Q. I receive a lot of photos and video clips from friends in Hong Kong. Some support the protesters; others support the police. Both accuse the opposite side of brutality. Both seem to have evidence to prove it. Who do I believe?

A. In war, truth is the first casualty – Aeschylus (525-456 BC). Both sides in Hong Kong use deception to win support for their cause. You have probably noticed that protesters only show clips of the police beating up “unarmed” “peaceful” demonstrators; they don’t show themselves nearly killing a policeman who only pulled his gun to protect his life, or their brutal beating up people who disagreed with them. Similarly, police supporters show only the savage behavior of rioters; they don’t show the police beating up demonstrators with clubs. Each side use selective snippets to put themselves in the best possible light, with total disregard for the truth.

There are other tricks. Some demonstrators taunt the police with insult and bodily attack, then suddenly kneel to beg for mercy, just so that reporters on their side can take a photo of the police about to harm an “innocent” “bystander”. Or they might dress in black while causing havoc, then quickly change into “white” to mix with the crowd to escape. On the other hand, the police have undercover agents in civilian clothes pretending to be demonstrators to gather inside information or take pictures.

Does each side have “evidence”? Yes, but neither side has the truth. Both use deception. Who do you believe? Neither side completely, as both mix truth with lies. What we need is to look at each recording in its entirety, not just the edited extract to “prove” what the disseminator wants you to believe. We need to ask the critical questions – Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? These are the fundamental questions any reporter is supposed to get answers to, and to present the findings in an unbiased manner. Unfortunately many have long seared their conscience and become “authors”, not reporters as they should be.

What we need is discernment to cut through the deception. I wrote about discernment earlier and won’t repeat myself:

But what I’m concerned about is, “How come even mature Christians, churches and denominational representatives are so polarized that they are either solidly behind the protestors, without any word of condemnation for their acts of terrorism, or completely for the police, turning a blind eye to their collaborating with the triad?” What happened to the role of the prophet, who called the people to repent, and at the same time called even kings to task when they sinned? Is even the elect led astray? (Mt 24:24; Mk 13:22) Are we deceived without knowing it?

Please don’t tell me that God is on the side of the poor, and therefore it justifies the oppressed speaking up to get justice. The ends never justify the means. I know God will restore justice to the poor and downtrodden, but He is for righteousness and peace too. He never gave the poor the right to take the law into their own hands. These folks are not just speaking up to demand justice, they are committing atrocious crimes while doing so: destroying property, torturing people, and acting like thugs who think they are above the law. They aren’t! And if they act like criminals, don’t be surprised that the authorities treat them like criminals:

  • Rom 13:2-4 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 

What we need to declare is the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27), not just the fake news the media have carefully edited to present, nor the one-sided “I’m right and you’re wrong” position they want people to believe. When the government is ignoring the plight of the poor, expose and prosecute them. When the protesters are endangering the lives and livelihood of law-abiding citizens, arrest them and bring them to justice. Punish the judges who accept bribes to undermine justice. We don’t need biased media to add fuel to fire by spreading lies. We need discerning people to call things as they are, for the truth and neither pro-demonstrators nor pro-government, for the people and not for themselves. Sadly too many are looking out only for #1 or being deceived to blindly follow what they don’t understand. I hope and pray that Hong Kong will be cleaned up soon. Amen.

Principles of Judgment

Final Judgment

Q. I get mad watching the protesters in Hong Kong flaunting all authority, swearing profanities, blocking traffic, occupying the airport, smashing windows, throwing bricks at the police, setting cruisers on fire, unlawfully detaining and torturing opponents etc. Yes, the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the rioters, but after extended provocation. Yet the media ignored the protesters’ crimes and lied about police brutality on “peaceful demonstrators”. Are they blind? I am aware of traitor politicians paid by foreigners to betray their own people, and even some teachers and school principals who ought to be teaching public morals and respect for law and order are rooting for the rioters. What is this!? Are the hooligans getting away with committing crimes with impunity? Where is God?

