Monday, December 31, 2007


The Preacher

Our 3rd president, Thomas Jefferson, felt that he had a correct view of who Jesus was. He made for himself a condensed edition of the gospels with scissors and paste “paring off the amphibologisms.” He basically attempted to remove all references to Jesus’ deity and any miracles recorded. He felt that when he had done this there would “be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” He felt that the material he had left was “as distinguishable (from the other gospel materials) as diamonds in a dunghill.”

So when we in the 21st century are confronted in the local bookstores with titles like “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why”; “The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant”; and, “Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament” we should not be surprised. Books, both fictional and “non-fictional,” denying or questioning the deity of Jesus are extremely popular, but this is nothing new. As noted above, Jefferson wrote one about 200 years ago (although his book was not published till long after his death). In fact, heresies about the person of Christ were present right from the beginnings of the church age, as even a cursory reading of Paul’s or John’s letters will show.

It would seem though that most of our modern “scholars” do not want to do away with Jesus altogether. They want to keep Him around as a teacher, a rabbi, a philosopher, a new age guru, even a prophet. Like Jefferson, they don’t want a divine Christ. His teachings are fine with them as long as we leave out all that miracle stuff or those claims to Messiahship or Deity.

But it is impossible to separate His moral teachings from His claims to Messiahship and Deity. Jesus never separates His claims from His ethics. Even in the Sermon on the Mount, which many unbelievers admire as a great ethical treatise, His claims are foundational to His teaching. Though He is a teacher and a prophet, these are not the words of a mere teacher or prophet.

-- “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you BECAUSE OF ME” (Matthew 5:11).

-- “You have heard (referring to the Mosaic Law) … but I SAY TO YOU … ” (5:21 & 22; 27 & 28; 31 & 32, 33 & 34, 38 & 39, 43 & 44). He seems to be putting His words on the same level as the Law of Moses.

-- “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. 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?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’” (7:21-23). He is saying that He will be the Judge who determines who will enter the Kingdom.

-- “ … My Father who is in heaven …” (21). Though elsewhere He had said “your Father,” here He is claiming a special relationship with God. In John’s gospel we’re told that the Jewish leaders understood this as “ … making himself equal with God” (John 5:17, 18) and wanted to put Him to death for blasphemy.

-- “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (7:24). “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (7:26). His words are to be the foundation upon which one’s life is to be built.

It is impossible to separate Jesus’ moral teachings from His claims to deity. Every demand, every blessing, every warning has its foundation in His claims to divine authority. No other preacher, ancient or modern could preach this sermon. I wouldn’t dare! Although there is much wisdom and even practical advice in it, it is questionable whether it even makes sense apart from the Person who uttered it. It is He who gives meaning and authority to these words. His listeners understood. ”When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28, 29). Even Jefferson left these words in!

Friday, December 14, 2007


When I was a pastor, I, like many other pastors, used to take part in a tradition which Howard Hendricks dubbed “the glorification of the worm.” After the sermon I would walk to the back of the auditorium and shake hands with my parishioners as they exited. They would make comments to me on the sermon: insights, applications, appreciations, testimonials of blessing, and sometimes just inane platitudes. There were times when I had poured my heart out from the pulpit only to hear, “I really enjoyed your sermon, pastor.” I’d feel like screaming, “I didn’t mean for you to enjoy it! I meant for it to make you uncomfortable!”

We don’t read that any of Jesus’ hearers came up to him after His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 through 7) and told Him they enjoyed it! Matthew tells us that His hearers were amazed (7:28). And I’d bet they were darned uncomfortable. I suspect that He intended them to be

He tells His hearers that they’re “lucky” (Greek makarioi, usually translated “blessed”) if they’re in situations that we’d consider miserable; that not only doing, but thinking about doing certain things is sin; that they’re supposed to love people who are nasty to them; that God hates religiosity; that they’re supposed to treat people the way they themselves would want to be treated; that calling Jesus “Lord” is not enough to get one into Heaven!

So how do we deal with a sermon like this, one that makes us so uncomfortable? There have been many attempts, some of which I fear, are designed primarily to find some way to avoid its demands.

One way is to make an idol out of it, an idol to which we pay lip-service – sort of like we do to the ten commandments, although it’s too long to engrave on a stone monument. Usually those who do that don’t bother to read it.

Another way is to analyze it to death. (Some commentaries do this.) Jesus is seen as speaking in metaphors and hyperboles, so we should beware of taking Him too literally. Fair enough – but what do these metaphors and hyperboles mean?

Another twist on that one is to say that Jesus didn’t really expect anyone to live up to these impossible demands. They were given to show His hearers their need for the gospel. If so, however, couldn’t He have said it in a lot fewer words?

Or we could “dispensationalize” it. After all, Jesus was speaking to people who were living under the Old Testament Law, and we live under the dispensation of grace, the church; therefore it has no application to us. But Matthew recorded it for us in the age of grace.

Or perhaps we could isolate ourselves and our Christian community away from “the world,” Then it would be easier to carry out these obligations. But this was spoken to people living out there in the real world, dealing with mostly, fallen people. Besides, “Christian” folks aren’t that much easier to deal with than heathen.

Most of the above attempts have some validity in them: we should regard this sermon highly; we should recognize (and attempt to interpret) the figures of speech; we should recognize that its demands appear impossible; we must interpret it in the original context; and, we must recognize that its demands are not for some idealized community.

And yet there it is – a sermon that demands a radical ethic, a radical lifestyle, and radical relationships. It seems so incompatible with our comfortable religion of materialism, moralism and self-esteem, of professionalism, politics and pew-warming! I suppose it had a similar dissonance in the ears of its original hearers.

Maybe Jesus just expected us to live this way!

More later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


The TIME magazine article “What Makes us Moral” (see previous blog) spoke of “the notion of the ‘other,’” a “kind of brutal line between insiders and outsiders.” It cites Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia and Rwanda as examples. This us versus them mentality is seen as something that is manipulated in genocide and, as the article tells us, “has its most terrible expression in wars.”

Though I disagree with the biological reasoning of the article, I believe it is right on in this matter. We constantly categorize people and by doing so, justify hateful behavior.

I can think of dozens of terms used by nice law-abiding Christian Americans to somehow justify hatred for “the other.” Happily some of them have passed out of use. I’m tempted to write them out, but that might cause unnecessary pain to some. Most of us wouldn’t have to think too hard to come up with some: terms for those with whom our nation is at war; terms for those of other races – or national origins – or religions – or denominations. The latest is “illegal aliens.”

If we can only put people in a class group and tag them with a derogatory label we can justify mistreatment of them, even getting rid of them.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend. It was a forwarded article entitled “What if 20 Million Illegal Aliens Vacated America?” by Frosty Woolridge. In the article we are told all the benefits, primarily economical, that we would have in America if we could somehow ship them all back where they came from. I was stunned when I received this, but not by the article itself. I’ve read and heard enough of this kind of thinking not to be shocked. But I was shocked by the fact that it was sent to me by a man who is in the ministry, who himself ministers across ethnic/racial lines.

I read the article over. I thought that perhaps this was a piece of satire, written with tongue in cheek to mock those whose views it expressed. It apparently wasn’t. I thought my friend would have a rebuttal at the end. He didn’t.

So I replied:

I agree!!!

And it would help even more if we would gas 6 million Jews!!!
And slaughter 2 million Tutsis!!!
And ethnically cleanse Bosnians!!!
And put all the Indians on reservations!!!
And make Black people work for free!!!

