The value of Benjamin Kennicott’s Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum



In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Kennicott led a project to catalog all the variants in the consonantal text of Masoretic Hebrew manuscripts that were accessible throughout Europe, including only those manuscripts copied before the invention of the printing press. In the end, more than 600 Hebrew manuscripts were collated. The resulting two-volume work published in 1776–1780, Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum, included a printed Hebrew text (the van der Hooght edition) with a critical apparatus below. In the Pentateuch, Kennicott also prints the Masoretic text (MT) and Samaritan Pentateuch (SamP) in parallel columns, with differences noted.  Only textual variants within the Masoretic or Samaritan manuscripts were recorded; Kennicott’s edition does not note variants from the LXX, the Vulgate, or other ancient translations. While many more Hebrew manuscripts have been discovered or become accessible since the time of Kennicott, no other complete catalog of Hebrew textual variants has ever been produced. Thus, someone who wants to see a complete apparatus for (consonantal) textual variants in the Masoretic Text will have to consult Kennicott. Even the editors of BHQ and BHS still rely on Kennicott when noting textual variants within the Masoretic tradition; they do not have their own catalog of textual variants in the MT.

I first learned of Kennicott after I was already accustomed to using BHS. BHS and BHQ print only a small fraction of the total number of variants within the MT; when they do note a variant, they give comparatively little information about the manuscript evidence and usually present only a negative apparatus. The thing that immediately struck me about Kennicott’s work was that there are as many or more textual variants among Hebrew manuscripts in the Old Testament as the Nestle-Aland editions show for Greek manuscripts in the New Testament. Scholars who claim that Kennicott’s work is of little value because the Masoretic manuscripts are “practically uniform” are simply wrong. It is true that most of the variants are very small (one word or one letter), but changing one letter of a Hebrew word often changes it to a completely different word, making a significant difference for the translation and meaning of the Hebrew text. Even spelling (orthographical) variations within the manuscript tradition can offer insights into the original inspired text. I soon realized that if I wanted to do serious study of a passage in the Old Testament, I would have to check Kennicott for textual variants that might affect my translation or exegesis.

A scholar who uses Kennicott will quickly develop a sense of patterns of textual variation within the Masoretic tradition, accruing invaluable insights. He will gain an understanding of which letters are commonly confused, which spellings are commonly changed, and which words or letters are commonly omitted or duplicated by mistake. In short, he will gain a sense of the nature of textual variants within the MT, which will help him greatly in deciding which readings are original. One will find that commentators often speculate about textual variants and propose emendations without having a solid evidential basis for their hypotheses.

When I first discovered Kennicott, I bought a reprint edition. Now Kennicott’s work is conveniently available online: vol. 1, vol. 2, and both volumes. These volumes can be saved as PDF files on your computer as a backup. Unfortunately, Kennicott has not been incorporated into any Bible software program, and probably will not be due to the lack of interest in it by contemporary OT scholars (though see this thread on the BibleWorks user forum; also, the Hebrew Bible Manuscript Explorer in Logos has a listing of Kennicott’s manuscripts, though without much information given).

Kennicott’s work is entirely in Latin and Hebrew/Aramaic, as Latin was the standard language of scholarly writing in the eighteenth century. The good thing is that one does not have to translate any Latin sentences to use Kennicott; one only needs a key to Latin terms used in the apparatus, as with BHS. Here is my understanding of the sigla in Kennicott’s apparatus:

  • ‸ = “omits”
  • * = “omitted” (in the parallel MT/SamP text)
  • 1º = “first occurrence”
  • 2º = “second occurrence”
  • bis = “twice”
  • forte = “accidentally,” referring to a copyist’s mistake
  • marg. habet = “margin has”
  • nunc = “now,” referring to a corrector
  • primo = “at first,” referring to the original reading of a manuscript
  • spat. post = spatium post = “a space after the . . .”
  • sup. ras. = supra rasura = “erasure above”; there is a sign above a word or letter indicating that it should be deleted
  • videtur = “it appears”

Kennicott’s edition has been criticized for not including variant readings of the Masoretic pointing. In my view, this criticism is unfair; there are so many consonantal variants, that attempting to collate all the variants in vowel points would have made the apparatus too large and the project too time-consuming. More importantly, the vowel points were not part of the original inspired text; thus, if one only wants to get back to the original text, the vowel points are of secondary importance. To see some variants in the vowel points, one can consult Giovanni de Rossi’s 1784–1788 work Variae lectiones Veteris Testamenti (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4). Compared with Kennicott, de Rossi is more comprehensive for the variants he describes, but he only treats a fraction of the variants that are in Kennicott, and his work is much more difficult to understand for scholars who do not read Latin because it is not arranged as a formal apparatus. De Rossi includes a more expansive catalog of manuscripts, variants in vowel points, variants in ancient versions, and a written analysis or explanation of the variants.  De Rossi is also helpful for his list of Kennicott’s manuscripts and his descriptions of them (in vol. 1). Don’t forget to check de Rossi’s supplement at the end of vol. 4, as well as his Appendix.

Benjamin Kennicott was a strong Christian, and it was his Christian faith that motivated him to collate Hebrew manuscripts in order to determine what was the original inspired text of the Old Testament. Today, Kennicott’s work is basically ignored by Old Testament scholars. The reason for this is directly related to higher criticism, which seeks to destroy biblical faith by treating the Bible as a purely human product. The critical view of the formation of Old Testament books is that each book was composed by many different authors/editors, in many different editions, over a long period of time. There is no direct evidence for the critical hypotheses, but they are considered dogma in contemporary OT scholarship, given that the alternative is accepting biblical faith. A component of redaction criticism and other forms of higher criticism is the hypothesis that the Masoretic text is corrupt, and in order to get past the hypothetical layers of editing to a hypothetical “initial” text, scholars must make substantial emendations to the received Hebrew text. Since the ancient versions, particularly the LXX, are often substantially different from the MT, they are a major source for the large editing changes contemporary critics wish to make to the Old Testament text. But some scholars want to essentially rewrite the whole OT to make it fit with their view of what the text should mean and how it was formed, so they add many of their own conjectural emendations even to what is in the LXX, often going so far as to propose entirely new Hebrew words on the basis of words in cognate languages. The textual variants in Kennicott are ignored by critical scholars because they are the sort of small variants one would expect to arise by mistake when copying manuscripts, rather than the large variants that would be created by someone who is editing the biblical text.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls tempered some of the most extreme assertions of critical scholars about the MT, at least for a while. Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls contain a text that is virtually identical to the medieval Masoretic manuscripts, with only small textual variants. This proved that Hebrew manuscripts were faithfully copied for at least 1,500 years. Thus, the fact that many of Kennicott’s manuscripts date to the late medieval period does not mean that they do not preserve readings of manuscripts that were copied in antiquity. The main reason why older Hebrew manuscripts are not abundant is because the Jews “retire” old manuscripts when they begin to wear out. However, the readings of medieval manuscripts are valuable because they are part of a manuscript tradition that was very carefully copied. By way of analogy, in NT textual criticism medieval manuscripts which have a text that is very similar to the earliest extant manuscripts are given significant weight. I would personally argue that the Masoretic text is a faithful representation of the original inspired text, and I would only propose emendations of the MT or follow readings of the LXX on rare occasions.

For scholars who hold a high view of the fidelity of the MT, Kennicott is a much more valuable tool for textual criticism than the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Targums, BHS, or even BHQ. I still consult other critical editions, ancient versions, and commentaries, but Kennicott contains most of the variants that I would consider important for recovering the original inspired text. The 600+ manuscripts collated by Kennicott are a large enough sample so that the inclusion of more manuscripts likely would not change the balance of evidence significantly. Yet I hope that someday all extant Hebrew manuscripts will be collated in a digital critical apparatus that will make the variant readings they contain more accessible to scholars. As it is, Kennicott’s work remains the most comprehensive and authoritative textual apparatus of Hebrew manuscripts ever produced. I hope that along with a new collation of Hebrew manuscripts, there will also be a return in evangelical seminaries to doing textual criticism primarily from an apparatus of Hebrew textual variants, without telling students that they can only analyze OT textual variants if they do extensive work in Latin, Aramaic, Syriac, Ugaritic, and so forth.