A. Yes, there is anarchy in Hong Kong now and it appears that we are entering difficult times of the last days:

  • Judges 17:6b … every man did what was right in his own eyes. (Also 21:25)
  • 2 Tim 3:1-4 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

Much of 2 Tim 3 fit the rioters very well. I think both the government and the protesters have done wrong. I have no insight into how things will resolve, and it is likely that it will get worse before it gets better:

  • 2 Tim 3:13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived

While God is merciful and will forgive those who repent, He is also just and will not let the guilty go free. But whatever the earthly outcome, we know several principles of the final judgment revealed in Scripture:

  1. According to what was done. Since God is omniscient, there won’t be any perversion of justice due to people doing crooked deals in secret, hiding behind face masks, or wrong convictions based on false accusations.
    • 2 Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
  2. Punishment will be proportional to the crime. Men are prone to be vengeful and want their pound of flesh, but God’s justice weighs out the penalty without going overboard:
    • Ex 21:23-25 23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.Lev 24:19-20 If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.Deut 19:21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.Mt 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
  3. Poetic justice in paying back what you mete out to others. God returns to you what you render to others, so in the end we have only ourselves to blame.
    • Mk 4:24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides.
    • Lk 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

So, although currently the government seemed unable to curb the lawlessness and violence, it is the legitimate authority allowed by God to execute law and order in the land. Ultimately justice will prevail. Let me borrow from Habakkuk 2:3 And God’s justice will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it. For it will certainly come, it will not delay. The HK government will have to correct its ways, but the rioters will pay for their lawlessness.

Five Foolish Virgins (2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday)

The second premise is that since the foolish virgins have oil, which in Scripture represents the Holy Spirit, they must be Christians. As evidence, supporters of this view cite:

  • Mt 25:3 AMP For when the foolish took their lamps, they did not take any [extra] oil with them,
  • Mt 25:8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

It is true that oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit:

  • Lk 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed,
  • Acts 10:38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

and that without the Holy Spirit an individual cannot be a Christian:

  • Rom 8:9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

but the key is “do the foolish virgins have any oil”?

Notice that the word “extra” in Mt 25:3 AMP is in brackets, which means it is NOT in the Greek text, but supplied by the translators. Most literal word-for-word translations have:

  • NASB For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,
  • ESV For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,
  • NKJV Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,

Then how can their lamps be going out if they weren’t burning, which implied they had oil? To understand this, we need to know what type of lamps they were. The word “lamp” translates the Greek word “lampas”, which primarily means a torch, and appears 9 times in the NT:

  • Of the lamps in the parable – Mt 25:1, 3, 4, 7, 8;
  • When Judas betrays Jesus – Jn 18:3;
  • In the upper room where Paul preached – Acts 20:8;
  • In Rev 4:5, 8:10.

They were not small “Aladdin” style clay oil lamps, but clubs wrapped at the top with linen which were dipped in oil and then lit. When the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps (Mt 25:4), it wasn’t to add more oil when the oil in the supposed clay lamps burned out, it was to dip the torches in so the linen can be soaked in oil and lit. The foolish virgins who took their lamps but no oil with them (v 3) can still light them because of oil residue from the last use, but they go out immediately because there is no oil, period. Otherwise why would all five lamps go out at the same time? And, if they never had oil or the Holy Spirit to begin with, they were never saved.

Now if the foolish virgins were never saved in the first place, everything fits. My interpretation is therefore that the foolish virgins are in the company of the wise virgins, looked like them, participated in the same activities, but are not genuine believers. They are like the seeds that fell on the rocky places and immediately sprang up (lamps lit) but withered away (lamps going out) because they had no root (oil) (Mt 13:5-6). Or they are like tares sown among the wheat. They looked like wheat until the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident (Mt 13:5-6) by their lack of fruit. You will know them by their fruits (Mt 7:16, 20).

