Tag Archives: prayer

August 2015 Bible Questions & Answers

Topics:  vain repetition in prayer, the difference between disciples and apostles, whether it’s sinful to salute or honor national flags, why we refer to God’s Word as the “Bible,” the mark of Cain and the origin of his wife and the other inhabitants of Nod, whether it’s sinful to use church funds to benevolently help non-Christians, how to deal with the accusation of contradictions in the Bible

You can listen to the audio of this Bible Question & Answer session here.

Is it wrong to pray daily or even yearly for the same thing?  Is it wrong to thank God daily for blessings you’ve received over many years?  Explain vain repetition.

God wants us to pray repeatedly and persistently, always with gratitude (Luke 11:5-9; 18:1-8; 21:36; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Col. 3:17; 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17-18).

Repetition is encouraged.  VAIN (meaningless, not coming from the heart) repetition is condemned (Matt. 6:7-8; 15:7-9a).

What is the difference between a disciple and an apostle?

Disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes, which means “learner, pupil, disciple.”  Apostle comes from the Greek word apostolos, which means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.”

The term apostle is used in two different ways in the New Testament.  Normally it’s used to describe a church leadership office in the early church in which the 12 apostles and Paul had inspired authority and the ability to perform miracles (Matt. 16:19; 18:18; 2:42; 6:1ff; Rom. 11:13; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; 2 Cor. 12:12).  In order to be chosen for this office, one had to have been an eyewitness of all Jesus did from his baptism to his ascension (Acts 1:21-26).  However, it’s also used in a broader sense to refer to Christian missionaries sent forth on mission trips by churches (Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).

All apostles were disciples, but not all disciples were apostles, either in the sense that they were in the church office nor in the sense that not all were sent out by churches to do missionary work.

Interestingly, Jesus was also called an apostle in that he was a messenger, one sent by God (Heb. 3:1).

Is it sinful for a Christian to salute or honor a national flag?

Christians must only worship the God of heaven (Rev. 22:9).  Yet, we are also told to give honor to others, including governmental authorities (1 Pet. 2:17; Rom. 13:1-7; Matt. 22:21).

Saluting a national flag, as well as saying the pledge of allegiance, reflects honor, not worship.  Yet, if it violates your conscience and personal convictions, abstain from doing so…but be careful not to bind your own idiosyncrasies onto others (Rom. 14:13, 22).

The word “Bible” is not found in God’s Word.  Why do we call it the Bible?

Bible is derived from Greek.  Ancient books were written on the byblos or papyrus reed.  From byblos came the Greek word for “book,” which is biblosBiblos is used in Matthew 1:1.

As the books of Scripture were written, early Christians began to refer to them as “the Books, ” or “the Biblia“…the Bible.

What is the essence of the mark on Cain’s forehead?  Also, Genesis says Cain traveled to the east of Nod and married.  Who were the people who lived there at that time?

Actually, the Bible never says that a “mark” was set upon Cain’s forehead (Gen. 4:15).  Mark comes from the Hebrew word oth, which means “sign” or “token.”  Thus, what’s actually said is that the Lord showed or gave Cain a “sign” to convince and assure him that none would be allowed to kill him.

Cain traveled to the east of Eden into the land of Nod, literally the “place of wandering” (Gen. 4:16-17).  There he “knew his wife” (v. 17), a phrase not referring to him meeting her for the first time, but rather to physical marital relations.  Cain probably was already married to his wife when he killed Abel and was exiled.  Eve, “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20), had sons and daughters with Adam (Gen. 5:4).  From these Cain found his wife, and from these came those who eventually inhabited the city Cain built in the “place of wandering.”

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says that the Sunday collection is for the saints.  So does that mean we shouldn’t help non-Christians with church funds?

The same collection is referenced in 2 Corinthians 8-9.  2 Corinthians 9:13 specifically mentions that the contribution was “for THEM (contextually, the saints) AND for ALL.”  “ALL” comes from the Greek word pantas, which means “everyone.”  It’s the same word used in the directive for congregations to “do good to ALL, and especially to those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).  Thus, Christians in need must get preference over non-Christians when it comes benevolent disbursement of church funds, yet the church must not shirk from using funds to help non-Christians in legitimate need also (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37).

A co-worker tells me he doesn’t believe in the Bible because there are so many contradictions in it.  What should I tell him?

(The following directly comes from the Apologetics Press two-volume book by Eric Lyons, The Anvil Rings.  I highly recommend it as a study that deals with supposed contradictions within the Bible.  It contains much more information needed to know to answer the charge of supposed scriptural contradictions than what I have listed below.)