I will close this post with an extended quotation from Benjamin Kennicott, The State of the Printed Hebrew Text of the Old Testament Considered (Oxford: Oxford, 1759), 2:295, 298-300. Kennicott’s rational faith is clearly evident here, and is refreshing in comparison with the unreasonable skepticism of modern scholars:

The Original of the Pentateuch, in the hand-writing of Moses, was preserv’d with great care, being deposited in the side of the ark [Deut 31:26]; and with the ark was probably introduc’d into the temple at Jerusalem. . . . That this MS, wrote by the hand of Moses, was not stolen by the Philistines, but safely deposited in the temple; and that (after being conceal’d in the dangerous days of the idolatrous kings of Judah) it was found in the days of Josiah—-this seems clearly pointed out in the account given in 2 Chron, 34, 14. For there the copy of the law thus found by Hilkiah the priest is call’d ספר תורת יהוה ביד משה liber legis Jehovæ in manu (or per manum) Mosis. ’Tis scarce possible for words more naturally to describe a book written by Moses himself; or to vouch more fully, that the MS of the law then found was in the hand-writing of Moses. And perhaps all doubt will be remov’d, when ’tis consider’d farther—that, tho’ there are 15 places in the old Testament, which mention the words law of Moses and book of Moses, yet this one place only mentions the book of the law in the hand (or by the hand) of Moses: the reason of which seems to be that the other places speak of that law in general; but this place speaks of one particular MS, namely the original. . . . As to the point of age, this MS certainly might be the original; distance of time leaving it very possible. For the most extended chronology does not make the interval from the death of Moses to the death of Josiah 950 years; an age exceeded by that of several MSS preserv’d at this day.

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Insights from the 2017 ETS conference



This past week I attended the 69th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Providence, Rhode Island. This is the major academic conference which brings together evangelical scholars from a cross-section of disciplines relating to biblical studies, theology (systematic, biblical, & practical), church history, and philosophy. Recordings of all the sessions are available from Wordmp3, and the plenary lectures will be published in JETS. What follows is a summary of highlights from the sessions I attended.

David Rohl was a special invited guest of ETS, and he presented two lectures on Egyptian history and the Bible. Although Rohl is not a Christian, he has a high view of the historical reliability of the Bible. Rohl has shown that the picture of consecutive Egyptian dynasties that is often presented is much too oversimplified. Dynasties often overlapped; at times Egypt was divided in multiple parts, with four or even up to twelve kings reigning at the same time. The result is a far shorter Egyptian chronology—one which comports with the biblical timescale. Further, since Greek, Cypriot, and Hittite dates are dependent on Egyptian chronology, a compression of the conventional Egyptian chronology also results in a downward revision of the other chronologies. Reactions to Rohl’s chronological proposals usually include the adverb “strongly.” I strongly support Rohl’s adjustments to the conventional chronology as correct in view of the biblical chronology, although I do not necessarily agree with every particular in his scheme.

For those who accept the validity of the biblical chronology (cf. Judg 11:26; 1 Kgs 6:1), the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is calculated as having occurred in 1446 or 1445 BC. According to the conventional chronology of ancient Egypt, this was during the reign of Thutmose III. However, the reigns of Thutmose III and his son Amenhotep II marked the pinnacle of Egyptian power and grandeur. There was no economic or political collapse in Egypt, as the Bible indicates was triggered by the ten plagues and the destruction of the Egyptian army (cf. Deut 11:4). Thus, it seems that the conventional chronology of Egypt does not line up with biblical history. Rohl identifies the Pharaoh of the exodus with Dudimose, who reigned near the end of the 13th dynasty. In support of this, Rohl cites Manetho (quoted by Josephus), who calls the Pharaoh of the exodus “Tutimaeus” (= Dudimose). The 13th dynasty ended with the invasion of the Hyksos, whom Rohl identifies with the biblical Amalekites (cf. Num 24:20). Rohl identifies the pre-Hyksos Asiatics who lived at Avaris as the Israelites. Rohl’s theory has much to commend itself, although he advocates the “short” Egyptian sojourn (215 years), in apparent contradiction of Exodus 12:40-41.

Rohl also presented considerable, and convincing, evidence against the traditional identification of Shoshenk I with the biblical “Shishak” who was king of Egypt near the end of Solomon’s reign (1 Kgs 11:40), and who successfully invaded Judah in the fifth year of Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:25; 2 Chr 12:2-9). While Shoshenk I does record an invasion of the area around Judah, Aijalon is the only Judean city in his lengthy list of toponyms on the Bubastite Portal. His campaign annals indicate that he did not invade Judah, but rather campaigned heavily in the Jezreel Valley and in other areas around the borders of Samaria. Rohl identifies Shoshenk I as the unnamed “deliverer” of 2 Kings 13:5 who saved Israel from the Aramean oppression around 805 BC and allowed them to reoccupy sites which had been colonized by the Arameans. Rohl interprets Shoshenk I’s campaign as a campaign against the Arameans on behalf of Israel. Rohl identifies the biblical Shishak with the great Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. According to Rohl’s chronology, the reign of Ramesses II began around 979 BC, late in the period of David’s reign. Based on a Hittite cuneiform tablet which records a treaty made with Ramesses II, Rohl suggests that Ramesses II was known as “Shysha” in the ancient Near East, which becomes “Shishak” in the Bible. According to Rohl, a relief at Karnak temple depicts a battle which Ramesses II fought with Israelites/Judeans, in which the Israelites are depicted in chariots. Since the Israelites did not acquire chariots until the reign of David or Solomon, Rohl argues that this battle cannot predate the united monarchy period.

Also on the subject of archaeology, Randall Price presented a paper on his excavation of a new cave near the site of Qumran, in the general area where many of the caves with Dead Sea Scrolls were found. This cave is called Cave 53, but maybe will be called Cave 12 (12Q or Q12) as a result of discoveries made during its excavation. The entrances to this cave and parts of the interior of the cave were blocked by fallen stones prior to excavation. Many jars were found of the type used to store scrolls in the other caves, with linen to wrap scrolls and a string to tie around the scrolls. Most of the artifacts found were dated to the Second Temple period, including a couple of bronze tools used for cutting niches into the cave walls. A jar in the lower cave contained a leather scroll fragment—but unfortunately no writing is visible on the scroll, though it still needs to be analyzed using the most advanced techniques. Price’s excavations have convinced the Israel Antiquities Authority to excavate systematically all known caves and thoroughly re-excavate ones that have already been excavated in order to look for new scrolls. They are so convinced there are still new scrolls to be found that the Shrine of the Book museum in Israel is planning to build a new wing with the intention of housing new discoveries.

Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute and well-known philosopher J. P. Moreland presented on objections to theistic evolution. These scholars are part of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. ID has been criticized by both secular evolutionists and biblical creationists for being an incomplete theory, as it simply asserts that life was designed without explaining who designed life, or when and how the universe came into existence. Many ID proponents are opposed to evolutionary biology but still accept the view of evolutionary geology and cosmology that the earth is billions of years old. While many in the ID movement are Christians, some are not. Nevertheless, ID proponents have advanced many arguments that are helpful to biblical creationists. The ID scholars who presented at ETS were contributors to the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique.

Stephen Meyer (author of Darwin’s Doubt) presented on scientific problems with biological evolution. The goal of his talk was to proclaim a liberation to theology and Bible professors, informing them that it is not necessary to accept evolution as a framework for understanding Scripture. Meyer said that there is no scientific consensus today on how evolutionary mechanisms work; evolution is a theory in crisis because it has “no theory of the generative,” according to evolutionary biologists themselves. Yet at the same time as evolutionary biologists (e.g., the Altenberg 16) are acknowledging serious problems with evolution, many theologians are pushing the church to accept theistic evolution as dogma. They are supported by highly public figures such as Richard Dawkins and science columnists and commentators in the media who strongly assert the validity of evolution for anti-Christian theological reasons; however, these television personalities and journalists present a very one-sided picture of the issue which does not acknowledge the issues being raised in current peer-reviewed scientific literature. Evolutionary biologists are increasingly recognizing problems with the explanatory power of natural selection and random mutations. Here are some of the dilemmas Meyer noted:

  1. If you want to build a new form of life, you need to have new code in DNA, which functions in a very similar manner to computer code. The problem is that if you start with a highly specific code, then randomly change the 0’s and 1’s, you will degrade the code and end up with a program that doesn’t work, rather than having a functional outcome. Since natural selection can only select what random mutations generate, if it is mathematically impossible for random mutations to produce the functional code in DNA even over a timescale of billions of years, then life lacks a mechanism to evolve.
  2. It is not just DNA that codes for the specific proteins needed for an organism to function. Recent discoveries have revealed that genes interact with each other in integrated circuits to produce proteins. If this “developmental gene regulatory network” is perturbed, it stops producing necessary proteins and the organism dies. Thus, evolutionary biologists are on the horns of a dilemma: a new developmental gene regulatory network is needed in order to produce new forms of life, but the network cannot be disturbed without the organism dying.
  3. In order for an organism with a new body plan to be produced, mutations must occur very early in the development of an organism, almost at conception (so that all the organism’s cells have the same genetic code). But new research by geneticists has found that mutations which occur early in the development of an organism are always deleterious, and cause the organism to die.
  4. Evolutionary biologists have traditionally focused on genetic mutations as the source of evolutionary change. But we now know that the development of some structures in the body are not controlled by DNA; scientists do not know at present what controls their development. Thus, DNA only provides the lowest-level assembly instructions; organisms have both genetic and epigenetic information which would both need to be reprogrammed for a new form of life to be generated.

