The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

Often when fasting comes to mind, we envision abstaining from food or drink. This can be a way of fasting, but we mustn’t also discount denying ourselves in any particular area of life where we give in to our passions. Food and drink, however, are most typical when this discussion arises. Jesus’ instructions about such is to conceal it rather than announce it (Matt. 6:16–18).

Our Lord, Himself, was led by the Spirit to the wilderness where for forty days and nights, He abstained from food (Matt. 4:1–11). Just as Israel wandered for forty years, so the number of days of Jesus’ fast corresponded to the years of His people’s sojourn. As humans, we might guess that when Satan would arrive to tempt our Lord, he would do so based on the fact that Christ hadn’t eaten in forty days. The first temptation was bread, but many ancient commentators believed that Christ’s fast was His conquering of the flesh so that He could deny sin. We too, when we fast, master our bodies rather than having them master us with their urges and demands. No, it isn’t always easy, but growth can derive from telling ourselves, “no.”

In the age of miraculous gifts, fasting often accompanied a revelation from God. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius was praying and fasting when he received a vision (Acts 10:28). When the Antiochene church fasted in the liturgy of worship (Acts 13:1–2), the Holy Spirit selected Paul and Barnabas to the mission of evangelism. We might conclude that the selection of Paul and Barnabas occurred during prayers as with the revelation to Cornelius. We also read about fasting accompanying prayers when decisions were made without a miraculous element to them, such as the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23). Suffice it to say that fasting accompanied prayer, and either a revelation was given, or a decision was being made. When married couples suspended copulation, they were to have given themselves to fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5).

One particular occasion of fasting is observed relevant to the repentance of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:9). There are times elsewhere when it entailed corporate repentance too (2 Chron. 20:3; Neh. 9:1–2; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12). Joined to repentance is often mourning or godly sorrow. This leads to a contrite heart over one’s sins with the expectation of changed thinking and, therefore, behavior. To begin with, one might select the day to fast to start, and then allow it to grow from there.

The Spiritual Discipline of Almsgiving

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave principles of the kingdom of God. In the context of His listeners, Jesus gave the premise that their righteousness (or “justice”) must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees were they to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). When He arrived at the section about charitable deeds or giving alms, Christ urged that such be done for the purposes of God seeing the good done rather than the advertisement of one’s own goodness. Those who do such to be observed and praised by others were hypocrites, a term in Jesus’ day used of actors who played a part. Essentially, a hypocrite plays a part and isn’t the sincere character they pretend to be. God isn’t impressed by what others think about us or even what we think about ourselves. He rewards good deeds based upon pure motives.

“Alms” itself comes to us from Old English by way of the Greek language, and means “pity, mercy.” Therefore, to give alms, whether it be money to the poor or a good deed for another, it is an act of mercy to the person giving and receiving the money or good done. Paul, in recalling his conversion to the Galatians, told them that he was instructed to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10). Tabitha was known for helping the poor (Acts 9:36).

There’s a great lesson here: it’s more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). The rich young ruler who came to Jesus was told to sell all that he had and give alms to the poor (Luke 12:32). Jesus challenged the ruler and proved to himself that his devotion lay with riches more so than the Lord. When we give money to the poor we are acknowledging that our devotion to God is more important than anything, and we love our neighbor as ourselves by such acts of kindness. However, almsgiving isn’t always the most important thing we can do for another person. When a crippled man asked Peter and John for money, the apostles were unable to give them any because they didn’t have money. Rather, they healed the man, and that single act was greater than anything they could have given him.

 There also comes a caution with almsgiving: a person can do the good deed but have the wrong motive. As mentioned by Christ himself, we can seek the praise of another which demonstrates that the motive was wrong. We can also do the good deed and at the same time neglect the justice and love of God (cf. Luke 11:40–42) which only demonstrates that giving to those in need does not necessarily mean that we are right with God. 

The Spiritual Disciplines

As Paul wrote his magnum opus, Romans he included two crucial truths about the good news of Jesus Christ: 1) it is the power of God to salvation   (Rom. 1:16–17) and 2) those whom God foreknew would obey it would be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). On the latter point, one might ask how a Christian comes to be conformed to the image of Jesus. While several answers may be given, the one on which I focus here is the spiritual disciplines. What exactly are they, you might ask? Spiritual disciplines are practices we see in Scripture that early Christians regularly engaged in as believers in Jesus to become more like Jesus.

In the earliest letter of the New Testament, James, the author, urged Christians to submit to God and resist the devil, to draw near to Him and cleanse one’s hands (James 4:7–8). Though we are saved, our flesh is still what it is, and that’s tempted to sin. As most recovering addicts might inform us, to eliminate the vice from their lives, they must replace it with something healthy. The void cannot remain. I might contend that the same is true of sin. We seek, by becoming saved, to eliminate sin from our lives, but our bodies are weak because of their urges. Therefore, we must replace sinful behavior with spiritual disciplines, because these help us to grow closer to God and further from sin, which is the aim of salvation.

Allow me a point of clarity: spiritual disciplines do not save us, Jesus saves us. However, though we are declared righteous by God through the blood of Jesus, we aren’t given a one-time stamp as if being saved were all that is required. When God declared Abraham righteous, he did so before the inauguration of circumcision and the law. When God needed anything of the patriarch, Abraham obeyed. God declared Abraham righteous, but Abraham also had to pursue righteousness. This is what we do with spiritual disciplines: we pursue godliness.

Professor Don Whitney notes six traits of spiritual disciplines: 1) they are personal and interpersonal. 2) They are activities, not attitudes. 3) They are things taught or modeled in the Bible. 4) Those in the Bible are sufficient for knowing and growing closer to God. 5) They cannot be divorced from the gospel. 6) They are means and not ends. Over the coming weeks, I plan to highlight spiritual disciplines for us with the aim that we would each practice them and grow closer to our Father and more like our Savior.

On Free Will: From Augustine to Early America

Augustine was a fifth-century bishop and theologian whose thoughts have had a profound influence on Western Civilization. If you were to read John Calvin’s Institutes, one thing you’d notice is a lot of quotations from the works of Augustine. Why? Augustine was influential enough in the church that an order of monks followed his teachings, one of whom was Martin Luther. Luther began the Reformation Movement, and Calvin took up his mantle.

Despite Augustine initially believing in the free will of humanity, he later believed that God’s sovereignty posed a stronger argument than human liberty (Reconsiderations 2.1; cf. On the Predestination of the Saints 3.7; 4.8). Augustine believed that Adam was purely free at the beginning (Rebuke and Grace 33), but Adam’s freedom allowed him to turn from good (City of God 14.12). Sin, according to Augustine, was what corrupted man’s original nature as God gave it, and the corruption resulted in Adam’s and his descendants’ inability to choose good freely. This birthed the Calvinist doctrine of predestination or particular atonement. According to the doctrine, man was no longer capable of using his free will purely since he had proven to abuse its exercise in the beginning. The progeny of Adam inherited their father’s nature that hindered them from choosing good (cf. Rom. 5.12ff). Calvin, therefore, recycled Augustine’s arguments with elaborations and modification upon certain points. Devoted followers of the reformer touted his doctrine and often accused those who did not agree of limiting God and elevating man—an idolatrous and blasphemous belief that frightened many from advocating such.

The doctrine of predestination was preached throughout America’s Great Awakening with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield being among the most notable advocates. Edwards’ Freedom of the Will is often studied as an exposition of Augustinian human sinfulness and divine sovereignty. Edwards quoted Augustine liberally, and Augustinian quotations were more numerous, or primary, to biblical quotations which showed the nature of his theology as being a primarily Augustinian interpretation of Scripture. Furthermore, such was the nature of Whitefield’s Calvinism that he and his fellow Methodist, John Wesley, parted company as a result of Wesley differing from him on these views. Whitefield and Wesley would later reunite as friends despite this difference, but the initial rift between the two was strong. When Calvinism was met with divergent beliefs from deists and Unitarians, it would evolve to a more rationalistic set of beliefs whereas it had previously substituted rationalism for emotionalism. Prior to Calvinism’s threat of opposing beliefs, the stronghold that it had on Christianity was the cause of many personal and congregational divisions in the West.

Conversations About Churches of Christ

Quite often when I meet someone, they ask what I do. When I inform them that I’m the preaching minister at Glendale Road, I follow up that statement by asking where they attend. However, long before I was in ministry, I might have an occasional religious conversation with someone, and they would follow it up by asking, “What denomination are you?” My answer was always, “I’m a Christian.” I was unclear on what even “denomination” meant, but I came to learn more about the term once I entered preaching school. Obviously, they would ask, “What church do you go to?” Then I knew what they meant.

Sadly, it has become all-too-common that when people talk about church, they inevitably identify themselves, not by the name of Jesus, but by the name of the congregation they attend which is more descriptive of their system of beliefs and teachings than by the name of Christ. Our own people do it too, often answering the question, “I’m a church-of-Christer.” Many decades ago, our people were referred to as Campbellites because the doctrines that were held to were largely advocated by Alexander Campbell in the nineteenth century. The truth is, we ought only to ever go by the precious name by which we were saved, and nothing else. We aren’t church-of-Christers, we are Christians. We are members of the body of Christ.

Even in early America, the Anglican preacher, George Whitefield once quipped,

Father Abraham, whom have you in Heaven? Any Episcopalians? ‘No.’ Any Presbyterians? ‘No.’ Have you any Independents or Seceders? ‘No.’ Have you any Methodists? “No, no, no!’ Whom have you there? ‘We don’t know those names here. All who are here are Christians— believers in Christ—men who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony.’ Oh, is this the case? Then God help us, God help us all, to forget party names, and to become Christians in deed and truth.

When he preached those words in the eighteenth century, many shared the sentiments because denominationalism was division. It was a division of God’s people on sectarian grounds.

One question I’ve been asked time and again is how there came to be so many “churches.” Luckily, because my primary area of research interest is church history, this is a rather easy question for me to answer. There are so many churches, put simply, because of Protestantism, which was spurred by Martin Luther—a Catholic, Augustinian monk from the first half of the sixteenth century.

In the East, the predominant form of Christianity is Orthodox, which actually predates Catholicism. The term “orthodox” appears in the fourth century while “catholic” appeared as early as the second century, but they were not “churches” per se then so much as adjectives. A catholic, then, was a “universal Christian,” and someone who was “orthodox” was someone who believed “right doctrine.” Catholicism came to dominate the West (Rome and beyond) after the eleventh century, but the early councils of Christianity (e.g., Nicaea in AD 325) demonstrate a church polity akin to Orthodoxy. Therefore, at least as far back as the fourth century, to be orthodox and catholic was really one in the same thing.

With the split of the two in 1054—an episode known as the East-West Schism or the Schism of 1054—Orthodoxy remained as one might see it today while Catholicism has evolved. Because of this evolution and primary authority resting in the bishop of Rome, the Pope, practices came to be adopted that weren’t altogether Christian. The one that led to the Reformation (Protestantism) was the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel—a practice where one could purchase favor for a loved one in the afterlife. Both Luther and Tetzel were German, and Luther found the selling of indulgences corrupt and, therefore, a violation of Christian dogma.

When Luther raised his objections by nailing a list of 95 theses to the doors of the University of Wittenberg in 1517, he had no intention of breaking fellowship with the Pope or the Catholic Church. Instead, he wanted these areas fixed while remaining Catholic. Since his complaints were not well received by higher clergymen, Luther was forced into exile and excommunicated from the church. Hereafter, the type of Christianity he practiced mirrored Catholicism but rectified the grievances he had, and this led to the formation of the Lutheran Church despite Luther himself not wanting a church named after him.

As the Reformation waned, a French theologian named John Calvin took up Luther’s mantle and breathed new life into the movement. His form of Protestantism influenced the West hereafter, eventually birthing the Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and many other branches from whom would flow the multitude of denominations that exist. Among the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were men who grew weary of the division. They pleaded for Christian unity by calling for an abandonment of sectarian names and using the Bible alone rather than the many creeds that existed. Thus began what’s known as the Restoration Movement, of which we are inheritors.

Yes, Christianity is a Religion

Many well-meaning Christians often say or post on social media, “Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship.” This, in logical terms, is what’s referred to as a false dichotomy—when something is declared to be either/or when another option is available. The other option is that both are true—Christianity is a religion and a relationship, but why do people oppose the term “religion?” It may have something to do with what they perceive to be empty rituals. I’ve heard other people say that they were spiritual but not religious, which I often take to mean that they have belief in deity but do not participate in an assembly of like-minded believers. If you were to ask a group of people to define what the term “religion” means, you’d likely invite vigorous debate. However, in our English Bibles, James 1:26 translates the Greek term threskeia as “religion” as well as in Acts 26:5. The term is translated as “worship” in Colossians 2:18. Religion, therefore, may have entailed the things one did in reverencing a deity, but the ancient people would likely not have understood religion as we do.

