Topics: Judas Iscariot, gambling, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, elder qualifications concerning children, “only begotten”, whether Christ was a created being, Melchizedek, James 5:15’s prayer of faith, Satan’s servants performing miracles, God punishing people for wrongdoing
The latest Bible Questions & Answers session at where I preach was held on Sunday night, December 28, 2014, at 6 p.m. You can listen to the audio of that session here. Below are my written answers to each question. I hope they are of benefit to you in your studies.
1. Why did Jesus choose Judas as a disciple?
Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). That means that God knew ahead of time that Jesus would be betrayed by a friend, and planned it that way. Jesus himself knew this as well (John 13:18; cf. Ps. 41:9).
Why did Jesus choose Judas to begin with? Jesus knew what was in people’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so it is likely that Judas had as pure a heart as the other apostles whom Jesus chose at the beginning of his ministry. This would have been a man who had chosen to follow Jesus in the first place, thus volunteering to commit himself to the sacrifices involved following Jesus. Judas was one of the men whom Jesus had sent out two by two on the domestic missionary journey throughout Galilee (Matt. 10). Thus, Judas was likely a godly man at first.
However, over time his heart became corrupted. By the end of Jesus’ ministry, Judas had begun to steal from the group (John 12:6) and Satan had entered Judas’ heart. He began to plot his betrayal of the Lord at this time (Luke 22:3-6; John 13:2, 27).
Why did God plan that a close friend would betray the Messiah. I believe it was to teach us that we also, in spite of our own closeness to Christ, can and oftentimes do betray him.
2. Is it a sin to gamble?
Yes, for several reasons:
- God wants us to work for what we have (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12). The gambler wants to gain without working for them.
- God wants us to be good managers of our possessions (1 Pet. 4:10). The gambler is not a good steward of his possessions when he risks lots of money and other things on the very poor chance of earning more.
- God wants us to shun greediness (1 Tim. 6:9-10; Eph. 3:3, 5-7). One gambles out of greed and covetousness.
- God does not want us to take advantage of others (Rom. 15:1-2). Gamblers want to take what doesn’t belong to them from someone else who is weaker at the game than they. They want to build up their own pocketbooks, not other people.
- God does not want us to be addicted to anything (2 Pet. 2:19; 1 Cor. 6:12). Gambling’s highly addictive qualities are well known.
3. Please explain blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Jesus could perform miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28). After witnessing him perform a miracle by the power of the Spirit, the hard-hearted Pharisees attributed what the Spirit did to Satan, thus blaspheming the Spirit (Matt. 12:24). The sin was unforgivable because their hearts were so hard that even witnessing a miracle done by the power of the Spirit couldn’t sway them (Mark 3:28-29).
Miracles done by the power of the Holy Spirit no longer take place, but we can still blaspheme the Holy Spirit today. You see, we have the Word of God through the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in that the Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19-21). When we willfully, stubbornly, and unrepentantly reject the Spirit-inspired Word of God, we insult the Spirit of grace and will not be forgiven (Heb. 10:26-31).
4. Must an elder have a plurality of children?
An elder must have believing children not accused of debauchery or dissipation (Tit. 1:6), and his children must submit to him (1 Tim. 3:4-5). “Children” comes from teknon in the Greek, a word defined as “offspring, children; child.” Thus, the definition of the word refers to both a single child or a plurality of children. The Bible uses the terms “child” and “children” interchangeably (Matt. 18:2-5; Gen. 21:7), as do we in our own vernacular. (If my wife and I have only one child, and you ask us, “Do you have any CHILDREN?”, will we say, “No, we don’t have any CHILDREN…but we do have the one CHILD”? Obviously not.)
The warning of 1 Timothy 6:4-5 about arguments about words which produce dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction needs to be heeded when studying matters like this, as does the command from God to keep one’s personal preferences and scruples to oneself (Rom. 14:22).