I'm ashamed of you ________ for spreading this kind of hateful crap!!!

He probably took offense at the word crap.

The story of the so-called “Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25-37 is not just a story of a nice guy who stopped to help another who was in need. It’s the story of a man who crossed that invisible barrier to aid someone “other” – someone of a different ethnicity and religion – someone with whose people the Samaritan’s people shared a mutual hatred. And in doing so he (literally) “became a neighbor.” I think Jesus expects the same of us.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This week’s TIME magazine had a fascinating article entitled “What Makes us Moral.” The second paragraph speaks of the fact that “we’re a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness” and then lists ways in which we demonstrate that kindness toward one another. It goes on in the same paragraph to point out that “at the same time we slaughter one another.” It points out the “paradox” (and the “shame”) that while we are “the highest, wisest, most principled species the planet has produced,” we are also “the lowest, cruelest, most blood-drenched.”

We’ve heard laments like this before. They’re not original thoughts. (See WHAT HAPPENED?) But the TIME editors are not writing as theologians or philosophers (or are they?). They are trying to resolve the paradox by comparing us with other “species” and examining brain function.

The article deals with many of what would be called moral dilemmas and does point out many interesting ways our ethics compares with that of animals. It’s a great read!

The article seems to seek to explain our behavior solely on the basis of biology. It wants to know why we behave the way we do. There are some creative explanations, though they aren’t that certain or adequate. The real problem is that all that we can get from this thinking are observations of what is. Everything else is tentative and uncertain. There are no statements of how we ought to behave, just how we behave even though there is a moral longing.

Apparently it’s all a matter of evolution. The article ends on a hopeful note – the hope that the nastiness of our dual nature will someday be overcome by the niceness, and we will finally “fully civilize ourselves.”

Don’t hold your breath!

This article, I believe shows (sadly) how lost we really are when we look at life only through what can be observed by our senses, or “under the sun” as Qohelet said.

The brilliant minds of today can explain natural phenomena through scientific studies and methods. The universe, the human body. We’ve made tremendous advances in knowledge. Yet man cannot be explained solely in this way. He is more than the sum of his parts. He is more than just another “species.” He is a moral being and this morality (or lack of morality) cannot be explained in this way.

Yet, without God, that is all we are left with.

Bill Ball

Monday, November 26, 2007


Martin Luther King, Jr. loved to quote Amos 5:24. I found this verse at least five times in his published sermons and I suppose that he quoted it many more times than this.

“… let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amos, like King was concerned about oppression of the poor and social injustice. But Amos was also concerned about sham religion. And to Amos the two were inseparable.

Amos spoke (around 760 BC) to the northern kingdom of Israel, which had split from the southern kingdom about 165+ years earlier. It was during the reign of Jeroboam 2, a time of territorial expansion and prosperity (at least for some). It was the last period of the kingdom’s greatness before it fell into the steady decline that ended with its conquest and deportation by Assyria within another 40 years.

After tearing into the sins of the neighboring nations (see previous blog) and of their sister kingdom Judah in the first chapter and a half, Amos turns his attention to Israel and never stops for seven chapters.

He makes clear at the beginning what the LORD is angry about. It is the hypocritical mixing of religiosity with oppression of the poor, along with their sexual immorality. Look at 2:6-8: “… they sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals. These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless also turn aside the way of the humble; and a man and his father resort to the same girl in order to profane My holy name. And on garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.”

Sounds like 21st century America, doesn’t it? The rich were getting rich off the backs of the poor and using their ill-gotten wealth not only for their own pleasure and benefit, but also to make a show of religion.

Amos calls the Gentile nations to see this. He tells them in 3:9b, 10: “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria and see the great tumults within her and the oppressions in her midst. But they do not know how to do what is right, declares the LORD, these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels.” The very people the LORD had chosen and delivered, Amos was now holding up as a bad example.

He calls the wealthy women “cows … who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring now, that we may drink’” (4:1).

He tears into their false worship and makes it clear that it was not getting through to Him (4:4, 5). In beautiful anthropomorphism and irony, the LORD says that their religion was an offense to His senses. “I will not SMELL your solemn assemblies … your offerings … I will not DELIGHT IN, and I will not LOOK AT the peace offerings … Take away the noise of your songs; I will not LISTEN to the sound of your harps!” (5:21-23).

Over and over God, through Amos, mocks the religion of Israel and fulminates against their social injustice.

How can we – American Christians – read Amos without feeling God’s grief and anger at what goes on in this country? How can we be like those “who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the finest of oils, yet have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph?” (6;6).

And these things are going on. We see it on the evening news. We read about it in our newspapers.

Corporate CEOs robbing pension funds, bankrupting companies and employees and getting off with their golden parachutes.

Congressmen and politicians accepting lavish gifts from lobbyists to promote their pet projects at the public expense.

Federal regulatory agencies peopled with members or former members of the very businesses they’re supposed to regulate and passing on and receiving favors.

American and international corporations growing wealthy at the expense of underpaid and child laborers in other countries. See 8:6: “… as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals….”

And yet church growth in America continues. Our super-churches are growing larger and wealthier while many of the leaders of these churches live lavish lifestyles.

Isn’t there some sort of anomaly here?

I know that many Christians, many in those same super-churches are aiding in attempting to relieve some of the effects of these evils, but we don’t seem to speak to the evils themselves.

We can write it off and deny that it is really going on. We can claim that somehow those who are at the bottom deserve to be there.

We can say that it is none of our business, that (as I have sometimes said) it’s not our job to speak to these issues, that our job is to preach the gospel.

But we are citizens of a representative democracy, and as Christian citizens, I believe we are responsible for speaking out in love. And we do speak out, though I am honestly puzzled by some of the issues we American Christians find important. Though some are extremely important, others are really trivial compared with what Amos speaks about: oppression and injustice, especially the mistreatment of the poor. Why don’t we speak out more on these? Aren’t these “sanctity of life” issues?

Bill Ball

Monday, November 19, 2007


I just finished reading the little book of Amos in my Bible. I really like this guy! I feel he has a lot to say to the people of America – both Christians and non-Christians.

Amos was a prophet to the nation of Israel living under the Old Covenant. It would be easy for us to simply write off what he says as being irrelevant to us Christians – after all we live under the New Covenant. However, we need to recognize a few things.

First, what the Old Testament has to say about moral/ethical issues is important, because it expresses the mind of God on these matters. This is especially important when the New Testament also deals with them. Often the New Testament material is very sparse, and the Old Testament fills in the details.

Secondly, Amos makes very clear that God is concerned about the behavior of the people of the nations, not only that of the Jews, His covenant people. All that he says in chapter 1 through 2:3 have to do with the nations: Damascus and Aram (Syria) (1:3-5), the Philistine cities (6-8), Tyre (9, 10), Edom (11, 12), Ammon (13-15), Moab (2:1-3). Though most of the acts of the nations that draw his anger have to do with their sins against Israel, not all of them do. It would appear that it is the evil of the acts themselves with which He is angry.
  • Terrorism (1:4): “… because they threshed Giliad with implements of sharp iron.”
  • Mass deportation of people (1:6): “… because they deported an entire population”; (1:9): “Because they delivered up an entire population”
  • Broken treaties (1:9): “And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.”
  • Lack of compassion (1:11): “Because he pursued his brother with the sword, while he stifled his compassion;”
  • Mistreatment of the innocent for gain (1:13): “Because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their borders.”
  • Desecration of the dead (2:1): “Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.”
It would seem from the above that God holds the nations of the earth accountable for their behavior. Does He do so today? I find no indication that he has changed His mind. Look at Matthew 25:32: “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

What is the standard by which God, through Amos judges the nations? I believe that it is what Paul calls “the work of the Law” (Romans 2:14, 15). “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

However, when it comes to God’s covenant people, the nations of Israel and Judah, there is a different standard. This would agree with what Paul says in Romans 2:12, 13: “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.”

