Friday, May 27, 2011


Bob said in a comment on THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, 21:

Bill, I understand that, "Once a person comes to Christ by faith, that person enters the road of discipleship, whether or not that person desires to travel that road." But can a person be a disciple (e.g., Judas) and not be born again at all?

It's clear that in our Christian lives, we sometimes travel well and sometimes travel poorly. I wonder if you might add a few words about why we do this and about how we can maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Best as always,

You asked two questions.  I’ll attempt to answer them both.

First, can a person be a disciple and not be born again at all?  Well, yes and no.  Let me try to explain.

The word “disciple” is a translation of the Greek word mathetes.  This word is used 257 times in the New Testament (by my count).  The related word mathetria, meaning “female disciple” is used once (Acts 9:36).  The verb form matheteuo, meaning “be a disciple” or “make disciples” is used 4 times.  These words are only found in the Gospels and the Acts.  They are not found anywhere else in the New Testament.

The word is related to the word manthano which usually is translated “learn,” hence, a disciple in the broadest meaning of the term is a “learner” or “pupil,” even “apprentice.”  It is an ancient Greek word going back to the time of Homer.  The Greek philosophers had disciples and one could be a disciple of a long deceased philosopher or a philosophical school.

The word is found with the same broad usage in the New Testament.  Jesus was not the only one who had disciples.  John the Baptist did (Matthew 9:14; 11:2); the Pharisees did (Matthew 22:15, 16); and, Paul did (Acts 9:24, 25).

So when we see the terms, “His disciples” or “the disciples” In the Gospels, it may refer to any of a number of groups.  It could refer to the 12, including Judas, who were also known as apostles (apostoloi – “sent ones”; Matthew 10:1, 2; 11:1).  This is its usual usage.  However, in Luke 6:13, we read that the 12 were selected from a larger group of disciples.  Verse 17 tells us that there was “a great multitude of His disciples,” though usually the disciples  and the multitudes are distinguished from each other.  In Luke 14:25ff, Jesus addresses the multitudes and gives them the requirements for discipleship.  John 4:1 says that Jesus was “making disciples.”

In John 6:66, though, we find that at least once, “many of His disciples went back and were no longer walking with Him.”  In the context, they appear to be turning their backs on eternal life (verses 67-69).  And yet in John 8:30-31, He tells those who “believed Him” that there were further qualifications for discipleship.

In Acts 11:26, we are told that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

So what do we do with all this data, some of which seems contradictory?  I believe we have to recognize that, like the word “Christian” as we use it today, the word “disciple” can have different meanings in different contexts.  It can broadly refer to simply those who followed without saving faith and it even can refer to those who have saving faith but did not follow (John 12:42; 19:38).

Another problem is, as previously mentioned, that we do not find any use of the word “disciple” after the Book of Acts.  In fact, the word “Christian” is only found once after this (1 Peter 4:16).

So the answer to your first question is, yes one can be a disciple (in that broad sense) who has never been born again.  As today, many – the majority of Americans – are labeled Christian, yet many of these lack saving faith in Christ.

However, as I implied in the post referred to above, I do not believe one can be born again (the narrow gate) without becoming a disciple (the narrow road).

I realize that evangelicals are divided on this matter.  There are those in the “Lordship Salvation” camp who say that one cannot really be saved without a commitment to the Lordship of Christ.  I believe these folks, while sincere, are mistaken.

There are those in the “Free Grace” camp who see our salvation as totally free, because it is paid for by the work of Christ.  They recognize that commitment to Christ’s Lordship is a matter for those who have already been born again.  I confess that my sympathies lie with this group – with a few caveats.

We come to Christ simply by faith.  The object of our faith is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, our Savior and the Lord, and in His sacrifice for us (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

At that moment of faith we enter a new sphere:  born again; dead to sin and the Law; in Christ; indwelt with and empowered by the Holy Spirit; under the Lordship of Christ, our new Master.  At this point we become disciples and begin the process of sanctification.

As those who are saved or justified, we are urged to commit our lives totally to Him, to live a life free of sin, to give up all for Him and to “be” disciples.  See Romans 6:1, 12-15; 7:6; 12:1, 2 and compare this with Jesus’ calls to discipleship in Luke 14:25-35 and elsewhere.

