glad of the gourd; now he is “angry, even unto death” (verse 9).
9And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. 10Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: 11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
In this passage, we get a final glimpse into the heart of God and see yet again His goodness. Who was God trying to reach with Jonah’s mission to Nineveh? Obviously the Ninevites, but also Jonah. Jonah hated his enemies, and was unwilling to go to Nineveh because he knew that God was good. Jonah was a man of emotional extremes, and was a man more interested in his own comfort and self-interest than the welfare of others – the creation and image of God Himself. He may have been a patriot, more concerned with nationalistic affairs and hatred for Israel’s enemies than in seeing God’s rule and influence expand to another nation.
Jonah, preaching in Israel the destruction of her enemies, seems to have embraced the idea that although God was the Maker of all men, He was yet bound to a tribal entity and was only loyal to the Jews.
God’s benevolent response to this bad prophet was to send him – and resend him – on a mission which would bring him face-to-face with himself and his badness and God and His goodness. God, in love and mercy, did not bring a railing accusation against Jonah, but gently confronted him with his own selfishness and hate and prompted him to embrace the benevolence, magnanimity, and goodness of God for all people.
Why does the book of Jonah end so abruptly – with no record of Jonah’s response? Perhaps it is because we are supposed to end the story for ourselves by responding to the lesson of the book – realizing the immense goodness of God, His love and care for all and desire for their salvation, and our need to act in accordance with our King’s benevolent vision.
Behold, a greater than Jonas is here.–Jesus
 Shalmaneser III, “The Monolith Inscription,” in Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Volume I, 1926, University of Chicago Press, p. 223.
 Shalmaneser III, “The Black Obelisk Inscription,” in Ibid., p. 211.
 Shalmaneser III, “Another Fragment from Calah(?),” in Ibid., p. 243.
 Adad-nirari III, “Tell al Rimah Stele,” in Stephanie Page, “A Stela of Adad-nirari III and Nergal-ereš from Tell al Rimah,” Iraq 30(2) (Autumn 1968):139-153, p. 143.
 As cited by Paul Ferguson, “Nineveh’s ‘Impossible’ Repentance,” Bible and Spade 27(2) (Spring 2014):32-35, p. 34.
Originally published in The Witness 13(11) November 2015.
By Irenaeus of Lyons
Critics of the Bible claim that it was unjust for the Israelites to “spoil the Egyptians” by taking their gold and jewelry on their way out of Egypt. As this passage from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies shows, this is not a new accusation. Irenaeus’s brilliant defense of GOD’s justice in instructing the Israelites to do this is still worth reading today. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, pp. 502-503. Somewhat modernized.—Ed.
Those, again, who frivolously object and find fault because the people did, by God’s command, upon the eve of their departure, take vessels of all kinds and raiment from the Egyptians, and so went away, from which [spoils], too, the tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness, prove themselves ignorant of the righteous dealings of God, and of His dispensations; as also the presbyter remarked: For if God had not accorded this in the typical exodus, no one could now be saved in our true exodus; that is, in the faith in which we have been established, and by which we have been brought forth from among the number of the Gentiles. For in some cases there follows us a small, and in others a large amount of property, which we have acquired from the mammon of unrighteousness. For from what source do we derive the houses in which we dwell, the garments in which we are clothed, the vessels which we use, and everything else ministering to our everyday life, unless it be from those things which, when we were Gentiles, we acquired by avarice, or received them from our heathen parents, relations, or friends who unrighteously obtained them?—not to mention that even now we acquire such things when we are in the faith. For who is there that sells, and does not wish to make a profit from him who buys? Or who purchases anything, and does not wish to obtain good value from the seller? Or who is there that carries on a trade, and does not do so that he may obtain a livelihood thereby? And as to those believing ones who are in the royal palace, do they not derive the utensils they employ from the property which belongs to Caesar; and to those who have not, does not each one of these [Christians] give according to his ability?
The Egyptians were debtors to the [Jewish] people, not alone as to property, but as to their very lives, because of the kindness of the patriarch Joseph in former times; but in what way are the heathen debtors to us, from whom we receive both gain and profit? Whatsoever they amass with labor, these things do we make use of without labor, although we are in the faith.
Up to that time the people served the Egyptians in the most abject slavery, as saith the Scripture: “And the Egyptians exercised their power rigorously upon the children of Israel; and they made life bitter to them by severe labors, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field which they did, by all the works in which they oppressed them with rigor.” And with immense labor they built for them fenced cities, increasing the substance of these men throughout a long course of years, and by means of every species of slavery; while these [masters] were not only ungrateful towards them, but had in contemplation their utter annihilation. In what way, then, did [the Israelites] act unjustly, if out of many things they took a few, they who might have possessed much property had they not served them, and might have gone forth wealthy, while, in fact, by receiving only a very insignificant recompense for their heavy servitude, they went away poor? It is just as if any free man, being forcibly carried away by another, and serving him for many years, and increasing his substance, should be thought, when he ultimately obtains some support, to possess some small portion of his [master’s] property, but should in reality depart, having obtained only a little as the result of his own great labors, and out of vast possessions which have been acquired, and this should be made by any one a subject of accusation against him, as if he had not acted properly. He (the accuser) will rather appear as an unjust judge against him who had been forcibly carried away into slavery. Of this kind, then, are these men also, who charge the people with blame, because they appropriated a few things out of many, but who bring no charge against those who did not render them the recompense due to their fathers’ services; nay, but even reducing them to the most irksome slavery, obtained the highest profit from them. And [these objectors] allege that [the Israelites] acted dishonestly, because, in truth, they took away from the recompense of their labors, as I have observed, unstamped gold and silver in a few vessels; while they say that they themselves (for let truth be spoken, although to some it may seem ridiculous) do act honestly, when they carry away in their girdles from the labors of others, coined gold, and silver, and brass, with Caesar’s inscription and image upon it.
 The identity of this “presbyter,” who is often quoted by Irenaeus, is not certain. It may have been Pothinus, the original missionary to the people of Gaul, who was Irenaeus’s predecessor as bishop of Lyons. Pothinus died a martyrs’ death, whereupon Irenaeus became bishop.—Ed.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21).
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Romans 4:2).
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).
Two authors. Two books. Two audiences. And it appears…two contradictory points of view. But is it true? Or is it an illusion?
Is it possible that all four statements are true at the same time, and that they naturally harmonize with each other when we take the time to investigate the contexts of the statements, without letting preconceived ideas get in the way of understanding?
It is not only possible, but true. If we understand the context in which these statements are made, and what each author meant by the word “works,” the solution falls neatly into place.
Let us begin with the book of James. The book of James was probably the first book of the New Testament to be written. It was not written to argue against Paul, since it was written before any of Paul’s epistles were written. In James 2:14-26, we read:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought [worked together] with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:14-26).
James here teaches that Abraham was justified by works, and that we are not justified by faith only, but by works. But what kind of works was he talking about?
Looking carefully in the passage, we notice that he is talking about good works. Specifically, there are two kinds of good works which he is talking about: 1) Works of obedience, such as Abraham offering up Isaac, and 2) philanthropic works of kindness, such as Rahab saving the spies from certain death. Abraham and Rahab were justified by these works. They obeyed God. They did good to their fellowman, motivated by faith.