J. P. Moreland argued that many of the questions addressed by evolution are primarily philosophical or theological questions, not scientific ones. Evolutionary science assumes a philosophical basis, which is often obviously faulty when analyzed from a philosophical point of view. One example is Stephen Hawking’s assertion that the universe could have originated from “nothing.” From a philosophical viewpoint, “nothing” means a total privation, whereas Stephen Hawking’s “nothing” included a “quantum vacuum.” Naturally, Hawking did not explain how the quantum vacuum came to exist.[1] One of the things which biological evolution seeks to describe is the origin of information. Yet when biologists are asked to describe what information is, they describe it as a non-physical entity—something which can exist in many different places at the same time. Thus, evolution attempts to explain the origin of a non-physical entity through a physical process, which is impossible. Some other philosophical questions which science cannot properly address include the origin of consciousness, free will, intrinsic value, and moral values.

Moreland noted that in spite of the fact that many theologians push the adoption of theistic evolution as a way to make Christianity acceptable, in fact studies have noted that theistic evolution has a negative effect on the Christian church and on people who are considering Christianity. People know in their gut that theistic evolution is a revisionist reading of the early chapters of Genesis, and this results in revisionist readings of other parts of Scripture, until the whole of biblical faith is undermined. The church needs to provide real answers to scientific questions; George Barna’s research showed that 1 in 6 people are leaving the church because it does not.

Moreland also addressed the question of whether it is rational to reject the theory of evolution when ninety-nine percent of biologists hold that it is true. He argued that (1) If you can show that the homogeneity of the majority is due to non-rational (sociological) factors, then their agreement does not lend intellectual support to their theory. In the case of evolution, there are institutional punishments for those who break with the standard scientific theory—it is a sociologically forced homogeneity. Also, Darwin was able to get God and theology out of science, which means that many scientists have strong religious motivations for supporting evolution. (2) If there is a minority of highly intellectually trained, well-credentialed “rebels” who do not accept the standard paradigm, then it is rational to deny the standard view—there is a rational alternative. This is also the case with regard to evolution, as there are many highly credentialed scientists in both the intelligent design and biblical creationist movements. Biblical creationists would add a third point: (3) If the belief of the majority is not based on the Bible, and is clearly in contradiction of the Bible, then it ought to be rejected.

Francis Gumerlock gave an interesting presentation on the development of the pretribulational rapture in medieval Christianity. I have heard the assertion many times by anti-dispensationalists that John Nelson Darby invented the idea of a pretribulational rapture in the nineteenth century, and that no one else in all of church history before him ever held to such an idea. Recent research by Gumerlock and others has challenged this historical reconstruction. Gumerlock published an article in 2002 in which he described a reference to the rapture in a fourteenth century sectarian text, The History of Brother Dolcino. In his presentation at ETS this year, Gumerlock showed how the description of believers being transferred to Paradise to be protected from the antichrist in Brother Dolcino appears to be a natural development of medieval thought. A common theme in medieval texts, based on biblical references, is that believers will flee to caves, deserts, and mountains to be protected from the antichrist. One text, the 14th century Apocalypse of Pseudo-Shenoute, describes the caves and deserts becoming an Edenic garden after believers flee there for protection from the antichrist. Another text, a 12th century Sermon on Antichrist, describes believers fleeing to the caves of a large river which flowed out of Paradise. Finally, various medieval versions of the Voyage of Saint Brendan describe how God will reveal the location of Paradise to His people when the antichrist comes, and how God will somehow bring His people to this Paradise. Thus, there is a progression from believers fleeing to a place which becomes Paradise, to believers fleeing to a place very close to Paradise, to believers fleeing (or being translated) to Paradise itself. For further reading on references to the rapture and to pretribulationalism or dispensationalism before the nineteenth century, see Gumerlock’s 2013 article and William Watson’s book Dispensationalism before Darby.

Besides attending sessions, I met a lot of friends, both new and old. The Exhibit Hall is always a highlight, with opportunities to buy both hard copy and electronic resources at deep discounts, to interact with top representatives from publishing houses, and to peruse the latest releases. I escaped from the conference a couple of times and went sightseeing. Providence has some nice attractions near the convention center, including the Rhode Island State House, the Old State House, the Roger Williams National Memorial, and the First Baptist Church in America. A short drive away are Battleship Cove and the Victorian mansions of Newport. The featured image at the top of this post shows a motto on the exterior of the Rhode Island State House, which comes from the colony’s Royal Charter of 1663. Hope to see everyone at next year’s ETS meeting in Denver!

[1] Because nothing comes from nothing, yet things do exist, it is obvious that something has always existed. It is further obvious that (1) Whatever has always existed must have the power to self-exist and self-sustain. (2) Whatever has always existed is non-physical, since everything that is physical exists in time, and everything which exists in time must have a beginning point. (3) The non-physical (spiritual) entity which has always existed has the power to create the physical world. (4) The Creator of the physical world also created the nonmaterial properties associated with it, such as information, design, moral values, and consciousness. (5) Only an omniscient being could have created the incredible complexity of the physical universe and biological life, with the whole system working properly. (6) Only an omnipotent being could have brought the universe and life into existence. (7) The things we observe in the physical world and especially in human history point specifically to the triune God who is revealed in the Bible as the eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, yet personal and loving, Creator.

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The task of Bible translation



Jesus commanded His church to make disciples from all the nations (Matt 28:19), and to be witnesses for Him in the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The book of Revelation affirms that Jesus died for those of every tribe, language, people group, and nation (Rev 5:9), and it describes saints from every tribe, people group, and language worshiping before the throne of God in heaven (Rev 7:9). While the church has made tremendous progress in the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation in fulfilling its mission of taking the gospel to the whole world, the major impediment that remains is the lack of Bible translations in the languages spoken by many people groups. The Word of God is necessary to present the gospel and bring about spiritual regeneration (Rom 10:17; Eph 5:26; 1 Pet 1:23-26). The Word of God is also necessary to bring about spiritual growth in new believers (1 Pet 2:2). Bible translation is therefore a task of core-critical importance to fulfilling the mission of the church in the present age.

Earlier this month I attended the Bible Translation 2017 (BT2017) conference in Duncanville, Texas. This conference gathered together representatives of more than thirty Bible translation organizations, including many top-level experts, to present on translation strategies and challenges in light of the latest developments in the field. This was largely a conference for language “geeks,” with presentations that would be difficult for those who lack technical linguistic expertise or familiarity with the field of Bible translation to understand. I was at the BT2017 conference partly to market the product I have been developing, the Photo Companion to the Bible, and partly out of personal interest and involvement in the field of Bible translation (including projects I have done, and continue to do, with/for Bibles International).

Steven Anderson, BT2017 BiblePlaces exhibit, adr1710176700-1a

The booth at the BT2017 conference

Wycliffe, SIL, The Seed Company, and other Bible translation organizations are currently working toward the realization of Vision 2025, which has as its goal the initiation of a Bible translation project by 2025 for every people group in the world that still needs a Bible in their own language. With 7,099 known living languages (as of Oct. 2017), and approximately 1,700 languages that have no portion of the Bible translated, Vision 2025 is not an easy goal to achieve. Producing a quality translation of just the New Testament in one new language is a task that usually takes a team of specialists decades to accomplish and costs more than a million dollars. Many of the languages which remain to be translated are spoken only by small people groups in remote areas—yet these are still people for whom Christ died, and the church must reach them in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

Although it remains to be seen whether the ambitious Vision 2025 will be achieved, it is possible that God will work through His people eventually to complete at least a partial Bible translation for every language that needs one. (If not—an angel preaches the gospel in every language in Revelation 14:6-7.) Yet the task of Bible translation will not end until the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. There are several reasons for this.