One scholar, Larry Hurtado offers this definition of religion, “A set of beliefs and rituals directed towards and/or concerned with deities and as serving to connect people and the material world with transcendence and to give ultimate meaning to life” (2016, 39). Another scholar, Bart Ehrman simplifies his definition, “Religion is all about what people believe and how they behave” (2018, 82). Taking the latter at face value, I would likely suggest that when people reject the term “religion,” it’s because they view it as rituals without a lifestyle that compliments the tenets of faith. That’s to say that Christians can do the right things and believe rightly but live wrongly. In this case, I would agree with the detractors.  

Scripture even rebukes this very notion. In several of the prophets of the Old Testament, there are not a few times that God wishes to reject the worship of His people, and the reason is because they are sinful. Sure, they observe the holidays, sacrifices and offerings, but they cheated their neighbor, exploited the poor, and even worshipped idols in addition to Israel’s God. For these reasons, God rejected their worship and told them to essentially stop worshipping Him because He was displeased with their assemblies. Religion is not just about rituals, it’s also about behavior. One cannot be orthodox without orthopraxy (right living).


Ehrman, Bart. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Hurtado, Larry. Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2016.

Phoebe & Female Deacons

I’ve recently begun reading Scot McKnight’s work, Reading Romans Backwards and have thoroughly enjoyed his approach to studying Paul’s letter to the Roman churches. I’m undertaking a study of the Roman letter myself in preparation for a 2020 Bible class of the work which I’ll teach at Glendale Road. McKnight’s work, along with a few other resources, will inform my study of this letter and how I’ll teach it with McKnight’s approach being one that I also favor because of its utility. McKnight begins in territory familiar to me—with Phobe, whom he deems to have been the letter bearer and reader. In 2016 I authored a small study book, Being Phoebe: How Women Served in Early Christianity and explored the notion of deaconesses therein. McKnight writes,   

Phoebe is also a “deacon.” The Greek term diakone can be used more generally for a “servant”: Roman officials are servants (Rom. 13:4); Christ is a servant (15:8); Paul and his minister associates are servants (Col. 1:7; 1 Cor. 3:5; 1 Tim. 4:6) as also are counterfeit ministers (2 Cor. 11:15). But the term, especially when connected to a church (as Rom 16:1 is), brings to mind the more official recognized ministry or office of “deacon.”

What I was unaware of was that when the term was connected to a congregation it denoted the office of “deacon.” Scholars disagree on whether or not she was a “servant” or “deaconess,” but this is ground that I’ve plowed in my own study of the topic. Early Christians believed her to have been a “deaconess” as early as Origen (c. 185–251) with John Chrysostom and Theodoret of Cyr following. Earlier than Origen, however, was a letter from Pliny the Younger while he was governor in Bithynia from 111–13 CE. He exchanged letters with the Emperor on a variety of issues, but in one letter he detailed his first encounter with Christians.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.[…]Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. (Letters 10.96)

When he wrote to the emperor, he noted that he had tortured two female slaves who were called “deaconesses.” Again, we are not sure whether this was a specific term or a general term, but his letter seems to indicate the office of such rather than just the general servant. Pliny’s letter was translated from Latin, and the word used here is the one from which we get our word “minister”—ministrae. “Deaconess” is an appropriate translation, but so is “servant.” 

In Didascalia 16 (c. 200–50), the primary duties of the deaconess are thus described:

In the first place, when women go down into the water, those who go down into the water ought to be anointed by a deaconess with the oil of anointing; and where there is no woman at hand, and especially no deaconess, he who baptizes must of necessity anoint her who is being baptized. But where there is a woman, and especially a deaconess, it is not fitting that women should be seen by men?[…]And when she who is being baptized has come up from the water, let the deaconess receive her, and teach and instruct her how the seal of baptism ought to be unbroken in purity and holiness. For this cause we say that the ministry of a woman deacon is especially needful and important. For our Lord and Saviour also was ministered unto by women ministers, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the daughter of James and mother of Jose, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee [Matt 27:56], with other women beside. And thou also hast need of the ministry of a deaconess for many things; for a deaconess is required to go into the houses of the heathen where there are believing women, and to visit those who are sick, and to minister to them in that of which they have need, and to bathe those who have begun to recover from sickness.[…]But let a woman rather be devoted to the ministry of women, and a male deacon to the ministry of men. 

As far as early history goes, that’s it. 

Were one to consult Alexander Campbell’s living oracles, he translates Romans 16:1 as “deaconess” rather than “servant.” Nearly all nineteenth-century writers in the Stone-Campbell Movement advocated for female deacons but not to teach or exercise authority over men. J. W. McGarvey in 1906 wrote against female deacons because several aspired to higher offices, and with their having been a division of Churches of Christ and the Disciples (North), the latter retained female deacons while the south altogether denied them recognition.


Scot McKnight, Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2019), 4.

Steven C. Hunter, Being Phoebe: How Women Served in Early Christianity (Dallas: Start2Finish Books, 2016). 60–66.

Alexander Campbell, The Living Oracles (1826; repr., Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Restoration Reprints, 2001), 305.

J. Stephen Sandifer, “Deacons, Diaconate,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, eds. Douglas A. Foster, et. al. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 260–61.

Isaiah’s New Creation

From Isaiah 40 onward, the content of the book is post-exilic and expresses hope and God’s fulfilled prophecies. However, Israel isn’t all that happy with God. The nation accuses God of having neglected them which led to the Babylonian gods defeat of Yahweh and Israel’s subsequent exile. God responds by explaining to Israel that He had not neglected them nor had He been defeated, but that He orchestrated the exile as punishment for Israel so that they would repent and eventually be able to return to their homeland. Israel remains rebellious, so God rejects them, but He still wants to bless all the nations so He reveals His divine plan to do so. 

Beginning in Isaiah 49, God introduces us to His servant that is to fulfill the very mission He has in mind. This servant will accomplish all that Israel was meant to accomplish, and by so doing He would be a light to all the nations. This servant would accomplish God’s plan by dying as a sacrifice for sin and is presented alive once more to be able to declare people in a right relationship with God. Those who follow God’s anointed one shall inherit His kingdom, which begins to be spoken about in Isaiah 56. By the time we arrive at chapter 65, Isaiah informs us about the fulfillment of God’s kingdom—when heaven and earth are one rather than separate realities once more. 

Isaiah 65:17–25 promises a cosmic renovation—the same Hebrew word used here for “create” is the same as in Genesis 1—accompanied by a renewed Jerusalem, the very same things we read about in John’s Revelation (21:1–5; cf. Matt. 19:28; Rom. 8:21–22; 2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Peter 2:13). The only other place in all the Hebrew Bible where we read of the new heavens and earth is in Isaiah 66:22. Though scarce in the Bible is the notion of new heavens and earth, it is clearly a Jewish hope from Isaiah’s time onward. 

And the angel of the presence who went before the camp of Israel took the tables of the divisions of the years -from the time of the creation- of the law and of the testimony of the weeks of the jubilees, according to the individual years, according to all the number of the jubilees [according, to the individual years], from the day of the [new] creation when the heavens and the earth shall be renewed and all their creation according to the powers of the heaven, and according to all the creation of the earth, until the sanctuary of the Lord shall be made in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, and all the luminaries be renewed for healing and for peace and for blessing for all the elect of Israel, and that thus it may be from that day and unto all the days of the earth. (Jubilees 1.28) 

In that day I will cause my Elect One to dwell in the midst of them; will change the face of heaven; will bless it, and illuminate it forever. I will also change the face of the earth, will bless it; and cause those whom I have elected to dwell upon it. But those who have committed sin and iniquity shall not inhabit it, for I have marked their proceedings. My righteous ones will I satisfy with peace, placing them before me; but the condemnation of sinners shall draw near, that I may destroy them from the face of the earth. (1 En. 45:4–5)

For there will be a greater trial than these two tribulations when the Mighty One will renew His creation. (2 Bar. 32.6)

Notice how “troubles” (Is. 65:16) will be replaced with gladness and rejoicing (Is. 65:18). Crying is no more (Is. 65:19). When you take the rest of the passage, it appears as a metanarrative that justice is finally accomplished in its full perfection and childhood illnesses and elderly infirmities are eradicated—a source of comfort for many so touched by them. Even animals return to be vegetarians (cf. Gen. 1:30) and the serpent eats the dust of the ground (cf. Gen. 3:14). What’s the takeaway of it all? Peace. Is this purely eschatological? I don’t believe so, but that it has already begun in Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) and shall culminate at His second coming. A part of the preaching of the gospel in the earliest days consisted of Peter preaching that God would send Christ at the time of the restoration of all things, alluding to the words of the prophets (Acts 3:20–21). This wasn’t the first time Peter had made such a charge about Jesus being received in heaven only to return, but in Acts 2:34–35 he appealed to Psalm 110:1 to inform Israel that once His enemies were put under His feet, He’d return. 

The Purpose of Creation and How It Lends to Understanding New Heaven/Earth

When one reads the creation account in Genesis 1, a learned reader who has been schooled in Hebrew will immediately pick up on the architectural language that’s being used. However, to the unlearned reader, I’d only point out the significance of such architectural language. By using such specific terminology as the author does in Genesis 1, we’re left with the impression that God is making an edifice suited for Himself to dwell in. This was what the gods did in the ancient world when they fashioned temples. The sole purpose of temples was for the deity to rest in rather than as a place for worshippers to gather—though it served that function as well. One of the final acts of making a temple was to adorn it with images of the deity, and in this account, the image of God is adam (human). An ancient near-eastern understanding of the image was that it did the work of the deity and embodied the god’s qualities. We, as the progeny of Adam, still exist in God’s image as it were, but we are shattered images—broken and bruised by sin, but now, we can be remade in the image of Christ. 

Temples in the ancient world were very much connected to the cosmos. That’s to say that the temple resembled the intricacies of the world. Hear the words of Josephus who wrote of the Jerusalem temple, “Every one of these objects [in the architecture of the temple] is intended to recall and represent the universe” (Jewish War 3.7.7). Usually, gardens adjoined temples, so when we read about the Garden of Eden, we are reading about something that people could have easily identified within their nearby vicinity. Because temples were viewed as sacred spaces, this creation of the world communicated that God’s world was a sacred space where He dwelt with His image-bearers. At the conclusion of God creating the world, we read that He rested. This was the purpose of temples: a place of divine rest for the deity. Is it to say that God needed to rest? No. The rest was more or less on the heels of resolving a calamity or upon stability being achieved. Since God had just completed creating the world, stability was achieved. Therefore, He took His rest (cf. Ps. 132:7–8, 13–14). 

Anytime a temple was defiled, however, the deity departed from it until it was once again cleansed (cf. Ezek. 8:6; 10:18–19; Ps. 78:58–60), so when sin polluted the earth, God casts man out of the Garden and has the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Gen. 3:22–24). Heaven and earth are no longer joined but separate up to a point. This isn’t the totality of the separation, however. God still walked with man, though, because even after such we see the two in one another’s presence: God distinguished offerings between Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:3–16); Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:24); Noah walked with God (Gen. 6:9). However, as time went on God destroyed (cleansed) the earth by flood, though the earth itself remained, and earth became its own realm and heaven separate from it.

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, but which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:5–7)

After the flood, we read about the first-ever mention of an altar (Gen. 8:20). Just because this is the first mention of an altar doesn’t at all mean that sacrifice hadn’t taken place before, because God made garments from animal skins to clothe Adam and Eve and hide their shame (Gen. 3:21). Also, Abel brought offerings of animal fat to God (Gen. 4:4). What’s different here is that whereas Abel brought his offering to God, Noah presents an offering on an altar to God instead of in person. The close communion of humanity with God was cut off after the flood. Heaven and earth are not one any longer, but separate realities. God comes down to earth when it suits Him (Gen. 11:5), but otherwise, He remains in heaven separate from humanity and our corruption. 

Something very much removed from our twenty-first-century lenses is the significance of what’s taking place in Genesis 1. Many who read it today do so to determine whether or not the earth was created in seven literal days. This kind of reading removes the original meaning from the text itself because this is not so much the concern that Moses had when he authored this account. 

Some Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has modern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called “concordism,” as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text. This represents one attempt to “translate” the culture and text for the modern reader. The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we. If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. 

What Moses was writing, and what ancient hearers and readers would have understood as taking place was that God was creating a temple. When the new heavens and new earth are created, they will be one and not separate because Jesus has dealt the death-blow to sin and futility. Because we understand God’s original purpose behind creation, we can appreciate what He intends with the new creation. 