We, also, cannot be justified without the good works of obedience to God’s commands and goodness to others. (Justified or justification usually means “to make righteous or just.” It can mean “to prove something as correct, righteous, or just.” A discussion of the meaning of justification is beyond the scope of this article.)
What about Paul? What kind of works was he talking about when he said Abraham was not justified by works, and that we are justified by faith? Was he talking about good works, dead works, works of faith, evil works, works of the law, or any and all types of works?
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God…What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin…Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Romans 3:1-2, 9, 19-31).
What kind of works is Paul talking about in this passage? Notice who he is talking about at the beginning of the chapter – the Jews, the people of circumcision (verse 1). Unto them were committed the oracles of God (verse 2) – the Old Testament, the Law of Moses. Notice that he continues talking about the Jews throughout the passage, and the Law. This is the Law of Moses, the “oracles of God” from verse 2. It is not just any set of rules or a code of morality. It is a specific law, the Law of Moses. The “works” which he is speaking about in this passage are the works of that Law. So when he says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds [same Greek word as that which is translated “works”] of the law,” he is talking about the works of the Law of Moses – Sabbaths, feasts, new moons, dietary laws, and especially circumcision. This is further confirmed as we move into the next chapter, and see what he says about Abraham.
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were (Romans 4:1-17).
Abraham – the father of the Jewish nation – was going to need to be addressed by Paul if he was going to get the Jews to pay attention to his argument. If circumcision was not necessary for salvation, as he argued in chapter 3, he is going to have to address the case of Abraham, to whom circumcision was first given. Paul does so by pointing out that Abraham was justified and his faith was counted to him as righteousness before he was circumcised. So when Paul says, “if Abraham were justified by works,” he is talking about the works of the Law of Moses – specifically circumcision. And he proves that Abraham was not justified by such works, because he was justified before being circumcised. Therefore, circumcision is not necessary for justification.
Therefore, to take verse 5 (“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”) out of context as support for a faith-alone view of salvation is wresting the Scriptures. In its original context, this was intended as a repudiation of the works of the Law of Moses, not of obedience to Christ’s commandments, basic morality, or of the authority of the church.
To fully grasp these teachings of the Apostle Paul, we need to understand the historical background in which he was working. We are first introduced to the Judaizers in Acts 15. “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). These were Jews from Judaea who were coming to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28). Antioch was a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20; 13:1). It had been a stretching experience for Jewish Christians to accept the fact that God had accepted the Gentiles into the fold of faith (Acts 11:1-18). Some of them got the idea that the Gentiles could come to faith in Christ and be accepted, but that they still must observe the Old Testament/Mosaic ceremonies, such as circumcision.
Antioch was Paul’s home church. It was the church which had commissioned his first missionary journey. And it was Ground Zero for the teaching of the Judaizers. Paul was right on the scene when the trouble began, and he encountered it head on: “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:2).
Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, where the Jerusalem Council discussed and settled the question. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James all spoke in favor of the point of view eventually adopted by the Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – namely, that the Gentiles who converted to Christianity did not need to keep the Mosaic Law; the only items from the Law which would be enjoined upon the Gentiles were the necessity to abstain from things offered to idols, from fornication, and from eating meat with blood in it and animals that had been strangled (Acts 15:20, 29; cf. 21:25). When this decision was made known to the Gentiles who had been converted, “they rejoiced for the consolation” (Acts 15:31).
Unfortunately, although the issue had been officially settled, the Judaizers continued to make trouble for the church, and would continue to do so for the next few centuries. Paul’s letters had much material intended to refute the claims of the Judaizers about circumcision, as well as about Sabbaths, new moons, feast days, etc. When Paul talks about “works” and “law,” as opposed to faith and the grace of God, this is the type of works and law which he is talking about – that promoted by the Judaizers as necessary for salvation, i.e., the Law of Moses.
We know that Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” and in the earliest years of the church (i.e., those covered in the Book of Acts), he was more involved with evangelization to the Gentiles than the other apostles were. Of course, it was Gentile converts who were being targeted by the Judaizers. Thus, it makes sense that his writings would contain more on this topic than those of the other Apostles.
This we will now demonstrate by a careful examination of the letters of Paul.
The book of Romans is Paul’s longest surviving letter, and it has much to say regarding the subject of the Law of Moses and its relationship to salvation today. Paul’s statements in the book of Romans about works and law have been taken out of context by those preaching a “faith alone” salvation. However, in the second chapter of the book, we have a very surprising statement which is usually ignored by those preaching “faith alone”:
[God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:6-11).
Every man – Jew and Gentile – will be judged according to his deeds. Those who seek for glory and honor and immortality by patient continuance in good works will be rewarded by God with eternal life. Those who do not obey the truth, but rather practice unrighteousness, will be given tribulation and anguish. Thus, what can we conclude about Romans 3:28?
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28).
Paul had already said that we will be judged according to our deeds in chapter 2, and defined those deeds as “patient continuance in well doing,” as opposed to “do not obey the truth…obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath”. Therefore, we know for a fact that when Paul says we are justified by faith “without…deeds” in chapter 3, he is not talking about those deeds mentioned in chapter 2. Reading the rest of the sentence, and seeing it in context, tells us exactly what kind of “deeds” he is talking about: “justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” It is the deeds of the Law which are irrelevant to our justification – particularly circumcision. As we have seen above, this theme is continued into chapter 4 regarding the circumcision of Abraham.
The book of Galatians has also been a stronghold for those who teach “faith alone.” However, even a cursory reading of the book will show that the specific works and law which Paul is arguing against in this book are those of the Law of Moses.
Paul quickly gets to his main point in the sixth verse of the book. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). What this other gospel was, we are not told immediately. Rather, the rest of chapter 1 and most of chapter 2 consist of an autobiographical account of Paul’s conversion and ministry, in which he defends the gospel which he had preached to the Galatians. However, we get an idea of what the problem was in the account of his confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-16.
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
With this passage, Paul is getting to his main point about works and law. Peter, a Jew himself, had overcome his prejudice against Gentiles and had come to the point where he could eat with the Gentiles – even though “it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation” (Acts 10:28), as Peter himself had told Cornelius. However, when other Jewish Christians came to Peter in Antioch, he was embarrassed to be seen eating with the Gentiles, and withdrew himself. This poor example was too much like the Judaizers for Paul, and he asked Peter “why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” – which was the main issue at stake in the controversy with the Judaizers. Three times in the ensuing context, Paul names “works of the law” as that which cannot justify. Again, it is the works of the Law of Moses which are the issue.
In chapter 3, Paul gets to the meat of his argument in trying to persuade the Galatians. They had not received the Spirit by the works of the law (3:2). Miracles are done in faith, not by the works of the law (3:5). Being subject to the works of the law brings the curse of the law – which Paul proves by quoting the Law of Moses (Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26). Throughout chapter 3, it is very clear that the “law” is not a theological abstraction, but a specific reality grounded in history. This is demonstrated by the thoroughly historical approach which Paul takes in proving the superiority of the promise – the specific promise given to Abraham, “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (verse 8) – to the law, which came later.
