Saturday, 30 November 2013

Questions About the Holy Spirit (Part 2 of 2)

Q: What is meant by the “anointing”? (1 John 2:20, 27)   
     The Greek word chrisma is a term originally referring to oil or ointment used for anointing, and then later for the anointing itself. The corresponding verb form is chrio, used with reference to Jesus (Acts 4:27) and his followers (2 Cor. 1:21). The LXX (Greek translation of the OT) applies this word to priests (Ex. 28:41), kings (1 Sam. 10:1), and prophets (1 Kgs. 19:16). Jesus is called ho christos (“the Christ”), literally “the Anointed One.” In the context of 1 John chapter 2, the apostle seems to be making a play on words which is not apparent in the English translation. Those who are against (anti) the Anointed One (christos) are antichristoi or “antichrists” (vv. 18-19, 22), whereas the faithful ones to whom John is writing are in essence christoi or “anointed ones” (v. 20). The anointing is from “the Holy One,” thus all who have it are holy (hagios = sanctified or set apart).
     In verse 20 John is either saying “you all know” (NASB) or “you know all things” (NKJV). Grammatically it could be translated either way. He may be saying that you know “all things” in the context of the subject matter under discussion, but more likely he means that you all know the truth (v. 21). The recipients of John’s epistle did not need to be taught something new by those trying to deceive them (vv. 26-27), because they already knew the truth (v. 21). Notice John says that the anointing “abides in you” and “teaches you” (v. 27). If we allow John to interpret his own words, he says in this very context that “the word of God abides in you” (v. 14) and “what you heard from the beginning abides in you” (v. 24). That which they had heard from the beginning was “the word” (v. 7). The anointing has taught that “you will abide in him” (v. 27), and we know that we are in him if we keep his word (v. 5). Observe also John’s emphasis on what is written (vv. 1, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 21, 26).
     It is interesting to note, contrary to what many interpreters read into the passage, that “the Holy Spirit” is not even mentioned in this context, much less a direct operation of the Spirit. But it is still important to consider this idea. Jesus was anointed “with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). The apostles and prophets were guided by the Spirit to record God’s complete revelation (John 16:12-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The word of God is now “the sword of the Spirit” which abides in and teaches those who receive it (Eph. 6:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12). We are “sanctified” (hagiazô) or “set apart” or “made holy” by God’s Spirit, yet this is accomplished only by our obedience to the Spirit’s truth (John 17:17, 19; 2 Thess. 2:13-14). The Spirit and the word are inseparable. It is highly unlikely that the “anointing” refers to a direct operation of the Spirit since the Bible makes a distinction between being anointed and “also” (kai) being sealed with the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21-22). The “anointing” to which John refers appears to be a metaphoric reference to the influence of God’s inspired word which was abiding in and teaching the recipients of John’s letter, in contrast to the false and deceptive message of the antichristoi.
Q: What did Paul mean when he wrote, “. . . and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you” (Philippians 3:15)?
     The first consideration is, to whom is Paul speaking? He is writing in the early 60s to a congregation he was instrumental in establishing about twelve years earlier, namely “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi . . .” (1:1). The next question is, what is he writing about? In the immediate context, the apostle warns these brethren of the dangers of Judaizing teachers, and he then encourages them to realize that past accomplishments do not invalidate the need for future growth. If anyone among them had different ideas, namely that a state of perfection was already attained, Paul said that “God will reveal even this to you.” But how? There are several possibilities: (1) by prophets who conveyed God’s revelations in the first-century church (cf. Acts 11:27; 13:1); (2) through this inspired letter which Paul was sending to them (v. 1); (3) by the examples of others (v. 17); (4) by way of humbling life experiences (v. 8; 2:30); or (5) in the last day when all will be laid bare (vv. 20-21; cf. 1 Pet. 1:5; Rev. 20:12). Less than forty years after these words were penned, God’s written revelation was complete (Rev. 22:18-19).
-- Kevin L. Moore

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Questions About the Holy Spirit (Part 1 of 2)