New Heaven, New Earth

Several weeks ago in my Wednesday night Bible study class, I mentioned, in passing, that one of the doctrines of contention among some of our brethren was our eternal destiny: in heaven with God for all eternity, or on a renewed earth. We were concluding our study on the book of Hebrews, and when I asked what they would like to study next, this was their request. The first passage we would study would be 2 Peter 3:10–13, on which I’ll focus in a moment. However, when one follows the chronology of last things (eschatology), we notice in Revelation 20:15–21:1 a sequence of events: judgment and a new heaven and earth. Preceding judgment is the resurrection (Rev. 20:13), then once and for all death is put to death. Therefore, the order of last things, from this passage, would be the resurrection, judgment, and new heaven and earth.

What is favorable about the new heaven and earth doctrine, to me, is that it looks favorably upon God’s creation, acknowledging His original purpose for such. God made everything and it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Every creature of God is good (1 Tim. 4:4–5), but man’s sin subjected creation to futility (Gen. 3:17–19; cf. 5:29). Humanity’s incessant disobedience to God is what defiles the earth (Is. 24:5–6). A key passage is Romans 8:18–25:

  • Creation awaits the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19).
  • It has been subjected to futility for the purpose of redemption (v. 20).
  • It shall be delivered from corruption (v. 21).
  • Creation currently groans within itself (v. 22).
  • Like us, creation awaits the adoption and redemption of itself (v. 23).

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross affected things on earth and also in heaven (Eph. 1:7–10), and Jesus is both the head of creation and of the new creation. His church is the source of the restoration and fulfillment of creation in Himself (Col. 1:15–20).

In the new creation of Revelation, God’s dwelling is once more with humanity as it was in Eden (Rev. 21:2). In the new heaven and earth, the curses no longer exist (Rev. 21:4). A study of God’s creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis yields the conclusion that He was fashioning for Himself a temple in which He could dwell with humanity. In the end, God is the temple of the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:22). When you compare the first with the final, the first heaven and earth on which we now dwell had darkness, but the darkness is no more upon the creation of the new (Rev. 21:23–25). Though the heaven and earth on which we now dwell were capable of defilement, the new is not (Rev. 21:27). What Peter wrote doesn’t vary from this at all:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10–13)

Someone may reply that these passages teach about heaven and earth’s destruction. However, when you read the chapter as a whole, it doesn’t. A few verses earlier, Peter referenced the destruction of the earth by flood, and you and I concede that the earth was “cleansed,” but Peter refers to it having “perished” (2 Peter 3:5–6). If the earth was so judged and destroyed then, would not the destruction of the world in the future not be annihilation as we think, but “cleansed?” Some of the terms Peter uses may mislead us, not that they would have the audience then.

  • “Pass away,” “melt,” and “burned up” (v. 10).
  • “Dissolved” (vv. 11–12).
  • “Melt” (v. 11).

This sounds like annihilation to me. Some may well protest that Scripture never depicts the Lord setting foot again on earth (cf. Matt. 26:64; 1 Thess. 4:16–17; Rev. 1:7). I agree with that point, but it doesn’t say that He won’t be on the new heaven and new earth and the Bible is clear about there being a new heaven and new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). As for the language used regarding the current heavens and earth, I stand by the position that with the comparison of God destroying the world by flood preceding this judgment, the manner would be similar.

What was Peter’s point overall? I believe it was that since the current heavens and earth will be destroyed, we should be holy and godly people (2 Peter 3:11) since the new heaven and earth is a place in which righteousness (“justice”) dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Here are a few quotes I’ve found from brethren of ours from earlier years who believed in the new heaven and new earth doctrine.

The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelations ends with the … new creation of the heavens and the earth. This the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian [pre-flood] earth was purified by water; but the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body, before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogenous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God recreates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of the one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven. —Alexander Campbell, The Christian System, p. 303.

God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness. — David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin, pp. 35–36.

The earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth. —James A. Harding, “What Are We Here For?” The Way 5, 1903, p. 1041.

Some reading this may think I’ve sold out with some of our other brethren who believe in this doctrine. Also, some may propose that I’ve taken up the doctrines of N. T. Wright. To be clear, I learned this doctrine, first, through reading the early church fathers and patristics, and only found Wright’s books on the topic some time afterward. I think that no matter what one believes, the point is that we shall be with the Lord for all eternity. Whether that means being in heaven with Him or on a new heaven and new earth doesn’t matter, as long as I’m with Him.

Bona Fide Ministry (Podcast)

I’ve begun a podcast on SoundCloud so named as the title of this post suggests. Since I’m new to podcasting and running it all my own, I hope to have it on iTunes eventually. I’ve already tried Spotify, and it was unable to sync despite having given it the requested RSS link. Nevertheless, you likely couldn’t care less about all that, but I share it to tell you what I hope to do from here.

The podcast itself is just me talking about various aspects of ministry—the things you won’t learn in classes and that you can really only pick up from experience. Since I’ve learned that we ministers have a lot of shared experiences, I want to speak to those and try to encourage my fellow laborers in their ministries, especially considering the challenges we often face. If you find it helpful, I’d be grateful for a review and subscription. Thus far I’ve only recorded two podcasts (19–20 mins.), and they are:

  1. From Marine to Minister
  2. Dealing with the Chief Elder

The Heavenly Court (Divine Council)

While Satan and other rebellious angels have been hitherto described as having been cast from heaven, their expulsion was not altogether a banishment so that they would never again appear before God. Much to the contrary. They, Satan, at least, appeared to God in heaven’s court to give account, but not to regain any privilege they might have had beforehand. While the  Bible clearly depicts the fallen angels as having been reserved in chains until the judgment (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6), it’s important that I distinguish between fallen angels and their offspring as mentioned in a previous essay. The demons, or evil spirits, so it would seem, stood before God as accountable to Him too as we’ll see in 1 Kings 22 and one particular psalm.

This truth applicable to Satan is witnessed in a couple of passages from Job 1 & 2 and one from Zechariah 3. In these verses we read about Satan, in Job, having the ability to operate on earth while, in Zechariah, he accused Joshua, the High Priest of Israel. While it has been traditionally held that Satan was an adversary of God and that he was and is, he’s also an agent of God as we’ll see.

~

Beginning with Job’s passages (1:6–11; 2:1–6), the Hebrew wouldn’t initially lead us to believe that the particular character Satan, the Devil, is under question here. Rather, the Hebrew literally presents “the adversary” as opposed to the character we know as Satan or the Devil. The definite article before the term would indicate a function and not a proper name. The only time Satan appears as a proper name in the Hebrew Bible is in 1 Chronicles 21:1. However, later Jewish and early Christian thinking identified the adversary here in Job as Satan, the Devil. This belief is stated in the pseudepigraphical writing, The Testament of Job, which was written around the turn of the era.

In Job, Satan appears as an agent of God who serves as a divine prosecuting attorney of those on earth. In each of the passages in Job, Satan enters heaven’s court to account to God. Nevertheless, he is still capable of operating on earth too—where he had been cast at the primordial fall of angels. The authority of the world appears to have been well in his hands, as Luke 4:6 records. He is also the “god of this age” who blinds the minds of people to keep them from obeying the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4; cf. Ephesians 2:2), though such good news was non-existent in Job’s day as we understand it now. However, New Testament writers help us understand how Satan has operated on the earth in these passages.

Satan believed Job was protected by God, and God’s protection enabled Job to live blamelessly. Yet, when Satan issues the challenge to God over Job, he is obliged. Yet, what we also witness is that Satan is only able to operate within God’s sovereignty. We must dispel the notion that a dualistic framework exists. Satan is not equal to God in power and function, but was created by God and, therefore, is subordinate to Him though he is rebellious. In Job 1:12, God permits Satan to inflict Job’s possessions and family, but He restrains Satan from touching Job himself. God restrains Satan once again in their second negotiation in Job 2:6. There, Satan could personally afflict Job, but he couldn’t take his life. This same permissive power that God holds over Satan is witnessed in Luke 22:31 when Jesus told Peter that Satan had requested to sift him as wheat. That Satan might have wanted to take Job’s life but was prohibited from doing so—the same might be suggested as applicable to Peter too—may point to the reality that his very name might have invoked the idea of a divine executioner according to how the Hebrew was understood.[1]

When we fast forward centuries later, Satan appears in Zechariah 3:1–5 to accuse Joshua. The term “oppose” appears in the NKJV, but the Hebrew term translated as “oppose” is Satan. Literally, the text reads that the adversary opposed (“accused”) him. At the time of this writing, the Jews had returned to the Promised Land and begun rebuilding the altar when they were interrupted from northern aggressors. For nearly twenty years, the construction site of the Temple sat dormant until God sent Zechariah and Haggai to urge the people to get on with the work. We might imagine that the Jews were discouraged from doing God’s work, but in this scene, Satan appears before God, akin to Job, aside from the Angel of the LORD. Here he, once more, is a member of the heavenly court and accuses the High Priest. In addition to Israel’s discouragement, the heavenly prosecutor is ready to execute Joshua or call down God’s divine wrath upon him, but God removes Joshua’s sins symbolized by the filthy garments. Satan is no longer able to accuse (“oppose”) Joshua because God gave him garments of salvation (cf. Isaiah 61:10).

~

During the reign of King Ahab of Israel, God determined the time had arrived to put Ahab to death. In a scene unlike most in the Bible, the prophet Micaiah reveals a vision of heaven to the king. Micaiah saw God surrounded by the hosts of heaven, and at God’s request, a deceiving spirit came forth when God had asked who would entice Ahab to go up so that he would fall at Ramoth Gilead. This particular spirit would put a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets so that they would entice him to go up and, therefore, fall as God had willed (1 Kings 22:19–23).

Origen believed that the lying spirit mentioned here was one of the demons and that the hosts of heaven included good as well as bad angels, or spirits (cf. Hebrews 1:14). Since the Devil is the father of lies, so contended Origen, these lying spirits did his bidding in heaven’s court, but at God’s behest given the Creator’s sovereignty over all creation (Comm. John 20.257–62). Given the belief we have in God’s sovereignty, even He is able to use what’s bad for His own purpose—a case in point being the messenger of Satan that afflicted Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)—but this raises a moral dilemma for some.

Keeping with this theme, God later promised to answer a person according to their heart’s inclination. Were one to prefer idols, God, when inquired of by them, would answer the petitioner according to the multitude of their idols and heart’s desire (Ezekiel 14:4–5). It isn’t so much that God wants to use liars and is a liar Himself, but that if a person’s heart is set to such, He’ll answer them according to such if they inquire of Him. The Hebrew used in 1 Kings 22 seems rather indicative of this meaning.[2] Therefore, the burden of responsibility lies upon the free will of humanity as to how they inquire of the Lord and where their heart is when they do so. We might conclude that it is for this reason, that of God’s sovereignty, that both good and evil are attributed to Him (cf. 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Kings 22; et. al.).

~

Psalm 82 in the Hebrew Bible also depicts a divine council scene akin to Job and 1 Kings. However, this particular psalm has not been without its interpretive difficulties.[3] Some have suggested this is a council of angels or heavenly beings. Ancient literature from the Near East corroborates a commonly held belief in the notion of a divine assembly or council, albeit in a polytheistic paradigm. Mesopotamian and Ugaritic texts demonstrate this as having been a common belief.

Others hold that this psalm spoke of earthly rulers whose authority was delineated from the divine (cf. Jeremiah 18:7–10). The latter interpretation seems fitting given the physical needs of inhabitants of the earth as mentioned in verses three and four as a form of social justice. Jesus also cited this verse in connection to human rulers when accused of blasphemy (John 10:34–35).

John Hilbur holds a synthesis of both views. In his notes on this psalm, he wrote that God rendered a verdict on heavenly beings who transgressed divine social order. This sounds akin to the sin of the fallen angels from Genesis 6:1–4. Hilbur goes on to state,

An important aspect of the ancient viewpoint here is that human rulers make decisions that mirror the actions of the “gods.” The term “gods” is used both of supernatural beings and human rulers as their agents … Therefore, divine retribution reaches into both the human and the heavenly realms in order to vindicate the victims of injustice and oppression.[4]

Adopting Hilbur’s statement further clarifies interpreting the two Satanic passages from Isaiah and Ezekiel mentioned in a previous essay as regarding Satan’s fall. While in their original context, they spoke of earthly rulers, the greater truth applied to the Devil. As for this psalm, it seemingly speaks of both human and divine agents, and Hilbur’s statement qualifies why it appears to do just that.

~

When considering the court of heaven, the Bible uses several terms for celestial beings: seraphim, cherubim, choirs, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, sons of God, ministers, servants, hosts, watchers, angels and holy ones. Some of these definitions may overlap, and we’ve already mentioned cherubim in the first essay. Peter Kreeft notes the function of each order, or “choir,” of angel according to how Scripture and tradition bear them witness in the Roman Catholic Church.

Seraphim—a term that means “fiery ones”—are believed to be the highest choir who comprehend God with maximum clarity, and given their proximity to God as depicted in Isaiah 6:1–7, this may well be true. Next would be cherubim—a term that means “fullness of wisdom.” Thrones refer to God’s judicial powers, dominions and powers are a part of God’s providential plan, principalities oversee earthly governments, and archangels carry God’s message to humans.[5] While the Bible only mentions Michael as an archangel, extra-biblical literature names several other angels as archangels.