As far as the second question about why “we sometimes travel well and sometimes travel poorly,” I can’t answer that one in “a few words.”  (I didn’t answer the first in that way), other than to say that this seems to be what the Epistles are about – that day to day “walk” (as Paul calls it).  Like most others, my own walk along this road has at time been erratic, and I’ve been walking for 56+ years.

I have tried to deal with this in a number of previous posts, but see especially COMMITMENT TO CHRIST.

Hope this helps.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


A while back I received the following from a friend:

Ok, Bill.

Great information on the Golden Rule… but here is where I am so stuck…. That “love is to cover a multitude of sins” -- I Peter 4:8 and also in Proverbs 10:12 ( I think)..

Definitely,  Christ‘s death on the cross did that, but are we to also cover sin?  It seems to me that lies and deception can also cover a multitude of sins and that certainly isn’t pleasing to God.  Then I read James 5: 19,20.  I guess I am just like Kenny Rogers, how do I know when to “hold ‘em or when to fold ‘em”? 

Then it is time to ask BILL.

I appreciate both of you more than you will ever know.

In Christ I stand,

My reply (with a few changes and additions):


I really love you and appreciate your questions.  You have a way of asking questions no one else thinks of.  Thank you for being a thinker!

The Scriptures you referred to are:

James 5:19, 20:  "My brothers, if any among you should wander from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that he will save his soul from death and 'will cover a multitude of sins.'"

1 Peter 4:8:  "Above all have fervent love for one another, because 'love covers a multitude of sins.'"

Proverbs 10:12:  "Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions."

I think the problem lies in the meaning of the word "cover" in all of these texts.  Both the Hebrew word kasah and the Greek word kalupto have a broad range of meaning like our English word.

In most contexts these words have the meaning of "conceal" or even "cover up."  But not in all contexts.  If we can take a little excursus, look at a few other passages.

Psalm 32:1:  "Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
                     whose sin is covered.

Psalm 85:3:  "You have forgiven Your people's iniquity,
                       You have covered all their sin."

Nehemiah 4:5:  "Do not cover their iniquity,
                          And do not blot out their sin before You."

Hebrew poetry is characterized by parallelism.  In a two line verse, the second line either repeats or contrasts with the first line.  We might say that it has rhyming thoughts rather than rhyming words. In all three of the passages just quoted, we have this repetition.  This is a tremendous help in determining the meaning of the words.

In the two Psalms passages, the word in the second line translated "covered" (kasah) is parallel to the word "forgiven" in the first line (nasa, literally "take away"), and is simply repeating the idea that God has totally taken care of David's sin (Psalm 32) and the people's sin (Psalm 85).  God has removed it, covered it.  It's gone!

In the Nehemiah passage, Nehemiah is cursing those who have been harassing the Israelites.  In this passage the word "cover" (kasah) in the first line is paralleled by "blot out" (maha) in the second.  Nehemiah is asking God not to take care of adversaries' sin.

So then, the word "cover" in Proverbs 10:12, actually means something like "forgive."  Both James and Peter are giving a partial quote of this verse, so I believe it would be correct to understand it this way in their letters.

Peter's letter has as its theme the idea that we are, as pilgrims and aliens, to keep our behavior “excellent” (literally "beautiful") among unbelievers (2:11, 12).  In this situation we are to practice "fervent love" for each other.  This love will (or at least should) cause us to deal with them in a forgiving manner, not "covering up" or ignoring their sins; but exercising forgiveness.

James' context is a little more specific.  In 5:13-20, he is speaking about interpersonal prayer, which includes confessing our sins to each other and praying about each other's sins.  I know this is seldom practiced among 21st century Christians, but there it is!  This most likely involves personally approaching a brother or sister in Christ about their sin and helping them to confess it in order to find God's forgiveness.  We are to restore him and thus keep him from suffering God's discipline.

Hope this helps; if not, let me know.