So where does this leave us, God’s New Covenant people? Well, first of all, we can be thankful that our sinful actions have already been judged in the person of Christ (John 3:18). He has taken all our sin on Himself. But we still have to stand before Christ some day and give account (2 Corinthians 5:10).

While it is not our responsibility to pass judgment on non-believers, I do believe we have to recognize the evils that are going on in this world and do our best to alleviate them. I believe that as citizens we have a responsibility for speaking out to the sins around us – especially here in America – not to condemn but to remedy them. And we need to recognize that the only ultimate remedy for sin is the forgiveness found through the work of Christ.

So – what was Amos trying to communicate? That God is angry at sin – the sins of all mankind, but especially those of His own people. And also that there is the promise of restoration (9:11-15). God is a God of justice and grace.

More later.

Bill Ball

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Why are the distinctions I made in the previous post important?

I believe there are many Christians, especially young people, who are tremendously frustrated. They have been taught that somehow they are responsible for KNOWING God’s will, while the Bible stresses that we are to DO it.

Romans 12:2 says, “ … that you may prove what the will of God is,” and this is somehow understood to mean figuring out life choices when there is not enough data to make decisions.

The view I think many have is that we are like contestants on a TV game show.

The contestant stands before two large curtains and the host (God?) says, “Mrs. Jones, behind these curtains stand two possible choices. Behind one curtain is a check for 5 million dollars, the deed to a million dollar home, a brand new top of the line Mercedes and a cruise around the world. Behind the other curtain is a coupon for a Happy Meal at McDonalds. Mrs. Jones – you must choose which curtain to open!”

The clock is ticking! The music plays louder and louder! The camera homes in on Mrs. Jones’ face, where beads of perspiration are rolling down.

The two curtains look exactly alike. There are no criteria with which Mrs. Jones can make her decision. But the host again says, “Mrs. Jones, you must decide!”

Is that the way it is? Is God like some sadistic game show host who has set impossible decisions before us and yet holds us responsible for those decisions?

I’m afraid that’s the way He is perceived by many.

But that’s not the way it is!

I believe that much of the problem is due to confusion between different aspects of God’s will (see previous blog). While I believe that God has determined what the future is (His Decreed Will), He does not expect us to know it, unless He has revealed it in His Word. This is not required of us. As the song goes, “God only knows, God makes His plan; the information’s unavailable to the mortal man.”

While we are not obligated to know what the future is for us, we are obligated, not only to know, but to carry out His Will of Desire as expressed in Scripture.

I find that this is tremendously freeing. We don’t have to look for some flash of revelation or some “call.” We can make our decisions based on criteria already revealed to us in the Bible.

The first criterion for decision making is a life that is committed to God and is in the process of transformation through mental renewal (Romans 12:1, 2).

Another related criterion is that we seek wisdom from God, the ultimate source of wisdom, through:
-- prayer (James 1:5, 6)
-- His Word (Psalm 119:9-11)
-- other believers (Proverbs 12:15; 13:20; 15:7, 12; 19:20; 22:17)

There are also a number of questions we should ask:
-- Will God be glorified in this action? (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 14:6-8)
-- Does the Scripture speak directly to this? Would this act violate a clear commandment? Would it help to fulfill a clear commandment? Would it hinder me from carrying out a clear commandment?
-- Do I have freedom in this area? There are areas where God has, in a sense, left the decision to us (1 Corinthians 7:21, 28, 29).
-- Am I completely sure this is a right action? (Romans 14:14, 23)
-- Is it beneficial? (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10;23)
-- Do I have control over it or does it control me? (1 Corinthians 6:12)
-- Does it build up my brother (1 Corinthians 10:23; Romans 14:19), or does it hinder him? (Romans 14:13, 15, 20, 21)
-- Does it hinder or enhance my witness to unbelievers? (1 Corinthians 10:27-32)

The above criteria are not meant to be a set of legalistic rules, but guidelines for the Christian who is free. Often we don’t think through these questions but merely decide. I believe that if our life is truly committed to Christ, we will make correct decisions. One old saint (whose name I don’t recall) called them “sanctified preferences.” And if later it appears that we made a wrong decision, we need to remember that we can never step outside of the love of God in Christ and His purpose to conform us to His image.

Bill Ball

Monday, November 12, 2007


The other day I received this question via e-mail from a former theology student:

… Anyway, a main reason for writing is I left my class notes in storage and I remember Bill that you explained God's decreed will and His permissive will. Could you give me the explanation again. I am in a small Bible study and the ladies seem to think that our life is just about our choices and I was adamant that God's will would be done in our life, but at the time I couldn't recall the term His permissive will. Alice
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The distinction that I made in class was between God's DECREED WILL and God's PRECEPTIVE WILL. This is not a distinction made in the Bible, but one made by theologians, and which I believe is a necessary distinction.

GOD'S DECREED (or Decretive) WILL is defined as that which God causes necessarily to come to pass. If we believe that God is absolutely sovereign, then nothing happens outside of His Decreed Will. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. … He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him. … having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:5, 9, 11); “So then it does not depend on the one who wills or the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. … You may say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (Romans 9:16, 19).

GOD'S PRECEPTIVE WILL (or Will of Desire, or Revealed Will), however, is another matter. We may define this as what God expresses as His desire. We find passages that express God's desires for our behavior, but which may not necessarily be carried out. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians, 4:3); “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:18); “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). These are only a few.

So it is possible to step outside of God's Preceptive Will, though we can never step outside of His Decreed Will. An example of this is the crucifixion of Christ: “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, YOU nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (4:27, 28). The crucifixion of Christ was a direct violation of God's Preceptive Will -- His command "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). Yet it was at the same time an act willed by God.

Some have used the expression "God's Permissive Will" to explain phenomena like these. It is said that while we may violate God's commands (His Preceptive Will), it is only as God permits us to do so.

Others have used the expression "God's Perfect Will" to describe what happens when His Decreed and His Permissive Will coincide. When I obey God, I am doing His "Perfect Will." When Paul in Romans 12:2 says, "that you may prove what the will of God is," he is not talking about finding God's Decreed Will, what He has planned for our future, but of testing and demonstrating the truth of God's Preceptive Will as revealed in the Scripture.

As for what your lady friends are saying about choices, I believe they are correct as far as it goes. We are obligated to make choices -- to choose to obey the will of God as He has revealed it to us in His Word. Notice in the Acts passages, Peter was holding the Jewish leaders responsible for their actions (their "choices"), even though they were carrying out God's Decreed Will.

I know this is difficult for many of us. We want it to be an “either/or” but as I read these passages I see a “both/and.” We make our decisions/choices as we see fit, whether they are good or evil, yet we find in doing so we are carrying out God’s plan.

And we need to remember that God is carrying out His purpose in our lives, whether or not we make the correct choices. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Notice that His purpose for us is that we will be "conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29).