Q: According to John 7:38-39, is the Holy Spirit given to individuals when they believe in Jesus?
     First let’s note the historical context of this statement: “. . . the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). The Holy Spirit was to be sent when Jesus was glorified, namely after his death, resurrection and ascension (John 16:7, 12-14, 28; 17:1-5). This was accomplished shortly after Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 1:4-12; 2:1-4). Later the Holy Spirit was indeed given to individuals in some measure (1 Thess. 4:8; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:5), but what was required by these individuals in order to receive the Spirit?     
     The point of Jesus’ statement in John 7:38-39 was not to detail what needed to be done in order to receive the Spirit, but rather to identify those who would receive the Spirit, namely believers as opposed to unbelievers (cf. John 14:17). But what constitutes a “believer” in the NT? He is not one who merely acknowledges the truth about Jesus (Mark 1:23-24; 5:2-7; Jas. 2:19), nor one who believes but refuses to confess (John 12:42-43; cf. Matt. 10:32-33), nor one who confesses but refuses to obey (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46). The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey the Lord (Acts 5:32). Thus in Acts 2:44 the ones identified simply as “all who believed” (lit. ‘all the believing ones’) had actually been baptized (v. 41) after having been taught: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38).
Q: Did the apostles receive the Holy Spirit when Christ breathed on them prior to his ascension? (John 20:22)
     The apostles were not to receive the Holy Spirit until the Lord was glorified (John 7:39), and he was not glorified and therefore the Spirit was not sent until after Jesus had ascended into heaven (John 16:7; 17:1-5).  The apostles were instructed to wait in Jerusalem for about ten days after Christ’s ascension in order to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:1-12; 2:1-4).
     When Jesus breathed on the apostles in John 20:22, he did not say, “You have received . . . ” [perfect indicative] or “You are receiving . . . ” [present indicative], but rather, “Receive [aorist imperative] the Holy Spirit.” This statement instructs the apostles to be receptive to the Spirit when he comes, but it does not specify when he came. Why, then, did Jesus breathe on them? John did not see fit to explain it, but a couple of plausible explanations are the following. 
     1. Luke’s account (24:36-49) shows that when Jesus appeared to the apostles (to give the Great Commission) and said “Peace to you,” they were frightened, thinking he was “a spirit.” Jesus then showed them his nail-pierced hands and feet to prove he was alive and in the flesh. John not only mentions the Lord showing his wounds but adds that he also breathed on them (20:19-23), possibly to verify that he was really alive. 
     2. Since “breath” in the Bible symbolizes life (cf. Gen. 2:7; Mark 15:37), it may be that Jesus was illustrating the life-giving nature of their mission. In the previous verse the Lord had given them a commission, and in the subsequent verse he identified forgiveness of sins as part of their work. The gospel began to be preached, sins started to be forgiven, and the Great Commission was launched when the Holy Spirit was received by the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41).
-- Kevin L. Moore

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Closer Look at Pharisaism

     The Pharisees (the name meaning “separatists”) were a prominent Jewish sect who exercised significant influence among the people of Israel during the time of Christ and his apostles. They are probably best remembered for their antagonism against Jesus. Because of their infamous reputation, the label “pharisaical” has become a derogatory accusation often generating prejudicial feelings toward those to whom it is applied.
     To set the record straight, not all Pharisees or pharisaic tendencies were bad. Since they correctly acknowledged God’s power to raise the dead (Acts 23:6-8; 26:5-7), they were prime candidates for the gospel. Many of them did become Christians (Acts 2:41; 15:5), the most notable of whom was Saul of Tarsus (Acts 23:6; 26:5). Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish Supreme Court (Mark 15:43), may very well have been a Pharisee. He is described as “a good and just man,”1 who refused to consent to the Lord’s death (Luke 23:50-51). He and another Pharisee, Nicodemus, prepared the body of Jesus for burial in Joseph’s own tomb (Matthew 27:57-60; John 19:38-42). Both of them apparently became followers of Christ.2 A Pharisee named Gamaliel (Paul’s former teacher) dissuaded a murderous plot against the Lord’s apostles (Acts 5:33-40).
     Because of their reputation for being meticulous students of God’s word, Jesus told the people, “whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do …” (Matthew 23:3). Unlike Jonah of old, the Pharisees were extremely mission-minded, taking seriously their God-ordained role to ensure “that all peoples of the earth may know [his] name” (1 Kings 8:43). Their evangelistic fervor was noted by Christ when he said they “travel land and sea to win one proselyte” (Matthew 23:15). The Lord even endorsed their prudence in not leaving undone the minute details of the law (Matt. 23:23). Being “zealous toward God” (Acts 22:3) is an apt description of many Pharisees.
     In spite of all these good qualities, however, the Pharisees in general still missed the mark. In Matthew 23 Jesus condemned their persistent failure to implement in their own lives what they taught others to do (vv. 3-4). They were characteristically arrogant, selfish, hypocritical, oppressive, pretentious, and inconsistent (vv. 5-22). They neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (v. 23). They were internally impure, self-indulgent, and lawless (vv. 25-28). They were even guilty of persecution and murder (vv. 29-37). How is it possible, considering their apparent devotion to the law, that they could rationalize such gross disregard for the law?
     The apostle Paul, a former Pharisee himself, in his epistle to the saints at Rome, may offer some insight. The Pharisees, like most other Jews, probably would not have denied their obvious infractions of the law. But as God’s chosen people (as they regarded themselves), their presumption was that, unlike the Gentiles, they would escape condemnation and they accordingly failed to recognize their need for repentance (Romans 2:1-5). They naively believed that their election, circumcision, and covenant protected them against the consequences of neglecting to fully observe the law (Romans 2:17-29; Philippians 3:4-6). Simply because they were Abraham’s descendants, despite all their willful transgressions, they blindly relied on God’s grace to save them (Romans 3:1–6:2).
     The Pharisees were not denounced because of their “conservatism,” or their zeal for God and his law, or their emphasis on obedience, or their efforts to make converts. They were condemned, in short, because of their evil hearts and impure lives. They hypocritically said one thing and did another. They went beyond God’s law with their human doctrines and traditions and lived in blatant violation of divine precepts (Matthew 15:1-9). No wonder the charge “pharisaical” is such a burning indictment!
     If you want to criticize someone for being, in your estimation, too “conservative,” the derogatory accusation “Pharisee” is misapplied. A Christ-like criticism would not be aimed at a person’s conscientious attempts to conserve the word of God. It would be directed toward hypocrisy, arrogance, oppression, impurity, and disobedience. Using God’s grace to excuse or justify one’s failure to live up to the divine standard is more pharisaical than seeking to understand, obey, and defend God’s truth.
     Consider, for example, controversial issues such as divorce and remarriage.3 It is ironic that when one takes at face value the Lord’s instructions – accepting, observing, teaching and defending them without compromise – he runs the risk of being labeled “legalistic” or “pharisaical” because of his strictness and perceived lack of sympathy for those in unbiblical relationships (cf. Mark 6:18). The irony is that Jesus’ recorded discourses on the subject (Matt. 5:32; 19:4-9; Mark 10:6-12; Luke 16:18) are always in response (and opposition) to the lax attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees toward the divine will (Matt. 5:20, 31; 19:1-7; Mark 10:1-2; Luke 16:14-15). Searching for loopholes and twisting or watering down the Lord’s teachings is the pharisaic approach.
     Healthy debate can be beneficial, but not when prejudicial labels are carelessly hurled at those with whom we disagree. I may be regarded as “legalistic” by those on my left and “liberal” by those on my right, but at the end of the day what do these epithets really communicate? They say more about those who apply them than about those to whom they are applied. If we can be more specific when addressing the inevitable concerns, reasoning together with open Bibles and open hearts, much good can be accomplished and unnecessary harm averted. May godly attitudes and Christian behavior prevail among the Lord’s people.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations in English are from the NKJV.
     2 According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea was sent by the apostle Philip to Great Britain in 63 to establish the Lord’s church.
     3 See Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage.