While Satan is (was?) a member of heaven’s court, something reassuring happened once Christ was crucified and resurrected. In John’s Revelation, a loud voice exclaimed,

Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time. (Revelation 12:10–12)

While I wish I had all the wisdom to unpack what these two verses mean, I fear that I do not. What I do believe is that unlike in Zechariah 3:1–5 where Satan accused Joshua, he no longer is able to step before God as a divine accuser because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Whether or not he still reports in heaven among the divine council is unknown, but this passage would seem to suggest that he no longer has that access since Christ’s resurrection and the kingdom of God is now working on earth.

 It is the sacred assembly where we worship God, so we read, that angels look into (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:101 Timothy 5:21). There the mysteries of the gospel are proclaimed—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12). By our worship, we not only return to God the obeisance due to Him but proclaim His wisdom to all in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10). We often view worship as something we do for God, and that it is, but it’s also something we do for God by our very rituals that declare the wisdom of God to those in the heavenly places.


[1] Ryan E. Stokes, “Satan, YHWH’s Executioner,” JBL 133, no. 2 (2014): 251–70.

[2] See R. W. L. Moberly, “Does God Lie to His Prophets? The Story of Micaiah ben Imlah as a Test Case,” Harvard Theological Review 96, no. 1 (2003): 1–23; Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “Does God Deceive?” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (Jan–Mar 1998): 11–28.

 [3] See James M. Trotter, “Death of the אלהים in Psalm 82,” JBL 131, no. 2 (2012): 221–39.

[4] John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 389.

[5] Peter Kreeft, Angels (And Demons): What Do We Really Know About Them? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press [Kindle Edition], 1995), loc. 813–27.

Rebellious Angels & Demons

The other angels who joined Satan in rebellion were, just as he was, expelled from heaven. What these angels did next in their outcast status changed the course of events that eventually birthed demons. The text used to determine this in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity was Genesis 6:1–4.

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

This passage spoke to the ancient audience of the comingling between divine and earthly figures—something that violated God’s creative purposes and was thus sinful.

The Hebrew linguist, Robert Alter, notes that this passage, in following the rejection by God of the intermingling of divine angels and humans, looks back at humanity’s partaking from the tree of life. Back in Genesis 3:22 when God stated that man had become like one of the heavenly entourage—so Alter suggests by the first-person plural “Us”—the mixing of the divine and earthly by eating from the tree of life was a violation of God’s created order and purpose. The earthly was to have remained such while the heavenly was to have remained as such. God’s response, so states Alter was to limit human life thus, again, affirming human mortality in specifically quantitative terms.[1] Of course, differing views could be cited that would disagree with Alter and those who share his view on this passage. Nevertheless, since our goal here is to understand the material as the earliest Christians would have, we look to sources in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity to decipher how they might have concluded as they did.

The early Christians used as their Old Testament Scriptures, the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament. A reading of Old Testament citations in the New Testament demonstrates that they readily cited from the Septuagint as Scripture.[2] In the Septuagint, this passage has in the place of “sons of God,” “angels” in Genesis 6:2. In place of Nephilim (“fallen ones”), the Septuagint has “Giants” in Genesis 6:4. Therefore, the Old Testament of the early church believed this passage to speak regarding fallen angels who had copulated with women and produced as offspring a race of Giants. Because of the commingling of earthly and divine beings, God would eventually judge the earth and destroy it by the flood due to the subsequent corruption that arose on the earth because of the intermingling of angels and humans.

However, if God were to destroy all except for Noah and his family by flood, one might assume that the offspring of angels and women (Giants) as a whole would be destroyed and that would be an end to the matter. The case is, as will be shown, that the disembodied spirits of the offspring (Giants) produced by angels and women became what we regard today as “demons.” These demons, as seen in the New Testament, often sought to possess bodies to once more enjoy the pleasures of the flesh that brought God’s judgment on the earth in the days of Noah.[3] Furthermore, we also read about Giants post-flood (Numbers 13:33) which may lead us to believe that Noah and his family were among the race or that some survived that was not highlighted by the Bible.[4] Whatever the conclusion may be as to their post-flood survival is conjecture, but the disembodied spirits were sort of left to wonder aimlessly after the Giants died in flood. Hence they sought to inhabit bodies as we see in the New Testament, and this might be related to what Jesus had to say in Luke 11:24–26.

Origen interpreted Jesus’ words in the passage from Luke to mean that if we serve God and are faithful to Him, He lives in us. However, if we give ourselves to sectarianism and the flesh, evil spirits take up residence in our bodies. Origen invoked the Pauline passage referring to the body as the Temple of God and noted that the Temple has no fellowship with idols. For Origen, he seemed to imply that either Christ lives in us, or an evil spirit has taken up residence (Hom. Exod. 8.4). Once we obey the gospel, the evil spirit(s) are purged so that the Holy Spirit may live within us and give life to our bodies, but if we return to sinful ways, we grieve the Holy Spirit so that He abandons our bodies and even more evil spirits come to dwell in us. This would seem to be how Origen understood the matter.

~

When one looks to 2 Peter 2:4–5, we note the mention of disobedient angels immediately before reading about the flood of the ancient world. I might mention that the Greek term translated as “hell” in 2 Peter 2:4 is only used here in all of the New Testament. It is not the term Jesus used in the Gospels when He spoke about hell (gehenna). The term used in 2 Peter is Tartarus. Those familiar with Greek mythology will know that this place was where divine figures were sent, and it was depicted in Greek writings, as in 2 Peter, as a prison. In Greek mythology, the Titans—gods of old—were sent to this deepest part of the underworld—deeper even than Hades. It may very well be that the Titans of Greek mythology had their underpinnings in the story of the rebellious angels who produced giants in Genesis 6.

What’s peculiar to note is that the author of 2 Peter mentions that these angels are sent to hell to be reserved for judgment, but if this is so, how do demons work in creation if they’re entrapped until judgment? Cyril of Alexandria, the fifth-century patriarch, wrote that those particular angels sent to hell were the leaders of the demons (Catena), but he appears to be the only one who made this precise distinction. The Giants were the offspring of rebellious angels, and the Giants’ disembodied spirits as a result of the flood became what we call demons as already mentioned. The sons of God mentioned in Genesis 6 were the leaders of this rebellion. They would be those 2 Peter intended to communicate as who were reserved in chains in hell until the judgment.

A complementing passage to 2 Peter 2:4 is Jude 1:6. Jude states pretty much the same as 2 Peter, but one variation exists that seems to be of interest. Jude wrote that the angels did not keep their “proper domain” (NKJV). The term used here for “domain” (archen) is used elsewhere of angels in a similar vain. Paul wrote that we wrestled against “principalities” (Ephesians 6:12), the same word used here and translated “principalities” again in Romans 8:38. In 1 Corinthians 15:24, the term is used by Paul and translated as “rule,” and in each of these contexts, celestial beings are the subjects.

When we reflect back on Genesis 6, the commingling of angels and mortals essentially amount to 2 Peter’s mention of the “angels who sinned,” and Jude informs us that this was done by angels leaving their “proper domain”—perhaps an innuendo referring to their intermingling with mortals. They had already rebelled and were cast from heaven, but rather than keep what remained of their angelic status, they mixed with the mortals, and the Bible allows for this interpretation because angels often appeared as humans. This same sin was what Eve had done in the sense that she sought to mix her mortality with the divinity found in the Tree of Life. In both cases, the sins of the demons and humanity amount to violating God’s created order via this intermingling of two spheres God intended to be separate on some level.

~

When we survey literature from around the time of the first century into which Christianity was born, both immediately before and after, we see a continuity of belief that the Genesis 6:1–4 narrative regarded angels copulating with mortal women. The Book of Enoch which has already been mentioned is perhaps the central text on this topic if only for the purpose that it is rather extensive in the treatment of fallen angels and seems to be the second earliest source behind the Septuagint. It was written sometime in the second century BC, and for nearly 500 years this text was unanimously popular.[5] In Epistle of Barnabas, written somewhere between the late first and early second centuries, the book of Enoch is treated as Scripture. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, among others, supported this text and used it, some of them ascribing it a status of Scripture. Even to this day, the Ethiopic Orthodox Church regards the Book of Enoch as canonical.

While we may not view the work as divinely inspired, we can certainly concede that it was influential to Second Temple Jews and the early church. The Book of Enoch is made up of several works that comprise the whole, and the Book of Watchers (3.1–2) follows the Septuagint in its lead in interpreting Genesis 6:1–4. The sin wasn’t only that angels commingled with women, but that they also, and their offspring, taught charms and enchantments among other bouts of unrighteousness.

Also in the Book of Watchers appears other angels who serve God and are named (e.g. Uriel, Raphael). These angels are preparing to wage war against the rebellious hosts who’ve violated God’s holy creation. Enoch was the prophet sent to communicate to the rebellious angels their crime and the sentence necessitated by it. “For from thenceforward they could not speak with Him nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned” (4.28; cf. 5.5). Of the offspring of the angels and women

And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble. They take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offenses. (5.28–30)

These evil spirits, demons, would eventually become idols that would lead the nations astray to sacrifice to the created elements (6.22; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:19–21).

The book of Jubilees, roughly written somewhere around 100 BC, read much like the Septuagint in identifying those who in Hebrew are “sons of God” as “angels” (5.1). Jubilees went on to say that God was upset with the angels whom He had sent upon the earth for their sin with women. Therefore, He was going to have them bound in the depths of the earth (5.6, 10), likely a reference to Tartarus, or corresponding to it, as contained in 2 Peter 2:4.

Philo was a first-century BC–AD Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt. When he evaluated the account from Genesis 6:1–4, he used a text that suggested that the sons of God were angels much like the Septuagint (De Gig. 6). In another of his works, Quaestiones et solutions in Genesim (1.92), he asked why giants were born from angels and women, which only corroborates the already mentioned interpretations of this passage as regarding angels copulating with women. Even Josephus, the Jewish historian living in the second half of the first century shared Philo’s belief. In his Antiquities of the Jews, he also identified the passage under question here as about fallen angels copulating with mortal women (1.3.1).

When we go into early Christianity, we must hold that the early Christians were aware of this belief and the sources from which I quoted in this section. Therefore, a continuity of belief is witnessed. The second-century bishop of Gaul, Irenaeus, held the same view of this passage as those before him (Adv. Haer. 4.36.4).

In his treatise On the Veiling of Virgins, Tertullian spent considerable time addressing Paul’s passage to the Corinthians about women wearing veils (1 Corinthians 11:2–16). Paul had mentioned the purpose of veiling oneself, among other reasons, for the sake of angels. Paul urged that the men not wear veils in this passage, while conversely urging the women to wear veils. Men wearing veils may have been connected to Roman religious life. For example, in the foundational epic of Rome, Virgil’s Aeneid, we read that the purpose of a man veiling his head was to preserve the omens of sacrifice. This also, we read, was to be bound to as a perpetual observance throughout time (Aen. 3.405–10). Since a man wore a veil in the first century, attention was drawn to the man himself while in Christian worship, attention should have been directed to the head of a man, namely, Christ.

When Tertullian turned to the Pauline passage to the Corinthians, he addressed the purpose of veiling for the sake of angels. According to him, the reason that it was for the sake of angels was due to the angelic lust of women that resulted in angels sinning. He interpreted the sons of God from Genesis 6:1–2. For a woman to veil herself for the angels’ sake was for her to avoid tempting the angels with her beauty lest more abandon their domain for the sake of copulating with women (Veiling 7). Tertullian used this same argument regarding women veiling their heads for the sake of angels in On Prayer 22.

Here on out, Tertullian interpreted “woman” rather than “wife” from 1 Corinthians 11. Some translations insert “wife” as the translation of gyne (ESV) while others use “woman” (NKJV). There is no Greek term for “wife” itself, but “wife” is usually translated whenever, in Greek, the woman is shown to be possessed by the man. An example of this would read, “She is the woman of him.” When phrased as such in Greek, “woman” would be translated as “wife” since she belongs to him. I realize that this sounds rather chauvinistic, but remember that women were the possessions of men, either of their fathers or their husbands, in Roman antiquity.

