Tag Archives: church

February 2015 Bible Questions And Answers

Topics:  biblical names for the church, Christ cursing the fig tree, proper confession of faith in Christ, biblical definitions of wine, the eternal destiny of the thief on the cross

The latest Bible Questions & Answers session at the church of Christ in Duncan, SC, was held last Sunday night, February 22, 2015.  You can listen to the audio of that lesson here.  Below are my written answers to each question.  I hope they are of benefit to you in your studies.

Why does Paul address the church as “the church of God” rather than “the church of Christ”?  (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1)  In these passages he is speaking to all the saints.  Aren’t the saints the church of Christ?

Christ IS God (John 1:1, 14).  Therefore, the terms “church of Christ” and “church of God” mean the same thing.  The church which belongs to Christ belongs to God.

The term “church of Christ” is not the only biblical name given to the New Testament church (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; Acts 9:2; Heb. 12:23; 1 Thess. 1:1; etc.)

The term “saints” comes from the Greek word hagios, which literally means “most holy thing” or “one sanctified.”  One is sanctified through baptism into the church of Christ (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; cf. Eph. 1:22-23).  Therefore saints make up the church/assembly/ekklesia of Christ, the church of God, the Lord’s church.

Why did Christ wither the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)?  What was the symbolism behind it?

It wasn’t the season for figs, yet he thought the tree might have figs anyway because generally figs bloom before the leaves (v. 13).  He miraculously withered it for two reasons:

  1. To show the apostles that they could perform miracles if they pray in faith (vs. 22-24; cf. Matt. 17:20) and with an attitude of forgiveness (v. 25)
  2. To show the symbolic parallel between the fig tree that falsely advertised through its leaves that it had fruit and the majority of the Jews who proclaimed themselves followers of God yet inside were spiritually bankrupt (cf. Hos. 9:10; Joel 1:7; Mic. 7:1-6; Mark 11:1-10, 15-18; Matt. 21-24; Rom. 2:17-24; 11:7ff).

In order to properly confess my faith in Christ, must I state these exact words: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”?

Jesus himself was asked once if he was the Son of God (Luke 22:70-71; Mark 14:61-64).  He answered by simply saying, “You say that I am” and “I am…”, which was enough to make it clear to his hearers that he confessed that he was the Son of God.

Thus, one can confess their faith in Christ…

  • By following the eunuch’s example (Acts 8:35-38)
  • By following Paul’s injunction to confess Christ as Lord (Rom. 10:9)
  • Or by following Jesus’ example and simply saying, “I do,” “Yes,” etc., rather than making a full statement.

In our efforts to make sure that we obey God, let’s not go too far and argue over words (1 Tim. 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 2:14).

Recently you talked in a class about how there are different kinds of wine in the Bible.  Please elaborate.

Today we see the word “wine” in the Bible and assume it must always refer to an alcoholic beverage because that’s how wine is defined by everyone today.  People today make a similar erroneous assumption about the term “baptism,” thinking that it could include sprinkling and pouring as well as immersion because those are the ways people define “baptism” today.  Yet, in biblical times “baptism” had only one definition: immersion.  In like manner, in biblical times “wine” had several definitions in addition to an alcoholic beverage.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word yayin is translated in several different ways:

  • “all kinds of wine” (Neh. 5:18), showing that the translators recognized that the Bible referred to different kinds of wine
  • “grapevine” or “vine tree” (Num. 6:4), referring to the plant from which grapes come
  • “…gather wine and summer fruits…” (Jer. 40:10), referring to gathering clusters of grapes from the vine along with other fruit
  • “…no treader treads out wine in the presses…” (Is. 16:10), referring to freshly squeezed grape juice
  • “…you shall neither drink of the wine or gather the grapes…” (Deut. 28:39), referring to picking grapes and drinking grape juice
  • “wine” referring to an alcoholic, intoxicating beverage (Gen. 9:21; 19:32-35; 1 Sam. 1:14-15; Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; etc.)

Shekar is a Hebrew word in the Old Testament which is translated “strong drink” every time it’s used in the Old Testament (except Psalm 69:12, where it’s translated “drunkards.”)  Yet biblical scholars Moses Stuart and Frederick R. Lees say that shekar could refer to sweet drinks from juices other than grapes, either fermented or unfermented, some of which would have a particularly strong taste, thus earning the term “strong drink.”  Stuart found it unfortunate that shekar was always translated as “strong drink” because it suggests to the modern reader the idea of distilled liquor, which wasn’t known in biblical times.

