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:
- 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)
- 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).