Having unlocked this key, let’s go back to your original questions. Will the foolish virgins be raptured? No, the rapture is for Christians only. Do they have to wait until they know Christ? Yes, because they are not believers. But I want to address the issue of partial rapture as well – I believe it is not biblical. There are two key passages on the rapture:

  • 1 Thes 4:17-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
  • 1 Co 15:51-52 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

You can observe that:

  • The order of the rapture is the dead in Christ first, then those (Christians) who are alive when He returns;
  • We will all be changed (from perishable to imperishable, from mortal to immortal);
  • There is no distinction into grades of Christians, diligent vs. lazy, because it does not depend on works, but grace. If you are in Christ, whether already dead or still alive, you will be raised and raptured.

Partial rapture divides the one Body of Christ into parts that will be raptured and parts that won’t. That’s not scriptural. May I suggest you always base your doctrine on the text. Don’t start with your pet doctrine and try to find support in Scripture. That’s eisegesis, not exegesis. Hope this helps.

Five Foolish Virgins (1 of 2)

Q. In Mt 25:1-12 five foolish virgins were shut out of the wedding feast, but they should have been saved already. Would they be raptured to meet the Lord in the air? I believe victorious Christians, including the five wise virgins, would reign with Christ during the Millennium. Do the foolish virgins, who are not victorious and won’t reign with Christ, just wait along with unbelievers for God to work on them until Christ is formed in them?

A. From your question’s wording I assume you believe in partial rapture, that only fruitful Christians will be raptured, leaving lazy Christians behind to go through the tribulation. Before I answer that question let’s explore the meaning of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which is key to answering your query.

You said that the five foolish virgins were saved already but did not explain why. I can only assume based on what some commentators say:

  • That they were virgins, just like the five wise virgins;
  • That they had oil, from v 8b “our lamps are going out”.

Let’s check the validity of each premise.

The first premise is that a virgin represents a Christian. The word “virgin” translates the Greek word “parthenos”, which occurs 15 times in the NASB. It is used:

  • Of the Virgin Mary – Mt 1:23, 25; Lk 1:27, 34;
  • Of the ten virgins in the parable – Mt 25:1, 7, 11;
  • Of the daughters of Philip the evangelist – Acts 21:9;
  • Of those concerning whom the Apostle Paul gave instructions concerning marriage – 1 Co 7:25, 28, 34, 36, 37, 38;
  • Figuratively, of a local church in its relationship to Christ – 2 Co 11:2;

It is also used:

  • Metaphorically, of someone “chaste” – Rev 14:4.

Now, is (b) above literal as in (a), (c) and (d), or figurative as in (e)? I believe it is both, based on:

  1. Cultural background. The setting of the parable is that of a Jewish wedding. According to the Talmud (Jewish Civil and ceremonial law), the custom in Jesus’ days is for ten unmarried maidens or virgins to carry lamps in the procession.
  2. Biblical usage. In the NT, the Church is called the “bride of Christ”, not the “virgin of Christ”:
    1. Rev 21:9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.

What about 2 Co 11:2?

  • 2 Co 11:2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

In 2 Co Paul was addressing the church at Corinth, a local congregation. While the universal church comprised of true believers only is properly the Bride of Christ, a local church consisting of both believers and non-believers cannot be Christ’s bride. At best the individual members may be called “virgins”, which is done in Mt 25.

  • Reductio ad absurdum. If the foolish virgins were saved, it will lead to conclusions that contradict what we know to be true. Note the exchange between the foolish virgins and the bridegroom after the door was shut. They called him, “Lord, lord,” but he answered, “I do not know you” (Mt 25:11-12) which reminds me of:
  • Mt 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew youdepart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
  • Lk 6:46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

These words are addressed by our Lord to those who won’t enter the kingdom of heaven, i.e. the unsaved. So is the bridegroom, who undoubtedly represents the Lord, telling “saved” foolish virgins that He does not know them? If that is the case, then what happens to Jesus’ words in:

  • Jn 10:14  “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,” 
  • Jn 10:27-28 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
  • Heb 13:5b for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”

Jesus did not break His promise, did He? That would be absurd! So “virgin” by itself does not prove that the five foolish virgins are saved.