Paul’s specific description of the error which the Galatians were falling into is given in 4:9-10:
But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
The Galatians were falling into bondage to the requirements of the Law of Moses, and were observing “days, and months, and times, and years.” Paul encourages them in 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” This “yoke of bondage” which Paul is talking about is not any law, or any requirement, or any restraint, or any authority. The liberty he is speaking of is not the liberty to do whatever one pleases. It is the liberty of Christ from the Law of Moses; the yoke of bondage is the requirements of the Law of Moses.
The next verses specifically name circumcision as the heart of the issue:
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love…And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased (Galatians 5:2-6, 11).
The “works salvation” argued against in the book of Galatians is the teaching that obedience to the Law of Moses is necessary for salvation, specifically the salvation of the Gentiles. This idea is thoroughly refuted in the book of Galatians. However, the book has nothing to say against the good works of obedience to God, helping the poor, prayer, baptism, or any of the other New Covenant works. To believe in and practice them does not fall under the condemnation of Paul nor of God.
The book of Ephesians is the home of the famous verses, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But what kind of works is Paul talking about that salvation does not come from? From the context of his other writings, concluding that he meant “works of the law” is reasonable. However, the following context helps:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace (Ephesians 2:10-15).
Paul is not speaking against good works; rather, in the very next verse he declares that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works! The ensuing verses ground the context in the subject of the Gentiles coming to be accepted, with Jews, in the new community of Christian faith. Paul declares that it is the blood of Christ which brings the Gentiles close to God, and that the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” had been abolished by Christ. These statements, made in the context of the ongoing controversy with the Judaizers, help to ground Ephesians 2:8-9 in its historical context. It is not by the works of the Mosaic Law that we are saved. Circumcision, sabbaths, new moons, dietary regulations, etc. have nothing to do with Gentiles coming to Christ.
Paul declared in fervent love for Christ, “I count all things but loss…that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Wait a minute – something is wrong with that quotation. Did you catch it?
If you guessed that a phrase was missing, you were right. What Paul actually said was, “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith…” etc. What law? Verses 2-3 say, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” He is again addressing the issue of the Judaizers, warning the Philippians against them. The “concision” are the Judaizers. Paul declares that Christians are the true circumcision (cf. Colossians 2:11). Paul’s own righteousness, which he rejected, was that “of the law” which gave him the list of reasons why he “might trust in the flesh” given in verses 5-6: He was circumcised the eighth day, was a genetic Jew, he was a Pharisee, had persecuted the church, and followed the righteousness of the law.
Paul’s letter to Titus was one giving instruction and guidance to his younger associate, who had been left on the island of Crete to care for the church there. Titus’s assignment was to ordain elders for the churches in Crete and to give them a good, solid spiritual footing for life in God’s kingdom. Paul was giving Titus instructions on things which he needed to teach the Christians in Crete. In Titus 3:4-5, he told Titus: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done [not: which we are doing], but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:4-5). Again, faith-alone teachers have taken these verses as proof for their position, but we must ask: What kind of works is Paul talking about? What is the context of these words?
Earlier in the book, Paul had told Titus that there were false teachers to combat:
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake…Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth (Titus 1:10-11, 14).
We see in this passage that part of Paul’s concern was that Titus effectively combat the errors of “they of the circumcision.” We are not specifically told if it was Judaizers or unbelieving Jews that Paul was concerned about; he had combated both throughout his ministry. It is quite reasonable to conclude, therefore, that when Paul says that “Not by works of righteousness which we have done” in 3:4-5, he is talking again about the works of the Law of Moses. That he is not here discouraging the performance of good works is proven by the fact that only a few verses later, he says:
This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain (Titus 3:8-9).
Paul was not teaching that we are saved by the mercy of God apart from living righteously. Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament writers continually make clear that it is necessary to live a righteous life (see, for instance, I John 3:3-10).
What About Today?
We have seen that when Paul puts law or works in opposition to grace or faith, he is speaking of the works of the Law of Moses – specifically, circumcision. But do these passages have any relevance for us today? Do they teach us anything, other than to not be deceived into believing that circumcision is necessary for our salvation?
Yes, they do. We must be careful not to take these words out of their historical contexts, and any application we make must honor them in their correct contexts. However, we can learn from passages like Titus 3:4-5 that no works we do can provide our salvation. These provisional works – works which create or provide our salvation – have all been done by God through Christ. Provisional works include Jesus’ death on the cross, sending the Holy Spirit, etc., which created our salvation or made it available. However, God has enjoined on man conditional works. These works include repentance, faith, baptism, obedience, and good works. God has made our salvation conditional upon our response to Him in these types of works. Unless we obey Him, we cannot expect Him to give us salvation. These works do not earn our salvation, but unless we do them, we cannot have salvation.
Shocking Statements by Paul
In light of the discussion above regarding Paul’s use of the words “works” and “law,” it is worth noting that there are several passages in his writings which should be quite shocking to those who use his writings to “prove” a “faith alone” gospel.
Sin is not tolerated in the kingdom of God; repentance from these sins is necessary for salvation:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (I Corinthians 6:9-11; compare with II Corinthians 5:9-10, 11:15).
Our salvation is conditional upon our separation from the world:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 6:14-7:1).
Salvation requires cooperation between God and man:
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
The grace of God is a teacher:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12).
Faith is active:
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).
We must live in a way worthy of God:
Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (I Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Christ is the author of salvation only for those who obey Him:
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9).
Holiness is necessary if we wish to see the Lord:
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Finally, if Paul had to summarize his entire message in just one sentence, what would you expect him to say? We do not have to guess, for he did just that for King Agrippa:
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20).
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21).
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Romans 4:2).
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).
We now come back to the two pairs of verses with which we started, and we conclude that they are in fact in harmony, not contradiction to each other. Abraham was justified (became a righteous person) by his good works of obedience to God in offering Isaac on the altar, but not by his work of circumcision. We are justified by our conditional works of repentance, faith, obedience to God, baptism, etc., but not by the deeds of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision.
James and Paul agreed with each other completely on the subject of salvation and of the Law. However, they used words – specifically, the word “works” – differently from each other in their writings, which can be confusing for the modern reader. A careful reading, however, reveals the source of the difficulty and makes the solution plain and obvious.
 Furthermore, due to the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts, Moses allowed bondage to various evils to continue under his system. For instance, divorce and remarriage was permitted, whereas Christ’s teachings free us from that bondage. Moses allowed war and the hating of enemies; Christ’s teachings free us from this bondage, etc.
 This point is admirably explained in the highly recommended book by Aaron M. Shank, Faith and Works in Salvation, 2011.
Originally published in The Witness 13(4) (April 2015):3-10.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Will archeologists ever learn that questioning the reliability and accuracy of the Bible is not a good idea?
Recently, a paper was published on the use of domesticated camels in two ancient copper mines in modern-day Israel and Jordan. The authors of the study came to the conclusion that camels were not used in the mines until the last third of the 10th century B.C. This was then related to the Biblical account of the Patriarchs, which portrays Abraham and Jacob making use of camels circa 2000 B.C. – much earlier. Gleefully, the press reported on the find and its supposed impact on the Bible with headlines like:
“Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 B.C., Centuries Later Than Bible Says.”
