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Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations V

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Question #1: 

Dear Professor,

I haven't written in a while and this is going to be a lengthy epistle. As always, I ask you to take your time with the response.

I wanted to ask you about the following issues:

1. Jeremiah 17:11 talks about a partridge that 'hatches eggs it did not lay'. I'm aware that this passage has been debated for a long time, particularly in light of the fact that scientific knowledge doesn't seem to support the rightness of it. I wanted to know your view on what is the best way to translate and interpret this passage and how to explain potential discrepancy between scientific knowledge and the Bible.

2. Your articles enlightened me about the issue of self-defence and as a result of my readings, question arose about the balance between self-defence and martyrdom. When is it right to endure the suffering and become a martyr as opposed to defending oneself as a Christian?

3. Linked to the previous one is my question regarding the time of Tribulation. Although you are an advocate of self-defence, in articles about the Tribulation you write that this will be a time of martyrdom for the Christians and I wanted to ask whether Christians should defend themselves during that period. Will Tribulation, in this aspect, be like any other battle, where we can stand up and fight, or will resistance not be a solution in those circumstances?

4. I wanted to know your views on the rest on Sundays (or any other day, different denominations consider different day as the one when Christians should take rest). Some Christian groups place a lot of emphasis on it and I wanted to know what the Bible says about it.

5. I would like to understand how we know that it is Christ who slew 185000 Assyrians?

6. I wanted to know how is authority passed on in the Church, how was it transmitted from the Apostles onwards? There are rituals used by various Christian groups, like placing of the hands, some of which originate in the Bible, but I'm confused with regard to who has got the actual authority to perform such rituals and how it was transferred from the times of Jesus.

7. I'm wondering whether there is support in the Bible for the need to do one's work with diligence and care and to, for example, produce and use high quality goods? I know this may sound too obvious to require any evidence, but the ubiquitous lack of quality in what people do, the work they are responsible for and the goods they produce and sell has frustrated me ever since I was very young, but I don't know what the Bible says about it, maybe it's just me paying too much attention to earthly problems.

8. I know from your texts that you're not an advocate of political changes and I wanted to know your view on political initiatives driven by Christian values. They will, like any other political initiative, inevitably lead to some less than ideal real world situations, but should these not be undertaken? For example, a friend of mine is trying to do his best to implement changes at political level that could improve the quality of life of the poor, would you say he should focus his efforts on helping some particular individuals directly as opposed to striving for structural changes?

There are many more questions I would like to ask you and I shouldn't perhaps have postponed writing to you. The reason I did was that I wanted to write to you when at least the first few translations of your resources into Polish are ready, but since translating, as you're far more aware than I am, is not a fast process, and since the list of issues that needed clarifying became quite long, I decided to write to you now.

Regarding translations, I have started doing them and the first ones are being reviewed by a friend of mine. I will be doing the best I can to ensure that the Polish translation says exactly what your original text. Regarding that, in Polish it is not common to address a person you don't know, or an older person than yourself, by 'you', which is a common practice in English and this is how your readers address you when they write questions to you. I can either translate it into a Polish 'you', which will assume a degree of closeness between you and the readers (not always a common practice outside of UK or US) or keep things official by putting 'Professor', or 'Sir', depending on your preference.

I remember you in my prayers, Professor.

In Christ,

Response #1:  

Very good to hear from you as always! I hope all is going well with you and yours (and I pray for the same daily).

As to Jeremiah 17:11, the "problem of science and the Bible" is one that comes up all the time for serious Bible students (and serious Bible opponents). This question is as good as any other to demonstrate the essential parameters of dealing with the issue personally for a man of faith, as well as meeting objections brought to him both from other persons of faith and from those who are merely intent upon subverting biblical authority.

First of all, casual readers and serious students alike are often quick to assume that a passage or particular word in scripture always means what it seems to mean in an uncritical perusal of a translation. However, while this is usually the case, and translators of scripture into any language may have done the best they can from their understanding of the text, it is also true there will always be some places in the best of translations where one finds misleading renderings (not to say mistakes). So the first thing always to keep in mind is that the original language may hold clues which are not apparent even from the best of translations.

Secondly, Descriptions of the physical world are particularly problematic for those defending scripture. One of the issues which should be taken into account is that of cultural differences when it comes to describing things. The fact that in this modern, scientific time we say things like, "it'll cool off once the sun goes down" should not be taken to mean that in gross ignorance we think the sun really is "coming up" and "going down". Rather, this is just a cultural way of expressing apparent phenomena which we still retain even though we know better "scientifically". This sort of thing happens in Hebrew and Greek too.

Thirdly, one place where we should expect an even more flexible range of expression is in poetic prophesy (after all, all poetry is allowed "license"). So when Hebrew says things like "the trees will clap their hands", we ought not to assume that the ancient Hebrews thought of trees as having hands – this is just a poetic description.

Fourthly, in regard to flora and fauna, there is also the temptation when it comes to scripture to assume that the plants and animals mentioned by the Bible are precisely the same as those in Europe or North America today. That is odd. After all, we are well aware (or any specialist is, any way), that for many genera and subspecies of plants and animals (however one wants to define the distinction in individual cases), similar looking groups on one continent can have very important physical and behavioral differences from those on another continent (and of course the geographic difference doesn't have to be continental for this phenomenon to be true). If that is true today synchronically, what about a diachronic difference of 2,500 years where some such subspecies may no longer exist (i.e., there are no more lions in Palestine today or even within nearly a thousand miles)?

Fifthly, in addition to overlooking differences between translations and the original language, cultural differences and literary considerations, well-educated, modern people are often far too ready to grant science a level of authority and wisdom it often does not have. In truth, scientific reality is a "moving target". Science is changing its theories about everything every day as more and more information comes in and as a better and deeper understanding of any particular area of study is developed. That is wonderful, to be sure, but it does sometimes mean that what they said was "the truth" just yesterday turns out today to have been "wrong", if only to some small degree. That is true in the hard sciences in areas where experimentation can reproduce results; and it is doubly (or triply) true in areas like zoology where observation of behavior of most species is really still only its infancy. The scientific baseline for what "we know" crows do or don't do, for example, is much different today than it was only a few short decades ago (turns out crows are much more intelligent, social, nurturing and communicative than we had any idea). I am sure that if the Bible had something about crows imparting information verbally to each other it would have been ridiculed – only to find out thousands of years later that they actually do so (they even have multiple "languages"). Scientific knowledge is incomplete. Science only "knows" a tiny fragment of what may be known. It is impossible to tell, but I would venture that even in the material realm (science is completely ignorant of the spiritual realm), science is only vaguely aware of just how much it does not know.

Applying all this to Jeremiah 17:11, in investigating a claim to the effect that "the Bible is wrong because partridges don't do this", my method would be to ask . . .

1) What does the Hebrew actually say? Critics probably assume this verse is saying that partridges hatch other birds' eggs. The original language admits of other possibilities, however. The NKJV, for example, renders the phrase as "As a partridge that broods but does not hatch", a perfectly defensible translation. If this is correct, the verse would be talking not about "universal partridge behavior", but a single theoretical instance which, since this is poetry, need not be one that has ever been observed (as if I were to describe an ungraceful diver as a "flying elephant"). There are other possibilities of translation here, but I think this makes the point in question.

2) Is this some sort of cultural accommodation? Our Lord is always being criticized for calling the mustard seed "the smallest". But after all, if everyone of His contemporaries thought it was, not only was that the perfect illustration for a modicum of faith, but it would have been entirely out of place for Him to point out that His listeners were wrong about a point which was really not important. After all, what was Jesus supposed to say? "Now I know that you think the mustard seed is the smallest – really it's the ___, a plant you've never heard of, but for the sake of illustration let's assume that the mustard seed is the smallest – although it's really not . . ." (talk about a good way to lose your audience's attention!). It is certainly possible, moreover, that whatever science thinks today is the smallest may not actually be so (i.e., an undiscovered even more tiny plant may exist – or may have existed in the past), so that by criticizing scripture in this and similar regards science is only showing off its own ignorance (of what really is the truth), intolerance (holding others to a higher standard than the one to which it holds itself), and hypocrisy (since it is not honestly communicating as those using language of accommodation are, but only holding others to a false standard it cannot achieve itself). It is certainly possible that there was a species of partridge in antiquity which was known occasionally to "heap up" its eggs then abandon them in certain circumstances (drought, perhaps, when there would be no way of nurturing the young once hatched), and that this would have been well-known to the people of the time. After all, we are an urban people, those who worship science anyway, but the majority of the population of Jeremiah's day lived very close to the land and had a much deeper and richer knowledge of plant qualities and animal behaviors than even our scientists do today.