5. Why is Jesus called the “only begotten” Son of God? Is he a created being like the angels?
Jesus is the “only begotten” Son of God (John 3:16). “Only begotten” is monogenes in the Greek, a combination of mono (“only, alone”) and genos (“race,” “stock”) to form monogenes (“from one race or stock, unique offspring, only begotten”).
All Christians are called the children of God (1 John 3:1-2), but Christ is God’s Son in a very unique way for many reasons, a few of which are listed below:
- Out of God’s children, only Jesus is Deity (John 1:1). Thus, Jesus is not a created being like the angels. He is Deity, eternal.
- He is the only way God the Father is made known to us (John 1:18).
- He is the only way to salvation (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9; John 14:6).
6. Melchizedek was king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God. We are told that Jesus was from the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17; Ps. 110:4). Please explain.
One reads about the Old Testament account of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20.
The purpose for the book of Hebrews was to persuade Jewish Christians to not fall away from Christianity and return to Judaism. Thus, the author gives several arguments throughout the book as to why Jesus is superior to various aspects of Old Testament Judaism. In Hebrews 7, the author uses Melchizedek to prove the superiority of Jesus to the Levitical priesthood.
Under Mosaic law, priests had to be from Levi’s tribe (Heb. 7:5). Once they died they stopped being priests (Heb. 7:23). However, Melchizedek was a priest not from Levi’s tribe, having lived well before the Levites came into existence as a tribe. Plus, we know nothing of his ancestry, birth, or death (Heb. 7:3). That makes him and his priesthood very different from the Levitical priesthood.
Jesus is very much like Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17; Ps. 110:4; cf. Heb. 7:11-25). Christ also was not from Levi’s tribe (Heb. 7:14). While Melchizedek was metaphorically a priest forever due to the absence of a record of his death, Jesus is literally a priest forever. That’s why he is more like Melchizedek than the Levites, and his priesthood is superior to theirs.
Likewise, the Israelites would pay tithes to the Levitical priests (Heb. 7:5). However, the ancestor of the Levites, Abraham, paid tithes to the priest Melchizedek (Heb. 7:6-9). In fact, in one sense even Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham (Heb. 7:9-10). This shows Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to that of the Levites (Heb. 7:7).
Jesus’ priesthood is similar to that of Melchizedek’s (Heb. 7:17; Ps. 110:4) in that they both are superior to the Levitical priesthood because we as Christians likewise give to Jesus, our priest, who in turn blesses us and thus shows his superiority over us.
7. Please explain James 5:15. In what way will the prayer of faith save the sick? How does this forgive him of other sins if they don’t ask for forgiveness and were baptized for the remission of sin?
“Prayer” (James 5:15) comes from euche in the Greek, which means “vow,” not “prayer.” Euche is found only two other times in the New Testament, and is translated “vow” both times (Acts 18:18; 21:23). The word commonly translated “prayer” is proseuche; a derivative of this word is used in James 5:14 to refer to the prayer of the elders over the sick man. However, James 5:15 has the word euche, which means “vow” rather than “prayer.” Thus, James 5:15 is actually saying that the VOW of faith will save the sick person and his sins, if he has committed any, will be forgiven.
This changes the entire meaning of the passage. Rather than understandably assuming from reading “PRAYER of faith” in James 5:15 that James is talking about the prayer of the elders over the sick man (James 5:14), we must understand that verse 15 is actually talking about a vow of faith. Who’s making this vow of faith that promises definite forgiveness of sins (“he WILL be forgiven”)?
The only type of vow that undoubtedly produces forgiveness is a vow of repentance made by a Christian (1 John 1:9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11). Thus, the person making this vow in James 5:15 is the sick Christian talked about in the context. He’s basically making a vow of faith to God, which biblically means that he would be acknowledging his sins and repenting of them, which produces definite forgiveness.
8. We know God gave some of his servants power to perform miracles in the Old and New Testaments, but they stopped when the New Testament was completed. We also know the devil gave some of his servants power to do the same, but have they lost the power to perform miracles today?