The reason that Tertullian understood gyne as “woman” as opposed to “wife” was so that it could encompass all women: mothers, daughters, wives, virgins, etc. Because he chose such an interpretation, women were to wear veils (in worship only?) as a symbol of authority on their heads (Veiling 8). He went on to write,

I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin-daughter … veil your head … Put on the panoply of modesty; surround yourself with the stockade of bashfulness; rear a rampart for your sex, which must neither allow your own eyes egress nor ingress to other people’s. Wear the full garb of woman, to preserve the standing of virgin. Belie somewhat of our inward consciousness, in order to exhibit the truth to God alone. (Veiling 16)

For Tertullian, his whole purpose of this treatise was to argue against custom and for truth. He saw this issue as a truth to God alone, and not a custom (Veiling 1–3). Tertullian went on to conclude his treatise on the matter by writing,

But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who, amid (the recital of) the Psalms, and at any mention of (the name of) God, continue uncovered; (who) even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness place a fringe, or a tuft, or any thread whatever, on the crown of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered? (Veiling 17)

John Chrysostom (ca. AD 347–409) concluded similarly to Tertullian in his 26th homily in 1 Corinthians.

Ephrem the Syrian (Gen. 6.3.1), a contemporary of John Chrysostom, as well as Augustine (City of God 15.23), did not interpret “sons of God” from Genesis 6:4 as angels. Rather, they believed them to have been the sons of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. However, they were not the first to posit this interpretation. A contemporary of Irenaeus, Julius Africanus believed the “sons of God” to have been the sons of Seth. Nevertheless, the church’s Bible, the Septuagint, as well as the Judaism of the New Testament held Genesis 6:1–4 to have been about angels and women.


[1] Alter, The Five Books of Moses, 38–39.

[2] See, for example, Law, When God Spoke Greek.

3] Loren T. Stuckenbruck, The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 15–16.

[4] Ibid., 4, 11.

[5] Jay Winter, The Complete Book of Enoch: Standard Version (Kindle Edition: Winter Publications, 2015), Loc. 55.

The Fall of Satan

Several theories exist to detail the origin and fall of Satan.[1] The one chosen here is that which I take to best agree with the testimony of the early church since Scripture has nearly nothing to say about it. Taking that position may cause some readers to not wholly agree with the conclusions given here. However, this essay, as with the whole work, seeks to understand the matter as the most ancient audience would have, and because of this paradigm, we’ll delve into pseudepigraphical as well as apocryphal (deuteron-canonical) literature. For the sake of the reader, allow me a bit of levity to explain what these two bodies of writing are so that the less-informed reader isn’t lost.

The Apocrypha (“hidden”) is a group of Jewish writings dating from 300 BC to AD 100. Orthodox Jews didn’t consider them to be canonical despite these books being included with Scripture. In the earliest codices (“books”) of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint, or LXX) that date to the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the Apocrypha is included, however. This may not necessarily mean that the Apocrypha was Scripture to the ancient church because when the Greek Old Testament was first produced in the third to second centuries BC, it was not included.[2] Moreover, these books do not appear in the earliest canonical lists of the Old Testament,[3] and when Jerome produced the Latin Bible in the late fourth-century, he didn’t include them. They were, however, translated into Latin and added after Jerome’s death.

The Apocrypha wasn’t added as Scripture until the Council of Trent in 1546, and at this time, they were declared to be “Divine Scripture” by the Catholic Church. At the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) they were declared to be “genuine parts of Scripture.” During this time, one might notice from the dates, the Protestant Reformation was underway and had been for some time. The Protestants adopted the same Old Testament canon that the Jews held and to which we hold today, and this likely was one reason these councils made their declarations.

Nevertheless, the New Testament writers demonstrate a familiarity with and usage of Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, and 2 Maccabees.[4] One may safely say that though these works weren’t considered Scripture, they were useful. Where we might identify at what point knowledge is divinely inspired and useful is a discussion worth having on its own, because Paul cited from pagan writings in his discourse in Athens and in writing to Titus. While Christians today think only of the sixty-six books of the Bible as worthy of the church’s attention, the early Christians were as well read in other writings that they used alongside Scripture as anything.

Not only does Scripture show a familiarity with the apocryphal, but it also demonstrates a knowledge of pseudepigraphical works— writings falsely ascribed to someone. The belief was that 1 Enoch came from the biblical Enoch we read about in Genesis 4:17–5:24. The “Son of Man” used of Christ in the Gospels as a divine title is interpreted as speaking of a divine character from how 1 Enoch employed the term of the divine messianic figure. Jude also cited this book (Jude 1:14–15), and when we read in Jude that the archangel Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses, Jude had taken this story from The Assumption of Moses.

Pseudepigraphy was not intended to deceive the reader. It was often given the name of a well-known person within the community of faith to honor the one whose name it bore. Sometimes, it was falsely named to show that the writer had been inspired by the name-bearer of the document. The only thing falsely attributed was the name of the work, but the content of the work often clarified subjects that were unclear, such as the one we study here in this work.

~

Regarding Satan’s origin and fall, first, from the Scriptures, Isaiah 14:12–15 has been interpreted from early centuries as a tale of the devil’s rebellion. From this passage, we comprehend why Satan is often referred to as “Lucifer” despite Isaiah stating that he wrote of the king of Babylon. In the first-half of the third century, Origen, while acknowledging that the context of Isaiah’s passage referred to the Babylonian king, stated that no human being is ever said to have fallen from heaven as Isaiah recorded (On First Principles 4.3.9). From this and other points, Origen suggested that the person under discussion could not have been exclusively the king of Babylon. This person was Satan, and Origen linked Isaiah’s “fallen from heaven” reference to what Christ had said in Luke’s Gospel, “Behold, I see Satan fallen from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18).[5] In Isaiah’s passage, Origen saw a deeper meaning than the original context of the verses, which early Christians were often given to doing (e.g. Matthew’s Gospel). The allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures is seen in Origen and other early Christian writers, and one can also note that it didn’t originate with Christian interpreters but is also seen in the writings of the Jewish philosopher, Philo (ca. 25 BC–AD 50).

The devil, while evil, was just like all other created beings whether celestial or carnal. He was capable of good only because the created beings such as angels and man had the ability to choose to do well, but Satan hadn’t. He had freedom of will, but would not recognize good and virtue, but chose evil. Origen wrote that Satan had once walked in God’s paradise between the cherubim. Therefore, once upon a time, he suggests, Satan was good (On First Principles 1.8.3).[6] Origen wrote that he had “adduced from the prophets” this truth. Given his reference to the garden (“Paradise”) and to cherubim, Origen had in mind Ezekiel 28:11–15 (cf. On First Principles 1.5.4). We must also hold that since Origen saw a greater truth in Isaiah’s passage that he’d also have used the same hermeneutic in the Ezekiel passage.

The verse in Ezekiel was also a passage that early church theologians held to be descriptive of Satan’s fall.[7] Writing in the mid-fourth-century, Cyril of Jerusalem read Ezekiel’s passage demonstrated that Satan was once an archangel[8] based on the description of the figure Ezekiel gave. Though an archangel, he became “Satan” by becoming God’s adversary—Satan meaning “adversary” (Cat. Lect. 2.4). Toward the close of the fourth century, Ambrose of Milan employed the Ezekiel passage to communicate Satan’s origin as being in Eden, God’s garden. Despite Ezekiel clearly speaking about the king of Tyre, Ambrose believed that the king of Tyre stood for the devil (On Paradise 2.9). Before the first quarter of the fifth century, Jerome and Augustine also saw Satan in Ezekiel’s verses.[9]

When a more modern hermeneutic is used, such as the historical-critical method, examining both Isaiah’s and Ezekiel’s verses would utterly dismiss the ancient Christian interpretation held of these two passages as speaking about Satan. Nevertheless, the ancient church saw in these verses a greater truth than the immediate context, and that was that Satan was once sinless but gave himself over to vanity and pride. From these two prophets and the interpretations assigned to their passages, Satan was a) an archangel, b) blameless, c) in Eden from creation, and d) eventually rebelled.

The name Lucifer literally means “day star,” and the Scriptures demonstrate that stars were often communicated to have been angels in certain contexts (Job 38:7; Revelation 12:3–4). Satan’s station was exalted and high, but he relinquished it when he sinned. Isaiah and Ezekiel, through an ancient church perspective, inform us that he did, in fact, fall and was cast from heaven. We might be prone to think that his only sin here given these two prophets’ descriptions was pride. However, there is more to the story, and we understand what birthed his pride.

~

The earliest source with a clue to Satan’s fall is not so much Isaiah or Ezekiel. What I’ve presented above are interpretations of those two passages that only go back as early as Tertullian, around AD 200 or so. However, the interpretations of the satanic Isaiah and Ezekiel passages only go back that far despite the actual writings themselves occurring much earlier by some 700–900 years. Actual, explicit references to Satan’s fall derive from apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings.

Written in the first century BC, the Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal work the early church found rather useful as a foundation for Christian theology. In this work, we read that God created man in His own image—an image defined in this work as one of immortality and eternity. However, death came into the world because the devil envied man, and the angels aligned with the devil tempt humanity as a consequence (Wisd. Sol. 2.23–24). Why precisely did Satan envy man? The answer to this question was given in the writing, The Life of Adam and Eve.

Written in the first century AD, Life of Adam and Eve details the first humans’ life after being cast from Eden until their deaths. In this work, Satan spoke to Adam and told him that when God created humanity in His image and likeness, Michael the archangel beckoned him and all other angels to worship humanity since they bore the very image and likeness of God. It wasn’t that man was to be worshiped, but the image of God in man was if that makes sense. Satan resisted worshipping Adam. He didn’t want to worship him because Adam was inferior and younger than Satan in the creation order and ranking. If anything, Satan believed Adam should worship him since he had existed before man was created. As other angels heard Satan’s reasoning, they joined him and refused to worship the image and likeness of God represented in humanity. It’s at this point that Satan said that he’d set his seat above the stars of heaven and would be like God—verbiage reminiscent of Isaiah’s passage. At this point, God banished Satan and his followers, other rebellious angels, from heaven and they were cast to earth. So we read of this contention,

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:7–9)

This may very well line up with what Christ had told His seventy disciples after they returned from their mission, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). The story goes on, and Satan says that because of being cast from God’s presence, he decided to entrap Eve. He had caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from the Garden just as he had been driven from his glory in heaven (Adam and Eve 13–16). The early church taught this as the origin and fall of Satan as well.[10]

While pride is often cited as the devil’s sin, we must conclude that the source of his pride was that he believed himself to have been better than humanity. His sense of pride led him to rebel and attempt to usurp the highness of God for himself. This made sense when John wrote that the devil has sinned from the beginning (1 John 3:8). We might assume that John’s “beginning” was meant to be understood as our creation and not so much the Devils. Since our beginning, he sinned, and pride is the trap into which he fell and that we ought also to be careful to avoid. Paul wrote to Timothy that a bishop ought not to be a novice lest with pride he falls into the same condemnation as the devil (1 Timothy 3:6). Therefore, pride over our having been created in the image and likeness of God and the esteem it brought to the hosts of heaven led the devil to be who we know him to be. Since he no longer enjoyed the glory of his angelic status, he turned next to his mission of pursuing humanity to destroy us as well.

~

Now downcast from heaven, Satan appears as a serpent to Eve. We mustn’t think of this serpent as a snake as we know it. This particular serpent, as a consequence of beguiling Eve, was cursed to go on its belly and eat the dust (Genesis 3:14) which leads us to believe that beforehand the serpent was capable of being upright, maybe even possessing legs. In the Ancient Near East, serpents were often representative of royalty or divinity, sometimes the two being inseparable. They also were viewed then as creatures of wisdom (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3).

What’s also possible is that the sort of serpent that Satan appeared as may have been an angelic creature.[11] Linguistically, the Hebrew term translated in Genesis 3:1 as “serpent” and in Isaiah 6:1 as Seraphim—angelic creatures in God’s heavenly court—are synonymous (cf. Numbers 21:6–9; Isaiah 14:29; 30:6).[12] We read the Christian belief that Satan would transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and this may very well be what he did to deceive humanity.[13] Whatever he did, and however he appeared, this serpent is identified by early Christian teaching as Satan, the devil (Revelation 12:9). However, he didn’t work alone. No, he had help, the help of his own angels.


[1] See chapter two of Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

[2] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, new ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 200.

[3] Josephus, Contra Apion 1.8; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.26.14.

[4] Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 87.

[5] On First Principles 1.5.5; cf. Augustine, Explanations of the Psalms 39.18; Christian Instruction 3.37. See, also, the discussion in Jon Carman, “The Falling Star and the Rising Son: Luke 10:17–24 and Second Temple ‘Satan’ Traditions,” Stone-Campbell Journal 17, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 221–31.

[6] Irenaeus also held that Satan was a fallen angel and once good (On Apostolic Preaching 16–17).

[7] The earliest citation linking the Ezekiel passage to Satan’s fall is from Tertullian who flourished around AD 200 (Against Marcion 2.10).

[8] Gregory the Great agrees that the angel under discussion here is an archangel (Gospel Homilies 34).

[9] Jerome, Homilies on Psalms 14; Augustine, City of God 11.15. Augustine’s passage here includes Isaiah’s mentioned above, and he also gave the point that the devil once existed without sin until he rebelled against God.