(To be continued)

Is Hell Eternal? (3 of 3)

(Continued from yesterday)

Now, with this biblical foundation, let’s go back to your original question. Yes, there are several theological views on hell. I will briefly describe each one, and then give you my opinion. I’ll begin with the minor ones first.

  • Purgatory view – This Roman Catholic view is that souls of the faithful dead endure a period of purification for sins prior to their entrance into heaven. Protestants who adopt this view say it completes sanctification. They think that the suffering is remedial, not punishment as stated in the Bible. Proponents of this view would rather accept the traditions of men than the word of God. This doctrine is not taught anywhere in the Protestant Bible, only in 2 Maccabees which is not inspired. I reject this view.
  • Universalism view – The view that all people will ultimately receive salvation from God because He is love. He offers sinners opportunities to repent even after death and ultimately all people will be saved. Again, proponents feel the sufferings in hell are remedial, not punishment. This view plays up God’s love at the expense of His justice. The Bible does not teach second chances after death. Lk 16 records the fate of the rich man and Lazarus:
  • Lk 16:23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.
  • Lk 16:26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 

Technically the rich man was in Hades, the intermediate state, not yet hell, but no second chances were offered then, let alone in hell. I believe this view is wrong.

  • Annihilation or conditional view – The view that those not believing in Jesus Christ will be obliterated by God for their sin. Supporters of this view feel that it is unfair to punish sins committed in a finite lifetime for all eternity, so a God of love would execute terminal punishment by destroying the soul in hell. They take the words “destroy both body and soul in hell” literally but soft-pedal the words “eternal punishment”, saying that annihilation is eternal.

The proponents think their way of annihilation is fairer than God’s way of eternal punishment, so they look for language that supports their view. They argue that hell fire is eternal because it was prepared for the devil and his angels, but sinners are not eternal. They reason that humans are by nature not immortal, and it is only through union with Christ that the righteous receive immortality. But Rev 14:10-11 is on those who worship the beast, and it says the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night. It does not say their torment will cease and they will rest when they are destroyed. The counter argument that this applies only to those who worship the beast and receive its mark is not valid, because Rev 20:15 says anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life is thrown into the lake of fire. Shall I accept their philosophical idea, or the word of God? I cannot accept the annihilation view.

My conclusion for the first three views is Mt 22:29 “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Mk 12:24)

  • This leaves the fourth or Traditional view, and the fifth or Metaphorical view, which we will look at together. Both views believe hell to be eternal conscious torment. That’s their similarity. The difference is that while the traditional view holds the torment to be with literal fire and brimstone, the metaphorical view believes the fire to be symbolic of God’s wrath and judgment. They feel if the description of hell is literal, how can the body be not consumed for all eternity? How can hell be a furnace of fire and yet dark at the same time? The metaphorical view therefore concludes that such descriptions must be figurative of suffering, pain, hopelessness, regret, which can coexist.

There are simple answers to their queries. In Ex 3:2 the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush. The bush was burning with fire, yet it was not consumed. Furthermore, we are talking about resurrection bodies of the wicked, which are different from their physical bodies on earth. Can God give them un-consumable bodies? Second, can fire and darkness exist together? The objection is that fire gives light, which is contradictory to darkness. I don’t know the real answer, but in astronomy we have black holes, whose gravitational pull is so strong that even light cannot pass through. Can hell be so self-centered, always getting and never giving, so that even light cannot escape? Having said that, my position is that the Bible uses both literal and figurative language, and I can accept both the traditional and metaphorical views. I’ll just wait for the Lord to explain what I don’t understand when we see Him.

Lastly, my view of the pastor’s stance. I’m afraid nowadays too many of us are men-pleasers:

  • Gal 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

My position is that ultimately each one of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:12). Who am I to judge the servant of the Master (Rom 14:4)? But as for me and my house, we choose to seek the favor of God.