3) Is there some poetic exaggeration or other figure of speech here? Perhaps, to the ancient view of things, partridges stayed on their nests longer than other birds so that a poet making a point could portray them as never getting off. We say cats have "nine lives" because of their uncanny ability to survive dangerous situations; that is an exaggeration as we all know quite well (and it is not even poetic). A poet can say something like this without being condemned for inaccuracy in any culture – the Bible seems to be the only exception to some people's tolerance.

4) It is a massive jump to assume that because one's English (or Polish or what have you) Bible says "partridge" that this in fact what the Hebrew word meant to Jeremiah in the sixth century B.C. The Hebrew word is qore'h (קֹרֵא), but we only translate it "partridge" because the Septuagint version renders it as perdix (περδιξ), a word which from Latin and Greek descriptions does seem to mean "partridge" (or something close). However, the LXX is usually only guessing when it comes to such things. It was translated from the Hebrew in Alexandria Egypt some three hundred years later and much of the vocabulary was imperfectly understood (and especially terms like this which could really not be narrowed down by urban residents of Egypt past a certain point so many centuries after the fact). The etymology of the Hebrew suggests a "calling" bird, but plenty of birds "call", not just partridges. Not everyone agrees with the identification. As early as 1794, for example, Samuel Bochart in his Hierozoicon (aka De animalibus S. Scripturae), has in volume 2, pp. 632ff., an extensive refutation of the partridge theory based upon detailed examination of Arabic texts where the same root is applied to some sort of woodcock or member of the chicken family (see the link – it's in Latin). The bottom line here is that it is a logical fallacy to assume, given that the word we are reading in a translation which may not be the actual animal or plant the Hebrew or Greek original really referred to, that we can deduce anything based upon the wrong guess we are reading.

5) Is scientific knowledge possibly incomplete on the point? How extensive is our knowledge of "partridge behavior" for species and subspecies? I know that work is continuing apace on many species of birds and that new things are being learned every day. Do we really want to say that we know everything on this subject to the point of being able to say that this observation in the Bible is categorically wrong? That would be dangerous if we were discussing one particular modern subspecies. How much more is that not true when we are talking about a probably unstudied Middle-Eastern subspecies – one which might now be extinct? Here is what the KB lexicon records on the subject:

[Zoologist I.] Aharoni has met 2 layings of [partridge] eggs each of two different females in the same nest [in Palestine]. [s.v., Qore', p.851]

I realize I have spilled a lot of ink on this, but it is a very important subject – not partridges, per se, but the sort of subtle attack the evil one and his minions are constantly launching against people of faith who are vulnerable to having that faith undermined by wise-sounding critics who claim to have found discrepancies between science and the Bible. The important main principle to gain from the above is that the Bible is always right – it is only our understanding of it which may be imperfect. Please see the following link where these matters are discussed at some length:

The Problem of Science and the Bible

Science and the Bible

Darwin versus Hodge

The Shape of the Universe, Hominids, and the Genesis Gap

The Origin of the Seasons

Does the Bible ever describe the Earth as being round?

Let me take questions #2 and #3 together. This is indeed a difficult question and one which I hope to be able to get to answering fully in part 7 of Coming Tribulation (whose completion is next on my list). Generally speaking, the Bible commands our adherence to established authority. The extent to which this is true can be seen, as I often have occasion to remark, from the fact that the two men who express this principle of obedience most emphatically, Peter and Paul (1Pet.2:13ff.; Rom.13:1ff.), were both horribly abused and attacked by the very secular authorities they nevertheless in principle support: Peter and Paul were both imprisoned by the local authorities in Palestine, and were both eventually put to death by Rome – or such is the tradition. There is plenty in the Bible to demonstrate that both men suffered considerably at the hands of established authority in any case, and yet they never participated in or endorsed in any way any sort of violent opposition to Rome or her clients.

Self-defense from criminal activity is quite a different thing from taking issue with how the government is treating you. Jesus told the disciples to Lk.22:36 to buy swords, even if they had to sell their clothing to do so, but only a little later that night reprimanded Peter for striking one of the priest's servants by saying "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matt.26:52 NIV). This is not a contradiction. The first instance refers to the need to take adequate precautions for self-defense against criminal behavior (e.g., against robbers as they would be traveling through much dangerous territory in giving the gospel); the second instance of reprimand demonstrates the principle of submission to established authority, even when it is acting improperly. This certainly means if nothing else that Christians should think long and hard before taking up arms against any established government. That is not to say that a godless regime should never be opposed, but it is well to remember that in the early days of the Church the apostles "opposed" the government of the priests, scribes and Herodians not by violence but by defying their orders not to preach Jesus Christ – and were only too happy to suffer the consequences of their "civil disobedience". God delivered Peter and John; James the brother of John was martyred (Acts 12:2). No one "took up the sword" to try to change the political situation. All these great believers trusted God to protect them and were willing to give up their lives for Jesus if that was God's will.

I certainly see no problem with opposing by force an invading army (national self-defense), or with continuing to resist the invader through unconventional means if the conventional army is defeated. When it comes to outright revolution, however, that will always be a case where a Christians must ask him or herself some very pointed questions before deciding that the regime is so outrageously out of God's will that its violent overthrow is acceptable to God. I'm not sure that such a question can ever be answered in the affirmative, outside of the heart and conscience of the individual believer in question, that is.

The Tribulation will provide a unique case. In other revolutions throughout world history, it has usually been the case that the insurgents could count on some help or support from some other country around the world which was likewise hostile to the government in question. There usually is, that is to say, some hope of help and eventual success, however small. This will not be the case in the Tribulation. The Bible is very clear that antichrist will gain political control of the entire world at about the mid-point, and will be unchallenged in his authority and military predominance:

And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who [is] like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?
Revelation 13:4 KJV

Moreover, this complete political control and total military success is specifically said to obtain in respect to believers around the world:

And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Revelation 13:7 KJV

Therefore we can say with certainty that any "self-defense" undertaken by believers against antichrist and his forces will be completely ineffective. Putting this reality together with the questionable nature of any sort of opposition to the existing government (and in the west it will most certainly not be a case of opposing some invading force), the burden of proof (in my view) most certainly rests upon those who claim that believers ought to resort to violence during that time. When one adds to the picture the focus scripture places upon martyrdom during the Great Persecution (see the link: "The Precedence of the 144,000"), I think the point is largely beyond arguing. Israel will fight, and legitimately so, during antichrist's final invasion prior to the battle of Armageddon, but Israel is a nation and will be in the process of being invaded by a foreign power. For those of us who find our own families betraying us and testifying against us for our refusal to worship the beast, any sort of effective opposition will be out of the question. I think too that comforting ourselves before the fact with the notion that we will be able to resist or escape or physically oppose the beast will only put us into the wrong frame of mind when the time of testing comes. We may survive the trials of those times and live to see Jesus return – only God knows – but everything I have studied about the Tribulation leads me to believe that actively opposing antichrist in a violent way will, in addition to being entirely ineffective, only stand to weaken our faith, sully our witness, and hasten our departure from this life.

As to question #4, my view of the Sabbath is that with the coming of the Messiah and the replacing of the Law of ordinances with the Law of love we believers are now commanded to a "moment by moment" Sabbath-rest with Jesus Christ (replacing a specific day observance). This is developed at the following links:

Should Christians honor Sunday as the new Sabbath?