First, ask him if he has an “innocent until proven guilty” attitude toward the Bible.  A teacher cannot justifiably assume that a student who makes a perfect score on a test without studying for it in fact cheated.  He may have received all the information elsewhere at another time, or perhaps he learned everything well enough that he didn’t need to study at home.  He may have even got lucky and guessed correctly on the questions he didn’t know.  In our daily lives we generally consider a person to be truthful until we have evidence that he or she has lied.  The same rule should apply when we read a historical document or a book, including the Bible.

Next, ask him if he allows possibilities to suffice as solutions for supposed contradictions.  If we believe the Bible is innocent until proven guilty, then any possible answer should be good enough to nullify the charge of error and contradiction.  Not just any answer, but any possible answer.  When you study the Bible and come across passages that may seem contradictory, you don’t necessarily have to pin down the exact solution in order to show their truthfulness.  You need only show the possibility of a harmonization between passages that appear to conflict in order to negate the force of the charge that a Bible contradiction really exists.

For example, who was present when David at the showbread?  Christ says Abiathar (Mark 2:25-26), while Samuel says Ahimelech (1 Sam. 21:1).  Did Jesus contradict Samuel?  Not necessarily.  Perhaps the two names belonged to the same man (like Peter who was also called Simon Peter, Simon, and Cephas.)  Perhaps Jesus didn’t mean that Abiathar personally ministered to David, but that the event with David and the showbread occurred in his lifetime (“in the days of”).  Notice also that Samuel refers to a priest named Ahimelech, while Christ mentions a high priest named Abiathar.  A priest was not the same as a high priest, so two different men in two different offices could have been mentioned in both accounts.  Any of these possibilities suffice to negate the charge of a contradiction.

Also, ask him if he understands that a genuine contradiction must refer to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense in the same time but in different ways.  One of the main problems in a discussion concerning alleged contradictions is that most people do not understand what constitutes a genuine contradiction.  Nothing can both be and not be.  A door may be open, or a door may be shut, but the same door may not be both open and shut at the same time.  With reference to the door, shut and open are opposites, but they are not contradictory unless it be affirmed that they characterize the same object at the same time.  So it is very important that one recognizes that mere opposites or differences do not necessitate a contradiction.  For there to be a bona fide contradiction, one must be referring to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense at the same time, but in different ways.

Suppose someone says, “Terry Anthony is rich,” and “Terry Anthony is poor.”  Do those two statements contradict each other?  Not necessarily.  How do you know the same Terry Anthony is under consideration in both statements?  Maybe Terry Anthony in Texas is rich, but Terry Anthony in Tennessee is poor.  The same person, place, or thing must be under consideration.  Plus, the same time period must be under consideration.  Terry Anthony could have a fortune in his youth but then lost it all in a stock-market crash.  At one time he was rich, but now he is poor.  Also, the statements must be talking about the same sense.  Terry Anthony could be the richest man alive, but he is poor if he is not following God.  On the other hand, he could have no money whatsoever yet still be rich in spiritual blessings.

Keeping these principles in mind, it’s easy to see that Luke did not contradict himself by describing the death of James in Acts 12 only to describe James as a church leader in Acts 15…because the James in Acts 12 is a different James than the one in Acts 15.  Likewise, the ark of Genesis 6 is not the same ark of Joshua 3.  God seeing that everything he made was very good (Gen. 1) does not contradict him being sorry that he had made man (Gen. 6), because the events of Genesis 6 took place hundreds of years after the events of Genesis 1.

Finally, ask him if he understands that supplementation does not equal contradiction.  Suppose you are telling a story about how you and a friend went to a Braves game.  You mention what great defense the Braves played, and your friend talks about their clutch hits in the final innings of the game.  Is there a contradiction because your friend talks about their offense but you mention only their defense?  No, he is simply adding to (supplementing) your story to make it more complete.  That happens in the Bible a lot.  Matthew 27:57-60 says Joseph put Jesus in the tomb, while John 19:38-40 says Joseph AND Nicodemus did so.  Contradiction?  No, because John is simply supplementing Matthew’s account.

Then Jesus Was…Tempted By The Devil

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Matthew 4:1 – Scripture of the Day (March 3, 2014)

Believe it or not, this passage comforts me greatly.  Here we have Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God himself, being tempted by Satan!  And he overcame those temptations!  He did not give in and sin!  Man, I can’t tell you how much that encourages me!

Why?  Because I now know that Jesus understands what I am going through.  The Bible says:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:14-15, 17-18).