Bill Ball

Monday, November 5, 2007


James, in the 4th chapter of his letter, asks (literally), “where do wars and battles among you come from? Are they not from within, from your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1). Though he seems to be using the language figuratively, the words he uses are usually used of literal warfare and military conflict. It would appear that while the question is aimed at interpersonal conflicts among believers, we could also ask it of nations, which literally wage war.

For the Christian the whole issue of war and warfare is, or should be an ethical issue that needs to be carefully considered.

The “ethics of war” may seem like an oxymoron to some. There are those who oppose war altogether and would say that war cannot ever be ethical (the “pacifist position”). There are those on the other hand who actually claim that (as someone recently told me) “war is not a moral issue,” period!, or that the Christian as a submissive citizen is duty-bound to submit to his government and thus to participate in, or at least to support that government in any and every war that government chooses to participate in. This is called by some, the “activist position.” The Bible appears to be ambiguous on the issue, and it would seem that proof texts can be found for both sides. But is either position really a biblical position?

I feel I’m taking a great risk in writing these thoughts. I have many friends who have chosen military service, some who have taken part in combat. I also know that even those who haven’t, hold views on this matter with great passion. So please bear with me. I am not here attempting to comment on any particular war, past or present.

The Old Testament. God is presented as a Warrior (Exodus 15:3). The Israelites are commanded not only to go to war, but to exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan and other peoples. War fills the entire Old Testament, starting with Abraham’s defeat of the kings in Genesis 14.

The Psalms are full of songs of war, many of them written by the warrior king, David. Although we (New Testament Christians) often apply the language metaphorically it is clear that David was speaking of literal, physical enemies, as he called on God to both protect him and to smite his enemies (Psalm 3:3, 6, 7; 7:6; 10:26, etc.).

It would not be difficult to build an extreme pro-war theology if the Old Testament were our only source of material, but we must build our theology on the New Testament and interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New .

Jesus’ teachings. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount taught an ethic of peace, of forgiveness, of love for enemies, of non-violence and non-retaliation! Matthew 5:39: “But I say to you do not resist him who is evil, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Some have attempted to find justification for war in some of Jesus’ other sayings, as in Matthew 10:34, where He says “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The context, however, makes it clear that He is not advocating warfare but is warning His followers that following Christ often leads to conflicts, even with one’s own family.

It is also claimed that in Luke 22:35-38, Jesus is advocating taking the sword in self-defense. However, a few verses later when Peter actually uses the sword, he is reprimanded (verses 49-51; John 18:11). Especially note Matthew 26:51-53, where He says “ … all those who take up the sword will die by it.”

It is also claimed that His “violent” actions in casting the money changers from the temple, contradict a non-violence ethic. But His actions in these incidents seem to be mostly symbolic and it is not stated that He caused anyone physical harm (John 2:14-16; Matthew 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45, 46). His non-resistance at His trials demonstrates that He practiced what He preached (1 Peter 2:20-23).

It should be noted, however, first that Jesus was speaking to His hearers as individuals, not as nations, and second that Jesus never speaks for or against violence in protection of others. It appears that while He expects us not to retaliate or defend ourselves. He does not forbid us from protecting others, whether family, home, country, etc.

The New Testament on government. It would seem that the right to wage war is allowed to the nations of the earth and would even be included in their responsibility to use force to protect the innocent and avenge evil. “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” (Romans 13:3, 4). The question for the Christian has to do with his own participation in war or a war, as well as his duty as a citizen to speak out in support of war or peace. And we should recognize also that as citizens of a representative democracy, we are part of the government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The argument about the Christian’s attitude toward participating in war is closely tied to our attitude toward human government. We are to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Is military service something owed to Caesar or not? Paul, recognizing that human governments are appointed by God, commands that we “render to all what is due them” (Romans 13:1-7). He does not include military service in his list of things due (verse 7). Nor is it found anywhere in the New Testament as the Christian’s responsibility.

Military men in the New Testament. An ethic of war must consider how the New Testament regards military men. Soldiers are not always presented favorably in the New Testament (Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:11; John 19:1-3), although John the Baptist when addressing soldiers, warns them, not that their occupation is wrong, but that they are not to abuse it by extortion, false witness or discontentment. The Roman centurions (literally, leaders of 100, probably equivalent to a master sergeant) are usually presented favorably in the Gospels and Acts (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Even the centurion who was in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion is seen as confessing Christ’s innocence and deity (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47). In Acts 10, Cornelius, a centurion. became the first Gentile (non-Jew) to come to faith in Christ. Cornelius was nowhere told that he must resign his position. Perhaps these examples would fall under Paul’s instructions to remain in the calling in which we were called (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

These examples would lead us to believe that a military occupation was not considered wrong in itself; and if this is correct, it would seem that war cannot be perceived as intrinsically wrong. So while participation in war may or may not be the Christian’s responsibility, neither is he or she forbidden to participate.

The just war theory. How do we reconcile the various biblical strands of thought? How can we balance Jesus’ teaching on non-violence with obedience to human government and government’s responsibility to maintain justice, by force if necessary? Since the time of Augustine, Christians, in attempting to deal with what appears to be an ethical dilemma, have accepted a set of criteria by which war may be considered just. This position is neither a totally pacifist, nor a totally activist position. It assumes that some wars are just and some are not, and that wars are to be conducted in a just manner. These criteria are listed in various ways, but usually include the following:

-- A just cause, such as self-defense or the conquest of evil.
-- A competent authority, a legitimate government. This would, of course, rule out individuals, private militia, etc., waging their own personal wars.
-- A right intention, an appropriate end goal, which of course must be peace and justice.
-- Last resort, war should only be engaged in when all other methods fail.
-- Proportionality, the good to be achieved must outweigh the damage done.
-- Waged discriminately, avoiding harm to non-combatants wherever and whenever possible.

These principles were, I believe, first designed for the state. They seem to assume a “Christian nation” determining whether to go to war, and if so, how to wage it. But as I have argued elsewhere, there is no such thing as a “Christian nation.”

However, we as individual Christians can use these same criteria to determine whether or not we should support or participate in a particular war. We can also, as citizens of a representative democracy, use them to evaluate and speak out on our government’s actions in entering into and engaging in war.

The consequences of non-participation for those who oppose war or a particular war. As in other situations, the biblical example is that of submission to authority, even when resisting that authority. The Christian who chooses not to participate in war , or a particular war would have to object on biblical or related grounds, such as the just war theory, and must be willing to accept the consequences of his or her decision.

Further thoughts on war in the Old Testament. Having arrived (hopefully) at a biblical position on war based on the New Testament we must reexamine the Old Testament in light of this position, as well as in its own context.

-- The Christian is under the New Covenant and the Law of Christ, not the Mosaic Covenant and Law. The rules given in the Mosaic Covenant are not to be taken out of context and applied directly to the Christian.
-- Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israel, the nation, was the manifestation of the Theocratic Kingdom. As such Israel’s responsibility was to promote and extend that Kingdom on the earth. War was one of the means used for this promotion. Other means were also used, such as prophetic preaching. Under the New Covenant, however, the method used is to be the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8, etc.).
-- Wars often were (and perhaps still are) used by God as a means for bringing about His judgment on wicked peoples and nations. The extermination of the Canaanites falls into this area (Genesis 15:16). Even the later conquest of Israel by foreign powers is seen as a judgment on Israel’s sin (Habakkuk 1:2-11).
-- Often the wars of Israel are simply reported, without comments as to whether or not these wars are “just wars.” We should be careful not to make “prescription” out of “description.”
-- The fact that much material in the Old Testament is given to “rules of warfare” (such as Deuteronomy 20), does not in itself justify warfare any more than the rules for divorce justify divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). It may be that God is simply making concession “because of the hardness of (our) heart” (Matthew 19:8).