  1. In the twentieth century, many translation projects were considered “completed” when the New Testament was finished. Now Bible translation organizations are realizing the need to translate at least portions (initially) of the Old Testament, and eventually to translate the whole Bible. One of the major barriers to achieving this goal is the lack of personnel and funding; lack of Hebrew (and Aramaic) knowledge among translation consultants is the other major barrier. All told, a complete Bible does not exist in the languages spoken by more than a billion people in the world today.
  2. Some people groups are very difficult for Bible translators and missionaries to access. They may live in countries where Christianity is illegal, and there may be no known Christians in the entire language group.
  3. Many existing translations are of inadequate quality, either because of lack of skill on the part of the translators, or because of a poor translation philosophy.
  4. Languages are always changing, and periodic revisions are necessary to keep up with language change. Also, as Bible translations are used and studied, small problems often become evident that can be corrected through a revision or update. (Think of the number of revisions that English Bibles have gone through.)
  5. Sometimes the churches of a language group request a revision of their translation, usually because they want a more literal (formal equivalence) translation.
  6. Studies have shown that it is usually necessary to continue to engage people groups for whom Bible translations have been produced in order for them to keep using those translations. (Think about the number of American Christians who don’t read the Bible, in spite of its availability.) It helps if discipleship material can be translated in addition to the Bible.
  7. Since Bibles are now commonly distributed and read on smartphones and computers, there is an ongoing need to integrate existing translations with the latest technological advances. This includes not only making the biblical text available on the newest platforms, but also linking it to glossaries, concordances, photos, and other study aids. There is also a periodic need for new printed editions.

Bible translation is tedious, technical work that requires commitment and sacrifice. Years of training and graduate school are required, followed by raising missionary support. Time is then needed to be trained through hands-on experience with a mentor or translation team. Many translators have spent all or most of their careers working on a single project, often just completing the New Testament in their lifetimes. Translation consultants, who do painstakingly detailed editing of translation drafts for many different projects, are typically overworked and spend much of the year traveling to remote areas, often in separation from their families. These people are unsung heroes of the modern church. I would encourage you to pray about the task of Bible translation and consider whether God may want you to have a role in this critical endeavor.

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The danger of spiritual pride



Most churches today have the problem of motivating Christians who are lukewarm and apathetic, who don’t seem to care very much about the Bible or spiritual issues. But there is an opposite extreme that can be even worse, as illustrated by Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees in the New Testament (Matt 23). The Pharisees were the forebears of modern Hasidic or Orthodox Jews. Jesus refused to accept the extrabiblical traditions of the Pharisees; he would not submit Himself to their authority and join their group.  As a result, the Pharisees vehemently rejected Jesus, eventually joining with the other Jewish religious leaders to crucify Him (Matt 27:62; John 18:3). Jesus often criticized the Pharisees, pointing out where they went wrong doctrinally and spiritually.  One of these criticisms is given in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.

Luke 18:9-14 presents the tragic case of the religious man who is so zealous for spiritual standing within his own group of peers and in his own mind that he creates a “higher standard” for himself that goes way beyond biblical requirements, and he works himself to exhaustion in order to prove his spirituality. Then he compares himself to others who are not doing all the things that he is doing, and despises them for their lack of effort. The problem is, he is arrogant and therefore all his efforts count for nothing before God.

And he spoke also this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and looked down on the rest:Two men went up into the temple to pray—the one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of the people—extortioners, unjust, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I say to you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

—Luke 18:9-14

The Old Testament commanded Jews to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement (= Yom Kippur; Lev 16:29-31). This man went way beyond the requirement, fasting two days every week(!). The Old Testament commanded Jews to tithe agricultural revenue. This man went well beyond the requirement, giving a tenth of all of his income from all revenue sources. While his zeal and effort may seem admirable, it was misplaced through a focus on an external standard of righteousness. This Pharisee was harming his health by excessive fasting, and he was likely depriving his family by excessive giving. He was probably spending too much time praying in the temple, and not enough time serving others or taking care of basic necessities like eating, sleeping, earning an income, and spending time with his family. The question is, why was he doing it? This Pharisee must have been in competition with his peer group to earn the reputation as the most spiritual man in the group, which meant that he had to outdo everyone else. Essentially, he was doing what he was doing so he could feel good about himself, so he could feel superior to others. People like this usually insist that everyone else needs to do all the things they are doing, and if they refuse to do so, they are rebellious and unspiritual. This Pharisee would probably have said, “If you’re not fasting twice a week, you’re not very serious about your walk with God. If I can do it, you can do it!” Or, “There’s no reason why you can’t give a tithe from all your revenue.” Thus, he came to despise people who did not meet his standards and his requirements, when in fact the things that he required of himself and of others were not required by God. They were things that simply did not need to be done. By creating his own set of requirements to prove his spiritual mettle, the Pharisee missed what the Bible actually requires, and he ended up investing his energies in unnecessary activities while overlooking what was truly important.

To most people, this Pharisee would have seemed like a very good man. He was doing many good things and avoiding many bad things, to such an extent that few could measure up. He seemed to sincerely want to be a holy man of God, and to have dedicated his whole life to achieve this aim. But he had a heart of pride and self-righteousness, of which he may not even have been consciously aware. The Pharisees were famous for showcasing their good works—ostensibly to set a good example for the people, but in reality to receive praise from others (Matt 6:5, 16; 23:5).

Often people like this have an evangelistic fervor that can be somewhat annoying. If you greeted this Pharisee on the street, he probably would tell you that he is on his way to the temple to pray, and then would ask you whether you have been to the temple yet today. If you invited him to dinner, he would apologetically say that he cannot come because he is fasting. Then he would challenge you about whether you fast and how often. If he bought something from you in the marketplace, he would ask you whether you are going to give ten percent of the purchase price to God, and he would lecture you on tithing if you said you weren’t. Essentially, this Pharisee would put pressure on everyone he met to do the things that he was doing, with the implication that you would be unspiritual if you didn’t do them. Yet he had gone to such extremes that it would be physically impossible for most people to keep up with him—they would have a breakdown trying, and if somehow they could meet the Pharisee’s requirements, he would add more requirements in order to raise the bar. So people like this become simply unbearable and end up destroying those around them through the pressure they create.

Some Christians hold the belief that the way to improve themselves spiritually is to do more and more “good works,” to be busier and busier (arithmetical piety). The truth is that spiritual growth is a matter of improving the condition of one’s heart, not of doing more things or adding more requirements. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach again and again that “I desire goodness, and not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6; cf. 1 Sam 15:22; Pss 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Prov 21:3; Jer 7:22-23; Amos 5:21; Mic 6:6-8; Matt 9:13; 12:7). God rebuked the Jews for fasting and mourning two times a year for seventy years during the Babylonian exile, because their motive for doing it was wrong (Zech 7:5; cf. Isa 58:5-7). God told the Jews of Isaiah’s day that He was tired of all their sacrifices, worship meetings, observance of holy days, and prayers, because they were overlooking the things He really cares about (Isa 1:11-18). God even wished that someone would close the doors of the temple during Malachi’s day in order to stop the Jews from bringing sacrifices (Mal 1:10). One might object, weren’t these sacrifices required by the Bible? The answer is, yes, they were, but presenting acts of worship from an impure heart is worse than not worshiping at all. Thus, Paul said to the Corinthian church with reference to the observance of the Lord’s Supper, “You come together not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor 11:17). God wants us to take care of the things that really matter—the internals—before performing the external rituals commanded in the Bible.

The Pharisees carefully avoided sins that were outwardly visible and flagrant, yet Jesus told them that “the tax collectors and the prostitutes will go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt 21:31). In the parable of Luke 18:9-14, the tax collector who begged for God’s mercy was justified, whereas the Pharisee who was proud of his spirituality was not justified. Thus, Jesus told the Jews in Matthew 5:20 that they would not enter the kingdom of heaven unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees. In other words, righteousness has to be, first and foremost, something that is in the heart, and only secondarily external actions that stem from one’s inner righteousness. (The works produced by heart righteousness are different than those produced by an external legalism.) The truth is that the pride of the Pharisees was far more deadly and damaging than even the sins of tax collectors (who were extortioners) and prostitutes, some of whom were humble enough to admit their sinfulness and beg for God’s mercy.