“Camels Had No Business in Genesis.”
“Will Camel Discovery Break the Bible’s Back?”
“Camel Bones Suggest Error in Bible, Archaeologists Say.”
The New York Times, in reporting on the paper, said:
There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place. Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac. These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.
Despite the excitement of the press, these claims are not new. Rather, critics of the Bible have used the domestication of camels as “proof” of the Bible’s unreliability for well over 50 years.
Are these claims accurate, or overblown? The claims fall short on several levels. First of all, the original study was about two copper mines in Israel and Jordan, not about the entire ancient near East (ANE). Therefore, even if we accepted the claim that domesticated camels were not used in the entire Israel-Jordan-southern Lebanon area until the 10th century B.C., this would not tell us anything about other areas of the ANE – such as Egypt (where Abraham is said to have gotten his camels) and Mesopotamia (where he came from) – and their possible use of domesticated camels.
Secondly, just because no evidence can be found of domesticated camels does not mean that they did not exist, or that no evidence for them will be discovered in the future. In other words, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is an argument from silence – a silence which may someday be broken by the discovery of solid evidence for earlier camel domestication.
Thirdly, evidence for the early domestication of camels – even before the time of Abraham – has been discovered in Egypt and Mesopotamia. This includes artistic portrayals of domesticated camels with people riding or leading them, as well as ropes made of camel hair. These artifacts are dated to the time of Abraham or before. Notably, the first mention of camels in the Bible is where the Pharaoh of Egypt gives camels to Abraham. The Bible does not portray camels as being common domesticated animals in Canaan at the time of the Patriarchs.
Fourthly, if domesticated camels were present, but rare, in Canaan earlier than the 10th century B.C., it would not be very likely that we would find physical evidence of their existence.
Fifthly, the Bible itself is an archeological artifact from the ancient world, providing textual evidence for the use of domesticated camels in the time of the Patriarchs. If any other ancient text mentioning the use of domesticated camels earlier than the 10th century B.C. were discovered, it would be taken seriously, but the Bible is not. Why? Could it have to do with the religious motivations of those who do not want to submit to the requirements of the Bible?
We can conclude that the Bible is accurate in all of its statements, including those about camels. It is those who wish to disprove it that are shown to be mistaken.
Holy Bible, Authorized Version
Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, “The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley,” Tel Aviv 40:277-285
Jake Hebert, “Genesis Camels: Biblical Error?,” www.icr.org/article/8008/ (Accessed March 4, 2014)
Rusty Osborne, “Camels and Consternations,” http://lawprophetsandwritings.com/2014/02/camels-and-consternations/ (Accessed March 4, 2014)
Kenneth Way, “Is the Bible Wrong about Camels in Genesis?,” http://thegoodbookblog.com/2014/feb/19/is-the-bible-wrong-about-camels-in-genesis/ (Accessed March 4, 2014)
Jan Verbruggen, “5 Things You Need to Know About Camels and Biblical Accuracy,” http://www.westernseminary.edu/transformedblog/2014/02/24/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-camels-and-biblical-accuracy/ (Accessed March 4, 2014)
Lita Cosner, “Camels and the Bible,” www.creation.com/camels (Accessed March 4, 2014)
Originally published in The Witness (March 2014).
Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12.
By Simon P. Yoder
“Swear not at all”—thus taught the Son
Of God, that pure and holy One,
Whose words with truth are ever rife;
Who for a ransom gave his life—
Man to restore from Adam’s fall—
Yes, Jesus said, “Swear not at all.”
“Swear not at all.” In times of old,
Before Christ came truth to unfold,
Oaths were allowed, and men would bind
Themselves with solemn oaths to find
Their perjured souls could not obey—
But Jesus taught a better way.
“Swear not at all,” whate’er you do,
Oaths cannot make your words more true.
Speak words of promise with a “yea,”
And when denying, answer “nay;”
But keep your lips from words profane,
They come of evil and are vain.
“Swear not at all,” said Christ; and James
His own apostle too, proclaims
The same divine commands for see:
“Above all things swear not!” said he.—
And are not here forbidden both
The statesman and the ruffian’s oath?
“Swear not at all” includes all kinds
Of oaths, and how the swearer finds
A way to reconcile his words
With the plain teachings of the Lord
I know not,—for to great and small
Is this command: “Swear not at all.”
“Swear not at all.”—Then while we live
O let us due obedience give
To this commandment firm and plain.
No “legal oaths” nor words profane
From Christian lips should ever fall,
Since Jesus said, “SWEAR NOT AT ALL.”
Originally published in the Herald of Truth 11(11) (November 1874):185.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Fossil footprints and trackways are found all over the world, left by many different types of animals. They are normally found running along the surfaces of sedimentary layers, showing the locomotion of animals across the tops of soft layers of mud.
However, discovery of an unusual trackway breaks these normal rules. The trackway was discussed in the latest issue of Creation Matters, a publication of the Creation Research Society.
Near Slick Rock, Colorado, the trackway is actually three trackways – the tracks of three individual animals. The footprints are in the Middle Jurassic rocks of the Entrada Sandstone or the Junction Creek Sandstone – allegedly 120-150 million years old, by evolutionary dates. These rocks are under the Morrison Formation, a Jurassic layer famous for its allosaurs, stegosaurs, and sauropods. Joe Taylor, a creationist paleontologist who was involved in studying the trackways, described the layer they were in: “It is a whitish-gray layer seen for miles and miles under the generally red layers above, which look to be possibly 200 feet thick or more.”
What is unique about these new trackways is that the animals which made them did not walk across the geologic layers, but up them. Terry Beh, author of the article, wrote, “There are three distinct trackways of varying lengths, which ascend vertically across several bedding planes of a 15- to 20-feet-thick exposure of Junction Creek Sandstone…The left side trackway…consists of at least 10 footprints and crosses the entire face of the exposure, including four separate beds, and extends up and over the topmost, cross-bedded layer.”
What does this mean? If an animal can ascend vertically across the rock layers and leave footprints in them, that means that these layers were all soft when it walked across them. If they were all soft at the same time, that means that the rock layers had to have been laid down almost simultaneously. Joe Taylor said, “Since these layers, all six visible feet of them, had to all be wet and soft at the time the dinosaurs ran up them, it means that they cannot possibly have taken hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of years to form. All of the dozens of ¼“ thick layers comprising the track ways, had to be laid down at the same time with no erosion between them. There is however, a layer at the top about 16 inches thick that is a cross-bed. But, it too was soft, as the tracks make the same impressions in it as the lower layers.”
This conclusion does not just affect our view of a few local Colorado rock outcroppings. The rock layers that these tracks were found in extend great distances; the Junction Creek Sandstone covers parts of all of the Four Corners states, with a wide distribution in western Colorado. These tracks show that the entire extent of the whole set of layers had to be soft, all at the same time. Joe Taylor said, “Given their vast extent, this requires a massive, massive deposition at one time by liquid mud.”
Thus, the evolutionary idea that these rock layers were laid down slowly over thousands or millions of years by small river floods is discredited. However, the creationist idea that the geologic rock layers containing dinosaurs and their footprints were laid down simultaneously during the Flood of Noah’s day is supported.