War is at best a means to an end (the lesser evil?). God’s ultimate design for His Kingdom is peace (Isaiah 2:4; Mark 4:3; Romans 14:17).

Bill Ball

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

RACE, Part 2

Last week our local library had its annual book sale. I always like to go and pick up a pile of used books cheap. Often I find books that I would never look for in a book store or library. Sometimes I pick up some real classics that I have somehow failed to read.

One that I found this time, was BLACK LIKE ME by John Howard Griffin. I don’t know how I had missed reading it long ago. There are many books on my shelves that have to do with race relations and conflict, but this one slipped by me.

The book is a true narrative by a white man who became black. Griffin was a writer who darkened his skin by the use of drugs and dye and entered the world of the African American. The year was 1959, near the beginnings of the civil rights’ movement. The place was the deep south: Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The book was published in 1960 and is still in print. Griffin was the first white man to attempt to write from the black man’s perspective. He opened white people’s minds to the horrors of Jim Crow in the deep south.

Why hadn’t I read this book before? Perhaps it was because good Christian white folks (even in Michigan where I was raised) didn’t read stuff like this.

I grew up in what would have been considered in those days to be a reasonably integrated town. I went to high school with black students and had friendly acquaintances with many. But I didn’t live near them or work with them. And I definitely didn’t go to church with black people! “De facto segregation,” they call it nowadays. There was an underlying racism that usually didn’t come to the surface. It was kind of like sex. Everybody knew about it and most people practiced it, but nice people usually didn’t talk about it.

Though I had heard of them, my first exposure to Jim Crow traditions was in 1955. I was in Parris Island, South Carolina with my Marine Reserve company. We had a Saturday leave to go to Beaufort and 4 or 5 of us young white men took the bus. Being Michigan boys, we just automatically sat down on the back seats. We couldn’t understand why the bus driver glared at us so harshly, until a black lady got on. She looked puzzled and nervous and almost got back off. Finally she sat down toward the back, but 3 or 4 rows in front of us. The driver intensified his glare. When we figured out what was happening, we simply thought it was funny and had a good laugh at what we considered just a stupid tradition. It never occurred to us how humiliating and degrading it was to the woman.

I moved to Texas in 1966. Here, though I saw more blatant racism than in Michigan, I also saw efforts to make things right. I have seen tremendous improvements and changes in the last 41 years.

Yet I have noticed that racism continues, not only in the south, but also in my home state.

I taught for many years in a multi-ethnic Bible college. The original purpose of the college was to provide solid biblical and theological education to members of minority communities, especially the African American community. I have been exposed to racial prejudice in both directions and could tell many stories. Though this college has been tremendously used by God to bring about racial reconciliation, bigotry lingers, even there.

Why is racism still so widespread, even among those who claim to be followers of Christ? Why do we find even godly people who show great wisdom in other areas showing such narrow thinking? Why do I catch myself having these feelings?

-- Well, first of all, there is the fact that we are sinners. If we know Christ by faith we are new creatures, but the old “me” is still active. Read Paul’s lament in Romans 7:15-23.
-- While we may be more likely to admit to ourselves our other sins and sinful thinking, somehow we do a good job of deceiving ourselves in this matter. I can’t count the times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m not prejudiced, but …” (I’ve even said it more than once.)
-- For some reason we distrust anyone or anything that is different. I suppose this goes back at least as far as the tower of Babel.
-- We like to see ourselves as the standard and judge everyone else by that standard. This is the sin of arrogance.
-- We like to see our actions which should be done in love, as a sort of condescension toward perceived inferiors.

Many will tell me that it’s really not that way any more, that we have progressed beyond that sort of thinking. I disagree.

I’ve never been black, either like Mr. Griffin or in any other way. I can’t get inside the mind or the skin of another of a different race. But I have had somewhere around 25 years of dealing with people of other races. I’ve heard statements of pain and resentment. I’ve seen pain on the faces of those whom I have hurt, even when I didn’t realize I was hurting someone until it was too late. I have also felt the pain of being distrusted because I am white.

But I have also felt the love of those who dared to cross racial barriers and I hope they have felt my love. I also pray that those who have distrusted me because of my race have learned to see the love of Christ in me.

(Also read RACE.)

Bill Ball

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Qohelet is the Hebrew title for the little book entitled Ecclesiastes in our English Bibles. Our title Ecclesiastes is from the Greek Septuagint and is a translation of the Hebrew title Qohelet, which means “one who assembles or addresses an assembly.”

I love this book, but I must confess that the first time I read it as a young Christian, I found it extremely troubling. It is full of apparent contradictions and tentative conclusions. Many see it as worldly, pessimistic, even cynical. The covenant name of God – Yahweh (or LORD) is never used. Most references to God use the definite article (Ha-Elohim): The God (32 out of 40). The author seems to deny the afterlife (3:19, 20; 9:10).

I’ve read many commentaries on the book, and while they have added much to my understanding, I get the feeling that they’re not quite sure what to do with this book either. One author says, “The thing that most surprised me in the majority of Ecclesiastes commentators was their extraordinary knowledge of Hebrew, coupled with the superficiality of their thought” (REASON FOR BEING, Jacques Ellul, page 12). Unfortunately, I suppose the same could be said for him.

Some commentators can’t believe that all these apparently contradictory statements can be from the same author, so they posit that it is a collection of random proverbial thoughts by various authors, pasted together by an ignorant redactor. They and others have a hard time with the claim made by Qohelet that he is one and the same as King Solomon, so they assume an anonymous author who assumes Solomon’s role. [He tells us he is “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1), "king over all Israel in Jerusalem" (1:12). The only son (descendant) of David who reigned over all Israel was Solomon. Some have argued that the references to "all who were in Jerusalem before me" (1:16; 2:7, 9) could not refer to Solomon, since he was only the second king of Israel to reign there. However, Jerusalem was an ancient and powerful city named Jebus long before it was conquered by David.] Some claim a later date than Solomon (971-31 BC) because of a supposed reliance on Greek thinking. And so on and so on.

None of these claims can be proven. They seem to be attempts at deconstructing the text rather than dealing with it as it is. Usually those who make these claims have a very loose (if any) theology of inspiration.

But if we hold to the doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, if we hold that “all Scripture is (literally) God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), then we can’t crawfish out of dealing with the text as it stands. We must at least grant the same respect for its integrity as we would any other piece of literature – and more.

Unfortunately, liberal critical commentators aren’t the only ones who deal improperly with this book. Conservative evangelicals are not always truthful in our handling of it either. We don’t like those parts that seem to clash with our theology, so we “spiritualize” them away and try to make the book more palatable.

So how should we interpret the book? Here are what I believe are some important points:

-- We must deal with the book as a unit. It is tempting to pick out the good stuff, or the parts that seem more palatable, and to ignore the rest. This is, I suppose the biggest problem for evangelicals. We read the Bible “devotionally”; we memorize verses out of context; we pull passages out of context for sermon topics. But Ecclesiastes is different from the book of Proverbs.
-- We need to interpret the book in its context. It claims Solomon as its author, so we must see it from his perspective and in the context of his life.
-- We must search for the author’s intent. What is he trying to tell us? Though when looked at superficially, the book seems to ramble and wander back and forth, we must look for clues as to where it is headed.
-- We must recognize that though this book is part of the inspired Scriptures, it is not to be interpreted in the same way as the Mosaic Law or the prophecies of Isaiah or Ezekiel. It does not present us with a “Thus sayeth the LORD.” Its tentative conclusions may be incomplete and it is only when the author comes to a final conclusion that we can say that.
-- And, finally as Christians, we must look at it from this side of the cross and resurrection. Qohelet is not the final word on life!