The natural human tendency, both in the church and in the world, is to focus on the exterior and to judge character on the basis of an external standard of righteousness. The concept of righteousness as something in one’s heart is difficult to understand, since the heart cannot be visibly seen or physically measured. Yet we have observed many cases of people who were thought to be very spiritual on the basis of their public behavior, who at some point were revealed to be total frauds and charlatans. Such cases are inexplicable to those who measure righteousness by an external standard, but they are easily explained by the principle that righteousness is an internal condition of the heart.

Twentieth century fundamentalism had many positive aspects, but also some tendencies toward Pharisaic legalism. A common example was making attendance at Wednesday evening church obligatory—either an outright requirement for members, or else preaching that it is a sin not to attend Wednesday evening church. Where does the New Testament require attendance at Wednesday evening church? The NT pattern was for the church to meet once a week, on Sunday, although even this is not a rigid ordinance. There may be good reasons to hold additional services, but making these services obligatory is unbiblical and can result in the neglect of more important matters. Certainly it is wrong to view those who attend midweek services as more spiritual than those who do not. Even worse is the idea that attendance at Wednesday evening church is necessary to be “right with God.” It might be necessary to be in good standing with one’s pastor or with one’s church, but Christians are under grace, not law—only faith is required for good standing with God.

Legalism is not a problem limited to twentieth century fundamentalism. It has been a problem throughout throughout church history, and was a problem in rabbinic Judaism before the church began. Legalism was the main issue the apostles dealt with in the first church council (Acts 15), and it was a subject the apostle Paul dealt with extensively in his epistles. The church in the early centuries subsequently developed legalistic tendencies in response to pressures from heretical groups and the imperial government. This legalism was carried much further by monastic orders, whose influence made the church more legalistic in turn. The legalism of the medieval Roman Catholic Church became so extreme that when Martin Luther proclaimed the gospel of salvation by faith alone, he was excommunicated for heresy—yet many of the resulting Protestant churches also had legalistic tendencies, especially in the Reformed wing. Contemporary evangelical churches often have their own external standards of righteousness—a sort of political correctness—but also a tendency toward the opposite extreme of legalism: libertinism, the idea that external actions matter little. Libertinism was also a problem that the early church encountered as the gospel spread from its original Jewish context into the Gentile world. First Corinthians, 1 John, and Revelation 2–3 deal with the problem of libertinism.

It is easy for us to think that our heart is right when it is not, as was probably the case with most Pharisees. It is far more difficult to change our sinful character, attitudes, and ways of thinking than it is to physically do “good works.” Solomon observed that it is easier for a warrior to take a fortified city in battle—perhaps the most difficult of all physical tasks—than it is for a person to control his attitude (Prov 16:32). Really the only way to judge one’s heart and make it the way it ought to be is through diligent study of the Bible, in combination with prayer and a sincere desire to do what is right. One can only bring his heart attitude and worldview into line with God’s by reading and seeking earnestly to understand God’s Word. The Bible will illuminate our shortcomings as the Holy Spirit convicts us, and it will show us in many different ways what true righteousness consists of. But still, since righteousness is a matter of the heart (1 Sam 16:7; Prov 21:2; Jer 17:10; Luke 11:39; Rom 2:28-29; Heb 4:12; 1 Pet 3:3-4; Rev 2:23), the mere outward acts of studying the Bible and praying are not in themselves the true mark of spirituality: the ground on which the seed falls must be fertile.

Let’s not believe that any one of us is immune to the temptation of spiritual pride.

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My experience viewing the total solar eclipse


Two days ago I watched a total solar eclipse for the first time in my life. This was, in fact, the first total solar eclipse visible in any part of the lower 48 states since before I was born. The last total solar eclipse visible in the lower 48 was on February 26, 1979, and it was only visible in parts of the Northwest. This time, the path of the total eclipse cut right through the heart of the United States, with the point of greatest eclipse very close to Hopkinsville, Kentucky—where I viewed the event. A photo of the total eclipse taken from Hopkinsville is featured at the top of this post (credit: NASA).

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, and obscures the sun during the daytime. While partial solar eclipses are a relatively common occurrence, a total eclipse is a rare event for any one place on the earth. While a lunar eclipse is visible to an entire half of the earth, a total solar eclipse is visible only along a narrow path. Solar eclipses are also short-lived events; the maximum duration of the totality portion of this year’s eclipse in any one spot was 2 minutes, 41.6 seconds, although totality—when the moon completely covers the sun—can last as long as seven and a half minutes during an eclipse. The reason why total solar eclipses happen has to do with God’s design in creation: the moon is 400 times smaller in diameter than the sun, but the sun is 400 times more distant from the earth than the moon, which means that the two disks occupy the same visual space in our sky. When the moon passes between the earth and the sun, it can completely cover the sun’s disk and completely block the sun’s light. Although the moon orbits the earth every 28-29 days, and it always casts a shadow, only rarely does this shadow (umbra) pass over the earth’s surface, since the moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees off the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun. If the moon’s plane of orbit were exactly the same as the earth’s, the moon would block out the sun every month (every new moon), with totality lasting about 7 minutes in the tropics, while other regions would experience a partial eclipse. Also, a lunar eclipse would be seen every full moon. If the moon’s orbital plane were only slightly different from the earth’s, a total solar eclipse would still be seen every new moon, but at higher latitudes. At 5 degrees of difference in the plane of orbit, the earth still experiences total solar eclipses, but only about every 18 months.

Seeing a total solar eclipse is a far different experience than seeing a partial eclipse. A partial eclipse may just seem like an overcast day, perhaps a bit eerie, with the sun not shining as brightly. In a total eclipse, however, twilight suddenly descends during the middle of the day. Bright stars and planets become visible, and birds stop chirping. Animals bed down, thinking it is night. And one can look directly at the sun and see the solar corona (the sun’s atmosphere) streaming out from behind the moon’s black disk.

Hotels within the total eclipse path were fully booked from coast to coast, usually far in advance and at exorbitant prices. If I had to do it over again, I would have booked a hotel room at least a year in advance, or as early as possible. As it was, I booked a hotel two months before the eclipse. I couldn’t find any Midwest hotels in the actual eclipse zone that had rooms available, other than a couple of high-end hotels in Nashville. The closest hotel I could find in Illinois was a La Quinta Inn in Effingham (about 2 hours north of the eclipse) for $259/night, and the drive from back to Effingham from the eclipse zone on the evening of August 21 was horrendous. Even Amtrak did not have round-trip tickets left for the train from Effingham to Carbondale on August 21, although as it turns out Carbondale was partly cloudy. Fortunately, there were hotel rooms available in Evansville, Indiana at their regular rate. Evansville is only 80 miles north of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where I determined to view the eclipse. All the reservations were prepaid and non-refundable—otherwise many people would cancel their reservations if the weather forecast called for clouds or storms. I booked a two-night hotel stay. If I did it again, I would book a longer stay in order to avoid traffic problems, and I would stay in the town where I plan to view the eclipse.

I began checking the weather forecast for Hopkinsville as soon as it was available, fourteen days in advance. The forecast changed frequently, from thunderstorms to partly cloudy to sunny. The last two days, the forecast was “partly cloudy.” As it turned out, the sky was clear throughout the eclipse, and we had a great view of the sun. Many other locations in the Midwest had clouds. I believe Hopkinsville was the best place in the world to watch this eclipse; certainly it was the place where totality was seen the longest.

You don’t just need a hotel room to view the eclipse—unless you are camping at the spot where you plan to watch, you also need to reserve space at a viewing site, and you need to make these reservations far in advance. Usually you need to bring your own chairs, blankets, umbrellas/canopies, food, eclipse glasses, and a pinhole projector (a colander can be used to create a similar effect against a white background) or a special projecting telescope. Space on a farm within the exact point of greatest eclipse (Orchardale Farm in Cerulean, KY) was sold out when I checked for tickets. We viewed the eclipse at Hopkinsville Community College, which was only a couple of blocks from the exact center of the eclipse path, and very close to the point of greatest eclipse. It turned out to be the perfect spot. We chose to sit just inside the large glass entryway of a building on campus in order to enjoy the air conditioning on a very hot day. Every few minutes during the eclipse we would walk outside to take another look at the sun and shadows, before staying outside for about ten minutes immediately before, during, and after totality. The college also had indoor and outdoor food service, plenty of indoor restrooms, plenty of wide open outdoor spaces, a medical tent, and a series of lectures and events before, during, and after the eclipse.