And again,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Heb. 4:15-16)

Jesus was tempted just like you and me.  He knows how it feels.  He understands the struggle.  He’s been there and done that.  He overcame those temptations by knowing and obeying God’s Word (Matt. 4:1-11), and so can we.  Not only that, but when we fail and penitently cry out to God for forgiveness (1 John 1:7-10; Acts 8:22), Jesus – our High Priest, our Mediator – is at the right hand of the throne of God saying, “Father, I know what Jon is going through.  I’ve been there.  I was tempted in the same way.  He is pleading for mercy and is trying to do better.  Be merciful.  Be gracious.”

What comfort!  What love!  What hope this gives us in the struggle we face!

Whatever You Ask In Prayer, Believe That You Have Received It, And It Will Be Yours…

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24 – Scripture of the Day (January 22, 2014)

Whenever I read this passage of scripture, I’m reminded of a scene from Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it.  She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it.  But it warn’t so.  I tried it.  Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks.  It warn’t any good to me without hooks.  I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work.  By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool.  She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way.

I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it.  I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork?  Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole?  Why can’t Miss Watson fat up?  No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it.  I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body to get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts.”  This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant – I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself.  This was including Miss Watson, as I took it.  I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn’t see no advantage about it – except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it anymore, but just let it go.

While humorous, the above excerpt does reveal a tidbit of truth about how many interpret today’s verse.  Many pray as if God were a genie in a bottle, ready and willing to grant them any and all wishes…and then they get discouraged and upset when it doesn’t turn out that way.  Let’s remember that as with all passages of the Bible, context is key when applying proper hermeneutics (interpretation) to any passage of scripture, including this one.  The entirety of God’s Word is truth (Ps. 119:160), and so not only immediate but the overall context must be considered.

In the immediate context of this passage, we read that during the previous day Jesus had said to a fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again,” upon seeing that there was nothing to eat on it (Mark 11:12-14).  The next morning, they saw the fig tree withered away and Peter pointed out to Jesus that the fig tree which he had cursed had withered.  Jesus replied, “Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:20-24).

What Jesus had done to the fig tree was a miracle…a violation of the laws of science and nature which God had put into place at creation.  Scientifically, fig trees don’t wither away overnight based on the word of a man, just as the Red Sea doesn’t naturally part due to a man holding a stick over it and a man doesn’t scientifically come back from the dead three days after he had died on a cross.  What Christ had talked about his apostles doing (telling a mountain to be taken up and thrown into the sea without doubt in his heart and it coming to pass) was also miraculous in nature.  Thus, the statement in today’s verse about receiving whatever you ask in prayer if you believe that you have received it must also be taken to refer to the apostles being able to perform miracles.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we read of spiritual gifts which were miraculous in nature being given to some of the early Christians (1 Cor. 12-14).  Paul lists these miraculous spiritual gifts, and includes “faith” in the list alongside of miraculous spiritual gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge (1 Cor. 12:4-11).  He later clarifies that faith as the same type of miraculous faith Jesus is talking about in the context of today’s passage:  the type of faith one would need to have in order to perform a miracle like removing a mountain (1 Cor. 13:2).

However, a few verses later he tells us that these miraculous spiritual gifts would “pass away” and “cease.”  This would happen “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).  “Perfect” in the Greek is referring to that which is mature or complete, and is used elsewhere to refer to the complete Word of God (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), which of course wasn’t complete at the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  In fact, one of the reasons miracles occurred back then was to confirm the Word of God which was being preached by the apostles and prophets of the early church (Mark 16:17-18, 20; Heb. 2:1-4).  Once the Word of God was complete with the writing of Revelation, miracles would no longer need to happen in order to confirm it, and thus they would cease as Paul foretold.

Therefore, the miraculous faith one would need to receive anything one asked for in prayer does not occur today.  God does answer prayer today, but providentially rather than through miracles done by men as read about in the Bible.  He wants us to bring our cares to him through prayer (Phil. 4:6-7), and pray that he provides our spiritual and physical needs (Matt. 6:9ff) as well as for the needs of others (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

And as it was true then, it is also true today that we must pray with faith (James 1:5-7)…and we must also pray according to his will (1 John 5:14-15).  This latter caveat is something I believe old Huck Finn…and many of us today…don’t think about like we should.  What does God care about most?  Huck getting hooks for his fishing lines and us getting that brand new car…or the spiritual well-being of us all?  What are we asking God for the most in our prayers?  Are our requests truly in line with his will?  Daily study of his Word will show us what God really cares the most about.  As we grow spiritually, we will see our prayer life changing to fit more in line with his will also.