December 2015 Bible Questions & Answers

Topics:  Genealogy of human race, biblical last names, Christmas, marriage to transgender, elders and deacons, resurrection of dead saints after Jesus’ resurrection, lifting of holy hands, ordination of preachers in the Bible, Hebrews 13:15, bearing one another’s burdens, focusing on faith despite distractions,  Messianic prophecies in Job, evangelistic outreach to modern-day Jews, legitimacy of denominational names

Is everyone in here related to Adam and Eve? 

Yes (Acts 17:26; Gen. 3:20).  Noah and his family were the only survivors of the worldwide flood (Gen. 7:23), so all of humanity is descended from them (Gen. 10).  They in turn were descended from Adam and Eve (Gen. 5).  Thus, all of humanity is descended from Adam and Eve.

In the Bible times, did they have last names like we do today?

In most cultures today, the “last name” (or surname) is used as the “family name” to distinguish one as being part of a particular family.  This practice began in the Middle Ages in Europe as a result of population expansion and town growth.

During biblical times, people didn’t have surnames like we have today.  Rather, they were identified as the son of their father (cf. Matt. 16:17), or by their tribe (cf. Ex. 4:14) or hometown (cf. Matt. 26:71), or by their occupation (cf. Acts 10:6; Matt. 10:3).

Incidentally, it is a mistake to think that the name “Jesus Christ” refers to his first and last names.  “Christ” is a title, not a name.  It comes from the Greek word christos, which means “Anointed One, Messiah.”  What is translated “Jesus Christ” in most modern English Bibles is literally in the Greek “Jesus, the Anointed One/Messiah” or “Jesus, who is the Anointed One/Messiah.”

Is it wrong to choose December 25 as a celebration of the birth of Christ, since we all know full well that shepherds were not in the fields in the dead of winter?  We know that other holidays are often celebrated on a day other than their actual occurrences (e.g., celebrating a family member’s birthday on a different date; President’s Day taking place on a day different than Lincoln and Washington’s actual birthdays; etc.)

Congregations of Christians are commanded to avoid the observance of holy days not commanded in the New Testament (Gal. 4:9-11; cf. 1:2).  God never commanded in the New Testament that churches observe the birthday of Christ as a holy day on December 25 or any other day.  Thus, it would be sinful for churches to celebrate Jesus’ birth as a holy day on December 25 or any other day.

Yet, individual Christians are allowed to privately and sincerely set apart days to honor the Lord (Rom. 14:5-6, 22).  Thus, if you as an individual Christian want to privately set aside December 25 or any other day as the day you focus on the birth of Christ, you are allowed to do so…as long as you do so out of sincerity, to honor the Lord, and keep your observance completely to yourself.

Historically, the idea that Jesus was born on December 25 first surfaced around 200 years after Christ lived.  This was partly as a result of a man-made Jewish tradition that a prophet died on the same day he was conceived; thus, supposedly if Jesus died on March 25 around Passover, he must have been conceived on March 25, thus making his birthday December 25.  The December 25 date also partly came about as an attempt to dissuade Christians from joining immoral pagan winter festivals by starting their own winter holy day which celebrated the birth of Christ.  Incidentally, Orthodox denominations celebrate Jesus’ birth in early January, not December.

It is likely that the shepherds were not in the fields during the dead of winter, but one cannot state that with certainty, just as one cannot state with certainty the exact date of Jesus’ birth since it is not revealed in the Bible.  In the end, since Christians are not commanded to collectively observe his birthday as a holy day anyway, the question of which day on which to observe it or on which day he was born is a moot point.

If you choose to observe Christ’s birth, do so individually, do so sincerely only because you want to honor the Lord, and don’t bind your observance on anyone by keeping it completely between you and God as he commanded.

I know that the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus was born on December 25.  Is there anything wrong with having a sermon on the birth of Christ around Christmas while visitors are here, since it would be a great time to explain the truth about his birth?

Christians are told to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).  That would include exposing the truth about any error (Eph. 5:11), including Christmas.

That said, the Bible doesn’t specifically command that certain topics be preached about at certain times.  Thus, when to preach about Christmas or Christ’s birth is a matter of judgment.  What matters is that, over a reasonable amount of time, “the whole counsel of God” be preached in a loving and understandable way.

Today’s perversions present challenges.  How should one approach such and not get into situation ethics?  For example, if one spouse in a Christian couple decides to have a gender change operation, what should the other spouse do?

The perversions of today existed during biblical times (Eccl. 1:9-10).  According to Roman historian Plutarch, pagans all throughout the Roman empire during the time of the New Testament venerated “The Great Mother,” an intersex idol worshiped by transgender “priestesses.”