I set a watch to the exact time, and wrote down the exact start and end times for the eclipse, and the exact start and end times for the total eclipse, from our exact location at the community college. As the eclipse progressed toward totality for an hour and a half, one of the things we noticed was that shadows became very crisp and well-defined. The air turned noticeably cooler (actually, less hot) as the sun’s light decreased. A few minutes before totality, all of us put on our eclipse glasses and watched the sun disappear. The “diamond ring” just before totality was impressive; we did not notice “Bailey’s beads,” however. The eclipse glasses are so dark that nothing but the sun can be seen through them; thus, as soon as totality began we could see nothing at all, and we took off our glasses. People were cheering all around us, especially at the beginning and end of totality. Some people lit off fireworks. Children loved it. No one exhibited adverse reactions or psychological shock. The solar corona was a unique and impressive sight, well worth the trip. I kept checking my watch, and was surprised at how slowly the 2 minutes, 40 seconds of totality passed. About ten seconds before totality was over, we put our eclipse glasses back on and watched the sun reappear, this time with the “diamond ring” and crescent on the opposite side of the moon. The second half of the eclipse was like the first half in reverse, and thus not as exciting. You can watch NASA’s live coverage of the total solar eclipse from Hopkinsville, starting at 2:52:23 on this video.

Some things that impressed me about the eclipse:

  1. The brightness of the sun—I found it difficult to look at the sun through eclipse glasses until most of the sun was covered. I was also impressed by the fact that as soon as the first sliver of the sun reappeared, it immediately became much lighter around us.
  2. The length of totality—2 minutes, 40 seconds seemed like a long time, much longer than I needed to take in the sight of the corona, the 360 degree sunset, and the twilight.
  3. It was not as dark during the total eclipse as I thought it would be—it was like dusk, but not night.
  4. We had the ideal situation for viewing the eclipse, on a campus with open buildings, food, bathrooms, and plenty of space. I felt sorry for all the people who were camped out across the street in the August heat.

Our drive to Evansville on the day before the eclipse was uneventful, with no traffic problems. The next day we left at 4 am and easily beat the traffic going to Hopkinsville. We left the college at 3 pm, soon after the eclipse ended. The traffic was the worst I have ever seen—imagine several big football games all letting out at once. It took us 6 hours to drive the 80 miles from Hopkinsville to our hotel in Evansville. But the next day, driving north from Evansville back to Michigan, there were no traffic problems at all.

The next solar eclipse visible in the mainland U.S. will occur on Monday, April 8, 2024, although unfortunately that is a time of year when clouds are likely and storms are frequent. The point of greatest eclipse on that day will be in Durango, Mexico, where totality will last nearly four and a half minutes. The eclipse path through the U.S. will include Dallas, Little Rock, and Cleveland. For those who don’t want to wait that long, there will be two total solar eclipses in the next three years which will be visible from southern South America—one on July 2, 2019 and one on December 14, 2020. If you want to see those eclipses, start booking your travel arrangements as soon as possible. Also, check one of the interactive maps on this site for details on exactly when and for how long the eclipse will last at your precise location. Besides visiting Chile or Argentina, these eclipses can also be viewed from eclipse cruises or an eclipse flight. A cruise ship has the advantage of being able to adjust its course based on the cloud cover forecast. A plane has the double advantage of going over cloud cover and using the speed of the plane to extend the length of totality. Some people are known as “eclipse travelers,” and go to see every total solar eclipse. For me, personally, now that I have seen a total solar eclipse, I don’t feel like I have to see another one; but perhaps that feeling will change in a few years.

Viewing a total solar eclipse was a unique and possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience. One of the reasons I went was to try to understand why these events were such a big deal to people in ancient times. To see the sun suddenly go dark in the middle of the day could certainly be a frightening experience, as if the world were coming to an end. Also, the appearance of the sun’s corona is a strange and other-worldly sight. This would especially be a big deal to peoples who worshiped the sun, as nearly all pagan cultures did. A total solar eclipse was usually viewed as a bad omen. Both solar and lunar eclipses are frequently mentioned in ancient literature, outside of the Bible. (For biblical studies, eclipses are helpful as chronological markers when they are mentioned in extrabiblical literature—see this article by my friend Roger Young.) Some people may have feared that the world was coming to an end when the sun went dark. Even today, some people consider the viewing of a total solar eclipse to be psychologically shocking, although it did not have any adverse psychological effects on me or on the people around me. Unlike ancient man, we knew the eclipse was coming and we understood why. But there is a sense in which a total solar eclipse is a preview-in-miniature of the end of the world. If the sun dies, then the earth and everything in it will also die, and quickly. Indeed, the Bible tells us that just before Jesus Christ returns to the earth, the sun will be blackened as part of a general disintegration of the universe, causing great panic among men (Matt 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25-27; Acts 2:20; Rev 6:12; cf. Isa 24:23; Amos 8:9). In that day, the sun will not reappear after it is darkened, and each of us will have to give an account of ourselves to our Creator.

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Legal pressures on American Christians and the church’s response

In my previous post, I discussed a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this fall regarding the refusal of a Christian to actively support homosexual “marriage.” Given the Court’s current makeup and the rulings of lower courts, it is almost certain that SCOTUS will rule against the Christian in this case, which will have far-reaching legal implications for other Christians in the United States. Now another troubling case seems certain to head to the Supreme Court, following President Trump’s ban on “transgender” individuals from service in the U.S. military. In spite of the fact that this ban was in place without a legal challenge up until October of last year, it seems possible that the Supreme Court will rule that discrimination against people who identify as “transgender” is somehow unconstitutional. Such a ruling would have a wide-ranging effect that would surely put greater legal pressure on churches and other Christian institutions to compromise. Perhaps the only thing that could weaken the Court’s position is the fact that allowing the participation of men in women’s sports as “transgender women” would make it impossible for female athletes to compete.

While there is still some uncertainty regarding these rulings and their effects, it has been apparent for decades that American culture is becoming progressively more anti-Christian, leading to increasing legal and cultural pressures on Christians. It has become increasingly apparent that a large number of people on the American political Left believe that those who hold opposing viewpoints should not be tolerated and should not even have a legal right to exist. These Leftists control much of academia, the media, and the corporate world. Their agenda is increasingly coming into the church, which means that the church does not present unified opposition to the Leftist agenda. A recent poll showed that 47 percent of young white American evangelicals believe that homosexual “marriage” should be legal; the question of whether homosexual acts should be legal does not even get asked because it is assumed that nearly everyone would say they should be. It is evident that at some point Leftists will gain enough power to fully implement their agenda, which is particularly aimed at destroying conservative, biblical Christianity for its moral values and theological dogma. Exactly when and how this will happen is not known, but in general the Left only needs control of a single branch of government to advance its agenda.

Perhaps the crisis will hit this fall, after the Court’s ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop (if that is indeed what happens). Or perhaps it will come more gradually, given that there is now a Republican president, a Republican Congress, and Republican control of most state governments. Perhaps the crisis will hit at different times for Christians who live in different states or who engage in different occupations. But the fact that only one Christian was imprisoned for refusing to sign marriage licenses for homosexual couples should be of no comfort, since the rest of us who hold the same convictions would also have been imprisoned if we had been in the same situation. It should be remembered that Kim Davis’ imprisonment was actually celebrated by then-President Obama, the mainstream media, technology executives, and large numbers of their supporters on the political Left. They made it clear that they want all who hold opposing views to be forced to recant, or to be removed from society if they refuse to renounce their beliefs. When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, in particular, no opposing viewpoints are tolerated. The fact that this attitude is considered the politically correct attitude should certainly give pause to Christians in the United States.

Given the clear direction of the political and religious situation in the United States, it is completely befuddling that American Christians, their churches, and other Christian institutions have made no plans whatsoever for what to do when the crisis hits. There is no biblical justification for lack of foresight or preparation. Of course Christians should pray and speak out, but the Bible does not promise the church protection from persecution. So far, the church’s response has been (1) to pray that the U.S. would get “turned around”; (2) to be socially and politically active in order to “take the culture back”; or (3) “they’ll just have to put us in jail.” There really has been no forward thinking or facing of the facts. American churches have also done little or nothing to enable persecuted Christians in other countries to migrate to safer places.

In the book of Acts, we find that when Christians were forced to leave their comfort zone in Jerusalem due to persecution, the subsequent scattering of Christians throughout the world turned out to be good for the growth of the church (Acts 8:4). It forced Christians to spread out to the world when they would not go voluntarily to do missionary work. In the American context, ministries which have an overseas arm could potentially transfer their assets to their foreign headquarters before they are seized by the U.S. government or lost in lawsuits. There are ample historical examples of Christians fleeing persecution as a group and establishing new Christian communities in foreign countries. Church historians tell us that all the Christians in Jerusalem fled the city together just before the outbreak of the Jewish War in AD 66; they survived the war by relocating their community to the Gentile city of Pella. Many of the early settlers in the United States itself were fleeing persecution in Europe and were searching for a place where they could worship God freely according to their conscience.