So here goes a brief synopsis of my understanding:

Qohelet gives us, I believe, his purpose and theme in the frequently used Hebrew words ‘INYAN and ‘ANAH, which can be translated “occupation” or “task” and “occupied with.” In 1:12 and 13, he tells us “I, Qohelet, was king over Israel in Jerusalem, and I set my heart to seek and to explore all that has been done under the heavens. It is an evil task which God has given to the sons of men to be tasked with.” (Also see 3:10.) Though God has given this task to all “the sons of men,” Qohelet seems to feel this burden especially on himself and invites us to join him in a sort of quest for meaning in life, which he feels has been laid upon him.

But what is this task?

About 51 times he uses the Hebrew word TOB, which translates as “good” or “better.” “This is better than that.” At least part of his task seems to involve a search for relative good, perhaps to find the ultimate good. Not necessarily moral good, but that which is beneficial to man.

Unfortunately the quest runs up against many dead ends. Another frequently used term (35 times) is HEBEL, which is literally “vapor,” but which is usually translated “vanity” or “futility.” Many times he says “vanity of vanities.” Everything he tries seems to be a vapor. Not nothingness, but rather something that seems to have substance, but which can’t be taken hold of. We might say in a more modern expression, it’s like trying to nail jello to a tree.

We also need to note that Qohelet is starting from a completely “this world” perspective. Thirty-two times he uses the phrases “under the sun” or “under the heavens.”

So Qohelet comes to some very good tentative conclusions and advises us that life and its blessings are gifts of God. Enjoy them!

2:24: “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and let his soul see good in his labor. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.”

3:13: “And also every man who eats and drinks and sees good in all his labor, it is a gift of God.”

5:18: “Look at what I have seen: it is good and beautiful to eat and to drink and to see good in all one’s labor which he labors under the sun in the number of days of his life which God has given to him, because that is his portion.”

7:14a: “In the days of good, enjoy the good,”

8:15: “So I praised pleasure for there is nothing better for a man under the sun, except to eat and to drink and to take pleasure, and this will stay with him in his labor all the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”

9:7-9: “Go eat your bread with pleasure and drink your wine with a good heart for God is already pleased with your works. Always let your clothes be white and oil not be lacking on your head. See life with the wife you love all the days of your life of vanity which He has given to you under the sun all the days of your labor which you labor under the sun.”

Yet there is more to it than that. Look at 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has placed eternity in their heart, without which man will not find out the work which God has worked from beginning until end.” Though Qohelet is uncertain about what happens after this life, he knows there is more beyond it. In 8:12b: “I know that it will be good to those who fear God, who fear in His presence.” When will it “be good”? It seems apparent that he doesn’t believe it will happen in this life.

And so as Qohelet struggles with his quest, he is forced to look beyond this present life. Finally in 11:9, “Enjoy yourself young man, in your childhood and let your heart be good in the days of your youth and walk in the ways of your heart and the sights of your eyes, and know that in all of these God will bring you into judgment,” he reminds us that while we are to enjoy life, we are accountable to God. Again it is apparent that this judgment is set in the future, beyond this life.

12:13, 14: “Hear the sum of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every man! For God will bring every work to judgment, everything hidden, whether good or evil.”

If I may attempt to summarize what I believe Qohelet meant: God has placed in the heart of every person, a desire for something more than this life has to offer. We may spend our entire life searching, yet will find nothing of substance. We should, however, enjoy the good things of life, recognizing that they are all from God. And as we do enjoy these, we have to keep in mind that we must give an account to God for all.

And from our post-resurrection perspective we have to recognize that not only in Qohelet, but in all the Old Testament, we feel a longing for something better. That something better can only be found in Jesus Christ. Qohelet points to a need. Christ fulfills that need.

Bill Ball

Friday, October 26, 2007


It seems the church today is confused about homosexuality. There are many different views held.
There are those on the liberal wing of the church who see the issue as a matter of simple acceptance. As we have made progress in civil rights in America, the church has followed. The church has become more accepting of ethnic/racial minorities. The church is becoming more accepting of equal rights and roles for women. So it seems natural that we should accept gays (homosexuals) as equals. We should no more expect them to change their practice than we should expect people to change their skin color or their gender.
On the other, conservative wing, there are those who not only condemn homosexual practice, but the homosexual himself. They see homosexuality and its political agenda as a great danger to the family as well as to the church.

Who is right?

As with many matters, I believe that there is an element of truth somewhere between the two extremes.

I suspect that the homosexual is more often condemned today by many Christians, not so much for sinning in the biblical sense, as for violating the machismo required of the American male. But if homosexual behavior is a sin, the voice of Christianity is not only to pronounce condemnation, but also to hold out the possibility of forgiveness.

Before condemning or condoning homosexuality, we evangelicals must examine the Scripture and attempt to ascertain what the biblical view is.

What is Homosexuality? Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition gives the following definitions:
homosexual (adj.) 1) of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire to another of the same sex. 2) of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex.
homosexual (n.) a homosexual person, and especially a male.
homosexuality (n.) 1) the quality or state of being homosexual. 2) erotic activity with another of the same sex.

Though some dislike the term homosexual when used as a noun, thinking of homosexuality as a condition or part of one’s total sexuality, I will in this post consider a homosexual to be one who has this tendency.

There have been many attempts to explain homosexuality sociologically, psychologically and genetically. It is not my purpose here to discuss these factors unless they touch directly on the biblical passages being discussed. However, it is important to note that the Bible speaks to the practice of homosexuality, and not to the state of homosexuality. If the Bible condemns the practice but not the state, then all attempts to use factors outside the homosexual to explain his condition will not justify his practice.

The Biblical Norm for Sexuality. Before considering what the Bible has to say about homosexuality we must consider what it has to say about the sexual roles of men and women.

It is clear that God’s intention for the human race at creation was a male/female relationship (Genesis 1:27). In the more detailed account of the creation, God after creating man (male) is quoted as saying, “It is not good for man to be alone: I will make him a helper suitable for (corresponding to) him” (Genesis 2:18). We find (2:22, 23) that this “suitable helper” is the woman, and the comment is made (verse 24) that the man and the woman are to “become one flesh,” which includes, among other things, sexual union. One of the purposes for this male/female union is that of procreation. In speaking to the issue of divorce, Jesus endorsed this principle (Matthew 19:4-6), laying special stress on the idea of one man and one woman.

Paul also stressed the one man/one woman marriage relationship (1 Corinthians 7:1-5; 9:5) with the special emphasis on the sexual aspects. The husband and the wife are each under the authority of the other sexually. The reason which Paul gives here for marital sex is “because of immoralities” (porneias). This term was a broad term used to describe every form of sexual sin, which would include homosexual activity.