[10] Irenaeus, On Apostolic Preaching 16; Cyprian of Carthage, Treatises 10.

[11] Miller, Lifted By Angels, 30–31.

[12] Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 789.

[13] Cf. Augustine, City of God 2.26; 19.9.

We Shall Be Like Angels in the Resurrection

The Sadducees came to Jesus with a question. Since they did not believe in the resurrection, so Matthew informs us (Matthew 22:23), they posed a query that might make believing in the resurrection seem ridiculous, at least from their point of view. This is often how hypotheticals are used—to make a held to belief appear absurd. Employing the Law of Moses, they cited that if a man died having produced no offspring with his wife, then his next surviving brother was to take her as his wife and produce children for the deceased brother (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5–10). As the story went, the Sadducees suggested that several brothers died having produced no offspring with this woman. She wound up having married all seven of the brothers and yet produced no children with any of them. In the resurrection, they asked, whose wife would she be since she’d been married to all seven of them at one point or another? Jesus answered that they neither understood the Scriptures nor the power of God. In the resurrection, Christ stated, the woman and the brothers neither marry nor are given in marriage because they “are like the angels of God” (Matthew 22:30 NKJV)—something else the Sadducees didn’t think existed (cf. Acts 23:8). This story that Matthew gave us gives us a glimpse of how Christians will be like in heaven, but also insight into the nature of angels. Therefore, these celestial brethren of ours whom we shall be like in the resurrection provoke our curiosity if for no other reason than we shall be like them.[1]

Origen, the third-century theologian, wrote that becoming like the angels meant having ethereal and brilliant bodies.[2] Since this is how we will be, one might wonder what distinguishes us from angels now aside from our bodies being of the flesh while their bodies are described as different. We know that they are spirits (cf Hebrews 1:14), as is God (John 4:24), but vital to understanding the answer to this question is to look at the Incarnation of Christ. The Incarnation is a doctrine that teaches that Jesus existed as God but took on flesh when born of the Virgin Mary (cf. Philippians 2:5–8).

In the Incarnation, Christ was made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7–9). Since Christ’s Incarnation made Him as we are, and He was lower than the angels, this can only mean that we are as well. Our resurrection, however, elevates us when we’re granted spiritual bodies (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35–49) similar to angels; hence, we will no longer be given in marriage. Whether or not we shall be equal to or greater than angels is not entirely clear. The redeemed may say that if any advantage is given to us, it would be that we exist in God’s image and also could obtain mercy whereas the same isn’t said regarding angels. Their lot appears to be fixed, and no scheme of redemption exists for them.

Does this mean that we shall be asexual; that is, without sexual distinction? Whenever angels are referred to in the Bible, masculine pronouns are used to refer to them. Moreover, the term translated as “angel” from Greek is masculine itself, and add to this that the only named angels in Scripture have male names (e.g. Michael, Gabriel). Gregory of Nyssa, the fourth-century theologian, and bishop, wrote in On the Making of Man that the distinguishing of sexes was the result of God’s foreknowing that humanity would sin. God created two sexes so that through procreation, Christ would appear on earth to die for humanity. Therefore, in Christ, Gregory contended, humanity was once again united so that there was no male nor female distinction (cf. Galatians 3:28).[3] Hence there not being a need for marriage in the resurrection.

Augustine, fifth-century bishop and theologian, and Thomas Aquinas, thirteenth-century priest, taught that we would retain our sexual distinctions, but that there would be no exercise of the sexual function. Aquinas stated that food and sex were a part of the natural person, but since we will not be natural but spiritual in the resurrection, the need for sustenance and procreation will no longer exist.[4] This might also imply that marriage, as understood in the ancient church, was for procreation, but that is another study for another time.

Nevertheless, because we shall receive glorified bodies, we mustn’t think too little of how we now appear in the flesh. Since the flesh is often associated with sinfulness, we must recall that God did not intend it to be so. After all, humans are created in the image of God and according to His likeness (Genesis 1:27)—a fact that distinguishes us from angels and that, in extra-biblical literature, became a point of envy in Satan’s mind that led to his rebellion.[5] If the flesh were so horrible, I doubt God the Father would have Incarnated God the Son. Jesus shows us how we are to live in the flesh and so uphold the dignity of God’s image. Gregory of Nyssa, using Trinitarian theology, wrote

The Only-begotten God made man in the image of God, we should in no wise distinguish the Godhead of the Father and the Son, since Holy Scripture gives to each equally the name of God, to Him Who made man [Father], and to Him [Son] in whose image [Father] he [the Son] was made. (On the Making of Man 16.5)

While the flesh is referred to as lower than the angels, the flesh is not without its benefits. In Christ, humanity sees God emptying Himself to take on flesh, to bear His own image—the one He created—in the Person of His Son. According to many early Christian theologians, being an image-bearer of God amounted to be capable of exercising reason, and striving to become more like God was recovering the likeness of God. This meant that we were created to embody God’s qualities and do His work, just as angels do His work. Christ is the measure of bearing God’s image for us, and while He came lower than angels, He performed a deed in the flesh beyond the high standing of the angels so that Christ received all authority not only on the earth but in heaven too (Matthew 28:18).

~

“Angel” is a term translated from both Hebrew and Greek that can be defined as “messenger.” Throughout the Old Testament, this is true, and the medium of communicating God’s messages often appears as manifestations or dreams. Angels frequently appeared in human form and delivered messages to God’s people, and they also appeared in a sort of glorified form as well so that when people saw them, they became fearful. When we come to the New Testament, angels continued to communicate the things of God to humanity. This was so much a reality that Paul urged the Galatians to not receive a Gospel contrary to the one he gave to them even if delivered by an angel (Galatians 1:8) since even then fallen angels sought to lead the faithful astray. Angels had, after all, announced Christ’s conception (Luke 1:26–38), birth (Luke 2:9–15), resurrection (Matthew 28:5–7), and ascension (Acts 1:9–11). Their function as messengers of God is simply put, “God sends his angels to live among us and lift our fallen humanity toward Christ.”[6] This, we see from the Bible, they did.

Understanding their function as messengers, despite their sometimes glorified appearance, urge us to avoid worshipping them—something humans are prohibited from doing, but compelled by the angel’s appearance at times to do (cf. Revelation 22:9). Scripture gives enough information about them so that we can have a decent understanding of them. Keep in mind, however, that Scripture’s purpose isn’t so much to give us an excursus about angels, but to inform us about ourselves and God’s plan for humanity. A part of God’s plan for humanity involves angelic interaction with and on behalf of humans.

These beings, we’re told, are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14; cf. Psalm 34:7; Matthew 18:10).[7] They were created, in part, for this purpose. That they were created appears in a psalm:

Praise the LORD! …

Praise Him, all His angels;

Praise Him, all His hosts! …

Let them praise the name of the LORD,

For He commanded and they were created. (Psalm 148:1–5)

That they were created is emphatically stated in this psalm that is one of the most majestic of the psalms. The progression of Psalm 148 begins with the heavens and celestial beings and goes on to earth and humanity. Here, all created beings are urged to praise the God who creates, and among His creation are the celestial beings.[8]

The creation of angels had occurred before the earth was created in this psalm, and it is elsewhere reflected since the angels rejoiced when the foundations of the earth were laid (Job 38:4–7). We discover that God created angels, and when He decided to create the earth, they were present to rejoice at His creative powers. However, we mustn’t think that their reason for existing is solely for humanity, though that is one of their functions—to minister to those who will be saved. They also have divine functions towards God absent any human consideration.

Alongside their ministering function to heirs of salvation, they are also depicted as a chorus of singers praising God and holding Him in reverence (Psalm 89:5–8). Reading Psalm 89, the language of the psalm suggests that angelic creatures, and not humans, are the subject of these verses. Even among those of heaven, God is depicted as superior to the hosts despite the language of this psalm referring to these creatures as “holy”—a detail true of God as well. This tells us not only of their function in some regard but also of their character. These holy ones praise and revere God—something we humans can learn from our angelic brethren. If they are holy and praise and revere God, how much more so should we?

Angels were often depicted as gods in passages of the Hebrew Bible. In Genesis 6:2; Psalm 29:1; and Job 1:6, the Hebrew phrase is translated as “sons of God,” but it could be rendered as “gods.”[9] In Psalm 82:1, 6, “gods” is translated and accurately represented. It isn’t that they were gods as we might think of Greco-Roman gods or any other polytheistic civilization, but that they constituted a heavenly council, or court, that surrounded God. This will be discussed later on. However, here too they praise God. Interesting from the latter passage I mention is that God and gods are the same words in Hebrew, Elohim. What makes the distinction between “God” versus “gods” are the personal pronouns used of “God” our Father (e.g. “He,” “I”) while of “gods” there appears the plural “you” in verses two and six of Psalm 82.

~

Among the hosts in the heavenly court are cherubim—a caste of angels known for attending to God (Psalm 18:10; 99:1). Their appearance is akin to that of griffins and sphinxes, to give a point of reference, and are unlike the round-faced babes depicted in Renaissance art. These creatures were awesome to behold, as Ezekiel suggested. Ezekiel’s four living creatures in chapter one of his prophecy are later identified as cherubim.[10] The appearance and presence of cherubim were to, among their other functions, designate sacred space.[11] When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, cherubim were placed at the east of the garden to turn people away and guard the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). The point becomes clear that the Garden of Eden was a sacred space because God was there and, before sin, had full communion with humanity. After humanity’s fall into sin, Adam and Eve were driven from the sacred space thus designated by the cherubim guarding it with a fiery sword.

The tree of life that we read was in Eden is depicted as in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). This paradise is only mentioned three times in the New Testament, each of which suggests it to be a place where the faithful shall go (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:2–4). Heaven,[12] therefore, is a sacred space, and the tabernacle and temple were also sacred spaces as we read in Scripture that cherubim were embroidered on the veil and curtains within the latter two places (Exodus 26:1, 31). This is also not to mention that the Ark of the Covenant had cherubim on each side facing inward over the Holy Seat, where God descended and sat like a king upon a throne (Exodus 25:18–22).

Eden, the tabernacle, and the temple were meant to convey to humanity where God was present. In Eden, humanity had fellowship with God but was driven out and the Garden protected by cherubim. In the tabernacle and temple, cherubim appear there too, but only a select few of humanity were permitted to enter (i.e. priests) where the cherubs guarded due to their having been anointed and chosen for such. In the New Creation, the church (1 Corinthians 3:16) and individual Christians (1 Corinthians 6:19) are the temples, literally the “holy of holies” in Greek, where God resides through His Spirit. We, through Christ, are but one step closer to being as the cherubim have always been.

~

Becoming like the angels in the resurrection doesn’t only entail just going to heaven because there’s an entirely different side to the story of angels. Some, like the cherubim and seraphim, remained loyal to God in doing His work as all created beings should. Others, however, did not remain faithful to the purpose for which they were created. As humanity, we stand on the cusp of either being as the cherubim and other angels, or the Devil and his angels. In Matthew 25:41, Christ will say to the cursed, “Depart from Me … into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Here we understand that the eternal fire of damnation was not prepared for humans, but the rebellious of the heavenly hosts. On the other hand, Christ earlier had said to the blessed, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). The eternal fire was created for the devil and his angels, and those who go there with them, do so because they imputed it to themselves.[13] God’s intention for humanity was a kingdom prepared before He created the world, a place where He shares communion with His creation.

To be like the angels in the resurrection amounts to a few traits. First, we will be in God’s presence. There is perhaps no greater depiction of heaven than that. While hell is not necessarily the absence of God’s presence, because His presence will still be there as Creator of all things that exist, it will be another aspect of His presence—divine justice. Second, the flesh will no longer drive us by its desires for pleasure and gratification. Food and sex will no longer be required. The latter of the two is one of the largest reasons for sin, though at the root of all sin is selfishness. Selfishness, the desire to please one’s self above all, leads to a multitude of sins, but in our spiritual bodies, I might argue since we attempt to condition ourselves through our fleshly bodies, will be the absence of such desires and urges. The brutish nature will be no more. Finally, though more could be said on this point, we shall join the angels in designating the sacred space of God among whom we may count ourselves holy because of Him. The flesh often reminds us of our sinful natures, but the spiritual will permit us to be the holiness God poured out to the world through Christ.


[1] See N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 38.

[2] Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14–28 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 153.

[3] Another point to add to this was the ancient Christian belief in the story of Genesis 6 that angels appeared on earth to take wives for themselves—something that will be discussed in another essay.

[4] Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology: Life in the Spirit, vol. 3 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 408–09.

[5] Cf. Wisdom of Solomon 2.23–24; Irenaeus, On Apostolic Preaching 1.1.16; Life of Adam and Eve 5, 18. More will be said on this point in a forthcoming essay.

[6] Joel J. Miller, Lifted By Angels: The Presence and Power of our Heavenly Guides and Guardians (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012), 26.