Is Hell Eternal? (2 of 3)

(Continued from yesterday)

But what the Bible teaches about hell is not limited to those verses in which the word “hell” appears. The annihilation view on hell have tried to do this, claiming only the 13 verses in which “hell” occurs are valid. They noted that the words “eternal” or “everlasting” are not in those verses, but “destruction” is. This is like reading only the first line of a paragraph on a subject in which the name appears and ignoring the rest of the paragraph which uses prepositions instead. The hermeneutic principle is context, not just appearance. There are passages on the final judgment and eternal destinies with features that match those of hell, and scholars have identified the subject as hell, even though the name itself is absent:

  • Mt 3:12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Also Lk 3:17)
  • Mt 13:42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Mt 13:50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Mt 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
  • Mt 25:46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
  • Rev 14:10-11 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
  • Rev 19:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
  • Rev 19:20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
  • Rev 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
  • Rev 20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

I have not listed secondary verses on “weeping and gnashing of teeth” or “outer darkness”, nor OT passages with the Hebrew word “sheol”, or NT passages with the Greek word “Hades”, as there are enough here for us to consider. The primary verses listed inform us the following about hell:

  • The Lord will separate the wheat (the fruitful) from the chaff and burn up the latter in unquenchable fire (Mt 3:12);
  • Those thrown into the furnace of fire are the tares (sons of the evil one Mt 12:38) and the wicked (Mt 12:49), where they will suffer remorse and anguish (Mt 13:42, 50);
  • The accursed ones will go into eternal fire to suffer eternal punishment (Mt 25:41, 46);
  • Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41), but those who worship the beast (the Antichrist) and receive his mark will join them there (Rev 14:10-11, 19:20);
  • The devil, the beast and the false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone to be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 19:10, 20, 20:10), but so will anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life (Rev 20:15).

(To be continued)

Is Hell Eternal? (1 of 3)

Q. I asked a pastor what’s his position on hell because I have never heard him preach on the subject, nor could I find anything in his church’s statement of faith on the website. He said there are different schools of thought among evangelicals on how they interpret hell. Since he wants to be inclusive in reaching all people, he doesn’t want to alienate anyone by preaching on this controversial topic. What’s your view?

A. My view on hell? Or my view on the pastor’s stance? Before I tell you my view, let’s review what the Bible says about hell. The word hell appears 13 times in 13 verses in the NASB. (I use the NASB as it is one of the most literal English translations from a word-for-word perspective.)

  • Mt 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
  • Mt 5:29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
  • Mt 5:30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
  • Mt 10:28 Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Mt 18:9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.
  • Mt 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
  • Mt 23:33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
  • Mk 9:43-44 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,  [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.]
  • Mk 9:45-46 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.]
  • Mk 9:47-48 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,  where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
  • Lk 12:5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
  • Jas 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
  • 2 Pet 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;

All 11 verses in the Gospels are spoken by the Lord Himself. “Hell” translates the Greek word “geenna”, which is the place of the future punishment called “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”. This was originally the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.  

Jas 3:6 does not refer to the fate of the wicked. 2 Pet 2:4 translates the Greek word “tartaroo”, the name of the subterranean region, mournful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews.

Our observations from the above consist of:

  • Hell is where the guilty (Mt 5:22) are sentenced (Mt 23:33) and reserved for judgment (2 Pet 2:4);
  • It is a place of unquenchable fire (Mt 5:22, 18:9; Mk 9:43, 44, 46, 48) where the worm never dies, but also darkness (2 Pet 2:4);
  • The whole body and soul are cast into hell (Mt 5:29-30, 10:28, 18:9; Mk 9:43, 45, 47);
  • God is the One who cast the guilty into hell (Mt 10:28; Lk 12:5; 2 Pet 2:4).

(To be continued)

Is Faith a Gift? (2 of 2)

(Contd. from yesterday)

Let’s move onto the second verse:

  • Eph 6:23 (NASB) Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unlike Eph 2:8, there is no ambiguity here. While 2 Tim 2:22 also talked about peace, love and faith in the same verse, there the initiative is on the Christian to pursue:

  • 2 Tim 2:22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart,

Here the assertion is that faith comes from God. But what is not clear is what kind of faith is under consideration. Is it saving faith, mountain-moving faith, or some other kind? The text did not specify, so it could be faith in general. But one thing is certain. Since Eph 6:23 is addressed to “the brethren” i.e. Christians, the faith could not be saving faith, since the brethren are saved already, and there is no need to bestow saving faith on them in the benediction. However, the context of Eph 6 refers to faith to withstand attacks from Satan:

  • Eph 6:16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

So fortifying faith could be in mind, but we just can’t be dogmatic.