I received this reply:

Thanks so much Bill.  You are so right on.  It is that word cover that I was struggling with.  I sure like the idea that Christ covered it all for me so why not “mirror” that like a small dew drop mirrors sunlight, it is doing it to the best of its ability just on a MUCH smaller scale.  I backed my wagon up to Genesis and considered the fig leaf story it concealed but did not cover up their sin.  I am still meditating on that thought today and how that connects.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Two Gates and Two Roads
Matthew 7:13, 14

“Enter in through the narrow gate, because wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many are those who are entering in through it.  And because narrow is the gate and restricted the road that leads to life and few are those who find it.”

Jesus is leading into the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount.  He lists for His hearers a series of pairs, and urges them to make appropriate choices.  The first four of these pairs are given in verses 13 and 14:
·        Two gates – the wide one or the narrow one.
·        Two roads – the broad one or the restricted one.
·        Two destinations – destruction or life.
·        Two kinds of people – the many or the few.

Jesus is not giving His hearers four individual choices, but only one.  He is, in a sense, summing up all of life in this one choice.  What is this choice that Jesus lays before His hearers?  Though what that choice is seems clear to many, there are those who try to work around it.

As He often does, Jesus with a few words paints a picture for His hearers, depicting that major choice.

I can visualize the scene – the two gates standing open – one wide, with vast numbers of people streaming through.  Looking beyond the gate, I can see the broad road, covered with these multitudes as they continue rushing along.  The other road is narrow with just a trickle passing through.  As I peer through this gate, I see a road that is restricted, perhaps with high walls on both sides keeping the travelers on the path.  I am at the parting of the way while the crowd is carrying me along by the force of their numbers.  I can allow them to carry me through the broad gate, or I can choose the narrow one.

Notice that the gate is the first thing we see.  The road is on the other side of the gate.  Jesus is not equating the gate and the road.  They are two different entities.  To enter the gate is an instantaneous action; to travel the road takes time.

I believe that entering the narrow gate is a metaphor for conversion.  It speaks of that moment – that instant – when a person places his or her faith in Jesus Christ as Savior – when His work is personally appropriated.  Jesus said, (using a different metaphor), “I am the Door.  If anyone enters in through me he will be saved … “ (John 10:9).  The words “enter in through” are the same words as in Matthew 7:13.

But once one enters through the narrow gate, according to the figure Jesus gives in the Sermon, he has not yet arrived.  There is a road to be travelled – a road that is described as “restricted.”  This is actually a participle form of the Greek verb Thlibo which has the idea of pressing together or squeezing.  Mark 3:9 speaks of the multitude (literally) “squeezing“ Him.  The noun form of this verb is Thlipsis, which is often translated “affliction” or even “tribulation.”  In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas warn the new disciples that  “… through many afflictions we must enter the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus also said, “I am the Road …” in John 14:6, using the same word (hodos).  This road hat is entered through the gate is the road of discipleship with Jesus.  Though the gate entered and the road travelled are different entities, they are not separated.  Once a person comes to Christ by faith, that person enters the road of discipleship, whether or not that person desires to travel the road.

What I’m trying to say here is that our eternal destiny is determined by our faith in Christ.  He paid for our salvation.  Faith is our appropriation.  This is what the narrow gate represents.  The number who actually find life in Christ is small.

But the road that we travel between that choice of faith and our arrival at our eternal destiny, while it may be long or short, is a restricted road.  And everyone who enters through the narrow gate must travel this road.

This is not “lordship salvation,” nor is it "cheap grace.”  All who choose to enter experience free grace.  And all who enter embark on a difficult path.

The destination of the journey is “life.”  This is eternal life as contrasted with eternal destruction.  Jesus uses the expression “enter into life” as a synonym for “have eternal life” (19:16, 17) and as a contrast to eternal torment (18:8, 9).  The word translated “destruction” is apoleia and has the idea of eternal destruction.  It is related to the word apollumi which is translated “perish” (8:25) and often has the meaning of eternal damnation (John 3:16).

We have to be careful of carrying the metaphor too far.  The narrow gate is to be chosen.  People are “entering” both gates, but Jesus says that the narrow gate is to be “found.”  He does not say this of the wide gate.  The implication seems to be that it is not a matter of conscious choice.  The vast majority of humankind is headed through the wide gate and is headed for eternal destruction.