What type of animal made these footprints? The locals call them “cat tracks.” This would be a major challenge for the evolutionary timescale, because cats were not supposed to have evolved by the Jurassic. Unfortunately, the tracks are too eroded to discern for sure what type of animal made them. While showing the similarity in shape between the Slick Rock tracks and modern cougar prints, Terry Beh concludes that the tracks were probably made by a prosauropod or a similar type of dinosaur. Joe Taylor said, “It looks like a bipedal [two-footed] animal made the tracks. There were at least three individuals moving side by side up the soft wet sand layers.”
Once again, the discoveries of science have confirmed the Biblical account found in Genesis and have discredited atheistic “millions-of-years” speculations.
Holy Bible, Authorized Version
Terry P. Beh, “Unique Trackway in Middle Jurassic Rocks Defies Evolution,” Creation Matters 19(1) (January/February 2014)
Casey G. Dick, “New Stratigraphic Interpretations of the Jurassic ‘Junction Creek Sandstone,’ Upper Gunnison Basin, Colorado,” poster presentation
Joe Taylor, personal communication
By John M. Brenneman
Originally published in the February 1866 issue of Herald of Truth.
“ ’Tis one thing now to read the Bible through,
And another thing to read to learn and do:
’Tis one thing now to read it with delight,
And quite another thing to read it right.
Some read it with design to learn to read,
But to the subject pay but little heed;
Some read it as their duty once a week,
But no instruction from the Bible seek:
Whilst others read it with but little care,
With no regard to how they read, nor where!
Some read it as a history, to know
How people lived three thousand years ago.
Some read to bring themselves into repute,
By showing others how they can dispute:
Whilst others read because their neighbors do,
To see how long ’twill take to read it through.
Some read it for the wonders that are there,
How David killed a lion and a bear;
Whilst others read, or rather in it look,
Because, perhaps, they have no other book.
Some read the blessed book they don’t know why,
It somehow happens in the way to lie;
Whilst others read it with uncommon care,
But all to find some contradictions there!
Some read as tho’ it did not speak to them,
But to the people at Jerusalem;
One reads it as a book of mysteries,
And won’t believe the very thing he sees:
Another reads through Campbell or through Scott,
And thinks it means exactly what they thought.
Some read to prove a preadopted creed—
Thus understand but little what they read;
For every passage in the book they bend,
To make it suit that all important end!
Some people read, as I have often thought,
To teach the book, instead of being taught.
And some there are who read it out of spite—
I fear there are but few who read it right.
So many people in these latter days
Have read the Bible in so many ways,
That few can tell which system is the best,
For every party contradicts the rest!!”
The above Poetry is, alas! a true description of too many Bible readers in our days. I fear there are but few who read it with such an anxious desire, as did the Ethiopian eunuch. Few there are, I fear, who read it as it is in truth, the word of God. We should read the Bible as a revelation from God to sinful man; wherein our lost, sad and deplorable condition by nature is made fully known unto us; the consequences of a wicked and sinful life of a sinner are plainly shown therein, namely that the wicked shall not go unpunished; and that they, if they continue in their wickedness, shall be destroyed. But the Bible also teaches, that, if the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy upon him, and will abundantly pardon. It is certainly the duty of every intelligent person, to read the Bible (if they can read) with a sincere desire to know and do the will of God. For in the Bible “he hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” I fear that there are many Bible readers, to whom the promise of God in Isaiah 66:2, will not reach, where he says, “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
We should read the Bible with prayerful and upright hearts to learn to know the will of God. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning.” “Search the Scriptures,” says the Savior; “for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” The Bible directs and points us to Christ Jesus, who came to “save sinners.” We should search and read the Bible with a desire to benefit our souls. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation. Such wisdom is far preferable to that of this world. In the Bible we can behold ourselves as in a mirror, and see what manner of persons we are, what we need, to make us happy and where to go, to get it.
What Is Wrong with the “Romans Road to Salvation”
By Joel Mahorter—British Columbia
You may have heard of the “Romans Road to Salvation,” a collection of verses from the letter of Paul to the Romans. It usually consists of at least some of the following verses, in roughly this order:
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Note the last half of the verse is not quoted! “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
People use these verses to present everything they think someone needs to know in order to “get saved” and have an assurance of getting to heaven. A person is usually told that all they must do is have faith (or believe) in who Jesus is, what He did by His death on the cross, and to accept His free gift of salvation. Often a person using “Romans Road” will mention the need to feel sorry for your sins and ask God for forgiveness, although the verses used do not mention this. Some will suggest that you must turn from your sins, although it is not common to hear a definition of what that really means. The person who is being shown the “Romans Road” is then commonly advised to pray a prayer asking Jesus to come into his heart and become his personal Savior. People who do that are usually assured that all of their sins, including the ones they have not yet committed, are already forgiven and that a place in heaven is assured for them. The people who use this and similar presentations would not say that a short presentation could have everything a person should know about being a Christian, but that it contains everything necessary to “get saved” and have assurance of going to heaven.
It does not seem to occur to many people who use the “Romans Road” that it is strange to try to present how to become a Christian … but without ever referring to what Christ had to say on that topic. Likewise, few people seem to question the idea of asking someone to pray a prayer that Jesus never asked anyone to pray, or of offering an assurance that Jesus never offered anyone. Nor does it seem odd to many people to present a message supposedly about how to become a disciple of Jesus, using nothing but quotes from a letter written to people who were already disciples of Jesus. Sadly, even though Jesus had much to say on the topic, what He said is often not mentioned.
It is worth noting that a letter like Romans can be used to construct several different “roads,” all leading in different directions. That is not to say that Romans contains false information; it is just the reality of what can be done when taking a few small snippets out of context from a larger work. Even in the early days after Jesus, what Paul said about salvation in his letters was being twisted, and this was leading people to destruction. 2 Peter 3:14-18 warns about this.
With those dangers in mind, here is a different “road,” one based on the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew:
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus began His preaching ministry with this call to repentance. God had always called people to turn away from sin. For those who do so, the coming of Jesus brought a new opportunity. Now the kingdom of heaven was about to be established on earth. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Jesus never told anyone that it was impossible to be righteous. Rather, He called people to live a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the Jewish religious leaders. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, even the righteousness required by the Law of Moses was not sufficient in God’s kingdom (see especially Matthew 5:21-48). Therefore, while announcing a new kingdom, Jesus also taught a new law. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The way that Jesus called people to is a difficult one. The easy way that only requires acceptance of some truths or good intentions without any real work or suffering is the way to destruction. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Good words without obedience will not get a person into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did not leave room for any doubt about who does the will of His father when He said the following: “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31) To agree to do the will of the Father, and to actually do the will of the Father are two very different things. “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Entry into the kingdom of heaven requires the simplicity and humility to accept what Jesus taught, like a young child would accept what his earthly father taught. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Being perfect or complete is not an option, but a demand. So many people think they cannot be perfect, but Jesus taught how it was possible: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21) Again Jesus makes it clear that obtaining eternal life requires us to obey God. Jesus left us the example of simple obedience to His father and He calls us to follow Him in that. Good intentions alone will not get us where Jesus went. Jesus taught plainly what would be required of those who wanted to be His disciples and find the way to life. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27) Nothing less than true self-denial and self-inflicted death of our fleshly desires and following Jesus will lead to life. If we seek to keep our lives or the things we love in this world, then in the end we will lose our lives. We must really forsake everything, and not just the extremely wicked things. Jesus had to give up heaven and submit Himself to death before He could be resurrected. We must walk in His footsteps if we want to follow Him into His kingdom; there are no shortcuts.