I know of no Bible passage that specifically says that Satan gave his servants power to perform miracles. Demons (who may or may not have been Satan’s angels) possessed some people in biblical times and gave them superhuman strength at times (Mark 5:4; Acts 19:16), but also at times made them mute, blind, convulse, epileptic, etc. God was ultimately in control over them, not Satan (Luke 10:17ff).
Jesus said that miraculously casting out demons was to show that the kingdom (the church – Col. 1:13) was about to start (Luke 11:20). Zechariah prophesied that God would remove unclean spirits during the beginning of the gospel age (Zech. 13:1-2). Thus, no true miracles of any kind take place today, including anything miraculous done by or to demons.
Whenever we hear of demon possession or exorcisms today, let’s remember the prophecy about the Catholic church and other false religions who use false signs and lying wonders to deceive unbelievers (2 Thess. 2:9-12).
9. I know God is a loving and forgiving God, but does he punish you for bad behavior or wrongdoing? For instance, does he punish you because you are not as faithful as you are supposed to be, or if you are just scared to put everything in his hands and let him take control? Will he punish you for that?
Why do bad things happen to people?
- Sometimes simply due to chance (Eccl. 9:11).
- Sometimes God allows Satan to bring bad things into our lives to test our faith (cf. Job 1-2).
- Sometimes God out of love allows bad things to happen to us in order to discipline us (Heb. 12:3-11), in order to make us spiritually stronger (Heb. 12:9-11) and/or to punish us for wrongdoing (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29-32).
Without divine revelation (of which no more is forthcoming – Jude 3), we don’t know for sure which of the above reasons apply to each specific situation. Therefore, let’s not assume anything like Job’s friends did (cf. John 7:24).
When one discusses how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians, many in the religious world assume that this is only done so in a miraculous, charismatic way. For example, many believe that one does not have a relationship with the Holy Spirit unless one is involved in some sort of supposedly miraculous deed, such as “speaking in tongues” (which in most cases is babbling nonsense rather than the biblical definition found in Acts 2:4-11 of speaking in other languages without having previously learned them), “fainting,” handling poisonous snakes or drinking poisonous liquids without harm, or “being healed” of various maladies.
This is understandable, because the Bible does speak of miraculous spiritual gifts that some of the early Christians possessed. Paul mentions “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:1), and then talks of how there were “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4). He then lists the different types of spiritual gifts, of which a study of each of them would reveal that they were miraculous in nature (12:8-10), and then specifically notes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12:11). He then spends the rest of chapter 12 and all of chapters 13 and 14 talking about these miraculous spiritual gifts.
One item worthy of note concerning these miraculous spiritual gifts is that Paul cited that not all of the early Christians had them (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23). This is interesting, considering that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised to all who would become Christians through obedience to the gospel commands of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 5:32). Is this a contradiction, or is there a difference between the “spiritual gifts” mentioned by Paul which were miraculous in nature and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised by Peter to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39) through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14)?
A careful study of the totality of scriptural data concerning this question (Ps. 119:160) reveals that there is a difference between the two. The New Testament teaches that while “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was given to all who obeyed the gospel, miraculous spiritual gifts were given to selected Christians by the apostles through the laying on of hands. The apostle Paul was known to give people spiritual gifts in this way (Acts 19:5-6; cf. Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6). We see a more detailed example in Acts 6:1-6, where the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to select from among them seven men to serve in a benevolent work. Stephen and Philip were among the seven chosen. We read then that these men were brought before the apostles, who then “laid their hands on them” (6:6). Only afterwards do we read in the book of Acts of anyone other than the 12 apostles performing miracles, in that Stephen (6:8) and Philip (8:6-7) were able to perform them also.
What is interesting is that Stephen, Philip, and the rest of these seven men had to meet certain qualifications in order to be chosen, among which was that they already be “full of the Spirit” (6:3). Does that phrase mean that they already had the ability to perform miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit? Not necessarily, because as stated earlier we read of no one other than the apostles performing miracles until after they laid their hands on these seven men in Acts 6:6. However, when we remember that all who obeyed the gospel through penitent baptism for forgiveness of sins were promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39), we see that the qualification “full of the Spirit” refers to the promise given to all Christians when they are converted rather than the ability to perform miracles through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.