It has been claimed by some that the Sermon on the Mount is the gospel, while it has been complained by others that it does not even contain the gospel.  Certainly it does not contain a clear exposition of the work of Christ as Paul outlines in his writings, especially 1 Corinthians 15:1ff.  But then we must remember that this Sermon was preached before Jesus died for our sins.

But the Sermon does contain enough!  Certainly the requirements Jesus gives clearly show His hearers their need for grace, that they – we -- are sinners who cannot attain to God’s standards.

And here Jesus is clear that the way to find eternal life is a matter of conscious choice.  Though neither the words “believe” or “faith” are used here, it is clear that one must put his faith in Jesus as the only Way of salvation.

            WHO CAN BE SAVED?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The Golden Rule
Matthew 7:12

“Everything then, whatever you want people to do to you, in the same way also do to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Just about everyone seems to have some knowledge of the verse in the Bible known as the Golden Rule.  Most people could probably recite it in one form or another, or at least paraphrase it.  It also seem to be the verse most often deliberately misquoted:
  • “Do unto others what they do unto you.”
  • “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
  • Or (my personal favorite) simply:  “Do others!”
 The saying (sometimes referred to as the ethic of reciprocity) is so familiar to Christians who know that it’s a quote from Jesus, that they are often surprised to find that this concept is also found in many religions and cultures.  A Google search will quickly show many similar sayings in Buddhism, Baha’i, Hinduism Islam and Judaism, as well as in many ancient writings much older that the Gospels.  A few samples:
  • Buddhism:  
    • "...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353
    • Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18
  • Confucianism: 
    • "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" Analects 15:23
    • "Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'" Doctrine of the Mean 13.3
  • Hinduism:   This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517
  • Islam: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths." 3
  • Judaism: 
    • "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
    • "And what you hate, do not do to anyone." Tobit 4:15 4
Theologically liberal Christians gladly receive this information as evidence that all religions are equal.  Theologically conservative Christians are sometimes rattled or upset, feeling that this sort of thinking is a threat to the uniqueness of Jesus.  My orthodoxy as a teacher has even been called into question by some for even discussing the existence of such sayings. 

But does the recognition of truth in other religions threaten the uniqueness of Jesus? 

No way!
  • First of all we need to realize that not everything Jesus said was original with Him.  Every word He said was and is true, not because it was all original with Him, but because He is God.
  • Secondly the doctrine of natural revelation teaches us that God has revealed Himself in many ways.  “…that which is known of God is evident among them (humankind), for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:19).  “For whenever gentiles, those not having the Law, do by nature the things of the Law, these, though not having the Law are a law to themselves, such ones as show the work of the Law written in their hearts…” (2:14, 15).
But Jesus’ statement is unique for a number of reasons.  The first reason is that it is the word of the Son of God and as such has an authority over His hearers that the other sayings do not.  Also, many (though not all) of the other sayings were in a negative form (“Do not…”), whereas Jesus’ was in a positive form.

Many of the other sayings were stated or could be interpreted with a utilitarian motive, i.e., be nice to others, so that they will be nice to you.  Jesus gives a different reason for this behavior, “…for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  This, I believe, is the radical difference.

Jesus’ hearers were mostly Jews, living under the Old Testament Law of Moses.  Jesus had already devoted a large portion of this sermon to the proper understanding of that Law (5:17-48).  He taught that God’s Law is not simply about the performance or non-performance of external acts, but began with the thought life.  Much of that teaching was in a negative fashion.  Here, in this one statement, He gives a positive summation of the keeping of the Law, as well as the teachings of the Old Testament prophets.

Later, when Jesus is questioned by a Pharisaic law expert (Matthew 22:34-36) as to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “’You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus was quoting from two texts in the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18b.  And He ties these two together as a summation of the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus had quoted these passages a number of times, but sometimes only the second, Leviticus 19:18b, about loving one’s neighbor.  He even referred to it earlier in this Sermon (Matthew 5:45).

I would even venture to say that when He placed the two love commands together, He was implying a link between them – an unbreakable link.  Can one actually love his neighbor without loving God?  Can a person love God without loving His neighbor?