If we live in the fear of God that comes from the knowledge that Jesus is going to come back to judge the living and the dead and repay us for what we have done, we will be ready to face the trouble that Jesus faced: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13)
The one who endures all these troubles and yet remains righteous will be saved in the end, but the one who turns back will face certain destruction. With that in mind we will heed the strong warning that Jesus gave: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
Unlike “Romans Road” and similar presentations, this one will not end by giving you any assurances that Jesus did not give. The information presented above is possibly not enough for you to truly count the costs of following Jesus. Just from reading the verses above it may not be clear to you some of the specific ways that Jesus calls you to deny yourself and take up your cross. Perhaps you have anger against your brother and need to hear that Jesus taught that even angry words would put you in peril of hell (Matthew 5:21-22). Perhaps you lust after women and need to hear that Jesus said that even private lust was adultery and could cause you to be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27-30). Perhaps you are divorced and have been remarried while your first spouse is still living, and need to hear that Jesus said that you are committing adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). Perhaps you desire to defend your possessions, loved ones, or yourself from evil people, and you need to hear that Jesus said to love even your enemies and not to resist evildoers (Matthew 5:38-48). Perhaps you have chosen not to forgive someone and need to hear that Jesus taught that God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Perhaps you want more things than you need and need to hear that Jesus commanded you not to store up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). No prayer or belief or intention will do you any good if you do not follow the road of self-denial, suffering, and death that Jesus walked.
If the way presented here seems different than what you understood the way into the kingdom of heaven was like, then you would do well to read all of the Gospel of Matthew, and then the rest of the Gospels. Keeping in mind the danger mentioned previously, consider everything that Jesus had to say about entering into the kingdom of God and being ready for His return and judgment. If you are not able to present the gospel that you believe using the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, then you can be sure you have been deceived and that you believe a different gospel than Jesus taught. The same is true for the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.
When you have understood Jesus’ message, then you will be ready to read Romans and all the other books of the New Testament. If you start with the Master first, you will find that Peter, John, Paul, James, and Jude all preached and walked the same “road” that Jesus did.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath” (James 5:12)
“I am content.”
A twenty-four year old young man stood before the city council of colonial New York City and said these words. What was he content with? He was content to be put back in jail. For what cause? For refusing to disobey the words of Jesus.
Early in 1745, young David Zeisberger had set off with Christian Frederick Post to learn the language of the Mohawk Indians. The two young Moravian missionaries were arrested and charged with refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the King of England. The colony of New York had a new law which stated that “Every Vagrant Preacher, Moravian, Disguised Papist [Roman Catholic], or any other person presuming to reside among and teach the Indians” who had no license and had not taken the oath “shall be treated as a person taking upon him to seduce the Indians from his Majesty’s interest.” The council read the new law to David, and asked him if he would take the oath. He replied, “I hope the honorable Council will not force me to do it.” They said, “We will not constrain you; you may let it alone if it is against your conscience; but you will have to go to prison again.”
“I am content,” David told them. So back into jail he went, with his companion, for a total of fifty-one days. “We count it an honor to suffer for the Saviour’s sake,” David wrote.
These two Moravians sat in a New York prison for standing against the swearing of oaths. For others, refusal to swear has led to death. How does God view the swearing of oaths? Is swearing really that bad – or might it be, as some suggest, an act of worship which is highly pleasing to God?
What does Jesus say?
What is an Oath?
Before discussing whether oaths are right, we must first understand what oaths are. Those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling God to witness to the truth of a statement.” (We will see why they define it this way later.) However, Jesus had a different definition of oaths.
“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon” (Matthew 23:16-22).
In this passage, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for making rules concerning which oaths could be broken without guilt and which ones had to be kept inviolable. Notice what the Pharisees were swearing by: the temple, the gold of the temple, the altar, and the gift on the altar. Obviously, these were oaths, and Jesus treated them as such. However, none of them were “calling God to witness”! We see then that this cannot be the true definition of an oath. There are two parts to an oath: 1) the oath itself (“I swear”) and 2) the confirmation: what is being sworn by. People swear by many things, for instance, “I swear to God” or “I swear by my mother’s grave.” Some even swear without a confirmation, just saying “I swear that…” There are the judicial oaths in courts, service oaths for public office or military service, and the Hippocratic oath for medical professionals. These are all oaths. The writer of the book of Hebrews affirms that oaths are sworn by something greater than the swearer and are used for confirmation of something asserted: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife” (Hebrews 6:16). We see in this verse that the purpose of oaths is for confirmation of a statement based on the authority or weight of something greater than the swearer.
First Oath in the Bible
The first recorded oath in the Bible was given by a Godly man, Abraham. In Genesis 21:22-24, 27, & 31, we read:
“And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. And Abraham said, I will swear…And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant…Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.”
The Law of Moses
Amid the flames, clouds, smoke, and trumpetings on Mount Sinai, God gave a covenant to Moses to give to the people of Israel. This law would be the standard of righteousness until the Messiah came to replace it. The Mosaic Law has plenty to say about oaths, and it is essential to understand exactly what the Law allowed and did not allow when we are discussing the subject of oaths.
Under the Law of Moses, oaths were permitted, and the children of Israel made extensive use of them in Old Testament times. In fact, under certain circumstances, the Law actually commanded the use of oaths. In Exodus 22:10-12, we read:
“If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.”
In this passage, we learn that if the animal was lost to the owner in some way, the man who was keeping it was to swear an oath that he was not guilty of stealing or destroying his neighbor’s animal. This oath released him from being required to replace the animal for his neighbor. The neighbor was required to accept the oath as confirmation that his neighbor was innocent.
In the book of Deuteronomy, God includes swearing by His Name as part of the service which He desired from the Israelites and mentions it in the context of a rejection of idolatry.
“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).
“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).
Oaths were also required in the service of the priests. Numbers 5 records what was to be done with a woman who was suspected by her husband of unfaithfulness. She was to be brought to the priest, who was to perform a ceremony to allow the Lord to reveal whether she was guilty or innocent. Part of this ceremony involved an oath:
“And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen” (Numbers 5:19-22).
Not only were oaths permitted and commanded in the Mosaic Law, God Himself made use of oaths on more than one occasion. For instance, in Jeremiah 22:5, God declares: “But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.” In Exodus 17, after a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites, Moses built an altar and called it Jehovah—nissi, “Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). (See also Deuteronomy 7:8; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13, 16; Isaiah 45:23).
So we see that not only were oaths permitted under the Law of Moses, they were actually required in some circumstances, and God Himself swore. Nevertheless, there were restrictions which were applied even under the Mosaic Law which are important to understand.
Restrictions on Swearing
The Law of Moses strictly forbade false oaths – swearing to something which was not true, or swearing that a person would do something and then not doing it.