Thus, the early Christians were faced with the same temptations as today.  Some gave into those temptations just as they do today (cf. 1 Cor. 5; 6:9-10 – “effeminate” applies to transgenders).  The same biblical commandments apply to us as they did with them.  Today as back then, the only way to divorce without committing adultery upon remarriage was if one’s spouse commits fornication (Matt. 19:9).  Separation between spouses without the termination of the marital union was allowed then as it is today (1 Cor. 7:10-11).

One other matter to consider is this.  If the spouse went so far as to change their external appearance via a gender change operation, it is likely they would then “go on from bad to worse” (2 Tim. 3:13) and soon give scriptural grounds for divorce by committing fornication.

Must there be a plurality of elders or can there be only one?

The New Testament only talks of elders of local congregations in the plural sense, never in the singular sense (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; Tit. 1:5; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1, 5).  “Every word of God is tested” (Prov. 30:5); thus, God purposefully chose to only give us records of pluralities of elders.  We must not go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19; Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6); thus, a church would sin by choosing to have only one elder.

Historically, congregations deciding to leave the New Testament pattern of pluralities of elders over autonomous congregations in favor of a singular elder over one or many congregations is what led to the formation of the papacy and other apostasies.

What happened to the bodies of the saints who were raised after Jesus’ resurrection after they appeared to many (Matt. 27:52-53)?  What was the significance of their appearance?

The graves of these dead saints were probably opened by the earthquake that Friday, but they were not resurrected until at least Sunday morning after Jesus was raised.  Those who were raised were called “saints” (“separated ones”) because they were people who lived and died under the Law of Moses as faithful followers of God (cf. Ps. 34:9).

Do we know everything there is to know about this event?  No.  We can assume they physically died at a later date like those previously resurrected in the Old Testament and during Christ’s ministry.  We can tentatively conclude from the way Matthew recorded the event that they appeared to Jerusalem citizens who were still living at the time Matthew wrote his gospel and could testify to the truthfulness of his account.  We can also assume with relatively safety that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would have recognized on sight these resurrected saints and thus were known to them; otherwise, people would have assumed these raised saints were strangers from out of town.

What we do know undoubtedly is that this was a huge event!  Remember, there are only eight other recorded instances of people other than Jesus being resurrected (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4, 13; Matt. 9; Luke 7; John 11; Acts 9, 20); yet in this case “many” saints were raised all at once!

The fact that we are told these saints were raised after Jesus’ resurrection suggests we should connect the two, with the obvious conclusion being that his resurrection made theirs possible.  In like manner, his resurrection makes ours possible (1 Cor. 15:20).  If we are saints (faithful Christians), we too will be raised by God’s power in the last day (John 6:40; 1 Cor. 15:51-57)!

One frequently sees people raise one or both hands while singing, listening to preaching/teaching, etc., in denominations today.  Could this practice be related to “raising holy hands” in the Bible?

No, for several reasons.

First, “lifting up holy hands” was said specifically to be done while praying, not while singing or while listening to preaching, etc., and only by males, not by both men and women as is seen in denominations (1 Tim. 2:8).

Secondly, “lifting up holy hands” is likely an expression Paul got from the Old Testament practice of raising one’s hands while praying (1 Kings 8:22; Ps. 28:2; Is. 1:15).  Yet, the Bible also records people praying while standing (1 Sam. 1:26), kneeling (1 Kings 8:54), prostrate (1 Kings 18:42), with bowed head (Gen. 24:26), and with uplifted eyes (John 17:1).  Thus, it’s clear that a particular posture in prayer is not a binding pattern.

Thirdly, literally speaking there are no such things as “holy hands.”  “Lifting up holy hands” is a figure of speech known as the synedoche (the part put for the whole.)  “Holy hands” stands for a holy person, just as “haughty eyes” refers to a haughty person and “lying lips” refers to a liar.

Fourthly, and related to the last point, those in denominations cannot truly lift up holy hands because they are not truly holy people.  Only Christians are holy (sanctified, set apart), and people in denominations are not Christians according to the New Testament definition (John 17:17, 20-23; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-5; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).

The point being made in 1 Timothy 2:8 is that men who lead in worship must be holy men.  Wayne Jackson points out that while there is nothing inherently wrong with men raising their hands when they pray in the public assembly, one should still be cautious about the practice for several reasons, namely the possibility of leaving the impression that one is inclined either towards the emotional, charismatic worship of the Pentecostals and others like them or the more emotionalistic, less reverential worship found in more liberal congregations, and also the possibility that doing so might create a distraction for others as they are trying to worship.  While these are all judgment factors, a wise Christian might want to reflect upon them.

