January 1, 2018 Bible Study — Don’t Fall For Straw Man Arguments

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.


Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 1-3.

    As I read the account of creation I struggle with reconciling it with scientific knowledge. There are two reasons for this. First, the language used here is much more figurative than a modern writer would use to describe the same events. Second, a lot of “scientific knowledge” is built on things which were “learned” when the assumptions made by those who discovered the “knowledge” were things which we now know to be completely false (Darwin lived at a time when most atheists believed that the universe had no beginning but had always existed). Ultimately for me, my understanding of creation relies on two things. The scientific interpretation of how the world began rests on the assumption that there is no God, so there must be some other explanation for how the universe came to be. In other passages the Bible clearly teaches that death entered the world when Adam sinned. As a result, I find that this account is more useful in living my life than that which is put forth by “Science”.

    I find the account of the first sin to be the most instructive part of today’s passage, and a great way to start the year. My focus today is on something I do not recall anyone teaching on this passage mentioning. The serpent started his attempt to seduce Eve into sin with a straw man argument. As a result he set the stage for Eve (and Adam, who we are told a few verses later was right beside her) to think that God’s commands were unreasonable. The serpent’s opening statement was, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Well, we know full well that God said no such thing. Indeed, God had said that they could freely eat the fruit of every tree in the Garden, except for one. And Eve did indeed tell the serpent that. But by making his opening argument the serpent had planted the idea that God’s command might not be in the best interest of Adam and Eve. Which is the basis for his very next argument.

    The serpent made the argument that God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to keep them from becoming as powerful as He was. The serpent claimed that God gave that commandment in order to oppress them. Eve saw that the forbidden fruit looked good and accepted the serpent’s argument. It is worth noting that Adam was standing right next to her and did not come to God’s defense. Further, it never occurred to Adam or Eve to take the serpent’s argument to God and ask Him for a response. Adam and Eve accepted the serpent’s argument that eating the fruit would make them like God and never considered that that might not be a good thing, nor did they consider whether it was true. They never considered that having knowledge of evil served no useful purpose. Until they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they did not need to know how to tell right from wrong because they did not know how to do wrong.

December 31, 2017 Bible Study — The River Of Life

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 20-22.

    After the beast and his false prophet have been defeated, Satan will be chained and Christ will rule over the earth for “a thousand years”. (I put quotes around that because I am not sure if the thousand years which John writes about is literal or figurative). Those who refused to accept the mark of the beast will reign with Him for that time period. At the end of that time Satan will be released and gather the nations to attack God’s people. This is another place where it is unclear whether the term “God’s people” refers to the Church or to the Jews. The phrasing seems to suggest that Satan will inspire the nations of the world to attack Jerusalem. Whatever the meaning, the armies will gather and appear to be on the verge of victory when fire will come down from heaven and destroy them. At that point Satan will be cast into the lake of fire to suffer torment for the rest of his existence. Then all who have ever lived will come before God for judgement. The earth and skies will be destroyed and God will create a new earth and a new heaven. Those who have not accepted through faith God’s free gift of grace will be cast into the lake of fire along with Satan.

    Then John describes the new Jerusalem which will exist after all of this is over. A city where nothing evil will be allowed to enter. No temples or places of worship will be necessary because the people living within it will continually be in God’s presence. There will be no pain, or death, or suffering for those who dwell within that city. The curse of entropy (and all other curses which came from that one) which came to be because of Adam’s sin will not be on this new city, nor on the new earth in which it will be placed. In that city there will be a river of life…a river of life to which everyone is invited to drink. And this is where it gets interesting, despite the fact that this city does not yet exist, we are all invited to drink now from the river of life which flows through it. Will you join with me in drinking from the River?

December 30, 2017 Bible Study — The Fall of Empire

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 17-19.

    The beast upon which the woman sits in this passage is the same beast which John saw coming out of the sea in chapter 13. However, this is a separate understanding of that “beast’s” role in the end times from what we looked at yesterday. I am unsure if this portion of John’s vision is a different interpretation of the events we read about yesterday, or if this represents different events involving the same powers. I suspect that it is some hybrid of those two, because at the end of today’s passage there is a reference to those who had accepted the mark of the beast.