The third verse is:

  • Acts 3:16 (NASB) And on the basis of faith in His name, it is [a]the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

[a]His name

The phrase “the faith which comes through Him” might give the impression that the Lord (Him) gave the lame beggar (him) faith to heal him. But closer examination reveals otherwise. When the beggar saw Peter and John, he began asking for alms (v 3). Even when they asked him to look at them, and he began to give them his attention, he was only expecting to receive something from them (v 5) i.e. alms. There is no indication that he had faith in Jesus. Peter raised him up and he began to walk. So, the faith referred to was not faith that the Lord gave him to restore him, but faith which the apostles exercised through Him that healed the cripple.

Note also that “comes” is in italics. This means that the word is not in the Greek text but supplied by the translators. Other translations e.g. English Standard Version, has this verse as:

  • Acts 3:16 (ESV) And His name—by faith in His name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus[a] has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

[a] him

So again, a prima facie case for God giving saving faith turns out otherwise on close examination.

The last verse is:

  • Rom 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Superficially, God has assigned or apportioned to each an amount of faith. What kind of faith are we talking about? The “each” to whom God has allotted faith corresponds to “everyone among you” at the beginning of v 3. Who are the “you”? The context in v 1 makes it clear, “Therefore I urge you, brethren …” “You” refer to brethren, brothers and sisters in Christ. So, the faith distributed by God was not saving faith which all brethren already have, without which they would not be Christians.

What could this measure of faith be? The context in Rom 12:3-8 is humble service in the Body of Christ:

  • Rom 12:6a Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.

So, measure of faith could be God allotting grace and different spiritual gifts to us for ministry.

This also fits with Paul’s use of the same Greek word “metron” for measure:

  • 2 Co 10:13 But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.
  • Eph 4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

2 Co 10 is Paul’s description of his ministry, while Eph 4 talks about Christ giving gifts to men (v 8). Both refer to God or Christ allotting us a sphere of influence enabling us to serve.

Let me conclude by summarizing our key findings:

Verse Who? What kind of Faith?
Eph 2:8 Christians, formerly dead in sins Salvation is gift of God; faith only secondary
Eph 6:23 Brethren Fortifying faith or faith in general
Acts 3:16 Faith of apostles Faith in Jesus’ name to heal
Rom 12:3 Brethren Faith/grace/gifts in ministry

Except in Eph 2:8, the subject under consideration was not saving faith, but faith in spiritual warfare, faith in Jesus name to work miracles, and faith in ministry. Even in Eph 2:8, we saw that faith is not the primary gift of God, salvation is; and faith is only a secondary gift as part of the salvation-grace-faith bundle. I have not read the book and can’t comment on how the author presented his arguments, only on the four verses you quoted. If they are the only proof-text offered, then I feel that he had not established his case (saving face is given by the Father) adequately. Feel free to point out deficiencies in my observations. Hope this helps.

Is Faith a Gift? (1 of 2)

Is the Gift of God Grace, Salvation, or Faith?

Q. I am reading a book titled “Preaching Another Gospel” and the author argues that faith is given to us by the Father, citing Eph 2:8, 6:23; Acts 3:16 and Rom 12:3 as proof. Where does faith come from? Any comments?

A. First, let’s define what we’re addressing. Since your book is about “another gospel”, the subject is salvation. So, I will confine my comments to “where does saving faith come from”, not faith in general.

Next, let’s read the verses cited by the author. On the surface, it does seem that his case – faith is a gift – is valid.