I know “ordain” means “to invest or set apart.”  In Bible times, was there a ceremony as there seems to be with preachers in various religious sects today?

The practice of ordination of religious officers as is done in denominations today originated with Catholicism when they came up with the idea of sacraments, particularly the sacrament called Holy Orders.  This is the special appointment of bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons by means of a special ceremony in which those being ordained receive a special unction (anointing), which supposedly transfers to them an essence of such an exalted “spiritual” nature that they could never forfeit it.  In other words, after being ordained no personal sin could make one unfit to function in that office.  There is no specific parallel to this in the New Testament.  In fact, this hierarchy system of Catholicism was patterned after the governmental structure of pagan Rome.

The closest biblical similarity is found in the scriptural practice of laying on of hands, which was done for a variety of reasons, including appointing someone to a particular office (Num. 27:18-23; Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:19-22).  However, unlike Catholic and some Protestant ordination, the New Testament doesn’t seem to record any sort of special ceremony commanded when one appoints someone to a church office via the laying on of hands, nor does it indicate that by appointing them one is granting that they would always be qualified for that office no matter what.

Hebrews 13:15 encourages us to “give up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name.”  Here the inspired writer is defining the sacrifice of praise; however, the two words “sacrifice” and “praise” are incongruent.  Am I missing something?

Sacrifice and praise have never been incongruent.  Under the Old Testament, physical sacrifices were made as worship (cf. Gen. 22:5-8).  Under the New Testament, spiritual sacrifices are made as worship or service (Rom. 12:1), specifically the songs of praise we offer with our lips (Heb. 13:15; cf. 2:12; Eph. 5:19).  Our praise must always cost us something, whether it be money (2 Sam. 24:24; 2 Cor. 8:1-5), our thoughts and focus (Matt. 15:8-9), our time and convenience (Heb. 10:24-25), etc.

Can we bear one another’s burdens if they won’t let you help?

Not directly; one can still pray for that person.  Remember that a few sentences after commanding Christians to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), Paul then said, “For each will have to bear his own load” (6:5).  There is only so much we can do to help others, whether they allow us to help them or not.  A foolish person refuses help (cf. Prov. 12:15; 15:5), which is indicative of a prideful spirit (Prov. 16:18; 29:23).  At times one should try to help a foolish person (Prov. 26:5), and at times one should let them be and move on (Prov. 26:4; Matt. 10:14; Acts 18:6).

How can we be more focused on faith in God with all the worldly distractions?

Follow the example of Ezra (Ez. 7:10).  First, make daily and nightly Bible study a top priority (cf. Ps. 1:1-3; Col. 3:1-2).  Next, make obedience of the Bible a top priority.  Finally, make personal evangelism a top priority, because teaching others regularly has a way of forcing you to work on your Christianity.

Is Job 19:25-27 a direct reference to Christ’s coming as our redeemer, and is it the only Old Testament passage referencing an afterlife?  Or was Job merely waiting for someone to understand his pain at that time?

Undoubtedly Job was waiting for someone to understand his suffering, considering that his friends with whom he was talking at the time didn’t understand the pain he was going through.  However, his words in the passage under question undoubtedly are a direct reference to Christ, considering that in that same conversation he had already mentioned that he had a “Witness” and “Advocate” in heaven (16:19), both biblical descriptions of Jesus (Rev. 1:5; 1 John 2:1).

Here are some of the other Old Testament passages referencing the afterlife:  2 Samuel 12:23; Psalm 17:15; Ecclesiastes 3:21; 11:9; 12:7, 14; Isaiah 25:6-8; 26:19; Ezekiel 37:1-10 (indirectly); Daniel 12:2-3; Hosea 13:14.  There are probably others which I’ve overlooked.

Based on the example of Acts 6:2-4, should the physical business of the church be handled by the deacons rather than the elders?  Should the elders focus more on spiritual matters?

At the time of Acts 6, there were no elders or deacons on record as existing yet.  The apostles were the leaders of the Jerusalem congregation (Matt. 18:18; Acts 2:42), and thus were filling the role of shepherds and overseers which elders would later take.  The seven men were told to “serve” (diakonia) over physical needs of the church (v. 2), and thus were filling the role of service over physical matters which deacons (diakonos) would later take.  Thus, Acts 6 serves as an example of the work of deacons and the relationship elders and deacons must have.