    One of the things which make understanding this passage is that the beast and the woman riding the beast are sort of the same thing. In order to explain this, I will work from what appears to have been John’s understanding of their meaning (which, despite the fact that he was the one to whom God gave this vision and wrote it down, I believe was only partially correct). John appears to view the woman as Rome, the seat of the Roman Empire, and the beast as the government of Rome. As with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to some degree what John is describing in this vision happens again and again throughout history. As I see this, John is saying that those who ruled over Rome hated Rome and destroyed it for their own gain. This fits with the various things I have read about how Rome fell. And it is consistent with what I have seen of other great nations throughout history. At the peak of the Empire’s power those who rule over it stop seeing it as a great nation which they serve and begin to see it as a means to satisfy their own desires. Inevitably, once that starts it is just a matter of time until the nation, which for all intents and purposes rules the world, falls, throwing the world into chaos.

    With the fall of the great nation those who never worshiped it but instead remained faithful to God see new opportunities to preach the Gospel and thus they praise God. Rather than seeing the chaos as a reason to mourn, they see it as an opportunity to praise God and call others to repentance. Those who worship the powers of this world will unite to turn on them, but their attacks on God’s people are thwarted and they are destroyed and a new nation rises to power out of those who worship God. Unfortunately, throughout history such nations quickly become controlled by those who worship the nation rather than God, those who did not learn the lesson of the last fall. However, the day is coming when Christ Himself will take charge over the Earth and the cycle of history will come to an end.

December 29, 2017 Bible Study — Two Beasts and a Number

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 13-16.

    Today’s passage is almost completely metaphor. First is the beast which came out of the sea and spoke blasphemies against God. It had seven heads and ten horns. One of the seven heads had what appeared to be a fatal wound, yet the wound was healed. I am unclear if this beast is a person, a group of persons, a nation, or an organization (I lean toward the latter two). However, the people of this world will worship this beast and give it authority to wage war against God’s people (again unclear if this is the Church or the Jewish people). Those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be persecuted while the beast holds power (here it is clear that it refers to the Church). Then another beast will arise. This time out of the earth. Again, I am unclear as to whether this second beast is a person, or an organization. It will be given the authority of the first beast. The second beast will create a statue which will be given life by the beast. This sounds like a robot or a computer with Artificial Intelligence to me. John then mentions the number of the beast and tells us that it is “666”. Three sevens would represent perfection, but three sixes does not represent almost perfection. Instead the three sixes represents something which falls short of perfection in every way so that, rather than being wonderful, it is terrible.

    After an interlude describing things which I am not going to comment on today, seven angels holding seven plagues came out of the Temple in heaven. One after another they poured these plagues out on those who worshiped the beast and his statue. I am convinced that these plagues are the natural result of following the practices involved in worshiping the beast. However, that is not where I want to direct our attention. Instead, I want to take notice of a point which John makes several times here. After experiencing each of the plagues, those who worshiped the beast cursed God rather than repent of their sins and turning to Him. Rather than recognizing that God had warned them that their actions would result in these plagues and glorifying His name, they cursed Him and blamed Him for the suffering they had brought upon themselves.

December 28, 2017 Bible Study — God’s Word Is Sweet, But Turns a Little Sour When We Realize Our Own Failure

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 9-12.

    I just realized another reason that it is hard to make sense of John’s visions in this book. They are presented sequentially as if they occurred/will occur in the order that they are written down. Yet that is not entirely true. For example, the child to whom the pregnant woman in this passage gave birth is Jesus, but the passage presents the birth after many other events which had not yet happened. This is just a reminder that the purpose of John writing this was not to tell us what is going to happen in the future. The purpose of this letter was to communicate how, as confusing and terrifying as everything that happens may be, God has a plan for the world which will come to pass in His time.

    John writes that, despite the terrors and suffering following the fifth and sixth trumpets, those who had not already turned to God beforehand did not repent of their sins (murder, witchcraft, sexual immorality, and theft). Immediately after writing that we see another passage which shows that John’s vision was influenced by Ezekiel. Ezekiel was also given a scroll which was sweet in his mouth. In both cases, the scroll references a message from God for the prophet to preach to people. The point of the prophet being told to eat the scroll was that we are to take to heart ourselves the message which God gives us before speaking it to others. Here in Revelation John reminds us that, while there is a sweet satisfaction to speaking God’s word, in particular God’s judgment, to others, there is also a sourness as we realize how far short of God’s standard we have fallen. We may be called to confront others with how they have failed God and brought harm to others, but we must remember that we too have failed God and, by doing so, have hurt others.

December 27, 2017 Bible Study — The Four Horsemen Follow One After the Other

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 4-8.

    It struck me as I read this part of John’s vision that part of what makes this hard to understand is that John’s vision consists of three elements: things which will happen and appear just as John describes them (although we will not necessarily see them the same way), things which appeared in his vision symbolically and as metaphors, and things which are a result of John being in a dream state. I do believe that these last are also metaphors and similes, they just are not based on anything we can find reference to in any other literature of the time or before. They are unique to this vision experienced by John.