The only alternative to heterosexuality, which the Scriptures present, is celibacy, complete abstinence from sexual activity. This is presented as a respectable, and in some cases, preferable option. Jesus spoke of those “who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12), apparently referring to those who abstained from marriage or any sexual activity. The apostle Paul could be considered one such “eunuch.” Jesus and Paul both urged that those who were capable of living without sex should do so (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 8). The single life is urged by Paul as permitting one to devote more time to spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

Old Testament Teachings Regarding Homosexuality. The Mosaic Law very clearly condemns homosexual acts. The act itself is described and condemned twice in the book of Leviticus, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (18:22). “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act” (20:13). Both “abomination” and “detestable act” are translations of the Hebrew TO’EBAH which signifies the strongest repugnance of God. This act is condemned as being one of the customs of the Canaanites, which the Israelites were forbidden to take part in (Leviticus 18:3). The Canaanite religion was a nature religion involving everything from perverse sex acts to human sacrifices. It is for these practices that the Canaanites were to be exterminated (18:24, 25). The penalty for homosexual intercourse (as for many other sexual sins) was death (20:13).

Another related act condemned under the Mosaic Law was the Canaanite practice of ritual prostitution which involved both men and women (Deuteronomy 23:17, 18). This practice was forbidden to the Israelites and it was also specifically spelled out that their wages were not to be given to the house of the Lord. “You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 23:18). It is usually understood that “price of a dog” of Deuteronomy 23:18 refers to the wages received by a male cult prostitute. This custom was apparently never completely shaken by Israel. We find that male cult prostitutes were around in the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:24); King Asa waged a campaign against them (1 Kings 15:12); as also did Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:46) and Josiah (2 Kings 23:7).

Thus a study of the Old Testament passages with regard to the practice of homosexuality gives us the idea that it was something that was utterly repugnant to God.

New Testament Teachings Regarding Homosexuality. In the New Testament, we find no indication that the divine viewpoint toward this practice and those who practice it, had changed.  In the Pauline epistles we find frequent reference to the practice.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, Paul states that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God,” and then lists ten specific examples of who the unrighteous are. Three of the examples refer either directly or indirectly to those who practice homosexual behavior. In 1 Timothy 1:9, 10, Paul has a similar list containing two of the three mentioned in the 1 Corinthians’ passage. It will be profitable to examine these three words:
-- Pornos is the masculine form of pornē “a prostitute” from pernēmi “to sell.” The word is usually translated “fornicator” or “whoremonger” in the KJV, and could well have these meanings; however, it originally had reference to a male prostitute. In the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) in Deuteronomy 23:17 it is used to translate the Hebrew QĀDĒSH “male cult prostitute.” The pornos is condemned frequently in the New Testament.
-- Malakos literally means “soft” and when applied to men means “effeminate.” It especially is used outside the New Testament of men or boys who are the objects of sex acts. It is only used in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 6:9 in this sense.
-- Arsenokoitēs is found in the New Testament only in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The word is derived from two Greek words: arsēn “male” and koitē “bed,” which is often a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Thus it means literally “a male who has intercourse with another male” and clearly refers to the homosexual.
In these Pauline passages we clearly see the same divine revulsion for homosexual practice of every sort, as we saw in the Old Testament. Probably the most vivid picture of the practice is that which Paul paints in Romans 1:26, 27, which is also the only clear reference to lesbianism. It will be necessary to examine the passage as it fits into the argument of Romans.

Paul in Romans 1 begins his argument for the necessity of justification by faith, by pointing out that God’s wrath “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (verse 18). The reason for this is given as the fact that man has rebelled against the knowledge of God which man has in natural revelation and has suppressed what truth of God he has. This led to a downward spiral in man beginning with idolatry and ending with “a mind incapable of correct judgment” (adokimos, verse 28). This is a historical picture of the human race, though this same movement can be seen in nations and cultural groups and even in individuals. The downward trend is punctuated by the use of the phrase “God gave them over,” three times (verses 24, 26, 28). This phrase may indicate three steps in the process, or three views of the same judicial action of God. If I may restate the process:

-- Man had a knowledge of God through natural revelation (1:18b-21a).
-- Man rejected this knowledge of God and designed his own religion (1:21b-23).
-- God, in judgment of man, handed him over to total depravity. This is described as “impurity” (verse 24a), “degrading passions” (verse 26a), “a mind incapable of judgment” (verse 28b).
-- This depravity resulted in all sorts of perverse activities, described as: the dishonoring of their bodies among them (verse 24b); homosexual activity (verses 26b, 27); “things which are not proper” (verse 28c).
-- The final result is a character described as “being filled with all unrighteousness” (verses 29-32).

It seems that homosexual practice is pointed out here in verses 26 and 27, as an illustration of the outworking of man’s “degrading passions.” The language here is vivid. Some facts to be noted are:

-- The words Paul uses here are “females” and “males” not “women” and “men.”
-- Lesbianism is called an “exchange.” This is the same word that is used twice of man’s abandonment of God for man’s own religion (verses 23, 25).
-- Lesbianism is not merely “unnatural,” it is literally “against nature.”
-- Male homosexuals are said to act “in the same way” as lesbians. Thus it seems that what is true of one is true of the other.
-- Male homosexuals are said to have “abandoned” or “deserted” natural heterosexual activity.
-- The words used to describe homosexual passions are very strong words. The word translated “burned” is often used in Koine Greek of the arousing of strong emotion.
-- The homosexual act is described as literally, “the shameless deed.”
-- Homosexuals are said to receive in “their own persons the due penalty of their error.” This would seem to indicate that the practice itself is not only the result of a mind incapable of judgment, but it leads to a further incapacity to make proper judgment.

It seems, from the Romans’ passage, that homosexual practice has a particular repugnance in the sight of God. There is no direct explanation given but the following may be reasons why this is so:

-- It is an exchange of the God-revealed way of sexuality for a new way of man’s own design. In this it mirrors man’s exchange of God-given religion for man’s own.
-- It is “against nature.” Most of man’s lusts are the exaggeration of God-given desires, such as the desire for heterosexual activity, for self-preservation, etc., but homosexual practice is not based on normal desire.

We may thus conclude that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments condemns homosexual practice. This must be understood clearly before a biblical position can be taken.

A Biblical Position on Homosexuality Today

The Homosexual’s Position Before God. As has been shown above, the homosexual stands condemned before God. He “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10). And yet in this he is in no different position than any other sinner. Every New Testament passage mentioned above condemning homosexual behavior is in the context of the condemnation of other sins.

Christ died for the homosexual as certainly as for any other sinner and the homosexual can find forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, he is then no longer considered by God to be a homosexual. “Such WERE some of you” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11. As with every other sinner, he is a new creature in Christ, even though he may still have these tendencies (See: LIES WE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE ABOUT OURSELVES.). This does not mean that God accepts the homosexual’s practice, but that God forgives him totally of that practice and sees him differently.

Salvation and forgiveness in Christ does not mean that the homosexual is free to practice homosexual acts. Romans 6:1, 2 is emphatic here: the homosexual (as everyone else) is not to “continue in sin.” Here it is very necessary to note the distinction between the practice of homosexuality and the state. The homosexual’s state may have been brought on him by genetics or years of conditioning. It may not have been the result of direct choice. When the homosexual becomes a Christian he is not guaranteed an immediate removal of his desires (nor is any other sinner). But he does have some alternatives:
-- First he must realize that he is forgiven his past and that God does not hold him accountable for his present tendencies.
-- The homosexual must understand that there is need for change in his life and that he must desire that change. In this he is no different from any other sinner. All of us are plagued with desires and thoughts that are sinful.
-- There is nothing wrong with remaining single and celibate. The person with homosexual tendencies is denied no more by the single state than is the person with heterosexual tendencies. In fact the single state has definite advantages for the Christian (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 17, 20, 26).