Is Sabbath Observance Legitimate for Christians?

Sabbath Rest

Sabbath Questions

As to question #5, this conclusion is based upon the fact that texts which treat this event both ascribe the victory to "the angel of the Lord" (2Ki.19:35; Is.37:36), a title usually reserved for our Lord's appearances in the Old Testament (aka "Christophany"; please see the link). As Jesus Christ is also known as "the Lord of Hosts (i.e., "armies"), and is the "Commander of the Armies of the Lord" (Josh.5:14), and rides in a battle chariot (that is what the ark of the covenant is; see the link), etc., this action is not unprecedented or out of place, biblically speaking.

As to question #6, 1st Corinthians chapter 12 (as well as all of the other passages which describe spiritual gifts) makes it very clear that God gives believers spiritual gifts, the Spirit distributing to "each one" according to His will. Authority, therefore, does not come from human beings but from God. Now it is true that during apostolic times the apostles were given the unique ability to minister the baptism of the Spirit and also apparently certain aspects of it (including the distribution of gifts in some cases). This was a unique and temporary empowerment meant to establish the authority of the apostles in the incipient Church. From the descriptions in Acts and also in the epistles, it seems to have either been removed or at least rendered unnecessary by the universal and automatic gift of the Spirit to all believers after the Church had acquired a certain essential "momentum" even while the apostles were still around (cf. Rom.8:9). As with water-baptism and many other practices, the church-visible of later years has done many things which are not necessary, inappropriate, or downright blasphemous (at least in their underlying assumptions). If you have the gift of pastor-teacher, it is because God gave it to you. And if God gave it to you, the only thing any human authority can do is to recognize what is the case (assuming that they are even capable of doing so). No human authority can make a man a pastor-teacher, even if they "ordain" him, if God has not given him the gift.

As to question #7, I quite agree. In my opinion, Christians should be models of exemplary behavior in everything they do, say and think, and that certainly includes the secular work they have been called to do in this world:

Servants, be obedient to them that are [your] masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether [he be] bond or free.
Ephesians 6:5-8 KJV

As to question #8, you are correct that I am very leery of having anything to do with politics or political action. I feel especially queasy about Christian social initiatives, and the reason is fairly obvious. If a person feels moved to help the poor, let that person give as much as he or she wishes to give, better to individuals than to organizations. But if I win an election and use my political power to force someone else other than myself to give to the poor when they do not wish to do so, how is that not evil? If a Christian organization wants to do something "good", let them do it. But if their "good" involves taking away my free will, how is that not evil? The only way to be clear, the only way to be sure, is to do the "good" yourself, and to do that "good" in the Name of Jesus for a particular person, not an organization. When organizations do things collectively, when they do things through the political process, when their "doing" involves "forcing" others to do things they would not otherwise do, you can be sure that the evil one is involved on some level (and often he is in charge of the whole operation). The only "good" that God allows as actually "good" is something that is done 1) in the power of the Spirit (i.e., only believers can do what is really "good"), 2) according to God's actual will (and how can anyone know what is the heart and mind of the person running the organization you may attach yourself to?), and 3) from the heart of the person in question (i.e., if I am taxed to do something, that is not going to fall to anyone's "good" account). There is no law in this country against giving up one's time, money, energy, or possessions to help someone else. So let all who are so inclined do so in whatever lawful way they choose to. But to force others against their will to do something I call "good" is nothing but evil.

I am very encouraged by your continuing translations efforts, and I leave all these sorts of decisions in your capable hands. English used to have an informal "you" (thee/thou), but over time it came to be felt as more formal than the formal "you", and then was discarded entirely. This is now a distinction that native English speakers would not even understand. Whatever you decide on this is fine with me.

Best wishes for all your efforts to serve the Church of Jesus Christ.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2:  

God bless you friend. I pray that all is well. Somebody broke into my car and stole my USAB 95 bible in the case thinking it was electronics. Boy, I sure hope that they read it, and let the word get an hold to them :). Im on my way to the bible bookstore in a few, and I'm not sure if you will get this in time, but I wanted to know, in your opinion, which version is better. The USAB or USAB 95. I have been through your site, and pretty much know where you are coming from with translations. I do use E-sword and I have most versions on there. But I need a good everyday study bible and one I can teach from. Im your opinion, which bible translations is most understanding and accurate, which I understand there no such thing as a perfect translation.

Thanks my friend.

Response #2: 

Sorry to hear about your loss, brother! On the versions, I guess you are talking about the NASB? My understanding is that the 1995 update was mostly for readability. For example, in Proverbs 1:17 the previous edition has "Indeed, it is useless to spread the net in the sight of any bird", whereas the 1995 update has "Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net in the sight of any bird". Note their italics on the word "baited"; this is an augmentation of the translation for readability (the KJV uses italics for the same thing). I don't have the 1995 version, but if it were me, that is the one I would probably get. Apologies if this didn't make it to you before you hit the store!

Yours in Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3:  


What Scofield Bible replace The Scofield Reference Bible?


Response #3: 

The Scofield Bible, aka the Scofield Study Bible by C.I. Scofield (1909, revised by Scofield in 1917), was updated into a (very good) Scofield Reference Bible in 1967; contributors included Frank E. Gabelein, Charles Feinberg, John F. Walvoord, and Alva McClain (to name just of few of the most prominent dispensationalists of that day). Since then there has been a "II" (apparently; see below) and now a version "III" from Oxford, the original press. I don't know who the editors or contributors of the newest version are (from the online excerpt it appears they are anonymous). Also, it seems that Oxford has variously called the same series Scofield Reference and/or Scofield Study Bible – but they are the same, at least within their various iterations of which I count five major ones:

1) Original Scofield (1909)

2) Scofield's own revision (1917)

3) New Scofield Reference Bible (or Study Bible) eds. listed above (1967)

4) [Scofield II] (1999) "Old Scofield Study Bible, 2nd Reader's Edition" (I am not at all sure whether "II" was a revision of "the New Scofield Reference Bible" of 1967 or an update of the 1917 revision).

5) The Scofield Study Bible III (2005)

It is also important to note that Oxford has released the "III" with the New King James text, and the 1967 version had a revised KJV text. Study Bible series (like the Ryrie Study Bible series) are often published in a variety of versions. I'm not sure whether or not Oxford has ever done an NIV Scofield, for example. They have been prolific in their marketing of this highly successful work and have adapted it continually. My synopsis above must be taken as a general appreciation of the Scofield line but makes no pretense of being completely comprehensive.

For more on English versions in general, please see the link: "Read Your Bible".

Best wishes for your continuing study of the Word of God.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Dear Bob,

I thank you very much for your diligent scholarship that's consistently informative and uplifting in all areas of Bible inquiry.

My son recently sent this note to me (included below). What words of clarity and wisdom can you share regarding this communication?

Keep the faith, be in JOY, with love and blessings, in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,