And if the “Golden Rule” and the Law of Love are both said to be the fulfillment of God’s Law, can we not assume that they are one and the same?  This elevates the Rule to more than a utilitarian social ethic.  Though it may be found to be good practical advice, it is so much more than that.  It is an expression of the Love of God worked out in our lives.  As John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, would later write, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The other disciples also grasped this concept.  James, Jesus’ brother, who was not a believer at the time Jesus preached the Sermon, but may very well have heard it, wrote of it in his letter, referring to it as “the perfect Law, the Law of Liberty” (James 1:25) and “the Royal Law” (2:8).

And then there’s Paul, another who was an unbeliever at the time of the Sermon, who probably never heard Jesus at all, and who many believe wrote before the Gospels were written.  Yet he grasps Jesus’ sayings and almost paraphrases Him.  (See:  PAUL AND JESUS 4/11/09.)

“For all the Law is fulfilled in one word in this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for the one who loves the other has fulfilled the Law.  For this, ‘You will not commit adultery, you will not murder, you will not steal, you will not covet,’ and if there’s any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does not do evil to a neighbor, therefore love is the Law’s fulfillment!’” (Romans 13:8-10).

So for the follower of Jesus, the “Golden Rule” is more than just good advice, more than the best advice.  It is the living out of the love of Christ in our relationships with others.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Asking, Seeking and Knocking
Matthew 7:7-11

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives and who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (7, 8).

“Or who is the person among you, whom his son will ask him for bread, he won’t give him a stone, will he?  Or if he will ask for fish, he won’t give him a snake will he?” (9, 10)

“If then, you, being evil know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those who ask Him?” (11)

Verse 7 is another one of those passages often quoted, sometimes without knowing its source.  It is often used as though it’s an open promise, a blank check.  But is it?  And what is being promised?

The passage has three imperative verbs:  “ask,” “seek” and “knock.”  All three are in the present tense in Greek, which could have the idea of continual action, though not necessarily.

Many commentators see this as implying persistence – “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” “keep on knocking.”  Thus, the whole passage becomes an exhortation to keep at it if you want answers.  Some have even implied that each verb is stronger than the one preceding.  In other words, if you can’t get what you want by continued asking, then start seeking and if you can’t get it by seeking start pounding.  Sooner or later God will give you what you want.

I don’t think that this is what Jesus is telling His disciples.  It doesn’t fit the context and it doesn’t fit the illustration (9, 10) or the promise (11).

We need to remember that Jesus is speaking to two groups of people, His disciples, especially the 12, and larger crowds that had gathered around (4:25; 5:1, 2; 7:28, 29).  His words are directed to His disciples and (I believe) to any in the crowds who desired to be disciples.

In 6:33, Jesus closes His remarks on worry with an exhortation to seek the Kingdom of their Heavenly Father.  This seeking is to be unlike the seeking that the heathen do (32) which has to do with the things that relate to their life.  The word “seek” (zeteite) in verse 33 is the same word that He uses in 7:7.  Could Jesus still be speaking of the same action in 7:7?

If this is so, we are misinterpreting and misapplying this passage when we apply the promise to material “good things” or something similar.  The “good things” are those which relate to the Father’s Kingdom.

But what does it mean to seek God’s Kingdom?  I believe that though that Kingdom had “drawn near” in Jesus’ day (3:1; 4:17), it was still future then and is still future in our day.  So here are a few thoughts:
·        We are to seek to bring many into that Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ.  Those who are Christ’s are citizens of the Kingdom (Colossians 1:13; Philippians 3:20).
·        We are to seek to bring our behavior into conformity with Christ’s.  Much of this sermon is devoted to this.

So then, what are we to ask?  We are to ask for those things which we seek – those “good things” which will advance His Kingdom program – those which have to do with the growth of His Kingdom and its citizens.

And the knocking?  The open door is a common metaphor for opportunities for service – for witness, for evangelism, for missions.  (SEE:  THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN DOOR.)
·        “Look, I have placed before you an open door, which noone is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8).
·        “He opened a door of faith to the gentiles” (Acts 14:27).
·        “… a wide and effective door has opened to me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).
·        “… a door was opened to me in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 2:12).
·        “… praying at the same time for us, that God would open to us a door for the word …” (Colossians 4:3). 