All from NASB:

  • Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
  • Eph 6:23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Acts 3:16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
  • Rom 12:3  For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

However, the devil is in the details, so before we hastily jump to a conclusion let’s analyze each verse in more detail. I’ll start with Eph 2:8 in the NASB, the most literal (word-for-word) English translation:

  • Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and [a]that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Most cursory readers feel that the phrase “the gift of God” refers to faith, the nearest antecedent in the sentence. Often these readers are Calvinistic in their theology. But there a problem. Notice that there is a footnote to the demonstrative pronoun “that”, and the words “it is” are in italics. The footnote reads:

  • Eph 2:8 i.e. that salvation

And the italics mean that the words are not in the original text but supplied by the translators so that the English read smoothly. This is done in the Authorized King James Version, the NASB, plus several contemporary versions. Since “it is” are not in the original text, the key boils down to the pronoun “that”. What does “that” refer to?

Why did the NASB footnote explain “that” refers to “salvation”, not “faith”? For that we need to know a little Greek. Unlike English, Greek nouns have gender and number. Greek grammar requires that pronouns agree with their antecedent in gender and number. Since most readers don’t know Greek, I quote Eph 2:8 using an Interlinear below:

The verse has 5 lines:

  • Line 1 is each Greek word’s Strong’s number.
  • Line 2 is the English transliteration.
  • Line 3 is the Greek text.
  • Line 4 is the English translation.
  • Line 5 is where each Greek word is parsed.

Note that both nouns in the first part of v 8 – grace and faith – are feminine gender, singular. However, the pronoun “that” in the second half of v 8 is neuter gender, singular. There is therefore a mismatch, and grammatically neither grace nor faith could be the antecedent of “that”. In fact, no single word in the first half of v 8 would fit “that” in the second half! But there is another rule in Greek grammar – when a pronoun refers to a multi-word concept or phrase, the gender of the pronoun remains neuter, regardless of the gender of the antecedent (since there may be several words with different gender). Now what concept is under consideration in v 8 in context? Salvation! Notice the following:

  • Salvation is by grace (v 8) – the source is from God;

A   Salvation is through faith (v 8) – the means of reception;

B   Salvation is not of yourself (v 8) – it is not because of us;

B   Salvation is the gift of God (v 8) – freely given by God;

A   Salvation is not of works (v 9) – not as a result of what we’ve done.

The chiastic structure (ABBA) shows very clearly that salvation is all of grace, through faith not works, not of our efforts but from God. The Amplified Bible puts v 8 like this:

  • For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God;

So, under this interpretation, held mainly by Arminianism, salvation is the gift of God. Although I am not Arminian in theology, I need to be true to exegesis and conclude that Eph 2:8 does not identify faith as God’s gift. That is not to say “faith” and “gift” are unrelated, because as we have already demonstrated, salvation is by grace through faith. It is a package deal. Salvation is the gift, which includes faith as the means. It’s just that faith is not the primary focus in this verse, only secondary.

(To be continued)

Chosen in Christ

(Cont’d. from yesterday)

Q. I understand that when a person is chosen by God, he/she naturally has all the benefits promised by God. But what I want to know is, “is there any difference between being “chosen in Him” and just being “chosen” without any reference to Christ?” Does “chosen in Him” mean Christ chose us in love?

A. I hope I’ve understood your question correctly, but Scripture does not distinguish between classes of people the way you do. With respect to salvation, the Bible classifies people into two groups:

  • Those chosen in Christ, the elect;
  • Those not chosen in Him, the non-elect.

There is no third category of someone chosen but not in Christ.

The word “elect” appears only 8 times in the Bible, as follows:

  • Mt 24:22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Also, Mk 13:20)
  • Mt 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Also, Mk 13:22)
  • Mt 24:31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Also, Mk 13:27)
  • Lk 18:7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?
  • Rom 8:33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;

From Rom 8:33 ff you can see that the elect consists of those whom God justifies, for whom Christ died and loves. They are His chosen ones:

  • 2 Thes 2:13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
  • 2 Tim 2:10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.

The non-elect consists of those whom God bypasses with respect to salvation. He did not choose them in Christ, the author of salvation (Heb 2:10). It’s either chosen in Christ or not chosen in Him. There is no third option of “chosen but not in Christ”.