[7] The notion of guardian angels will appear later on.

[8] Robert Alter, trans., The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), 509.

[9] Benjamin Sommer, “Angels in the Hebrew Bible”, n.p. [cited 10 Feb 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/passages/related-articles/angels-in-the-hebrew-bible.

[10] A note for the reader: a cherub is a single angel while cherubim are many. The suffix “im” in Hebrew indicates plurality.

[11] Daniel Bodi, Ezekiel, in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 4, John H. Walton, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 426.

[12] Heaven and paradise are held by some to be the same place while others hold them to be two separate places. As two separate places, heaven is where God reigns, but paradise is the bosom of Abraham as mentioned in Luke 16:22—a place where the angels carried Lazarus. While our purposes here aren’t to wade into a defense or rebuttal of either position, not because I don’t have a view, I only mention this to the reader in the event they might wonder if I’m aware of such.

[13] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew 79.2.

Book Review: The Bible and the University

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The Bible and the University. Edited by David Lyle Jeffrey and C. Stephen Evans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, 328 pp., $34.99, hardcover.

The modern university would be unrecognizable to scholars from the Renaissance, at least, and to those who preceded them. The key distinguishing difference between the academy then versus now was the segregation of the Bible from all other disciplines when it used to enjoy the pinnacle of all learning. In the esteem of old university mindsets, the Bible stood at the forefront of learning while it now appears as a department that receives little attention save for those who occupy chairs within today. Those scholars of years past who lived when all other disciplines were useful for understanding the divine wisdom in the Sacred Scriptures would shake their heads in disbelief and shame because of this minimization. Furthermore, today academics are urged to leave their faith at the door and evaluate the Bible only through a critical purview while our scholarly forefathers would not have dared handle the divine wisdom sans faith. God’s Holy Bible has lost its pedestal and is among the archives in comparison.

In the final of a series on Scripture and Hermeneutics by Zondervan, David Lyle Jeffrey introduced this work by reminding the audience of the history the Bible once enjoyed in the academy as the matron of all studies. He not only deconstructed the recent history of academics viewing biblical research in a purely academic method, but he also humbly acknowledged their contributions to biblical studies via critical engagement with the text of the Bible. Nevertheless, he reminded those who urged others to abandon the faith when entering into scholarly pursuits just how men of faith in the Renaissance defined and developed their disciplines (e.g. textual criticism). Jeffrey’s primary focus is the liberal arts and the history they served not only to the church but also the laity. Nevertheless, liberal studies, he reminds the reader, were such because churchmen saw the value of all other sources of knowledge as they aided a student in understanding the whole of God’s knowledge.

From the introduction onward, different scholars weigh in on the Bible’s impact on other studies and vice versa. As befitting their expertise, they show the value of the Bible to their disciplines — some of which may be secular when evaluated. Central to most chapters is the influence philosophy has had not only as a conduit through which to understand God’s wisdom in the Bible, but also its service to theology. The work mostly speaks to new assessments of the academy and the Bible’s value for the variety of disciplines that it used to serve in history where secular knowledge met sacred knowledge. The authors are unanimous in that the Sacred Writ should still be foundational to all sources of learning because in them is a revelation from heaven rather than the ruminations of men.

At a depth of this work is the need for faithful, professing Christians to become scholars in secular disciplines so that they can harmonize sacred wisdom with secular knowledge or practice. What often happens in Christian universities is that faculty exemplifying scholarly knowledge with confessional faith are selected to teach biblical studies or religion. They find employment because of their confessional fidelity. However, in those same Christian universities, sometimes secular-minded people who profess no faith teach secular subjects. When they teach those subjects through a secular worldview in the Christian university, they deconstruct the Christian nature of the institution by directly attacking the foundation of faith — the Bible. Something that should not occur in professing universities is the undermining of the mission of such a university being Christian in its identity. Jeffrey, in the final chapter of this work, wrote about having not only biblical literacy as a professor but also how that harmonizes with academic freedom and Christian liberty. In recent years, several professors have been dismissed from confessional universities because, despite tenure, they exercised academic freedom and wrote as their consciences dictated, which upset the powers that be — namely, the donors.

The need for Christian universities to have faithful Christians in each department appears as a lesson to be learned. The ideal would be for there to be no departments at all in the modern academy and for it to return to how it used to be as envisioned in this work. Disbanding departments is likely an unrealistic wish. However, in restoring the academy to its former state, one must also realize the unity of the ancient academy as it then existed.

This work is not solely for the academics in the Christian university but also appeals to the Christian scholar who may teach in a secular atmosphere. The urging at reading this work for this demographic would be to make the Christian narrative a compelling alternative to the secular worldview. Given Christianity’s connection to Western Civilization, making the sign of the faith relative should be no problem. The Christian professor in the secular academy might want to approach it objectively and historically to show the influence that the faith has had on learning throughout the ages. This work aids in accomplishing that goal. Other works would certainly supplement those ends. This particular writing is of particular encouragement should the academic find themselves in this position.

Educators engaged in the classical Christian model of education will find this work helpful as would those who have an interest in its overall purpose of integrating faith and learning. While the whole of this work is to encourage the integration of faith with learning as it once was, the work by no means falls short of doing just that. However, this work was initially a series of lectures presented in a graduate setting. Some readers may find the work hard to read, but indeed those accustomed to the life of the academy should at least find them in a friendly way. Having a dictionary on hand would be advisable given the technical language some of the scholars employ.

What else makes the book challenging is that sometimes each chapter does not naturally flow into the following chapter. When the reader remembers that these were a series of lectures, this may ease some of the confusion brought about by the disjointedness of the reading. One might also view the work as a whole that helps find common themes and thoughts.

There is undoubtedly something for everyone in this book concerned with education. Some often claim that too much learning drives men mad, as Paul once heard. However, when learning occurs through the purview of faith, it enlightens the mind to the wonders of the first things. Despite it primarily appealing to the University, points may surely be extrapolated and applied in a grade-school setting as well. Reading this book is a joy and time well spent. It also is comforting to know that others are trying to recover classical learning.

A Tale of Strange Fire

The case of Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire to the Lord and their subsequent deaths is somewhat enigmatic. God had just sent fire to consume the burnt offering on the altar (Lev. 9:22–24) which the priests were to have kept kindled in perpetuity (Lev. 6:12–13). Now, two of Aaron’s sons, priests in their own right, presented an unwelcome fire that resulted in God sending fire to devour them. The altar of incense, however, was not in the holy of holies but was just before the veil which partitioned the holy of holies from the sacred place. Several sources suggest that the priests entered the holy of holies, however (Vayikra Rabbah 20.8; Torat Kohanim; et. al.). God had previously instructed against such a “strange” offering on the altar of incense (Exod. 30:7–9), so what they had done violated what He earlier warned against doing.

The “strange fire” likely came from a source otherwise not sanctioned by Yahweh (cf. Lev. 16:12 [Milgrom, 598]). Interesting it is that the phrase, “So fire went out from the LORD” is the same as that which appears in Lev 9:24. On the earlier occasion, the fire demonstrated God’s approval and acceptance, but on the latter, His disapproval. Yahweh is, therefore, hallowed by manifesting His power against transgression as well as in approving of righteousness. The priests established His holiness and honor by their reverence for Him. They were chosen not to be honored themselves, as Aaron might have mistaken, but to honor God and reveal His greatness to Israel (Houston).

Rather than thinking that this story is about what happened to Nadab and Abihu, it’s really about Aaron. Notice that he is addressed after what befell his sons in verses 3, 6, 8, and 12 of Lev 10 with one of the speakers to Aaron being Yahweh (v. 8). This was one of the rare times that God spoke directly to Aaron, and He emphasized the importance of discernment in the priestly vocation (v. 10). Aaron was told by Moses what God revealed to him at the moment regarding the cause of his eldest sons’ deaths (v. 3). Moses then instructed that no public display of mourning be made nor for him to remove himself from the tabernacle due to the presence of the anointing oil upon them (vv. 6–7). Israel, however, was permitted to mourn for Aaron and what had occurred.

Emotion is ever-present in this narrative. When God’s fire lit the altar, the people “saw and shouted with joy” (9:24). The root of Aaron’s silence suggests not just holding his tongue, but a mournfulness that might induce him to moan in sorrow which he repressed (10:3). The father isn’t stoically standing by as if not moved by what’s happened but is bothered by it all (Eliasen).³ Aaron is so bothered that he refused even to eat of the sin offering made by Eleazar and Ithamar, his two other sons. This was not to be rebellious, but cautious lest he incurs a similar fate to that of his sons. Moses grew angry with his nephews for this, but Aaron responded in a way that communicated that he views himself as his sons or they as extensions of him. Therefore, Aaron didn’t lose two of his sons, but a part of himself died (Lev. 10:16–19), so he feared eating it lest he suffers similarly.

Here on out, the distinction between the sacred and profane are highlighted for the Israelites so that God may dwell in their presence and them in His. What went wrong here? It is possible that Aaron still had his idolatrous tendencies about him, which led to his sons’ usage of profane fire. God had already selected Aaron and his sons as priests to Himself before Moses returned to the bottom of Mt. Sinai, and Aaron had constructed the golden calf (Exod. 32:1–6). The golden calf itself was not a god but was a heavenly throne upon which a deity or deities would sit, similar to the cherubim of the ark of the covenant. It was meant to invite the deity to dwell among the people and lead them, but was done in a way unauthorized by God. Later, the northern kingdom would erect golden calves in Bethel and Dan, not as images of pagan worship but as thrones for the God of Israel (Alter, 494). If Aaron hadn’t ridden himself of idolatrous ways, his sons would have held the same cavalierness when they offered strange fire, thus reflecting on the parenting of Aaron.

The failure of a patriarch regarding God with reverence and holiness isn’t isolated to Aaron. King David similarly failed in this regard. His adultery was followed by Amnon’s rape of Tamar, which led to Absalom’s rebellion. The son acted likewise to the father, which brought misery and death. This same pattern happens regarding Eli, Samuel, and Jeroboam. It also occurs with a variance to Noah. The sons repeat in some way the sins or carelessness of their fathers, but as it progressed to the next generation, it got worse for them and had a harsher conclusion (Houston).

Alter, Robert, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 494.

Eliasen, Karen C., “Aaron’s War Within: Story and Ritual in Leviticus 10,” Proceedings 20 (2000): 81–98.

Houston, Walter J., “Tragedy in the Courts of the Lord: A Socio-Literary Reading of the Death of Nadab and Abihu,” JSOT 25, no. 90 (Sept. 2000): 31–39.

Milgrom, Jacob, Leviticus 1–16 (AB, 3; New York: Doubleday, 1991), 598.

If We Do What They Did …

I have recently recorded, along with Dan Winkler and Jake Sutton, six episodes that will air in a part of Pennsylvania predominantly non-religious. My fellow preachers and I recorded these at the request of some brethren from that state, and the focus of our episodes was fundamental Christianity. The title of the series is, “If We Do What They Did.” unnamed

If you would care to watch them for yourself, or even share them with someone for evangelistic purposes, you can do so in a few ways. If you have a smartphone, tablet, smart-tv, or stream television services, you can look up Gospel Broadcast Network and download their app. Otherwise, you may be able to call them at 662-847-5508 and request DVD copies of the lessons by mentioning the series title. There may be a cost if you opt to go with the DVD. You can also go to their website, or YouTube channel and watch the series there.

For those who receive this article, click on the titles below, and you should be redirected to the YouTube videos of the first four episodes. It’s my sincere hope that these will be used for God’s glory and the harvesting of new Christians.

God and Humanity

The Place of Scripture

Jesus Promised to Build His Church

Church in Reality

The Structure of the Church

When Did Things Begin to Change

Heaven & Earth in the Garden of Eden

We describe the space we live in as earth, while the area where God dwells is in heaven. However, in the beginning, the two were one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It’s the earth that God, then, illuminates, adorns, and populates. The construction of the planet resembled, to an ancient audience, that of a holy precinct, or temple.¹ In all ancient temples, images of the deity were placed; hence, humans being created in God’s image. There, as God’s image, we were to represent His identity and do His work.²

When God rested on the seventh day, the meaning that often escapes modern readers that wouldn’t have those of antiquity was that a deity rested in a temple, and only in a temple. That’s why they were built, despite thinking that it was all about sacrifice. A temple was a place of divine rest (cf. Ps. 132:7–8, 13–14) more so than it was a place for worshippers. The sacred space of the earth was God’s resting place, and as such, it was holy.

The first demarcation came after humans ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once their eyes were opened, God cast them from the Garden lest they, in their state of seeing good and evil, partake of the tree of life and live forever in that state of decay. God, therefore, protected them from the tree of life by placing cherubim at the east entrance of the garden to guard the path to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22–24).