There is a similar passage in Luke 11:9-13, set in a different context.  (Apparently Jesus, like many preachers, saw nothing wrong with repeating Himself.)  The wording is very similar except for the promise in the last sentence.  The last clause replaces the words “good things” with the words “the Holy Spirit.”  Quite a difference.  Jesus, in this passage is apparently looking forward to the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given as promised.  See Acts 1:4, 8, 14; 2:1-4 for the fulfillment of this promise.

God has already supplied us with His Holy Spirit.  He has promised to provide all that we need for His service – the “good things.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011


One passage that has troubled me in the area of Social Justice, (See:  WHO CARES FOR THE POOR? 4/21/2011) is Matthew 25:31-46 – the judgment of the nations.  Is it relevant at all to the question?  It seems so – but? 

“Whenever the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory and all the nations will be gathered together before Him and He will separate them from each other as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will stand the sheep on His right and the goats on His left” (31-33).
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, naked and you clothed Me, sick and you visited Me, in prison and you came to me” (34-36).
            “Then the righteous will answer Him saying, ‘Lord when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  When did we see You sick or in prison and come to You?’” (37-39)
            “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I tell you, in that you did it to one of these, the least of My brothers, you did it to Me!’” (40)
            “Then He will say to those on the left, ‘Go away from Me, cursed ones into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you didn’t give Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you didn’t give Me a drink, I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in, naked and you didn’t  clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t visit Me’” (41-43).
            “Then they also will answer saying, ‘Lord when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or in prison and we didn’t serve You?’” (44)
            “Then He will answer them saying, ‘Truly I tell you, in that you didn’t do it to one of these, the least ones, you didn’t do it to Me!’  And these will go away to eternal torment, but the righteous to eternal life” (45, 46).

I’ve checked out many commentaries on this passage and find that it is always interpreted within the theological framework of the interpreter.

I must admit that for years I have done the same, buying the standard dispensational line, which essentially relieves me of any personal responsibility.  (We dispensationalists like interpretations like that.  8^)  )  This line says that Jesus is speaking of His return at the end of the great tribulation and that this is His judgment of individuals and how they treated the saved of the tribulation, especially Israel and the 144,000.  It has nothing to do with me (of course, I’ll have been raptured) or with the “nation” of America.

Another common interpretation is that this is the general judgment (or “judgment day” in popular usage).  In this view, all judgments spoken of throughout the New Testament are the same.  So this is the same judgment that is spoken of in Romans 2:1-16, (see especially verses 5 and 6).  It is the same as the judgment at the Great White Throne in Revelation 20:11-15.  This is a universal judgment at which all people are going to be gathered and the saved and lost are to be separated, some to eternal life and some to eternal destruction.  The criteria given in these and other passages, though they seem to be pointing to a salvation by works, are not what they seem.  They are simply works as pointing to faith.  Only those of faith will do these works and only those who do these works have genuine faith, a sort of James 2:18 situation.  Seeing as how I have placed my faith in Christ for my salvation, I shouldn’t worry – right?  But somehow this passage can throw doubt on my position and that of most of us (Mother Theresa and a few others excepted).

There are, of course, other interpretations, but most seem to be variations of the above two.

However, I have for a long time felt uncomfortable with all the interpretations and so have been pondering a possible alternative understanding.

I’ll start by looking at the Greek word ETHNE in verse 32.  Every translation I have consulted translates it “nations” in this passage, even though every commentary I’ve consulted tells me it speaks of individuals.  I think we have a problem here.

ETHNOS (plural ETHNE) can have two different meanings.  One meaning and translation, whether used in the singular or plural, is “nation” or “people” (Acts 8:9; 10:21; 13:19).  The second meaning (plural only) is of non-Jews, and is usually translated “gentiles” or “heathen,” or sometimes, “pagan.”

So what meaning does Jesus have in mind in verse 22?  Is He speaking of His judgment of individual persons – gentiles, or is He speaking of nations as nations?

Whenever we read eschatological passages (those having to do with future end time events) we are drawn back to the Hebrew prophets.  Jesus was, among other things, a prophet and He used the language of His predecessors.  At least two ancient passages are alluded to here by Jesus.