Therefore, one must examine the immediate and overall context of each biblical usage of the terms “wine” and “strong drink” in the Bible to determine whether it’s referring to unfermented juice from grapes and/or other fruits which may have a strong taste…or a fermented, intoxicating beverage.

  • We know the “wine” Jesus miraculously made was grape juice because the Old Testament which he was obliged to perfectly obey condemned intoxicating wine and getting your neighbors drunk with it (John 2:1-11; cf. Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Hab. 2:15).
  • Since it’s illogical to think God would allow the Israelites to buy intoxicating beverages which he would later condemn them for consuming, we know the “wine or strong drink” he allowed the Israelites to buy was unfermented grape juice and strong-tasting fruit juices rather than alcoholic wine which would inebriate them (Deut. 14:24-26; cf. Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Hab. 2:15).
  • In the New Testament, Christians are commanded to be “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8), a word which comes from the Greek word nepho, which means to “abstain from wine” (Strong) and “be free from the influence of intoxicants” (Vine).  “Wine” as in grape juice?  Obviously not.  Rather, “wine” as in any intoxicating beverage.  (The only exception is the allowance by God to consume “a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” in 1 Timothy 5:23), referring to small amounts solely for medicinal purposes.)
  • God does not want Christians to socially drink alcoholic beverages because he has commanded us not to “get drunk” (Eph. 5:18), a term which comes from the Greek word methusko which literally means to GROW drunk because it’s an inceptive verb condemning the entire process of becoming drunk.
    • This goes along with the diagnosis of Dr. Herbert Moskowitz of the University of California who stated, “Even a single alcohol drink may seriously impair one’s ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time.”
    • The American Automobile Association states, “The effects of alcohol begin with the first drink…The first effects are impairment of judgment and reasoning and weakening of self-control and normal inhibitions.”
    • “Even the first sips of an alcoholic beverage can cause changes in mood or behavior.”  (Haven Emmerson, M.D. in his book Alcohol: Its Effects on Man)

Did the thief on the cross go to heaven, or will he?

After the thief showed a penitent heart, Jesus promised that he and the thief would go to Paradise after death (Luke 23:39-43).  Jesus was said to be in Hades after death (Acts 2:27), so Paradise is in Hades.  Therefore, the thief is currently in Hades.

Hades (“waiting place”, the realm of the dead) is where souls go after death to wait for judgment (Luke 16:19-23).  The souls of the wicked are with the rich man in the part of Hades which is torment.  The souls of the saved are in Paradise with Lazarus, Abraham, and the thief.

At judgment, Hades will give up their dead and be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-14).  After judgment, the saved who were in Paradise (including the thief) will enter heaven (Matt. 25:46).


The Body Is One And Has Many Members…

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12 – Scripture of the Day (January 28, 2014)

Paul is comparing the church of Christ to the human body in this passage.  It is an apt comparison, when you think about it.  The human body is made up of so many different members or parts, and all of them are different…and yet all of them are needed to fulfill their own unique function in order to help the body overall to function with maximum efficiency.

It’s the same with the church (cf. 12:14-27).  This coming Sunday, take a look around you in the church building auditorium.  Look at your brothers and sisters and think about the differences you see.  Not everyone is the same, and not everyone has the same talents, abilities, knowledge, or spiritual maturity level.  Yet, all are needed in order for the church to grow (Eph. 4:16).  When just one Christian is not doing his or her part, the church is not functioning like it should.

I broke a rib once.  Just one bone in my body was taken out of the picture, and yet I found that there were so many things that I either couldn’t do or couldn’t do well while that rib was out of action.  Christian, are YOU out of action in the church?  Are YOU contributing to the work and the mission of the church?  Or are you contributing to the church’s weakness by not doing your part?

You Are Peter, And On This Rock I Will Build My Church…

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18 – Scripture of the Day (January 20, 2014)

Such an encouraging verse with a powerful, uplifting promise!  And yet, due to translation error and false teachings this powerful passage is misunderstood by so many!