Related articles: Wes McAdams' You May Not Be Conservative; Ben Giselbach, When 'Book, Chapter, Verse' Becomes a Bad Thing

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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Speaking in Tongues

     The Greek word rendered “tongues” in the New Testament is glôssai, simply meaning “languages” (cf. Revelation 7:9; 11:9). The first historical account of miraculous tongue-speaking is recorded in Acts 2:1-11. Having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the apostles began speaking in languages that were understood by Jews from various nations. Consistent with what glôssai actually means, these “tongues” were real languages spoken by real people living in different parts of the world.
     The Bible affirms that “tongues” were intended primarily for the benefit of unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22), serving no useful purpose if they could not be understood (1 Corinthians 14:7-11, 14-20). If a tongue-speaker wanted to say something in a religious gathering where there may have been some who could not understand him, either his message was to be interpreted or he was to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:12-13, 26-28).
     Some read 1 Corinthians 14 and stop at verse 5, thinking they have discovered a whole new purpose for tongue-speaking. But from what Paul goes on to say in the rest of the chapter, it is evident that in these first five verses he is rebuking the Corinthians for their misuse of this gift. Certain ones in Corinth were speaking in tongues, but instead of speaking to men they were merely speaking to God since no one could understand them (v. 2). Nevertheless, they should have been speaking to men so as to be understood (vv. 7-11, 14-20). Some were speaking in tongues in order to edify themselves (v. 4), but their gifts should have been used to edify others (vv. 4-19).                                                                       
     Not everyone in the early church had the ability to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-30). The apostles and Cornelius’ household received this gift through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-47; 11:15-17), but these two cases were for specific purposes that were fulfilled. Other Christians received the ability to speak in tongues by the laying on of an apostle’s hands (Acts 19:6; cf. 8:17-19). However, this gift was not meant to be permanent in the church (1 Corinthians 13:8).
     The miraculous gift of tongue-speaking, like the other spiritual gifts, fulfilled its purpose of communicating and confirming the divine message during a time when the church was in its infancy and without God’s complete written revelation. Now that the Bible is complete, speaking in tongues is no longer needed.
     There is a big difference between tongue-speaking in the Bible and the ecstatic utterances or unintelligible babblings that many today call tongue-speaking. There may be counterfeit “miracles” (Matthew 24:24) and various miraculous claims (Matthew 7:21-23), but this is not sufficient proof that such is from God. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
--Kevin L. Moore

Related PostsHoly Spirit BaptismBible Miracles: Fact or Fiction

Originally appearing in The Exhorter (April–June 1998).

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