The first is in Daniel chapter 7, where Jesus’ title for Himself – the Son of Man – is found.
“I kept looking in the night visions,
And look, with clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming.
And He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented to Him.
And to Him was given dominion, glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations and tongues should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away,
and His kingship one that will not be destroyed.”
Daniel 7:13, 14

It seems that Jesus is speaking in Matthew 25:31 of that same future event, when He will return to reign.  The whole context of Daniel 7 is that of a vision of future kingdoms of the world, portrayed as rapacious beasts, each crushing the previous one, to be finally overcome by the Son of Man and the “People of the Most High,” and His and their rule established for eternity.

A second passage is in Joel chapter 3 (chapter 4 in Hebrew):
“For look, in those days and in that time,
When I return the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all the nations,
And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat
And I will enter into judgment with them there
On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel
Whom they scattered among the nations
And they divided My land
And they cast lots for My people
And they traded a boy for a whore
And sold a girl for wine – and they drank” (Joel 3:1-3).

 In the Septuagint, the expression “all the nations” (PANTA TA ETHNE) is the same as that in Matthew 25:32.  The word “gather” is the same except for a different form.

It seems clear that both of these passages relate to the same future event that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25:31ff.  And if in these two passages, it is not individual persons who are being spoken of, but nations as nations – politically organized units of people – can’t we deduce that Jesus is also speaking of the same?

In the Old Testament context, they are being judged at a particular moment of time for their treatment of God’s people.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is expanding on this theme, giving greater detail as to the particular criteria for judgment and placing this judgment clearly at His return in glory and the beginning of His eternal earthly reign.  Of course, God’s people in the Old Testament is the Covenant nation of Israel, while in Matthew, Jesus speaks of the nations’ treatment of His “brothers” (Matthew 25:40).  Are they the same group?

The Greek word ADELPHOS is usually translated “brother” or plural, “brothers” throughout the New Testament, though we should note that the plural form can include the sisters as well.  However, when it is not used of physical siblings it can refer to fellow Israelites, or fellow believers in Christ.  Context, of course, determines, though the distinction is not always clear, especially in the Gospels.  Jesus’ disciples and other listeners are often instructed as to their behavior toward their “brothers” (Matthew 5:22-24, 47; 7:3-5; etc.) without it being clear as to who these people are.

Besides the reference in Matthew 25:40, there are only two other places where Jesus speaks of His “brothers.”  The first is, “’Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’  And extending His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘See My mother and My brothers.  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, this one is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:48-50; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 8:21).  The second time is when He tells the women and Mary to give His “brothers” instructions after the resurrection (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17).  This is clearly a reference to His disciples as the contexts show.  Nowhere do we read of His referring to His fellow Israelites as His brothers.

So we are left to conjecture.  Are they Israelites?  Disciples?  Some other group?

So here are some thoughts, for what they’re worth.

It is difficult to imagine that this same Jesus, the One who was a Friend of sinners, who taught us to love our neighbors and even our enemies, would be concerned only about the treatment of a particular group, whether Jews or Christians.  Would the One whose Father cares for birds not also be concerned about all mankind?  Would He not hold the nations accountable for their treatment of the “least” among them?

So I’ll assume that by “these, the least of My brothers,” Jesus is referring to all those in need of care.

And if my interpretation of “nations” is correct, then He is going to judge the nations of the world as nations, not individuals, when He returns.  This has to do with whether they will enter His eternal Kingdom – to continue to exist on earth during the Millennium and beyond – or to suffer eternal destruction.

This would also include a judgment of the rulers of these nations.  And it should be noticed, it is not simply the great evil despots and their nations that will be condemned – not just those like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin and Pol Pot.  The nations are not to be judged only for their oppression and despotism, not just their sins of commission, but for their sins of omission.  They will be judged for their care for those in need, or for their failure to care.

In this passage, it is not what the nations have done for which they are to be condemned, but for what they have failed to do.

And I believe we as Americans must ask whether our nation is going to be placed on Jesus’ right or left hand (verse 33) at this judgment.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback on these matters.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Dogs and Pigs
Matthew 7:6

Another of Jesus’ frequently quoted sayings is Matthew 7:6 as rendered in the KJV:  “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Most of us probably have some idea of what Jesus means but aren’t quite sure about who these dogs and pigs are or why He says it, or why He says it here, or how we carry out these instructions.