    John describes the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse here. I find it interesting that in John’s vision we have no mention of the four riding together. Part of the reason we view them as riding together is because their are a similar group of four horsemen in a vision seen by Ezekiel. I am quite confident that the similarity to Ezekiel’s four horsemen is not a coincidence, but I, also, do not believe that they refer to the same four horsemen. This is the first place where you can see that the writer believed that his vision applied to the Roman Empire (there are elements in the description of the horsemen, especially the first, which connect to the Roman Emperors of his time). For me, reading the descriptions of each horseman suggests that they follow after each other. The first horseman rides fourth victorious, ushering in a golden age. The second horseman rides fourth bringing disorder and war, riots, civil war, and, perhaps, invaders. The third horseman brings the economic devastation, and famine, which often follows such events. Finally, the fourth horseman brings pestilence and death, which, again, usually follows the preceding two. Thinking about it, if we study history we see that these four appear again and again in this very pattern. A conqueror rises up in one nation, conquering the surrounding nations. He is followed by social disorder, civil war, and, sometimes, reverse invasion, as his successors battle each other for the power he had gathered to himself. The social disorder, the civil war, and the invasions cause economic disruption which will include famine (with or without invasions). Finally the land is devastated by disease and death.

December 26, 2017 Bible Study — The Alpha and The Omega, The First and The Last

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Revelation 1-3.

    The introduction the Book of Revelation contains some things which help us understand God. John writes that God is the beginning and the end of all things, the Alpha and the Omega. If we were writing that for the first time today we would write the A and the Z, but really that does not carry the same weight that Alpha and Omega had for John’s readers. Words, especially written words, had much more meaning for the people to whom John wrote. When John wrote that God was the Alpha and Omega his readers would have understood this to mean that He encompassed all knowledge and all wisdom. They would have been familiar with Plato’s Cave and so that phrase would have implied that God encompassed all that was real, of which the world we experience is but a shadow. To John’s readers, words contained a truth which stood above that which could be experienced, by writing what he did John was saying that that truth was contained within God. There is a lot more to this than I have time to write today. When I started writing that I intended to give just a bit of context to the what it meant that John wrote that God was the beginning and the end and that Jesus was the First and the Last. When John wrote that Jesus was the First and the Last he was writing that Jesus was God, but still somehow different from God the Father. The Alpha and Omega conjures the image of something too vast for us to understand. The First and the Last is the same thing, yet in terms we humans can comprehend. Those two phrases represent how God the Father and Jesus the Son relate to each other and to us. God the Father is that aspect of God which is beyond our ability to comprehend. Jesus is that aspect which exists to allow us to comprehend God.

    John’s messages to each of the seven Churches contains all of the struggles which a group of believers can face.

  • Ephesus, there the Church would not tolerate evil people, those who taught doctrine contrary to the Gospel. They were praised for their knowledge of good doctrine and theology, for being able to suss out those teaching lies. But they had lost their love for God and each other. Knowing the truth is not enough, we must also act with the love which that truth proclaims.
  • Smyrna, there the Church suffered persecution and poverty. Yet, despite all of their troubles they remained faithful so God declared them rich. Let us pray to for the riches which they possessed.
  • Pergamum, they refused to deny their faith in the face of the threat of death. Yet, Jesus finds fault with them for tolerating those who taught that grace meant that it was OK to be immoral and take part in the worship of other gods. When directly challenged on their faith they stood strong, but when more subtle assaults against the faith presented themselves they fell prey.
  • Thyatira, they were praised for their deeds showing their love for God and man. They worked to make the world a better place. Yet, they permitted a woman who taught and practiced sexual licentiousness a place in their community. And by community I do not mean living in their neighborhood. John meant that they allowed this woman to be a part of their meetings and to use her association with them to recruit disciples.
  • Sardis, they had a reputation for being strong believers, but the reality was that it was all a front. They were just going through the motions. There were still a few faithful there, but most of the congregation no longer truly believed.
  • Philadelphia, they were weak and struggled to remain faithful. Nevertheless, God had provided them an opportunity and the strength with which to take advantage of it. The Church in Philadelphia knew they did not have the strength to accomplish God’s purpose, but they did His work anyway. John’s message to them was that that was enough. Our weakness is God’s strength.
  • Laodicea, they were neither enthusiastic and charismatic, nor deep students of God’s word. There are those who are enthusiastic and excited about the Gospel. Their understanding of the intricacies of doctrine and meanings of faith are often limited, but they get people excited to learn more. Then there are those who study the Word in depth. They are not exciting, sometimes they are even boring, but they stand ready to help their brothers and sisters understand and see God’s Spirit when Satan strikes through depression or other suffering. The Church in Laodicea was neither. They were neither excited by the Gospel, nor willing to study it in depth. God wants our deep enthusiasm.