ARTICLE: How The Language Of The Bible Has Changed


By Bruce Nolan

Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS -- Working in a cluster of offices above a LifeWay Christian Bookstore, Bible scholars are buried in a 20-year project to codify the thousands of changes, verse by verse, word by word -- even letter by letter -- that crept into the early New Testament during hundreds of years of laborious hand-copying. Their goal: to log them into the world's first searchable online database for serious Bible students and professional scholars who want to see how the document changed over time. Their research is of particular interest to evangelical Christians who, because they regard the Bible as the sole authority on matters of faith, want to distinguish the earliest possible texts and carefully evaluate subsequent changes. The first phase of the researchers' work is done. They have documented thousands of creeping changes, down to an extraneous Greek letter, across hundreds of early manuscripts from the second through 15th centuries, said Bill Warren, the New Testament scholar who leads the project at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. After 10 years of work and the interruption of Hurricane Katrina, the seminary's Center for New Testament Textual Studies has logged those changes, amounting to 17,000 pages of highly technical notes, all in Greek, into a searchable database. Many of the early changes are well known, and have been for hundreds of years. Study Bibles mark scores of changes in italicized footnotes at the bottom of what often seems like every page. But nowhere have so many changes been collated in a single place and made searchable for scholars and serious students, Warren said. Nor is there an Internet tool like the one being constructed now in the second phase of the project: the history of substantive textual changes. This fall, the New Testament center will publish an online catalogue of substantive textual changes in Philippians and 1 Peter. Warren estimates there's 10 more years of work to do on the rest of the New Testament. Those with more than a passing familiarity with the New Testament know its 27 books and letters, or epistles, were not first published exactly as they appear today. The earliest works date to about the middle of the first century. They were written by hand, and successors were copied by hand. Mistakes occasionally crept in. Moreover, with Christianity in its infancy and the earliest Christians still trying to clarify the full meaning of Jesus, his mission and his stories, the texts themselves sometimes changed from generation to generation, said Warren. As archeologists and historians uncovered more manuscripts, each one hand-copied from some predecessor, they could see occasional additions or subtractions from a phrase, a verse or a story. Most changes are inconsequential, the result of mere copying errors, or the replacement of a less common word for a more common word. But others are more important. For example, the famous tale in John's Gospel in which Jesus challenges a mob about to stone a woman accused of adultery: "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," is a variant that copyists began inserting at least 300 years after that Gospel first appeared. In the conclusion to Gospel of Mark, the description of Jesus appearing to various disciples after his Resurrection does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. And in the Gospel of Luke, the crucified Jesus' plea that his executioners be forgiven "for they know not what they are doing" also does not appear in the earliest versions of his Gospel. Warren said that even after the fourth-century church definitively settled on the books it accepted as divinely inspired accounts, some of the texts within those books were still subject to slight changes. Warren said the story of the adulterous woman in John's Gospel, for example, seems to be an account of an actual event preserved and treasured by the Christian community. "People know it, and they like it," he said. "It's about a forgiveness that many times is needed in the church. Can you be forgiven on major sins?" John had not included it, but early Christians wanted to shoehorn it in somewhere, Warren said. Warren said the story wanders across several early John manuscripts, appearing in a variety of places. It even shows up in two early copies of Luke. "But probably it was never part of John's Gospel, in the original form," he said. In effect, early copiers were taking what modern readers would recognize as study notes and slipping them into the texts, a process that began to tail off around the ninth century, Warren said. (Bruce Nolan writes for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

Response #4:  

Very good to hear from you! I hope all is well with you and yours.

This article is a good example of 1) how the media gets most everything wrong – even when they get it right, and 2) of the truth of the words in 1st Corinthians, "the spiritual man (i.e., the believer with the Spirit) is able to discern all things, but he himself can be discerned by no one (i.e., no one can see how he "knows" the truth he knows)" (1Cor.2:15). That is a long-winded way of saying that the facts in this article are mostly correct but the interpretation and the tone are all wrong. Bible scholars have known about the manuscript variants of the New Testament since the early church fathers, and we have had access to all of the important manuscripts for about two hundred years now. This data base will make accessing some of them easier, but I know from experience that it is really the minuscule manuscripts which constitute the largest part of the work – and they are by far the least important than their older brethren, the majuscule manuscripts (which are far fewer in number).

The idea that textual variants constitute "changes in the Bible" is absurd. Over 99% plus of the text of the New Testament is absolutely certain, and I personally am very confident about most of the rest. The biggest issues are in the book of Revelation (for which there are fewer early witnesses) but most of those variants are not worth mentioning. As you are no doubt aware, in the Coming Tribulation series I have translated and exegeted the entire book (only the last part of the final chapter currently remains unposted to date) and, if memory serves, have only felt the need to explain my translation's variation from the main versions based on textual differences in a handful of places. These are "improvements" which bring us back closer to the original autograph manuscript, not "changes" in the text – only changes in a few traditional mistakes. And, by the way, all of this textual information has been available since the late 19th cent. (with only a few exceptions, most of which are not that important).

This article you include makes it sound as if we are receiving a large volume of new manuscript information every day, whereas in truth I personally know of no discovery for the last 50 years which would change a single word in how I would translate the Bible (and I am very much interested in this subject). This article makes it sound as if scholars are in doubt about what the New Testament actually looked like, whereas in fact the Greek edition every serious pastor has on his desk is 99% plus what the original writers penned (and, if he has the skill and experience, he can easily access all the information he needs to make an informed decision about the remaining 1%). This article makes it sound as if the Bible cannot be trusted, whereas in fact it is the best documented and best preserved text of any which have come down to us from antiquity to an imponderable degree: e.g., we only have a dozen or so important manuscripts of my main secular author, Thucydides, and the earliest date to the 8th cent., 1200 years after writing, whereas we have papyri of John from the early 2nd cent., only a generation or so after John's writing of the autograph.

One of the things the article is correct about is the issue of interpolations (but here the interpretation of the "scholars" quoted is all wrong!). It was a common feature in antiquity for works to have things "added" by others after the fact from a variety of motivations. There is an entire paragraph in Thucydides which is not original (I am in print on the issue), but there the case has to be decided on logical grounds rather than textual evidence because the later is in such short supply. That is not the case for the New Testament. Interpolations have been very easy to spot since the late 19th century because of the vast store of early manuscripts and papyri which were discovered or rediscovered at that time (as with the gold rush, the profitable "lodes" are now long since played out). The KJV was written long before these valuable treasures came to light, and the men who prepared the various text-critical editions that went into the so-called "Textus Receptus", the Greek text the KJV translators all used for uniformity purposes, did not have access to what we have today and made their own mistakes in the bargain. In that way, certain interpolations did creep into the English versions . . . temporarily. There is no reason for a serious person to think that the long ending of the gospel of Mark is part of the original text of the Bible, for example, and most modern versions either leave it out, or print it in brackets or italics, or at least take some pains to tell people it is not original. When they leave it in, it is not because scholars are in doubt but because they do not wish to offend the vocal minority who have a personal stake in some of the weird things it says being true (they are not). The other two interpolations mentioned show the cowardice of publishers, scholars, and denominations. The cases against "cast the first stone" and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" are equally strong (please see the links), but since these are about the only verses some people can quote, no one seems to have the courage to "tell it like it is" in the case of these horribly damaging false additions to the Bible. There is no need for a new database to tell us what any beginning graduate student could have figured out with a glance at the critical apparatus at the bottom of any good text of the NT: these passages are not part of the Word. That has been very clear for anyone willing to admit it for at least 200 years. The continued inclusion of these three (and some other famous) false interpolations into the Word of God is not a result of lack of information but lack of intellectual honesty.

The Bible has not changed and is not changing. The church-visible is changing, and not for the better (in my humble opinion).

For more on interpolations in the Bible and textual criticism in general please see the following links:

Famous Interpolations in the Bible

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations I

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations II

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations III

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations IV

The Greek Text of the New Testament: Some Issues of Textual Criticism.

Thanks as always for your kind and encouraging words.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Dear Bob,

I thank you very much for your prompt, uplifting and beyond thorough response. You're on my mind in this period of so much "crazy events in the new" and wondering if you're moved to encourage attention to any particular signs or quotes for meditation in "The Coming Tribulation?"

I'd like your opinion on this article about taking the time and work required in building a spectrum of wholesome relationships as experienced in "Bitter Pills":

But there’s a more compelling reason, say many people who’ve been going to Mousetrap for years: Holmes takes the time to get to know his patients personally. "He’s opened the door. There aren’t a lot of physicians who’ve opened the door to youth on addiction issues," "When youth say, ‘My life is a mess. I have nothing. I can’t go on,’ Fred has been one of those people who says, ‘Tell me your story.’ That’s been an incredible gift to this community." "It’s huge and very labor intensive," Holmes explains, in the soft-spoken, matter-of-fact tone of a country doc. "When I’m treating pneumonia or an ear infection, it’s all very preprogrammed and logical and not very complicated. But folks who are struggling with addiction come with a lot of baggage. It takes a lot of conversations and a lot of time and work to build those relationships."

Your words of wisdom are always appreciated.