This verse follows immediately after a warning about judging which also includes instructions about how to deal with an (apparently) erring brother.  Many translations, as well as my Greek text, put it in a separate paragraph from the preceding, though there seems to be some connection implied.  I’m going to assume, from the context, that Jesus is still on the topic of judging.

It seems apparent that the unflattering words, “dogs” and “pigs” are metaphors for persons; but who are these persons?

Dogs in the Old Testament times were not cute cuddly house pets.  They were half-wild scavengers, the garbage and sewage disposal systems of their day (Exodus 22:31), even at times consuming human corpse (1 Kings 14:11; 16:4).  To call a person a dog seems to be the ultimate of deprecations (2 Samuel 16:9).  In one passage the word “dog” appears to be a euphemism for a male prostitute (Deuteronomy 23:18).

By Jesus’ day, the idea hadn’t changed much although it had also become a derogatory term for gentiles or non-Jews.  This is seen in the dialog between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 (the word used there is a word for “little dogs”).

Later, Paul uses the word to describe the Judaizers, those who attempted to bring his new converts under the Jewish law (Philippians 3:3).  In Revelation 22:15, dogs are named along with sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters and liars as those who are banished outside of the future Holy City.

Pigs or swine, of course, are seen as the ultimate in unclean animals (Leviticus 11:1, 2, 7; Deuteronomy 14:8).

Pearls aren’t clearly mentioned in the Old Testament.  It is not always clear what gems or precious stones are meant by the various Hebrew words.  The NASB translates the Hebrew PENINIM as pearls in Job 28:18.  Job 28 is an interlude in the book of Job extolling God’s wisdom and comparing it here to precious stones.

So Jesus here is telling His hearers that their wisdom is not to be wasted on people who would be unclean, vile, false teachers.  And in the context this requires judgment in the sense of discernment.  How do we ascertain who these persons are who apparently are not worth wasting our time on and who might do us harm?

Jesus Himself seems to make this distinction a number of times.  In Matthew 13, He gives what we might call His philosophy of parables.

“For this reason I speak to them in parables, because while seeing they don’t see and while hearing they don’t hear nor understand” (verse 13).

“But your eyes are blessed (lucky?) because they see and your ears because they hear” (verse 16).

In fact, this seems to be a common practice and teaching of Jesus.  We see it in His instruction to “shake off the dust of your feet” (10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5) when rejected by any.

We see it in His refusal to answer Herod’s question at His trial (Luke 23:8, 9).

So Jesus is here warning us of the need for discernment.  There are those on whom we have to, in a sense, pass judgment – the judgment to not waste God’s wisdom on them.  The very act of communicating God’s truth to them may endanger us.

I believe that the persons referred to are those who have hardened themselves to the truth to the point where further attempts at persuasion can be dangerous.  Some Bible teachers have even referred to this as “judicial hardening.”  Because they have become so calloused and hardened against the truth, God allows them to go on in that hardened state.  In Romans, chapter 1, Paul even uses the phrase, “God handed them over” (verses 24, 26, 28) to further hardening and the consequences of that hardening.

But how do we discern, how do we decide who these persons are?  Jesus doesn’t say clearly in this passage.  And we can easily see how this teaching, if misapplied, could lead to a judgmental attitude.  We could easily find ourselves carrying placards with the words:  “GOD HATES DOGS” or “GOD HATES PIGS” or “GOD HATES ______” (whomever we have designated as dogs or pigs).

Some thoughts on carrying out these instructions:
·        They are to be carried out in love, with the best interests of these persons in mind.  They need the truth.
·        We cannot determine their hardened state without attempting to throw them a few “pearls”.  It is best to be careful, but not overly cautious.
·        Their hardened state may be temporary.  We should not give up on them permanently.
·        We should be careful of being drawn into senseless arguments.  As Paul warned Titus “… but avoid foolish disputes and … strafes and fights about law, because they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).
·        “God our Savior … wants all persons to be saved and come into knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3, 4).