For example, “the gates of hell” should be more accurately translated from the Greek “the gates of Hades.”  Hades and hell are actually two different words in the Greek which describe two different places, but many think they’re the same thing due to many English translations translating Hades as hell, which in turn is due to the translators being influenced by the erroneous teaching that Hades and hell are the same.  Hell is gehenna in the Greek (Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6).  The word originally referred to the city of Jerusalem’s garbage dump, and then was used to symbolically refer to the eternal lake of fire reserved for Satan and his followers after judgment.  Hades is where the dead wait for judgment.  The rich man was in torment in Hades, although several translations erroneously translate the word as “hell” (Luke 16:23).  However, Jesus and the thief whom he forgave were also in Hades after they died, in the part referred to as Paradise or Abraham’s bosom or side (Acts 2:27; cf. Luke 23:39-43; 16:22-24) which is separated from where the rich man is tormented by a gulf or chasm (Luke 16:26).  Thus, Hades is a place where both the righteous and unrighteous dead are, unlike hell which is reserved for the unrighteous for all eternity.  On the day of judgment, Death and Hades will deliver up the dead that are in them and then be cast into the lake of fire which is hell, after which all who are judged by God to be condemned will also be cast into hell, along with Satan (Rev. 20:10-15).  Thus, Hades and hell are two different places.  By telling Peter that “the gates of Hades” shall not prevail against the church, Jesus was in effect promising that the church would not die.

Another misunderstanding many have about this passage revolves around the mistaken notion that one church is just as good as another.  This ecumenical mindset ignores several biblical points about the church:

  1. When Jesus spoke of building his church in this passage, notice that he spoke of the church in a singular fashion, not as pluralistic.  In other words, he said, “…I will build my church.”  He didn’t say, “…I will build my churches.”
  2. This is because the New Testament reveals that there in fact is only one church.  Paul spoke of the body of Christ as being his church (Eph. 1:22-23), and then specifically said that there is only one body, as well as only one faith (Eph. 4:4-5).  If the body is the church, and there is one body, then there is one church.  One church, one body, one faith.  Compare that to the thousands of different denominations, sects, and cults which all believe different things while claiming to all follow Christ…even though Christ’s New Testament specifically commands Christians that “…all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10; cf. John 17:20-23; Phil. 2:1-2).

Another misunderstanding many have about this passage revolves around the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession which teaches that Peter was the first Pope.  This verse is commonly cited by Catholicism to mean that Jesus was saying that the church was built on Peter.  However, this notion is mistaken for two reasons:

  1. Peter could not have been the first Pope, because Peter was married (Matt. 8:14-15; 1 Cor. 9:5) and Catholic doctrine teaches that the Pope and other bishops must be celibate, even though the New Testament specifically states that bishops must be married (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6).  (With this in mind, compare Catholic doctrine to the prophecy of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1-3.)
  2. It is well known that “Peter” means “rock,” and so the assumption is made that when Jesus said, “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…”, he was saying that the church would be built on Peter.  However, a study of the Greek words used in Matthew 16:18 reveals that Jesus actually used two different words here.  When he said, “…you are Peter…”, he used the masculine Greek word Petros, which refers to a rock or stone.  However, when he then said, “…upon this rock…”, he used the feminine Greek word petra, which refers to a large rock or stone, or a cliff.  The two similar but different words show by definition that Jesus had two similar but different concepts in mind when he spoke this sentence.  The church would not be built upon the rock of the apostle Peter (Petros), but upon a large rock or cliff (petra).  Contextually, the only thing Jesus could have in mind in reference to the petra would be the confession Peter had just made that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 16:16), which of course we know is the foundation of faith upon which the church is built (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11).

Thus, today’s Scripture of the Day records a promise Jesus made to Peter, the other apostles, and us that gives me comfort every time I read it.  He promised to build his church, of which there is only one, upon the rock of the confession of faith in him as the Son of God, and that his church would never die and thus be overcome by the gates of Hades.

Are you a part of his church?  The Bible specifically states that he is the Savior of his church (Eph. 5:23).  Do you want Christ to be your Savior?  Be a part of his church, not some man-made denomination.  Make the same heart-felt confession of faith that Peter made (Matt. 16:16; Rom. 10:9-10), choose to repent of your sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19), and wash your sins away via immersion into the body of Christ, his church (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).