Keep the faith and be in JOY, with love and blessings, in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,

Response #5: 

Thanks for the info. A Doc who cares, listens to his patients and spends time with them? What's next? House calls? With such a dearth of docs, I'm still not sure why we don't four or five times as many med-school slots. Possibly something to do with money.

On the signs issue, the fact is that there are no unequivocal signs for gauging that the Tribulation is close (please see the links: "Signs of the Coming Tribulation" and "What are some signs that the Tribulation is about to begin?". And while it is possible to do some deductive reasoning from contemporary events (also covered in the links), one cannot afford to get dogmatic about the issue. After all, Hitler and Mussolini made pretty good candidates for antichrist and his false prophet, but of course though the similarities were numerous the Tribulation has yet to begin some 75 or so years later. My own posture of anticipation comes more from the probable biblical time-table than it does from the ever changing kaleidoscope of political and meteorological events. I can certainly see how specific things might work out to produce what the Bible tells us (in more general terms than we would no doubt prefer). However, I have always been a very poor prognosticator. To paraphrase Niels Bohr, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future."

We will just have stay alert even as we continue to prepare spiritually. That is the only way to be ready for all of the many surprises that challenging time undoubtedly has in store.

Waiting on Jesus' deliverance,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

Dear Professor,

Thank you for these useful resources. I will start the study of the languages soon and time will tell how far I can progress. Are there any books you would recommend on the biblical history (both the times of Old and New Testament?

In Christ,

Response #6: 

You are very welcome. This question is not the easiest one to answer for several reasons. Inevitably, historians who choose to cover biblical history do so from a secular viewpoint. That is problematic since most of what we know or can know about the historical period in which the Bible was written and the events it covers comes from the Bible itself. Historians, however, have a tendency to wish not to rely on the Bible so that secular accounts of "biblical history" draw far too heavily from alternative (and far inferior) sources and tend to make it a point of pride to disagree with the scriptures, usually through preferring those lesser sources and always through engaging in much misguided speculation. Generally speaking, therefore, they are largely worthless. One of the more famous books, John Bright's A History of Israel, is a good case in point.

Getting a bead on the history of Palestine from the earliest times to the death of the apostles requires some familiarity with archaeology (another vexed discipline, and not just in biblical studies; see the link: Science and the Bible), ancient literatures, and ancient history generally. There are some works that approach the history of Israel from a believer's perspective, but these tend to do not much more than repeat what scripture says in their own prose (Leon J. Wood's books come to mind). And there are some specialty books which focus on aspects of Bible history, usually the New Testament period, which do a good job – because they are strictly historically focused. As a result, although very good, they are not particularly illuminating when it comes to the history of biblical events per se (New Testament History by F. F. Bruce, and Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ by Harold W. Hoehner are examples of this type). In terms of general surveys, it is hard to beat the Cambridge Ancient History series, but you'll no doubt have to read this in a library because on the one hand they are prohibitively expensive and on the other they are almost always restricted use books because of their high price. In terms of ancient sources, you will want to read the works of Flavius Josephus (there are some comprehensive, one volume English editions that can be found used and are reasonably priced); Josephus, however, was a story-teller with a complicated personal agenda (part of which involves never being willing to admit he didn't know something even though there was much he did not know). Josephus has to be taken with more than a grain of salt. I wish I knew of a good commentary to his works but, sadly, there is none as far as I know (none, at any rate, that would answer the questions one really wants answered). On church history, you could do worse that Williston Walker's book (although like most such works it suffers from a version of the problem discussed above: the actual Church is known to God; the church institutions covered by these histories probably have little to do with what the Lord really was bringing to pass); Schaff's multi-volume History of the Christian Church is very good and generally available without breaking the bank, but it is not for beginners (see the link: Church History). Finally, a good place to start on biblical history in general would be the introductions in your study Bibles and the section/book introductions in your Old and New Testament Introductions; there is also a genre of biblical introductions / surveys which have historical detail included, though often without attribution of asserted facts which come from extra-biblical sources (see the link: Recommended Surveys of the Old and New Testaments for that bibliography).

To be honest, whenever I find myself involved in a historical question related to scripture, I do check the commentaries (see the link: Tools and Techniques for Bible Translation), and all other sources when the answer is not immediately known to me from my past efforts, but in such cases it is usually a matter of having to start over and figure things out for oneself (even with a full library of such materials as discussed above, the legitimate questions believers come up with when reading scripture are almost never adequately addressed in these types of books). That said, I consider the study of history, ancient history in particular, to be a wonderful foundation for biblical studies on any level, and especially for prospective pastor-teachers, if only to establish a personal base-line of understanding so as to be able to distinguish between what many authoritative books present as "true" and what actually may or may not be true.

There is no small set of books that can solve the problem of historical background; rather, it is by gradually familiarizing oneself with the issues of translation, ancient literature, archaeology, and ancient history generally that one develops an adequate frame of reference for integrating these matters into biblical study. I apologize for not being able to give you a better answer, but am happy to answer any further questions on the topic which this response may bring to mind.

Best wishes for your continuing study of the Word of God!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Hi Robert,

I have difficulty reading these days. However, I continue to struggle with writing my book.

"The Great Courses" advertises History of Christian Theology Taught By Professor Phillip Cary, Ph.D., Yale University. I find I can learn in this format. I know nothing about this man. He went to Yale. Do you know about him or have in mind a similar course available somewhere in DVD format.

Thank you,

Response #7:  

Good to hear from you, though I am sorry to hear that reading is problematic for you.

I don't know anything about Cary, other than that he is well-published in what I would call the secular history of theology. Given that I have seen far too many academic works done by Christians which seem to squeeze the Christianity out of church history and the history of theology, I would not personally be too terribly optimistic about this course. The descriptions of the subject matter I find at the site are noncommittal (to say the least). E.g., "The Doctrine of the Trinity: You examine the most fundamental teaching proposed by the church fathers, the doctrine of the Trinity, which identifies the God of the Christian faith as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a single divine essence that mysteriously manifests itself in three distinct, complete individuals." This strikes me as very close to the sort of canard one hears in secularized treatments of theology all the time, to the effect that "the church fathers invented the Trinity". You are a well-read, very well-educated person who has been around the block, so if you buy this and it doesn't pan out, you will just be wasting your money. But there are plenty of young undergraduates out there who when they first come to college have their faith "rattled" by this sort of thing when it comes from a seemingly brilliant professor.

If you have not already done so, you might also have a look at this site: Academic Earth. I'm not sure if they have anything comparable to this series you link, but they do have many other video lectures from well-known professors . . . and for free. Another such site with good listings is Videolectures.net. I sure there are more.

If you are looking for something more evangelically conservative, Dallas Theological has an "iTunes U" online where you can download all manner of biblical courses (it seems to be a work in progress, however). You might check out similar possibilities at other conservative seminaries (see the link: Seminaries and Universities).

My congratulations and encouragement to you for continuing with your work in bad times as well as good.

Best wishes for finishing the race.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #8:  

Dear Bob,

Thank you very much for your comments. Do you mind if I quote you on my Face Book page? Access to my page is limited to my Friends, only. Do you have a FB page?

Yours in Christ,

Response #8: 

Be my guest,

I do have a FB page, but to be honest I've never figured it out and have lost interest in trying. I guess that officially puts me in the "old fuddy-duddy" category. I understand there is something out there called "Twitter" too.

But I do respond to regular email!

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

I asked Phillip Cary directly about his faith and how it relates to his writing. Here is his response:

"My faith is, to the best of my ability, that of the Nicene Creed. Which is to say, I am a Christian who thinks Christian faith is all about Christ, as understood in orthodox Trinitarian fashion. Beyond that, I think like a Lutheran, though I worship with the Anglicans (and try to keep pushing them towards a deeper piety of word and sacrament). I teach evangelicals, and try to get them to see also that Christian faith is not about how to get saved, but about Jesus Christ. When I teach about the history of Christianity, that conviction about the meaning of faith is behind everything."