The Responsibility of the Church Toward the Homosexual. By this is meant the responsibility of the church collectively, especially the responsibility of those in the church who are heterosexual in orientation.

-- Truth must always be accompanied by love. Paul spoke of “living the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). He told the Corinthians that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Most of the preceding material has been devoted to ascertaining the biblical truth about homosexuality. This was not done in order to put the homosexual in the position of a second class person.
-- Every one who knows Christ had to come to Him as a sinner. The lists of sins in which homosexual practice is included contain also the sins of theft, covetousness, adultery, swindling, lying, etc. We have all been guilty (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10).
-- The homosexual who comes to Christ by faith is completely forgiven, as was each one of us, “Such were some of you,” says Paul, “but you were washed … sanctified … justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
-- The homosexual is definitely "different." As such he should not be loathed, but loved. Our attitude toward him should compassionately take account of his state and tendencies.
-- Our evangelistic efforts toward the homosexual should have no other motivation than our efforts toward others. Our primary concern should not be to convert him to “straightness” but to convert him to Christ.
-- The homosexual believer - as any believer - may lapse back into his old patterns of behavior.  As any believer he can find forgiveness in Christ.  And should be accepted by the church.

Conclusion. While the sin of the homosexual is unique, he is in a very real sense little different from the rest of us. All stand guilty before God and all are offered forgiveness in Christ. As in the case of every Christian, finding forgiveness does not eliminate the problems of the homosexual. He may be in for a lifetime of struggle. He may lapse. It is absolutely necessary for the Christian community to offer him love, forgiveness and acceptance.

NOTE: This post was revised on 7/2/2015.  The passage about Sodom was deleted after further study.  See:  WHAT DID SODOM DO? and SCHOLARSHIP OR TRADITION. 

For my further thoughts, see A STEP IN FAITH and LOVE IS AN ORIENTATION and LOVE IS AN ORIENTATION, 2.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Uni and I were watching the news the other evening when Michael Vick came on to make a statement after his trial. Uni and I turned to each other and almost in unison said, “I bet he found Jesus!” And sure enough he said he had!

I know I’m not the first to notice this, but seems like everyone is “finding Jesus” nowadays. It’s hard not to be a bit skeptical. We sure can’t blame the news media for their cynicism.

Politicians and CEOs, when caught with one hand in the cookie jar, are quick to place a Bible in the other hand. Celebrities (i.e., people who are famous for being famous) find God (or some reasonable facsimile) in jail or just before their trials. These people disgust us with their behavior and we don’t really want to believe them.

But wait a minute! What about grace? This behavior is nothing new! Look at some examples from the Bible. In 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah confronts King Ahab, one of the most evil kings who ever ruled in Israel. Ahab had just committed a judicial murder and Elijah read him the riot act (read 1 Kings 21:17-24). Verse 25 says of him, “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him.” Yet verse 27 tells us of his repentance. “And it came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently.” Look at God’s pronouncement in verses 28 and 29. “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.’”

Or the story of David, the greatest king Israel ever had, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Here’s a man who committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife and then had him put to death. The whole story is in 2 Samuel 11. He covered it up and didn’t repent and confess until confronted by Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 12:1-14). And David is held up as an example of faith throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

There are many other examples in the Bible and history. Many people come to faith in Christ only during or after a major crisis. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” is a well-worn saying. Death row is a fruitful field for evangelism.

So what am I saying?
-- God only saves sinners. There are no other kinds of people that He saves.
-- God only saves those who recognize that they are sinners. Christ died for our sins. If we don’t know we have any we can’t accept His offer.
-- God often has to “hit us upside the head” to get us to recognize our need. We have many motives for coming to faith in Christ and as far as I know none of them are completely unselfish. We come to Christ because we have a need.

We are not the ones to set the criteria for whose conversion is real. That is God’s prerogative, not ours.

Yes, we are to recognize when behavior is out of line with profession. I’m not advocating gullibility. But I am advocating grace.

Bill Ball

Thursday, September 6, 2007


A while back I read the book, What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills. (See blog: WHAT DID JESUS MEAN?) I loved this book and have recommended it to others with a few caveats, the main one being his acceptance of the views of “historical criticism” – a late date for the composition of the gospels and the pseudonymous authorship of some of Paul’s epistles and the epistles of Peter. I felt, however, that this did not affect the thesis of his book.

Well, then I read Wills’ next book, What Paul Meant and was sadly disappointed. Here Wills lets his historical-critical views reign. He throws out six of Paul’s 13 canonical writings: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. Even those he accepts as genuine aren’t spared: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians are composites of 2 or 3 letters each (pages 15-17). Acts is to be treated “with great caution when it purports to be telling the story of Paul” (page 1).

Wills gives very few notes as in many of his books on historical subjects. He quotes or refers to a few “experts,’ whose opinions he feels are to be accepted as true.

So are we to accept what Wills tells us Paul meant, based on his views of what Paul really said?

Wills’ book joins the ranks of those by other “experts” who pick from the Bible what they feel is authentic and reject the rest. Usually what they find inauthentic is whatever disagrees with their viewpoints. Paul (or Jesus) couldn’t have said the things he allegedly said, because they don’t fit with what I think that he thought. The argument is totally circular. Some of the writings attributed to Paul are dated as “late” or inauthentic not because of textual evidence, but because the content supposedly disagrees with what Paul said. And the “fact” that Paul didn’t say these things proves they are inauthentic!

Come on! To hold views like these requires a faith, not in the biblical writings, but in the ability of the student to pick and choose for himself what is authentic.

I remember long ago hearing some preacher say that there are two questions that need to be answered: “Has God spoken? And “If so, what has God said?” Authors like Wills and many others seem to be trying to answer the second question without answering the first.

If we spend our time and efforts constantly examining and reexamining biblical writings to determine whether they are true, we will never be able to really know what God said.

I would rather hold the position held by Christians through the centuries that the whole Bible is as it claims to be, the Word of God, that it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 – literal) and is without error. I do not have the authority to pick and choose portions of it and reject others. I have many reasons for holding this view, but I hope the following will suffice.

First, a supernatural author requires a supernatural book. This may sound overly simple, but it seems to me to be essential to one’s whole attitude toward the Scriptures. Our view of God and our view of Scripture are inseparable. Our concept of God comes from the Bible, which we believe to have come from Him.

The Bible witnesses to its own inspiration and inerrancy. It claims to speak for God --- to be His Word, and nowhere does it even hint that it may contain error in any field.

If we are in doubt about what the Bible says in any area, we are at least partially in doubt about what it says in any other area, and we are left in doubt about its statements concerning the person and works of God. All we are left with is a weak and limited witness which, like the witness of natural revelation, can never bring us to a sure knowledge of Him.

Second, the only alternative is subjectivism. If the Scripture contains error, even though slight, we need some criteria for distinguishing truth from error, of ascertaining the “true facts.” Are all historical records and data to be disposed of? If not which do we retain? Some facts seem to be required for our faith and practice (1 Corinthians 15). Do we retain these? How do we distinguish? Do we go along with what was known in the 19th century as “the assured results of higher criticism”? Does the changing world of science give us any criteria?

Whatever the criteria I choose, any are changing and dubious. I am left with only myself as the final judge of what is true and what is false. Or I can choose to remain in doubt. I do not desire that responsibility.

Bill Ball