I believe it is time for the American church to start making serious plans to move their institutions, their money, and ultimately their people, overseas in anticipation of the inevitable outlawing of biblical Christianity in the United States. Churches should also prepare to move from one country to another as the world changes. The solution is not political activism, which will not reverse the long-term cultural trend, or revolution, which is both futile and unbiblical. Seeing as we have been given a legal reprieve through the election of a Republican president, Christian organizations and seminaries should start establishing overseas headquarters or campuses, and they should make plans to move all their assets overseas if necessary before they are confiscated. While such projects as new buildings on a seminary or church campus, the Ark Encounter in Kentucky, and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. are worthy and valuable, it is very questionable how long these institutions will be able to operate before the government institutes requirements with which they cannot comply. Why not invest overseas? Christians should especially look to invest in the Middle East, which the Bible reveals is the focus of end time events. Africa is another place in which the church is under-invested, in spite of containing many Christian-friendly countries. Latin America is an easier and closer place for Americans to go, although the level of religious freedom in Latin American countries varies and has been decreasing.

A parallel could be drawn between the situation of Christians in present-day America and the situation of Jews in Germany in the 1930s. As the Nazi party rose to power, their intentions to persecute and kill Jews became ever clearer, yet only some Jews fled, or were able to flee, and some waited until it was very late in the game. Those who remained suffered terribly. Hitler would have killed every last Jew in Europe had the Allies not liberated his concentration camps (in God’s providence). Overall, one could say that the Jewish community in Germany, and in Europe as a whole, lacked any sort of master plan to enable them all to flee before Hitler’s pogrom began. Nor is it disingenuous to make a comparison to the Holocaust: there have been many times and places from the first century up to the present day in which governments have attempted to exterminate all Bible-believing Christians and churches using the most horrific imaginable means of torture and mass murder. The Bible makes clear that Christians will again be terribly persecuted at the end of the present age (Rev 17:6; 18:24; 19:2).

The problem for the church in the United States is not just legal pressure, but also cultural assimilation. The church has for a long time been losing its young people to the allures of American culture, while those who have stayed in the church have adopted many of the culture’s beliefs and practices in contradiction of biblical teaching. On the other hand, it could be argued that Christians are still having a significant restraining influence in American culture and politics, and that they should largely stay put while they are still able to have this influence. While there is room for debate regarding when it will be appropriate or necessary for Christians to make the uncomfortable decision to migrate from the United States, it should be apparent that that day will come, and it is therefore wise to prepare for it.

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The Other Shoe to Fall on Homosexual “Rights”

Anthony Kennedy, the octogenarian senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and the Court’s swing vote, was widely expected to announce his retirement this past Monday. Unfortunately, Kennedy decided not to retire. His continued presence on the Court is likely to have huge negative ramifications for Christians in the United States, given a case that the Court decided to hear in its fall term, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111.

I believe that the reason why Justice Kennedy decided not to retire is precisely because he wants to rule in October against Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop Lakewood, Colorado, and a grandfather of three. Phillips is a “cake artist” who creates spectacular cake designs. He also is a committed Christian who refuses requests to create cakes to celebrate Halloween, or to bake with alcohol. When a homosexual couple asked him in 2012 to create a designer cake to celebrate their upcoming wedding, Phillips refused. He said he would be happy to sell the couple baked goods for sale in his shop; he just would not create a custom cake to celebrate their wedding. He said he does not discriminate against homosexuals, but he also does not use his artistic talents to promote messages which are contrary to his religious beliefs. While the homosexual couple could have bought a cake from another bakery—in fact, another bakery made them a cake with a rainbow design for free—they decided to sue Mr. Phillips in order to punish him and other people of faith like him. All of the lower courts have ruled against Masterpiece Cakeshop, which makes it likely that the five socially liberal justices on the Supreme Court will follow the same line of reasoning. Ever since the incident occurred, Phillips has faced serious harassment, loss of business, and even death threats against him and his family.

Justice Kennedy had been signaling for months that he would retire at the end of the court’s summer term; supposedly he decided at the last moment not to do so. I suspect that Kennedy tricked his conservative colleagues into thinking he would retire in order to get them to schedule the case against Masterpiece Cakeshop for the Court’s fall term. Kennedy is afraid that his homosexual (LGBTQ) rights agenda will be reversed by his replacement, and he wants to force everyone in the country to conform to this agenda before he retires by means of a very restrictive, precedent-setting ruling. That ruling will state explicitly that the court-ordered prohibition on “discrimination” against homosexuals (really, an objection to their lifestyle) supersedes First Amendment freedom of religion. Then a row of dominoes will start to fall, as homosexuals demand admission into Christian colleges and seminaries, Christian non-profit groups, church membership, and even church pastorates. Pastors could be punished for refusing to perform weddings for homosexuals. Homosexuals will also have the power to close Christian businesses by requesting services which they know will be refused, and then having the courts fine these businesses until they are bankrupted. In addition, biblical preaching and teaching against homosexuality could be considered criminal hate speech, and Christian counselors could be punished for telling their clients that homosexual acts are sinful. After all, Mr. Phillips is being punished not for actively opposing homosexuality, but merely for refusing to support it.

It should be noted that the Courts have never interpreted anti-discrimination ordinances as broadly as they are now interpreting them with reference to homosexuals. Many churches have never allowed women to be pastors, elders, or deacons, and some Christian seminaries still do not admit female students or accept female faculty members. The courts have never ruled that women must be admitted to these positions because of laws (or court rulings) against gender discrimination. Nor have the courts ruled that a baker in Michigan would be discriminating against Ohioans if he refused to create a cake to celebrate Ohio State’s victory over the University of Michigan. Even on the issue of racial discrimination, a baker who does not refuse service to people because of race but declines to create a custom cake with a “Black Lives Matter” message would not be punished by the courts, since we have a right to free speech and are not compelled to promote controversial political messages. There is a different agenda in play on the issue of homosexual rights which makes different reasoning and standards apply to that single issue than to any other issue. This is because the appropriateness of homosexuality, unlike the existence of the female sex, the existence of different races, or the suitability of a sports team, is at its root a religious/spiritual issue. The goal of homosexual advocates is not merely to gain legal and social acceptance, as their agenda was once presented. Homosexual advocates are really seeking conversions—first, an ideological conversion (requiring a change in religion for some), but also a conversion of lifestyle. The ultimate goal of the homosexual movement is to create homosexual feelings in everyone by (1) teaching that homosexual desires and acts are a good thing which should be accepted and celebrated; (2) presenting images of homosexuals and homosexual romance throughout the media and in public settings (which those who have been indoctrinated will view with admiration); and (3) teaching children from about the supposed goodness of homosexuality from their earliest ages, and encouraging or forcing them to experiment with homosexuality (in order to change their natural desires). In other words, homosexuals are promoting their lifestyle as the superior one, with the aim of making everyone “LGBTQ” and not having any straight people around. Perhaps few advocates would say this outright, but it is clear from their activism that this is what they are doing.

Biblical Christianity is the main obstacle to the acceptance and propagation of homosexuality in Western society; therefore, it has become the primary target. Islam is sometimes condemned by homosexual advocates for its intolerance of homosexuals, although it is more often celebrated because of its intolerance of Christianity. With regard to the legal issues, judges have become theologians, taking sides in this spiritual battle which, at its very core, pits biblical Christianity against its opponents. Liberal judges and activists are seeking to force conversions to their side, not just in ideology but also in practice. They show no tolerance for what they view as despicable heresy, and they seek to censor and suppress it. If the desired laws are not passed by Congress or ratified by the states, then it is up to the courts to “protect” the homosexual agenda by prohibiting opposition to it. Homosexual “rights” are seen as a person’s most basic and fundamental legal rights, which means that all of one’s other rights may be taken away for refusal to support the homosexual agenda.

Given what is happening today, with the prospect of the loss of legal status for Christians in the United States, the significant question for Christians is how we ought to respond. This will be the subject of my next post.

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Should Christians tithe?