Also, this link takes you to a very readable summary of the Christian free-will issues. http://eastern.academia.edu/PhillipCary/Teaching/25288/
Predestination_and_Free_will Does it accurately cover the scope of the debate?

More importantly, do each of the positions have a biblical basis?

Thank you. Your brother, by adoption, in Christ Jesus,

Response #9: 

I'm certainly not in a position to judge someone else's faith, especially when they have not personally asked me to weigh in on what they have written. As I said in a previous email, many of those who write secularized church histories or "histories of theology" are Christian, and yet take a decidedly anti-supernatural tack in their scholarly work. I have not read any of Prof. Cary's books nor seen the series you linked, but I don't see anything in this comment to make me change my initial impression. I have serious problems with the classical Lutheran faith, and even more with the Anglicans, especially when it comes to their ritualization of faith. To put it bluntly, this approach seems to me to be entirely backward (we need more serious Bible study and much less ritual in the Church, at least if we want to grow spiritually). The Christian faith is believing in Jesus Christ, His Person and His work on the cross. I would have to "read in" here far too much for comfort to sign off on such a confession of faith.

As to the other link you provided, it seems consistent with the quote you include and with what I had looked at previously. In my view it seems typical of modern, liberalized theology in a number of ways: 1) it is overly dependent upon pre-Reformation theology; 2) it is very little dependent upon scripture (there aren't half a dozen verse citations in the piece, no quotations, and no carefully considered exegesis of a single verse); 3) it is very unhelpful (i.e., one can read this stuff all day long and not really understand anything solid about the issues being discussed when done – hence your questions to me); 4) it is wrong: the most fundamental error I see here is the notion of "grace" as some sort of supernatural elixir poured out on some and not on others (or according to a set of rules that varies with the theology and the denomination); biblically speaking, "grace" is God's favor, His goodwill; it is not a magic potion to be dispensed to the holy few by the holier fewer – although that is how Roman Catholic theology sees it as such in essence, and that is its legacy even in many Protestant theologies, including, apparently, this one.

To recap, I am not saying that you wouldn't be able to get something beneficial out of Prof. Cary's books or video lessons. I am also not saying by any means that he is outside of the mainstream of current thought on these matters (I am the outsider – most definitely). What I am saying is that I don't see anything here that indicates to me that a person would receive any spiritual sustenance from any of this stuff (in my humble, highly opinionated, and spectacularly uninformed opinion).

If you are interested in the details of my teachings on predestination, free-will faith, and the plan of God, these are covered in part 4B of the Bible Basics series: Soteriology (see the link).

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Dr. Luginbill:

I have been transcribing some of your writings onto my computer. This is the means by which I normally study Scripture (in order to avoid just reading--which always seems to eventually degenerate into "skimming", and thence, poor retention). The scope and volume of these studies are monumental; I cannot conceive of undertaking such a task. I am truly amazed.

I have completed "Satan's Revolt" and about half of "The Coming Tribulation". I found your website by a search for "Genesis Gap" pursuant to a study out of my Dake's Bible. I intend to transfer these two topics onto a reader or tablet device to be used by my wife (who seems to have an irrational distaste/fear of computers and their operation) (We are of 70 years!)

I seem to remember when I first found ICHTHYS.COM that you welcomed notification of possible errors. I am not trying to nitpick but it seems that a serious error might have occurred. I say "Serious" because it is part of the "proof" offerings; typos and omitted words are unavoidable in such a huge body of work as that which you have produced (citation correction suggested here).

I find these works of yours so impressive that I feel like a man regarding a huge mountain from close to its base---the creation is stunning and I am stunned.

Thank you for your efforts. I have been enabled to achieve a deeper understanding of these events than ever before.

Response #10:  

Very good to make your acquaintance!

You are, of course, absolutely correct, and I have now corrected the mistake. I can't thank you enough for your careful eye, and am always grateful for readers who let me know about typos and other errors. I am especially vulnerable to making mistakes with numbers (never a strong point with me).

Thank you also for your kind and encouraging words. It's funny, but I also often imagine each one of these studies as a mountain that must be scaled (with the major sections as peaks of varying size).

As in every Christian life, we put together our work for the Lord one day at a time, one brick at a time. That is how Noah must have built the ark: one board at a time. All we followers of Jesus Christ can do is to try and be diligent in our work in His vineyard. He is the One who empowers our efforts and causes our day by day, brick by brick, board by board efforts to take shape. We can't really know before the time the true value of our work – but we can keep listening to the Spirit and continuing to work. I think this is of particularly importance on the threshold of our generations own coming "great flood".

You have certainly helped me and encouraged me today! May God continue to bless and empower your spiritual growth and work for Jesus Christ.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.
Psalm 90:17 NIV

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #11:  

I have seen the books placed in chronological order but is there a bible that has the books in the order the events happened not when the books were written.

I get confused with the bible finding out I may have read a chapter and what actually happened before that verse is five chapters behind the one I'm reading. I would to sit and read the bible like a book. No skipping from here to there to get the whole picture but as it happened. Is there such a book?

Response #11: 

I'm not aware of such a Bible, and I think that it would be pretty difficult to produce an actual Bible of that sort. Genesis gives a chronological account, and that is generally true of the Pentateuch and Joshua/Judges. However, a great deal of the Old Testament is prophecy or other non-historical material. So really there are two different things operating here: 1) the history given by the Bible, and 2) the books of the Bible themselves which are often difficult to place in any kind of chronological order. For example, the book of Psalms was written over a period several hundred years and has very little to say in terms of historical commentary. So one might organize a Bible along the lines of what I provide in the link you reference, but that would still leave you with the same issue; or one might provide a detailed listing of historical events, but in that case there would be no place for the 80% or so of the Old Testament which is not strictly dealing with historical matters. In the New Testament, there do exist "harmonies" for the events of the Gospels (the best one I know of in English is A Harmony of the Gospels by R.L. Thomas and S.N. Gundry). These do attempt to place all the events of the first four books in a chronological order. If you do access Thomas and Gundry (or most other good harmonies), it will become apparent that organizing the material chronologically is no easy task. As I say, Thomas and Gundry do a wonderful job, but I would certainly not agree with all of their conclusions. When it comes to the age of the apostles, Luke treats things in a chronological order in the book of Acts, but how and where the other information contained in the epistles fits in is often a matter of much debate. If I live long enough, I have it in mind to do a series on Paul which would do something along the lines of what you are asking about, integrating the information about his life in with the epistles. Also not easy to do; for example, the traditional order of the NT books is not what one finds universally in the Greek manuscripts. There is a very good book on the life of Paul by F.J. Goodwin (A Harmony of the Life of St. Paul) which attempts to do this with the historical information only (i.e., no exegesis of the epistles). Biographies of the apostles may help here too. For example, A.T. Robertson did a series of such works as in Epochs in the Life of Paul and Epochs in the Life of Peter which read more like history books – they are, however, personal interpretations of the material in large part. For the Old Testament, the two closest things I know of are Old Testament histories (where the material is set out chronologically, but with the prophecy and other non-historical material left out; Leon J. Woods books are the best I know of in this category) and Old Testament introductions (which give details about the individual books). You can find out more about these later two genres at the following links:

Recommended Surveys of the Old and New Testaments

The Lives of the Prophets

Evidence for the Exodus

Bible Study Tools and Methods

Best wishes for your continuing study of the Word of God!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #12:  

First off, i've read your site off and on for the last couple years now and thoroughly enjoy the amount of time and work you've put into it, it clearly shows. so thank you for your work in offering alternative views that are clearly spelled out, i greatly appreciate it. i also admire how smart you sound when i read your responses to people, i wish one day to write as eloquently as you, but probably not since my focus is math and science vs english, but i digress.

Question 1: i don't know greek/hebrew at all and am guessing i'll never go to school to understand it. that being said, when i look up verses and want to find out what the original greek word meant, all i have is the strong's concordance, which i find severely lacking in the definition department. most of the time, they use the word in the definition, which i find extremely unhelpful. i've gathered that the greek language is very complex and there might not exist the kind of book i'm looking for, but i'm basically looking for something that would go into greater detail if i was wanting to look up certain words i come across in studying. it also seems that it largely depends on the context of the verses as to how the word is translated too. so maybe i'm asking if there's a way to dig to the center of the earth with a spoon, but you seem like you'd know either way.