If a man swore to do something and was unable to perform it, the Law considered it sin and required that he bring a trespass offering to the priest.
“Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (Leviticus 5:4-6).
Numbers 30:1-2 also commands that oaths were to be kept:
“And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded. If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”
Swearing falsely was also forbidden. Leviticus 6:2a, 3-5 says:
“If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD…Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.”
God further declared in Leviticus 19:12:
“And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”
The prophets, who called the people to return to the Lord and repent of their transgressions, also spoke against false oaths. Zechariah includes false oaths in a list of things which God declares that He hates.
“These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).
In the book of Malachi, those who swear falsely are put in the same list with sorcerers and adulterers:
“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).
Another restriction was given by Joshua near the end of his life. He warned against swearing by the names of false gods.
“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day” (Joshua 23:6-8).
Oaths were not a light thing among the ancient Israelites. They took oaths very seriously. An example of this is found in I Samuel 14. King Saul, in the middle of a battle with the Philistines, swore an oath: “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies” (I Samuel 14:24). All the people, who “feared the oath” (verse 26), refrained from eating anything, even when passing by a piece of honeycomb dropped from the hive – except Jonathan, who had not heard of his father’s oath. He nearly lost his life for eating when his father had rashly cursed anyone who ate that day.
Oaths were taken so seriously that any oath or vow which a woman made was subject to the approval of her husband or father, who could nullify her oath or vow if he so chose (Numbers 30:3-16).
So we see that with some important exceptions, oaths were permitted and even required under the Old Covenant. But the day came when the reign of the Law of Moses ended.
A New Kingdom
“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” cried John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2). People from all over Judaea flocked to hear this man, dressed in camel’s hair, preach about the coming of the new Kingdom. Then one day, John greeted the King Himself with these words: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). “The law and the prophets were until John,” Jesus later said; “since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16). The reign of Moses’ Law had ended, and the King was here to establish the laws by which His Kingdom would operate. Among the laws which He set up was a radically different standard on the swearing of oaths.
Jesus’ Words on Oaths
Jesus addressed the subject of oaths in the most influential sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:33-37, we read:
“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Jesus made clear the radical new standard which He was requiring of those in His Kingdom – no oaths at all, for any purpose, in any way. “Swear not at all,” He said. There is nothing unclear about this instruction.
James’ Words on Swearing
Jesus was not the only one to instruct the citizens of the Kingdom of God to abstain from swearing. The Apostle James wrote:
“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).
In this verse, we again find the answer to the question “does God want His children to swear oaths?” James tells us “swear not,” and then instructs us to avoid swearing by heaven, earth, or “by any other oath.” “Any other” would include swearing by God Himself.
This verse also gives us the answer to the question “is the subject of swearing really all that important?” The Book of James discusses many topics – responding to the trials of life, partiality, the relationship of faith and works, controlling our tongues, strife, separation from the world, wealth, etc. These are undoubtedly important issues. Nevertheless, when he arrives at the topic of swearing, he begins with “But above all things, my brethren” – in other words, this one topic is more important than anything else discussed in the entire book!
What Were They Forbidding?
In spite of the clear instructions given by Jesus and James, there are some today – and there have been some for centuries – who insist that the swearing of oaths is permissible, or perhaps even highly pleasing to God. They insist that what Jesus and James were actually forbidding was only false and frivolous oaths – not any oath. There are some serious problems with this view. First, if they meant to forbid only false and frivolous oaths, why did they not say that they were forbidding false and frivolous oaths? Secondly, why did they use such absolute language – “Swear not at all,” “swear not…by any other oath”? Thirdly, Jesus was clearly following the pattern of the other sections in the Sermon on the Mount where He raised the standards of the Law of Moses (“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…But I say unto you”). The Law of Moses forbade false oaths, as we have seen; if Jesus only forbade false oaths, He would not have raised the standard at all.
Did Paul Swear?
Those who defend the swearing of oaths point to the epistles of Paul, claiming that he swore several times in his writings. The verses quoted here are used to support this claim:
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9). “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 9:1). “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay” (II Corinthians 1:18). “Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (II Corinthians 1:23). “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (II Corinthians 11:31). “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Galatians 1:20). “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8). “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness” (I Thessalonians 2:5). “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (I Timothy 2:7).
What is it in these verses which lead some to believe that the Apostle Paul swore oaths? Do you remember that those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling on God for confirmation”? In all of these verses, Paul calls on God to confirm what he is saying. Those who defend oaths, then, take these as oaths and as confirmation that it is perfectly acceptable to God to swear oaths. But God is not the author of confusion.
As we pointed out before, their definition of the word oath is faulty, and thus their conclusion regarding these verses is also faulty. Although Paul did call on God to confirm his words, he did not use oaths (saying “I swear”).
Whenever a teaching of Jesus seems to be contradicted by Paul, we must find a way to harmonize the two which leaves Jesus’ words supreme – not the other way around. Jesus is the King, and the servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20) – even if that servant is the great Apostle Paul. (Of course, Paul’s writings never do contradict Jesus’ words.)
The Early Church on the Swearing of Oaths
We have seen that whereas the Old Covenant allowed and even required some oaths, they are strictly forbidden under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. The early Christians of the first two generations after the apostles held to this view.
Justin Martyr, about the year 160 A.D., wrote, “And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He commanded as follows: ‘Swear not at all.’” Irenaeus (student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Apostle) wrote: “He commanded them not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all.” Tertullian wrote, “Of perjury I am silent, since even swearing is not lawful.”
The Early Anabaptists
The early Anabaptists (Dutch Mennonites, Swiss Brethren, and Hutterites) took firm stands against the swearing of oaths. Their writings on the subject are well worth reading, because they faced several of the same objections which we do today when we insist on obedience to Christ’s teachings on this subject.
The Schleitheim Confession (written 1527), the earliest Anabaptist confession of faith, was written by the Swiss Brethren and took a strong stand against oaths:
“We are agreed as follows concerning the oath: The oath is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises. In the Law it is commanded to be performed in God’s Name, but only in truth, not falsely. Christ, who teaches the perfection of the Law, prohibits all swearing to His [followers], whether true or false,—neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head,—and that for the reason which He shortly thereafter gives, For you are not able to make one hair white or black. So you see it is for this reason that all swearing is forbidden: we cannot fulfill that which we promise when we swear, for we cannot change [even] the very least thing on us.
“Now there are some who do not give credence to the simple command of God, but object with this question: Well now, did not God swear to Abraham by Himself (since He was God) when He promised him that He would be with him and that He would be his God if he would keep His commandments,—why then should I not also swear when I promise to someone? Answer: Hear what the Scripture says: God, since He wished more abundantly to show unto the heirs the immutability of His counsel, inserted an oath, that by two immutable things (in which it is impossible for God to lie) we might have a strong consolation. Observe the meaning of this Scripture: What God forbids you to do, He has power to do, for everything is possible for Him. God swore an oath to Abraham, says the Scripture, so that He might show that His counsel is immutable. That is, no one can withstand nor thwart His will; therefore He can keep His oath. But we can do nothing, as is said above by Christ, to keep or perform [our oaths]: therefore we shall not swear at all.