To summarize before moving on, we see that Scripture brings out a difference between “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “spiritual gifts.” The former was promised by Peter to all who answer God’s call through the gospel by choosing to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14). The latter were miraculous in nature (1 Cor. 12:1-11), were not given to all Christians (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23), and were only imparted to certain Christians through the laying on of an apostle’s hands, as exemplified by Paul (Acts 19:5-6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6) and when the apostles laid their hands on Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:1-6). In order to be chosen, Stephen and Philip had to have already been “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 6:3). Yet, they did not perform miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7). Therefore, they had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” at their conversion (Acts 2:38-39), but received miraculous spiritual gifts when the apostles laid their hands on them.
Scripture then records an episode in the life of Philip (Acts 8:5-18) which shows not only how miraculous spiritual gifts were given to Christians, but also how they were temporary in nature. Philip traveled to Samaria, where he preached Christ and performed miracles (8:5-7). Many in Samaria believed his preaching and were baptized, including a magician named Simon (8:9-13). It is noteworthy that Simon, “after being baptized…continued on with Philip…and OBSERVED signs and great miracles taking place…” (8:13). Simon, after his baptism, didn’t perform any miracles himself, nor did he request that Philip give him the ability to do miracles. With this in mind, notice that Luke then records that the apostles Peter and John traveled to Samaria for the specific purpose that the Samaritans “might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For he had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (8:14-16). Once Peter and John arrived, “they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit” (8:17). Scripture then records how “Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (8:18), and offered them money for the ability to do the same.
Let’s notice several things from this passage. First, the Samaritans would have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” automatically upon their penitent baptism (Acts 2:38-39), thus making them “filled with the Spirit” just as Stephen and Philip had been before the apostles laid their hands on them (Acts 6:3). However, just as Stephen and Philip did not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7), the Samaritans would not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts after their baptism until an apostle laid their hands on them. This is why Peter and John made the trip. Philip, after having been given miraculous spiritual gifts by the apostles laying their hands on him, couldn’t impart the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit himself. Otherwise, the Scriptures would have said so, he could have saved Peter and John the trip, and Simon would have come to him with money rather than the apostles.
The fact that only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts upon certain Christians is very significant when determining how the Holy Spirit works today. Many are not aware that the New Testament teaches that miracles would cease. In the middle of his discourse to Corinth about miraculous spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), Paul prophesied, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will be done away” (13:8-10).
“Prophecy,” “tongues,” and “knowledge” all refer to miraculous spiritual gifts mentioned earlier in the epistle (12:4-11). Notice that Paul foretold that these miracles (which he calls “the partial”) will be done away with when “the perfect” comes. Some, understandably, believe “the perfect” to be Jesus Christ…but the original Greek word – teleios – refers to something which is fully complete or mature. It is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), something which was not yet complete at the time Paul wrote his letter to Corinth and yet would become complete within a few years afterwards. Therefore, Paul was prophesying to the Corinthians that when God’s Word become “complete/perfect” (teleios), miraculous spiritual gifts would cease. This makes even more sense when one remembers that the purpose of miraculous spiritual gifts in the first place was to confirm the Word of God that was being initially preached during that time (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4).
History tells us that by the time the Word of God was complete at the close of the first century AD, all of the apostles either had died or were about to pass away. This is relevant to the question of when miracles ceased, because we’ve seen in this study how a Christian could only receive miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of an apostle’s hands. Philip, one of those whom the apostles gave miraculous spiritual gifts in this manner (Acts 6:1-6; 8:5-7), could not impart the same to those whom he converted, which is why two apostles came to Samaria (Acts 8:14-19). Only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts to others. Therefore, when all of the apostles passed away, and all those on whom they laid their hands and bestowed miraculous spiritual gifts passed away, miracles ceased…all around the time Paul said that they would: “when that which is perfect has come,” when God’s Word became complete.
So what is “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised to all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39)? The next article in this series will study the answer to that question.