Question 2: there's been a lot of talk lately about people using matthew 24.36 in light of the supposed armageddon. i looked up that verse on your site to see any of your commentary and you mentioned to someone in an email correspondence that the day and hour were literal and it seemed to suggest that we could know the season, month, year. i wonder how do you know that Jesus was literal here? i know the bible is pretty literal generally, but some stuff is figurative or symbolic right? how do we know jesus wasn't using a figure of speech here to suggest that no one knows when, period?

Question 3: how in the world do you find time for your job, writing new sections for this website, and responding to all the emails you get? do you not sleep?

Response #12: 

Very good to make your acquaintance. As it says in 1st Corinthians 12, there are "different gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries, but the same Lord; and there are different results, but the same God who brings about all results in all cases" (1Cor.12:4-6). I remember many years ago while I was still in seminary listening to a speaker I really admired and realizing that there was no way I could do what he was able to do. I thought about taking up plumbing. But of course God has equipped us and gifted us to do what He wants us to do. Whatever ministry the Lord has called or will call you to, you can be sure that He is all-sufficient to help you do it well. We only have to be willing; He supplies everything else. We all get where we are going the same way: one step at a time.

As to your questions, first, language study is always very rewarding but it is seldom simple or easy. That is particularly true in the case of Greek and Hebrew, partly because they are ancient languages and partly because they are very complex languages. Strong's is a wonderful tool but it is a concordance, not a dictionary. What Strong's has done is to take every occurrence of a particular Greek or Hebrew word and list all the ways it is translated in the KJV next to the entry in the back. So, for example, if KJV translates the Greek word logos as "word", "plan", "speech", etc., those and all the other usages will merely be listed with no regard for how or why the word might mean one or the other thing in any given context. As is clear from the three English examples I have used, there is often a very big difference between the possibilities. A plan, a word and a speech are all quite different things in English (even though there may be some overlap), and it is very unlikely that if I were translating from English into another language that I would be able to use the same word for all three ideas.

As you correctly discern, context has much to do it. That is one of the reasons why different versions translate passages in different ways, namely, each has understood the passage in a different way, even if the difference is very slight. Translation is as much an art as it is a science, and doing it well requires more than just having the right tools. For example, there are a number of good dictionaries I can recommend to you. One of my favorites, and one which is (or was) less expensive than many of the others is Abbott-Smith's Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. Most dictionaries/lexicons will divide the different meanings of words up into some sort of organizational categories and list the passages where one of another is to be preferred. This is a big advantage over a concordance, but the advantage of a concordance is that it will tell you all of the places where the word occurs (in a particular work like the Bible) and allow you to look at them all and decide for yourself (that is, if you know the language). The underlying problem here is that even the best dictionary/lexicon is just a consensus of opinion by the scholars who contributed to it as to what a word can mean, might mean, and/or does mean in a particular context. Native speakers who are well educated only rarely have recourse to the dictionary; even when they are reading something very difficult, say philosophy, they may have to scratch their heads and consider the passage for a while, but, unless we are talking about a technical term with whose special meaning they are unfamiliar, the solution to their dilemma almost never revolves around "what does this word mean?" The same is true in any good translation of the Bible. There are no native speakers of ancient Greek or biblical Hebrew any longer, but it is possible to get to the place where how a word is used in its context (and in other contexts) becomes at least as important in the translation process as what others have interpreted it to mean in the past (but we are talking many years here).

Since they have different alphabets and since they are highly inflected (i.e., the words change depending on how they are used in the sentence), Greek and Hebrew provide entry barriers many modern spoken foreign languages do not. In order for a person to be able to use an interlinear translation or a Greek dictionary or other such tools, some sort of familiarity with the language really is necessary. I would suggest a beginning biblical Greek book (they are all about the same and there are so many on the market that you ought to be able to find one used on-line for a song; see also the link: the Institute of Biblical Greek). A Greek New Testament (I don't like interlinears but they have their place for folks who are not going to be able to get formal training) may be the next step, and Zerwick's A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament is an excellent tool for figuring out what is going on in the text for those at the intermediate level. It's a lot of work, and I can tell you from personal experience that doing it on your own without a teacher is hard, especially in the early going. Nevertheless, I certainly commend you for your desire to get to the bottom of things. It is just that sort of determination to find the truth which we need in the Church today.

As to the unknown day and hour, first, just in case what you found on the site did not include this, here is what I write about that in part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series:

The "unknown day and hour" of Matt.24:36 and Mark 13:32 merely indicates that we may know an event is imminent without knowing the precise day of the year and hour of the day in which it will occur. After all, this comment occurs immediately following the parable of the fig tree where we are told by our Lord in no uncertain terms precisely to pay attention to scripturally significant events and not to ignore what the Bible has to say on these matters (cf. Matt.24:32-35; Mk.13:28-31). Acts 1:7 is often mistranslated "It is not for you to know", but should be rendered "It is not for you to decide the times and the seasons". The Greek verb gignosko commonly has this meaning of "decide" especially when it is in the aorist as it is here. The context strongly supports this revised translation since our Lord immediately adds "which the Father has ordained by His authority". That is to say, Jesus' point is that it is the Father who has decided these matters; they are not to be decided by your wishes. For our Lord's disciples had just very clearly expressed the wish through their question in the preceding verse six for Him to establish the Kingdom immediately. Therefore our Lord's reproof in verse seven is not a commendation of complete ignorance about the Father's timetable, but rather a reminder to them that it is His will in these matters that counts, not theirs; they would have to remain patient, even though from their perspective the time seemed ripe for the commencement of the Messiah's kingdom. We must also take into consideration the fact that this statement was given to the apostles prior to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is the agent of inspiration, chronology included, who, as Jesus had already made clear, would be the One to relate to them "the things to come" (Jn.16:13; cf. 2Pet.1:16-21). Since they will later come to understand the "things to come", verse seven must also be understood in conjunction with verse eight: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you . . .", a statement that clearly includes the previously promised further revelation of the Spirit (not excluding information about the end times). This is why, a few short years later, Paul can tell the Thessalonians the exact opposite of Acts 1:7 (that is, as it is generally misconstrued): "concerning the times and the seasons, you have no need that anyone write you, for you know very well . . ." (1Thes.5:1-2).

In terms of figurative usage versus literal meaning, the Bible should always be taken to mean what it says. It is true that sometimes writers/speakers use parables or figures of speech. There are very definite "rules" of interpretation where these occur and they are not much different from English (i.e., it is not as big a mystery as many make out). For example, if I tell you "there are a billion reasons why this is so", you will assume immediately that I am not using "a billion" literally but am instead using a figure of speech (hyperbole aka exaggeration).

I do understand your point, but it is always salutary when interpreting the Bible to consider first that what is being said may mean precisely what it seems at first to mean. In this case, Jesus is clearly speaking about the need to be alert in our estimation of what will happen in the times of the end; interpreting the passage to mean "don't worry about it; you can't know anything about it anyway" as is often done not only stands the passage on its head but goes completely against the grain of what our Lord had just said about the fig tree:

"(32) Learn this parable from the fig tree. When its branches become supple and its leaves sprout, you recognize that the summer is close. (33) In the very same way when you behold all these things (i.e., the events of Matt.24:1-31), recognize that [My return] is right at the door" (Matt.24:32-33).

We may not know the day or the hour of the second advent, but when we see the things of Matthew 24 happening, we should recognize that Jesus' return is imminent. The message is, therefore, "pay attention and be alert", not "you can't know, so don't worry".

Thanks much for your kind words. In truth, I should sleep less and work more! I appreciate the sentiment so I will share one thing I have learned: consistency and persistence pay off. If we are diligent in our approach day by day, the Lord builds up our ministries in ways we could never anticipate (Mk.4:26-29). That is true of us all, all of us, that is, who are willing to respond to Him. It is the nature and consistency of our response that is the basis for all of the wonderful rewards we shall reap on that glorious day of days.