Let us examine ourselves and the Body of believers with which we fellowship to address where we fall on this list.

December 25, 2017 Bible Study — A Timely Warning Against Those Who Teach That Jesus Did Not Have a Real Body

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.


Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

    John writes that we should live in the truth. That truth is that God commands us to love one another. He follows that up by warning us against people who teach that Jesus did not come in the flesh, that Jesus did not have a human body. The translation notes for the New Living Translation say that John may have been using the future tense here. If so, that would mean that these deceivers John is warning us against were teaching that the Resurrection was not physical. I suspect that the ambiguity of John’s wording was intended to cover those who taught either. There are those today who teach that it does not matter if Jesus really existed and/or that it does not matter if the Resurrection actually happened. John warns us that such teaching will lead us away from God.

    Jude also warns us against false teachers. His warning is against those who teach that because our salvation is a free gift from God by His grace that we can do whatever we like, including living immorally. Such teachers often call on us to accept them and their teaching to avoid division in the Church. Jude warns us that it is these teachers who are creating the division which they claim to be preaching against.

December 24, 2017 Bible Study

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 John 1-5.

    The thing which makes this such a key letter for understanding living a Christian life are the two related, but seemingly contradictory, ideas which it contains regarding sin in our lives. First, John writes that if we claim not to have sinned we are fooling ourselves and calling God a liar. Later, he writes that if we live in Christ we will not sin. Now, the easy way to reconcile these two things is to say that we sinned before we were saved, before we experienced Christ’s saving grace, but once we are saved we will not sin again. However, if that is the case, I know few, if any people, who qualify as saved. It also seems contradictory to things written elsewhere in the New Testament. In addition, that reading seems contrary to what John says when he writes that his purpose in writing was that we do not sin, but if we do, we have an advocate who pleads our case with the Father. So, what do I think John means here? First he is telling us that we will sin. From time to time we will give in to temptation, but when we do God will forgive us if we confess our sins. Important point here: we need to admit that what we did was indeed a sin. Second, he is telling us that even though we know that we will sin we cannot just accept sin as part of our lives. If we are truly living in Christ we will feel pain and shame each time we do sin. We will strive to purge our lives of the desires which lead to sin.

    John offers us instruction on how we can overcome sin. We become susceptible to sin when we love the pleasures of this world. We become ever more able to overcome temptation to sin as we love the things this world offers less and less and desire the things which God offers more and more. This world offers material goods, achievements, and honors. God offers the opportunity to make other people’s lives better, to know that we have done His will. There is another point which John makes which I do not see how to connect to these other points, although I believe that it is connected. John tells us that there is not a singular individual who is The AntiChrist. Rather he tells us that there are, and will be, multiple antichrists. Again and again, people will rise up who will offer salvation in competition with that offered by Christ. Anyone who denies that Jesus is the author of our salvation, or who offers himself as our savior, is an antichrist.

December 23, 2017 Bible Study

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Peter 1-3.

    Peter starts off by reminding us that God has freely given us everything we need to please Him. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. However, he immediately follows this by telling us that because of God’s free gift we need to make an effort. I really like the way Peter puts this. Everything starts with faith. From there we add goodness. We can try to be good, but without faith in God, and the help that He will give us, it will be nothing but empty posturing. Once we follow up on our faith with attempts at doing good, we soon realize that we do not really know what is good. So, we need to seek knowledge and ask God’s Spirit to teach us what we need to know. As we learn God’s will for us we need to develop self-control in order to do both the good which God wants from us and to not do the evil which He wants us to leave behind. Self-control is not a once and done thing, we need to work day after day to improve our self-control, we need to learn to persevere. As we persevere in doing good we discover that there is a holiness, a godliness, beyond doing good which allows us to change lives (or, allows the Holy Spirit to work through us to change lives). However, if we stop there we will quickly fall back. That godliness cannot be sustained unless we genuinely care for others, and allow them to care for us. Finally, we must love others, not just those who care for us but all of God’s creatures. If we ever think we have enough of any of these (faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love) and no longer need to work to have more we will become ineffective in serving the Lord. Making this effort provides confirmation of our salvation. If we have received salvation from God by His grace through faith that salvation will result in our working to do the above things, thus confirming that we have indeed been saved.