Elders are bishops (episkipos, overseers), and thus have oversight over the local congregation of which they are a part (1 Tim. 3:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; Heb. 13:17).  They are also spiritual shepherds (poimen, pastors), and are commanded to shepherd the flock and equip each saint to serve God in the kingdom (Eph. 4:11-12; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2).  Since their biblical job description places so much emphasis on spiritual matters, their focus should be on the spiritual rather than the physical (John 10:2-5; Acts 20:28-32; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).  Yet, the fact that they are commanded to have oversight over all of the local congregation means that they need to know and have a  hand in the physical business of the church as well (cf. Acts 11:29-30).  The spiritual needs of the church must take priority over the physical needs of the church as far as elders are concerned, yet they must not completely ignore the physical needs either.

The biblical pattern to accomplish this balance is to follow the example of the prototypes of elders and deacons in Acts 6, the apostles and the seven men.  The apostles (the leaders of the Jerusalem church, the prototypes of elders) put the seven men (the prototypes of deacons) in charge of handling the physical needs of that congregation.  They still exercised oversight over the flock as a whole; undoubtedly those seven men reported to the apostles from time to time on how the work they were in charge of was going and received direction from them as needed.  Yet, by delegating the responsibility of meeting that physical need to those seven men, the apostles were able to keep the spiritual needs of the church as their top priority.  Elders, deacons, and members of the church as a whole must learn to do the same.

Elders must learn to delegate responsibility of the physical needs of the church to deacons by putting them in charge of various works while still exercising oversight by requiring regular reports from them on how the work is going and giving them direction only when needed.  Elders must do their best to avoid micromanagement and instead focus on the spiritual and be shepherds as well as overseers.

Deacons must learn to take the ball the elders give them and run with it instead of needing their hands held by going to the elders to dot every “i” and cross every “t” before they do anything.  They must be dependable self-starters who know how to organize and get people involved in the work put under their charge.

Members must learn to stop asking the elders about physical matters and concerns like the thermostat, the van, etc., and instead go to the deacon who is over that.  They must let elders “eld” and deacons “deak”; in other words, start talking to elders about spiritual matters rather than questions over the physical (which deacons should be in charge of) or complaints about others.

How can you invite a Jewish person to come to church when they worship in a different way?  They don’t think they can go to a different church.

Follow the example of Paul when he evangelized Jews and Gentiles.  While in Athens reaching out to pagans of different religions, he first familiarized himself with what they believed (Acts 17:16, 22-23).  He had also been educated in Judaism’s belief system (Acts 22:3; 26:5; Phil. 3:5).  He then used that knowledge to first bring up common ground before preaching Jesus as the Messiah.  He did so with Gentiles (Acts 17:22-23) and with Jews (Acts 13:14-43).

In like manner, first educate yourself with the beliefs of modern Judaism, and then use that knowledge when you study with them to first bring up common ground in order to establish trust before then teaching them about Jesus.

A person asked me if a church followed the Bible concerning all worship but has a denominational name, does it mean only “Church of Christ” will go to Heaven?

The Bible speaks of only one church (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4).  This church is described as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), the truth being God’s Word (John 17:17).  It is also described as belonging to Christ (Matt. 16:18).  It is said that he is its head and that it is the only one he will save (Eph. 5:23).  Thus, Christ’s church – the church of Christ – is the only church which will follow the Bible in all things, not just worship, and thus be the one church which God recognizes and saves.

With this in mind, note that the Bible specifically commands followers of Christ to call themselves “Christians” (1 Pet. 4:16; cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28)…not “Baptists,” or “Methodists” or “Catholics,” and not even “Church of Christ” (which is a biblical name to be sure [Rom. 16:16], but not when it’s spoken of as it was denominational in nature as is done in the above question.)  Therefore, if a church and its members call themselves an unbiblical name, that alone is reason enough as to why they are not the church spoken of in the Bible, the church which is the one God will save.  This is because they are acting unscripturally in the matter of their name, and thus are not “the pillar and ground of the truth” which is God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:15; John 17:17).

The fact that they worship correctly is not enough.  Jesus spoke of many religious folks who even proclaimed him to be Lord yet would still be condemned because they did not obey his Father in all things (Matt. 7:21-23; James. 2:10-11).  This shows the great need for us to, as mentioned in a previous question, follow the example of Ezra (Ez. 7:10) by continually studying in order to not be ignorant of the Word (Ps. 1:-2; Hos. 4:6), obeying all of it rather than simply hearing and “Amening” it (James 1:22), and then teaching it to others so that they may not be in the darkness of sin and ignorance any longer (2 Cor. 5:10-11a; Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:19-20).

 

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