So keep running the race!

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #13: 

Dear Professor,

I'm slowly progressing in my study of your website. It's been very helpful and I pray that the Holy Spirit keeps guiding you and all Christian teachers.

There is one issue I wanted to ask you about, namely the laic criticism of the discrepancy in the teaching between the New and Old Testament. I'm aware that there are some differences between the two but some people use it as an argument against the coherence of Christian message (for example 'justified' violence in the Old Testament versus the peaceful message of Jesus). I wanted you to direct me to an article or other resource that clarifies the relationship between the Old and New Testament. I'm aware that this could be very complex, but it would be great if you pointed me where to start such study.

In Christ,

Response #13:  

I am familiar with the criticism and in my view it is the province of those who do not believe in or trust God and more particularly of those who have not read the Bible. After all, it says in the Old Testament, "Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace" (Ps.37:37 NIV), while Jesus says in the New "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matt.10:34 NIV). Going from these two verses alone, one might form the exact opposite impression of what you report – neither would be correct.

The Bible is entirely consistent throughout, secular characterizations of it notwithstanding. The main difference between the testaments is that the Old was given to a particular nation and preceded the cross, while the New is given to all believers and follows the cross. Both of these differences are very important in understanding and correctly interpreting what is said in each testament. As it says in the book of Hebrews: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb.1:1-2a NIV). The former communications came to the nation Israel through prophets and prophecies which anticipated the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the Law, He is the message, and that makes all the difference in the way the New Testament expresses the very same truths: ""Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matt.5:17 NASB).

As Peter tells us, "concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things." (1Pet.1:10-12). That is to say, the actual revelation of Jesus in the flesh was something so unique and wonderful, and His actual death in the darkness for all the sins of mankind something so ineffable, that no amount of prior symbolism could ever fully do justice to the reality. As Jesus Himself said, "many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" (Matt.13:17 NIV).

It is most definitely the case, however, that what our Lord taught was entirely consistent with what is in the Old Testament; and that what the apostles taught was entirely consistent with what Jesus taught. There is not a sliver of daylight between the Torah and the Prophets and the Gospels and the Epistles. Indeed, one can almost always find direct allusions backward from the apostles to the gospels to the Tanakh – it is only the case that fallible human beings who are too lazy to look for the truth (or are disingenuous about their desire to find it) see problems and stop instead of taking the effort to discover the solutions.

It is in fact the case nonetheless that there is not a single discrepancy of teaching or meaning or doctrine in the entire Bible – when it is rightly understood. That does not mean that while we are growing and learning there will not be times when we have a hard time understanding this or that passage or teaching – and it is a life's work to understand it all. Even the great apostle Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect" (Phil 3:12 NASB). But if we have faith in God that He will lead us to all His truth and if we, like Paul, "press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me", we will make great progress in understanding the Word – as long as we believe the truth we learn and are taught.

I am afraid I do not have any bibliography for you on this important subject; I do not ever remember a good presentation of the reasons for the differences so I have done my best here in a very short reply. It may be helpful for you to read the following links which approach the same general idea from the perspective of the idea of Covenants: "Covenants", "The Old and the New Covenants", and "Calvinism, Covenants and Catholicism".

Thank you for your good words.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #14:  

Dear Professor,

I apologize to keep bothering you. Thanks to your contribution a lot of my spiritual issues have become much clearer and hopefully I will take less of your time now.

It is going to be a slow process, but it would be an honour to undertake the endeavor of translating some of your resources. I will start soon and email you with some translated work probably in a few weeks. In order to ensure that the Polish version reads well (apart from the accuracy of the translation, I would like the text to be stylistically neat), I will have it reviewed before I submit it to you.

Also, for the time being apart from the resources on your website, which widen and organize the theological knowledge, I decided to familiarize myself with some biblical history, time will tell whether I'll have an opportunity to devote myself to the study of biblical languages in the future. I already had a look at available titles, and there is a plethora of books. Would you be able to recommend any authors or particular texts in this area? It might not be a warranted concern, but I'm just unsure whether some authors with a background from certain denominations did not have a particular agenda when writing their work. If you're aware of some resources of good credibility and academic standard, it would be great if you could forward the titles and authors.

In Christ,

Response #14: 

Always good to hear from you – you are no bother at all. As I say, I would be delighted to have you translate some of these studies. Even though Polish was the most widely taught and taken language at my Chicago high school, I, sadly, do not know a word of it (beyond its name, Polska mowa). So I will trust you and your reviewer to get it right. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have when you get down to business. In my experience, one often thinks one understands a text perfectly . . . before one has to render it into another language.

As to Greek and Hebrew language study, in my experience theological predisposition does not figure into it much if at all, especially at the basic level. Many of the scholars who have worked on these languages and produced famous resources for them were doubtless not even saved. In short, whatever you are able to get your hands on in terms of Greek or Hebrew pedagogical texts (in Polish or English or whatever language) would probably be good. I am happy to give you my opinion in cases where I am familiar with the work. Here is an excellent site for Greek NT studies which lists bibliography for entry level, intermediate and advanced studies: the Institute of Biblical Greek. I would also be happy to give you a list of favorites, but since, as I say, when it comes to pedagogical texts they all have pretty much the same info, price and availability are key factors. In terms of primers, I like Weingreen and Lambdin for Hebrew; Reading Greek and Athenaze for Greek (n.b., for the two Greek series, two books are required for each, and, unlike the Hebrew texts, these are not biblically focused books).

Best wishes in all your studies and in all your efforts for our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #15:  

Dear Professor,

I'm going through the Old Testament for the first time in my life and through the readings from your website and our correspondence I'm am aware that not all the books included in the R.C. church canon should be there according to you. As I would like to read the ones that are definitely divinely inspired first before potentially familiarizing myself with others, could you please provide me a comprehensive list of biblical books, or fragments of books that are apocryphal?

In Christ,

Response #15: 

Good to hear from you. I am very pleased to hear that you plan to begin a plan of serious Bible reading. This always makes a huge difference in personal spiritual growth. People can argue hypotheticals all day long, but a person who is actually deep in the scriptures and opening his heart to them will be led to the truth.

As to your question, the term "pseudepigrapha" is often used to refer to that genre of non-canonical works which seeks to associate itself with the Bible. These books are often falsely attributed to biblical figures (as in "The Book of Enoch" or "The Gospel of Thomas"). The number of pseudepigraphical works and fragments not generally recognized as canonical by any group is massively large. Short of working one's way through the TLG canon (see the link), I don't believe any sort of comprehensive list is possible. James H. Charlesworth's massive two volume set, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, for example, is not absolutely comprehensive and of course leaves out the even larger corpus of New Testament pseudepigrapha.

The most famous collection of pseudepigrapha, the Apocrypha with a capital "A", usually refers to the list of (in truth) non-canonical works which accreted to some Greek versions of the Old Testament. This varies from manuscript to manuscript, but the "official list" accepted by the Roman Catholic church is finite:

# Tobit

# Judith

# Additions to the Book of Esther

# Wisdom of Solomon

# Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach

# Baruch

# The Letter of Jeremiah

# The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews

# Susanna

# Bel and the Dragon

# 1 Maccabees

# 2 Maccabees

# 1 Esdras

# Prayer of Manasseh

# Psalm 151

# 3 Maccabees

# 2 Esdras

# 4 Maccabees

As you know, in my view and in that of most Protestants, the above books are human fabrications and not divinely inspired. Only the 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi (or Genesis to 2nd Chronicles in the Hebrew order) are accepted by almost all Christians as legitimate. Most Bibles one would buy in English have these and only these OT books. One would have to find an RC or other special Bible to find the apocryphal books listed above included.

For more on the chronological ordering of the books please see the link: The Chronological Order of the Books of the Bible: Part 2

Hope this helps – please feel free to write me back about this.

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.


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