However, it doesn’t appear that heaven and earth were then divided. God still comes among Cain after he murdered Abel. Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:24). That God took Enoch is enigmatic. Did He take him beyond the cherubim to the protected precinct? We don’t know unless one would place credibility in the Book of Enoch which says that he was taken into heaven (viz., Eden?), a bifurcation which doesn’t appear to have so much existed then as it does now.

Angels consorting with mortals, as depicted in Gen 6:1–8 was the cause of judgment upon the earth and, apparently, a permanent demarcation between heaven and earth, making one realm into two. Afterward, we see Noah construct the first altar (Gen. 8:20). It would appear that humanity can no longer dwell before the Lord, but must officially make atonement for their trespasses. The aroma from the offerings ascends to heaven where God dwells until the tabernacle/temple was constructed. Through these two holy places, heaven comes to stay on earth. After that, atonement needed to be made so that humanity could approach deity, but they could do so at the tabernacle/temple.

The decoration of the holy place and its resemblance to Eden was noted by YHWH worshippers. As the east entrance of the garden was protected by cherubim, so one also approached God from the west where the altar was. After atonement was made, the priest progressed in an eastward direction toward the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was and hence God’s presence. There, at God’s presence, is life—reminiscing of the tree of life.

When Jesus came to earth, he “tabernacled” among humans (John 1:14). By so doing, Jesus was able to take pockets of heaven with Him, if you will, and grace the earth with it. Since God had to be kept apart from the world due to its corruption and His holiness, He took on flesh to grace the world with His presence and bring His healing to those whom He encountered. Reminiscent of the seraph who touched the lips of Isaiah to purify him, Jesus in His holiness did not consume the world or humanity but purified it. His death on the cross once more opened access to the tree of life.

In the Greek Old Testament often quoted in the New Testament, the term translated for “garden” is “paradise.” Jesus told the thief beside Him on the cross that he would join Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). Paul was caught up into Paradise to see what no man could see (2 Cor. 12:4). Jesus promised to the overcomers that they would eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7). The perfect atonement of Jesus takes us back to a pre-sinful state so that we can in that state partake of the tree we were forbidden from when we once existed in decay and futility. Praise be to God!


¹ I strongly recommend a reading of John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010).

² John H. Walton, ed., Genesis, in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 21.

Women Praying and Speaking in the Assembly

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. (1 Cor. 11:5)

A couple of weeks ago I opened this passage to my Wednesday evening class and noted that women, in the first century, spoke and even prayed in mixed company. Perhaps even in the assembly. One inquired why I thought this was the assembly to which I pointed them to the following context of the Lord’s Supper appearing. However, some contend that a transition of settings appears to occur in 1 Cor 11:17–18 given the rhetoric. Others include all of 1 Cor 11 in an assembly text. The former might relieve the tension of whether or not women spoke in the assembly when worship occurred—as we’d tend to demarcate it—but it still doesn’t diminish the stress existing in churches of Christ wherein all cases only men should offer prayers in mixed company (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8).¹

Unfortunately, as we were given this careful study and as questions arose, time ran out, and we couldn’t settle the matter which, if the Lord wills, we shall do this evening. Some of the noted points were these:

  • Prophetesses existed in the early church as so prophesied by Peter in Acts 2:17–21.
  • These prophetesses obviously never only spoke to other women about their prophecies, else the church couldn’t be edified as Paul later lauded such (1 Cor. 14:1–5).
  • The whole issue in 1 Cor 11:2–16 was head coverings, so we shouldn’t make the point what Paul didn’t make it.
  • As I would be given to understand the whole context, prophetesses, were they in the formal assembly, should cover their heads when they prayed and prophesied to show themselves subjected to God’s order despite being gifted.

The whole of the issue, I believe, is concluded in 1 Cor 14:33–35 when all women were commanded to be silent in the assembly. Paul wasn’t only picking on women as some might suggests, but he had earlier even commanded those who spoke in tongues without an interpreter to be silent (14:28) as well as other prophets when one spoke (14:30). Therefore, this isn’t a case of a misogynist Paul holding women back. Instead, he aimed to bring order to the assembly, especially one that had become in such disarray (14:33, 40).

I have read other, egalitarian commentaries on this passage. They have many excellent points, but there have been enough that I disagree with to not myself see the matter as they do. Historically, women did not have the same places of instruction as men. They had offices in which they served, but that service so far as I know did not include formal instruction in the assembly. This isn’t to say that they couldn’t do it or lacked the knowledge, but that in the solemn assembly of the body of Christ, it wasn’t their station to do so.


¹ See the essay by Everett Ferguson, “Topos in 1 Timothy 2:8,” Restoration Quarterly 33 (1991): 65–73 where he argues that “everywhere” in 1 Tim 2:8 designated places of assembly for worship (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15). This would exclude other sites, understandably, and thus render it permissible for women to pray in mixed company so long as the church wasn’t formally assembled for the liturgy (cf. Acts 13:1–3).

Doing Away with the Translation, “Church”

“Church” is, I believe, an anachronistic translation of ekklesia. It came to us through various languages which ultimately derived from kyriakos (“the Lord’s). This seems to have been used since AD 300 and onward, and when we think of the “church,” we ultimately envision the building wherein we meet. “Church” being used of the building in which we meet is accurate, and sometimes well-meaning Christians admonish that we “be the church and not simply go to church.” The sentiment is that as a living body, we should be active and not stationary—something with which I can agree. However, to describe our meeting places as churches—the word itself having derived from the German Kirche—is not altogether wrong. What many may be unaware of is that English is a Germanic language. We often think of it as based in Latin, but in truth, we use many loanwords from Latin and Greek, but our language itself is Germanic.

Ekklesia is often broken down by its compounds to define it in older scholarly works and many modern favorite tomes: ek meaning “out of” and kaleo meaning “call.” Hence, the church is often described as the “called out,” but out of what are we called? The world, so we’re told. Since most languages do not define terms based on their compounds, I favor looking at the language the way an ancient audience might have understood it rather than loaded with a theology which may have evolved later on. For this reason, I take a classical approach. The term, then, would have simply meant “assembly.” Doesn’t sound very spiritual or unique, does it? A term doesn’t have to be used with theological meaning for it to have a special significance as God may have used it. William Tyndale in 1526 produced the first English Bible translated from the Greek and translated this term as “congregation.” Wycliffe’s translation as earlier, but it used the Vulgate.¹

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised to build (architectural language) His “church,” or “assembly.” How should we understand this? “Assembly” referred to what was done and not where. It was often used of the assembly of citizens of a Greek city who made decisions for the city-state. It’s used in this vein in Acts 7:38 and 19:32, 40. To the Greeks, it was a noble word and denoted the activities of the Greek civic life.² The way that Matthew likely intended to portray it was in continuation of Israel’s history. Ekklesia and sometimes synagoge replace the Hebrew term in the LXX that denoted the people of God. Furthermore, the Semitic paradigm of Matthew’s account is evident in a few ways:

  • The blessing of Peter is an Old Testament style.
  • Addressing Peter by his father’s name—Bar Jona.
  • The play on words with Peter’s name in Greek.
  • The expressions “flesh and blood” and “bind and loose.”³

These each suggests a Jewish reading of the term and concludes that it must be understood as “assembly” as such that appeared at the base of Mt. Sinai when all Israel was assembled before God (cf. Deut. 4:9–10; 9:10–11; 18:15–16 LXX).  They did a few things that Jesus’ disciples would have likely paralleled to His statement:

  1. They consecrated themselves before assembling (Exod. 19:10).
  2. They assembled before God (Exod. 19:17).
  3. They heard God’s law (Exod. 20–23).
  4. They were instructed in the covenant and heard it read (Exod. 24:3–4, 7).
  5. A meal was eaten to partake of the sacrifice that ratified the covenant (Exod. 24:4–11).
  6. Offerings were collected for the tabernacle (Exod. 25:1–8).

We can see similarities between Israel’s and the Christian assembly. We too are consecrated by faith in baptism (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1–4), we assemble each Lord’s Day where we hear God’s Word read and are instructed in it, and we also partake of the Lord’s Supper and collect offerings. Whether it is a stretch or not to make those comparisons I’ll leave up to the reader with the one notable missing element being the singing of praises. All in all, when Christ promised to build His assembly, this is likely what His disciples envisioned.


¹ Jennifer Eyl, “Semantic Voids, New Testament Translation, and Anachronism: The Case of Paul’s Use of Ekklesia,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 26, no. 4 (May 2014): 315–39.

² Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 129–33.

³ Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Meaning of ‘Εκκλησíα in Matthew 16:18 and 18:17,” Bibliotheca Sacra 167 (July–September 2010): 281–91.

Our Priest in the Heavens

If I could summarize the entire book of Hebrews, it would be according to a hymn we often sing in worship: “How Great Thou Art.” Throughout the entire book, the author presents Christ as far greater than angels, Moses, the Torah, and up unto chapter eight, Jesus is presented as of a greater priesthood than the Aaronic priesthood. Christ, unlike the priests who served the temple, did not need to offer sacrifice for His sins, would not inherit the priesthood by a birth-right, and there would be no end to His priesthood. Because He was both the offerer and offering, Christ’s priesthood is far greater in that He was able to remove the blockades that kept humanity from approaching God without continual sacrifices. Now, He is not a high priest that after presenting His offering must retreat from God’s presence, but He is seated beside God Himself. No one sits in the presence of Majesty, but Jesus can because of who He is and what He has done (Heb. 8:1).

Furthermore, the priests who ministered did so in the temple, which was a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). Jesus ministers in the actuality of what the priests on earth could only hope to minister in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus ministered in “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26). Many people have attended the Parthenon in Nashville, TN understanding that it is only a replica of the actual one whose ruins stands in Athens. However, by going to the one in Nashville, we can ascertain what it would have looked like and been in ancient Greece. Is it actual? No. It’s a replica just as how the temple was a replica of heaven, something insufficient in purpose but a temporary method to point to actuality (Heb. 9:8–12).

Of particular interest to me is the fact that Jesus is “liturgist of the holies” and of the true tabernacle (Heb. 8:2; my translation). In the temple, there were the menorahs along the walls, the showbread, and closest to the holy of holies was the altar of incense. At various times and in various ways, the floors would have been sprinkled with the blood of offerings as would have been the altar of incense. What were all these actions? They were the mediation of the covenant Israel made with God. We, however, are under a new covenant, and Christ as our liturgist mediates the new and better covenant (Heb. 8:6) which is the new covenant in His blood (Matt. 26:28), because it is the shedding of blood that enacts the covenant (Heb. 9:16–22). Since the work of the priests was to present offerings and gifts to God to effect reconciliation, this is the work Christ does (Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20).  

How Early Christians Viewed the Lives of the Unborn

Abortions are nothing new. They’ve existed since antiquity as a method to limit the number of children a household had. However, the oath attributed to Hippocrates that doctors take to this day prohibited abortion in ancient Greece—“I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness, I will guard my life and my art.” Cicero argued that anyone who intentionally aborted a child deserved capital punishment (In Defense of Cluentius 32). In the Old Testament, we see the care God gives over the individual in His fashioning of them in the womb:

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13–16)

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:4–5)

The Ten Commandments were used by early Christians just as they were by Jews—as teachings that pertained to moral living. Notably, the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” was given a greater expansion in Christian thinking. Those familiar with biblical Hebrew might better render the sixth commandment as, “You shall do no murder.” “Murder” is a term that we understand differently than “kill.” “Murder” carries the weight of malicious intent. “Kill” doesn’t always carry that same weight. I might be driving my car and lose control and run over a person and “kill” them. However, I didn’t maliciously intend to do them any harm. The early Christians, likewise, valued life—including that of the unborn.

And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder … you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. (Didache 2.2)

But the path of darkness is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the path of eternal death and punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul … Here are they who are persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies; they who know not the reward of righteousness, who cleave not to what is good nor unto just judgment … murderers of children. (Barnabas 20.1–2)

Christian writers believed that life began at conception. One early Christian inferred from Luke 1:41 when John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb that very belief (Instructor 2.10.96). Athenagoras pointed to Christianity’s rejection of abortion as proof that Christians were moral when he wrote that the Christians “say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God s for the abortion” (Leg. 35). Later church councils forbade abortion and actually levied punishments against those Christians who murdered their unborn. The Council of Elvira (4th century) reflects such beliefs.

If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice. (can. 63)

A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches. (can. 68)

Even some of the most notable early church theologians/bishops supported this stance. Both Augustine and John Chrysostom viewed abortion as murder.

Despite the rationale of those who advocate such today, there is always a scenario of mitigating circumstances that people rely on to justify the action. Those who favor abortion see the argument as a discussion of the woman’s body while those who oppose abortion view the matter relevant to the body of the unborn. How one considers the debate depends on their conclusion. However, I believe that even those who make the decision are deserving of compassion and mercy, because we may not know what led to their decision. All we can do as supporters of life is to listen, learn, and try to help.

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