“Then others further say as follows: It is not forbidden of God to swear in the New Testament, when it is actually commanded in the Old, but it is forbidden only to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem and our head. Answer: Hear the Scripture, He who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by Him who sitteth thereon. Observe: it is forbidden to swear by heaven, which is only the throne of God: how much more is it forbidden [to swear] by God Himself! Ye fools and blind, which is greater, the throne or Him that sitteth thereon?”
Menno Simons, in a book which he wrote against Reformed theologian Martin Micron, wrote:
“That these things are so your unscriptural glosses [comments, explanations] concerning the oath make plain. Christ says, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool. Matt. 5:33-35. And you, Micron, say that nothing but light-minded, false oaths are hereby prohibited, as if Moses allowed Israel to swear light-mindedly and falsely, and that Christ under the New Testament merely forbade these, notwithstanding that all intelligent readers know that it was not merely allowed Israel to swear truly but it was also commanded them to do so. Lev. 19:12; Deut. 10:20.
“If the Israelites then, as you hold, had the liberty in this matter that we have, and if it be such a glorious thing and an honor to God rightly to swear by the name of God, as you make bold to lie against your God, then tell me (Dear me) why Wisdom did not say, You have heard that it hath been said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, and I say the same thing. Instead Christ says, Moses commanded not to forswear thyself, but I say unto you, Thou shalt not swear at all.”
In another book, Menno wrote:
“Nearly everything which is transacted before the magistracy must be affirmed by an oath, although the Lord has so plainly forbidden the swearing of oaths to all Christians. Matt. 5:34…We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to His Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth. He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone. Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world…it should be observed that Christ Jesus does not in the New Testament point His disciples to the Law in regard to the matter of swearing—the dispensation of imperfectness which allowed swearing, but He points us now from the Law to yea and nay, as to the dispensation of perfectness, saying, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time (that is, to the fathers under the law by Moses), Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths (that is, thou shalt swear truly and fulfill thine oath): but I (Christ) say unto you my disciples, Swear not at all (that is, neither truly nor falsely), neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is his footstool, neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Here you have Christ’s own doctrine and ordinance concerning swearing.”
Peter Reidemann, an important early Hutterite leader, wrote:
“Therefore Christ, in order to drive away the shadows that the light of truth—which light he is himself—may shine upon us, cometh and saith, ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old: Thou shalt swear no false oath but shalt perform thine oath unto God. But I say unto you that ye swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’—that is the devil.
“Now, if one should say, as they all interpret it, false and superficial swearing is forbidden, but when one sweareth out of love, necessity and the profit of one’s neighbour, it is well done and not wrong—this happeneth when human reason goeth before the knowledge of God, and where human cleverness desireth to rule over the Spirit of God, and not allow itself to be controlled by the same. For just so did Eve look at the forbidden fruit, and chose the same at the counsel of the serpent, which she followed more than the counsel of God, therefore was she deceived by its cunning and led into death. So it is still: whosoever will please men cannot be Christ’s servant. For truly here one cannot let reason rule or twist the scriptures in accordance with human presumption or opinion, for that is futile, but one must give God the honour and leave his command unaltered…Therefore saith James, ‘Above all things, dear brothers, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into hypocrisy.’ Here James will have no oath at all, whether small or great, to avoid hypocrisy. Therefore, let men twist it as they will and dress it up and adorn it as they may, no good will be found in human swearing, for Christ himself saith, ‘Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’ The evil one, however, is the devil, that teareth good from the heart of men and planteth evil.
“Therefore the devout will walk in the truth, allow it to rule and guide them and hold to the same; whatsoever it stirreth, speaketh and doeth within them, believe and observe the same; and this for the sake of the truth which is God himself, which dwelleth in them. Therefore they neither need nor desire any oath.”
The Dortrecht Confession (also known as the 18 Articles of Faith), written by the Dutch Mennonites in 1632, states in Article 15:
“Regarding the swearing of oaths, we believe and confess, that the Lord Jesus has dissuaded his followers from and forbidden them the same; that is, that he commanded them to ‘swear not at all,’ but that their ‘Yea’ should be ‘yea’ and their ‘Nay nay.’ From which we understand that all oaths, high and low, are forbidden; and that instead of them we are to confirm all our promises and covenants, declarations and testimonies of all matters, merely with ‘Yea that is yea,’ and ‘Nay that is nay;’ and that we are to perform and fulfill at all times, and in all things, to every one, every promise and obligation to which we thus affirm, as faithfully as if we had confirmed it with the most solemn oath. And if we thus do, we have confidence that no one—not even the government itself—will have just cause to require more of us. Matt. 5:34-37; James 5:12; II Cor. 1:17.”
Application for Today
To take a stand against swearing oaths is, at first glance, not nearly as costly a decision today as it was for the early Anabaptists. They decided to stand with Christ on this issue at risk of life and limb. Today, if we want to take a stand against oath-swearing, we simply ask to affirm instead of swear if necessary, and no one seems to care. Nevertheless, Jesus’ teachings about oaths ought to affect our lives profoundly.
Jesus wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no. James says the same thing. Our speech ought to be so reliable that we do not need oaths to confirm what we say. We should be known as honest people because Jesus has transformed our lives. We do not need oaths anymore because everyone knows that whatever we say will be true and reliable.
We also must be careful in our everyday speech to avoid oaths. Interjecting “I swear” into a conversation is an oath, a violation of the command of Jesus Christ. Such expressions as “by George,” “by Jove,” or even “by golly” are abbreviated oaths – the confirmation without the swearing. If we use these expressions, perceptive people will not take us seriously when we say we do not believe in swearing oaths. Furthermore, they are, in and of themselves, violations of Jesus’ commandments and therefore sin.
Lying and exaggeration must be completely eradicated from our speech. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the criticism that we refuse to swear because we know we are not telling the truth. May such things never be heard. Rather, may all know that we refuse to swear oaths because we have accepted the Kingdom of God, with its high standard of honesty, and are following the commands and teachings of Christ and the Apostles which forbid oaths – and everything we say is scrupulously honest and, as God grants power, within the standards of righteousness which He has set for His Kingdom.
May we earnestly pray to God that He would tame our tongues. “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). God can tame it for us, and a tamed tongue must be one of the most remarkable proofs of a regenerated life. “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).
 Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, p. 168
 Ibid., volume 1, p. 408
 Ibid., volume 3, p. 67. A few early Christians allowed swearing under some circumstances, but discouraged it.
 There were over ten different groups of early Anabaptists – some of them quite strange. Some of these groups allowed the swearing of oaths. For the purposes of this article, when we talk about the early Anabaptists, we are referring to the Dutch Mennonites, the Swiss Brethren, and the Hutterites.
 J. C. Wenger, translator, “The Schleitheim Confession of Faith,” Mennonite Quarterly Review October 1945, pp. 251-252
 Menno Simons, “Epistle to Martin Micron,” 1554, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 922-923
 Menno Simons, “Confession of the Distressed Christians,” 1552, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 518-519
 Peter Reidemann, Confession of Faith, Plough Publishing, pp. 197-198, 204-205
 Dortrecht Confession of Faith, in A Devoted Christian’s Prayer Book, 1967, Pathway Publishers, pp. 107-108