It is common in some Christian circles, particularly in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, for pastors to teach that the Bible commands Christians to give a tenth of their income to the church—a practice which is called “tithing.” The word “tithe,” like the Hebrew and Greek words which it translates in the Bible, means “to give a tenth.” In the modern American context, references to tithing in the Bible are assumed to be a ten percent income tax. When practiced in American churches, this is usually reinterpreted as a ten percent tax on net income, since the government takes such a large percentage of one’s gross income. This Christian interpretation of tithing was pragmatically adopted by Joseph Smith when he founded the Mormon religion in the 1830s. Smith taught that giving ten percent of one’s income is a commandment of God, and faithful tithing is required to enter a Mormon temple or to obtain a leadership position in the LDS church. While Mormon congregants are not required to tithe in order to maintain membership in the LDS church, they are encouraged to meet with their bishop at the end of each year for a “tithing settlement,” in which they affirm the accuracy of the church’s record of their giving and state whether this amount is a full tithe (according to the individual’s interpretation of tithing as ten percent of net or gross income). While the Mormon practice would be considered extreme in most evangelical church contexts, many evangelical Christian pastors do teach that Christians ought to give ten percent of their income to the church. However, the modern American context is far different from the milieu of the biblical world, and in fact tithing was something different than most Americans assume it was.

The commands to tithe in the Old Testament were not interpreted by the Jews as an income tax. In the first century AD there were virtually no independent farmers in Israel, only tenants for landowners (cf. Matt 21:33; Mark 12:1). This is because the tithing requirement in the Mosaic Law was understood as a tax on agricultural produce, which meant that only farmers had to pay tithes, and revenue gained from other occupations was exempt. Jews therefore generally avoided the occupation of farming in the first century AD. The priestly class derived much of its revenue from a half-shekel annual head tax for the support of the temple (Matt 17:24). This was based on a one-third shekel tax which originated in the time of Nehemiah (Neh 10:32). (A half-shekel head tax was paid once when Moses numbered the people [Exod 38:25-26], but was not made an annual tax at that time.) The priests also made a significant amount of money by overcharging the people for currency exchange and sacrificial animals, a practice which Jesus condemned and sought to stop (Matt 21:12-13; John 2:14-16). In addition, small amounts of agricultural produce were tithed (Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42), and the priests received a share of meat and grain from sacrifices and offerings (Lev 6:14-18; 10:12-15; 1 Cor 9:13). People also made voluntary monetary contributions to the temple treasury of whatever amount they desired (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

Reading the Old Testament, it is clear that the tithe was indeed a tax on agricultural revenue, not a tax on income or profit. Although there are biblical examples of people giving to God a tenth of all of their revenue (Gen 14:20; 28:22; Luke 18:12), the commands to tithe in the Mosaic Law specifically give instructions to tithe agricultural produce (Lev 27:30-32; Deut 12:17; 14:22-23). All of the examples of tithes paid under the Law are tithes of agricultural produce (2 Chr 31:5-6; Neh 10:37; 13:5, 12; Mal 3:10). And the tithe was strictly on revenue (ten percent of one’s harvest), not on profit (ten percent of the money earned by selling excess produce). The reference to “tithes and offerings” in Malachi 3:8 does not refer to a ten percent income tax, plus voluntary contributions beyond ten percent, as it is often interpreted in modern churches. Tithes were ten percent of one’s crop, and offerings were animals brought to the temple for sacrifice (cf. Deut 18:1).

It is often asked why the New Testament never commands Christians to give a tenth of their income to the church, nor does it describe a practice of tithing in Christian churches. Part of the reason is that the tithe was mandated as part of a legal system in ancient Israel, and these tithes were intended to support the nation’s clerical class (who also had administrative and judicial functions) and the tabernacle/temple. The church does not have a tribe of Levi or a central temple to support. In other words, tithing was part of Israel’s civil law, and the church, as a supranational entity, is not governed by the civil law of ancient Israel. From a dispensational viewpoint, Christians have been freed from the requirements of the Law (1 Cor 9:20; Gal 5:1). The interpretation of Malachi 3:7-12 as a commandment for Christians to tithe fails to recognize that this instruction was given to Israelites who were bound by the stipulations of the Mosaic Law, and that Christians live under a different dispensation. Thus, theologians usually argue that tithing is not a biblical requirement for Christians—an argument that is often in disagreement with the pragmatic, traditional teaching of pastors in these theologians’ own churches. But the whole question of whether Christians should tithe (as in the title of this article) wrongly assumes that biblical tithes were a ten percent income tax, when they were not. This is the more fundamental reason why the New Testament does not discuss tithing in the context of the Christian church—giving a tenth of one’s income was not part of Jewish culture, and therefore it was not a practice adopted from Judaism by the early church.

Under the Old Testament economy, tithing was a tax—a legal requirement (Lev 27:30). You had to give ten percent of your crop to the priests and Levites whether you wanted to or not, and God would punish you if you did not do it (Mal 3:8-11). Under the New Testament economy, giving a set amount is not compulsory, since God wants us to give voluntarily and cheerfully (2 Cor 9:5, 7), and the Mosaic Law has been fulfilled in Christ (Rom 10:4). The focus in the church should be on having the proper heart attitude, rather than fulfilling an external standard—although the New Testament strongly encourages giving, and it promises blessing to the givers (2 Cor 9:6). It also establishes the principle that full-time ministers should be supported by God’s people (1 Cor 9:14; 1 Tim 5:17) and that the church should aid the destitute among their number (1 Tim 5:3).

So how much should Christians give to the church? The New Testament only lays out general principles, which leaves the question open ended. Most Christians find it helpful to set a goal or standard for their regular giving, so as to be consistent. Many Christians, especially new believers, find that the OT pattern of tithing, reinterpreted in a modern context, provides them with a good baseline figure. There is nothing wrong with someone setting a personal standard of giving ten percent of his net income based on the OT pattern, and it can even be argued that this is a valid practical application of the OT (recognizing that there are multiple ways in which the OT tithing principle may be applied). Giving ten percent has proven feasible for the vast majority of people; and if everyone in the church gives ten percent, this is usually enough to pay pastors a full-time salary, to buy and maintain a building, and to support missionaries. But it is wrong for a pastor to tell church members that God requires them to give ten percent to the church, and it is also wrong for people in the church to feel that they need not give more than ten percent. The following is a list of some New Testament principles regarding giving:

  1. Giving must be done with a willing heart. According to 2 Corinthians 9:7, it is wrong to give with a bad attitude, or out of obligation (there is no NT legal requirement to give to the church). According to Philippians 4:18-19, giving should be an act of worship, and worship must be voluntary and out of a good heart to be pleasing to God. Giving should be a natural outward expression of a heart that is dedicated to God (2 Cor 8:5), not the drudgery of doing what one must in response to guilt and pressure.
  2. Giving should be in proportion to the need. In Acts 4:35, the money collected by the church was distributed where there were needs within the church. In Acts 11:29-30, a collection was taken up to help poor churches that were struggling during a famine. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and Romans 15:25-27, Paul took up a special collection for saints in Jerusalem who were struggling financially. In Philippians 4:16, the Philippians sent gifts to Paul when he had a need. Paul states as a general principle that those Christians or churches who have a need at a particular time should be helped by those who have enough, and that those who have been helped should return the favor when the tables are turned (2 Cor 8:13-15).
  3. Giving should not be to impress others or to try to look as spiritual as somebody else. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for giving in order to get recognition, and He asserted that people who are recognized on earth for their giving will not be rewarded in heaven (Matt 6:2). In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira were killed by God because they lied about the amount they were giving in order to appear as spiritual as Barnabas, who had given the full sale price of his field to the church (Acts 4:36-37). While the sin for which they were killed was lying, this sin was motivated by the sin of seeking recognition for their beneficence. It is wise to give anonymously as much as this is possible (Matt 6:3-4).
  4. Giving should be in proportion to one’s financial means. This principle is stated in 1 Corinthians 16:2 and Acts 11:29. Rich people should typically give larger monetary amounts than poor people. In several instances in the NT, in fact, some Christians simply became destitute and could do nothing but accept gifts from others who had more. However, in practice, poor people often give a higher percentage of their income than the rich. The Philippian Christians were relatively poor, yet the Philippians gave more to Paul than any other church, and they were commended for it (Phil 4:14-19; cf. 2 Cor 8:1-5).
  5. Giving should not necessarily be limited to our superfluity. Of course, discernment is needed because there are times when excessive giving can be irresponsible or foolish, and can bring grief upon ourselves and our families. Very, very few Christians are called to sell all their possessions and literally give everything away. Yet Jesus demands that we not hold anything back from Him (Luke 14:33; 18:18-23; Acts 2:45). When a widow gave all the money that she had to live on, Jesus commended her instead of calling her a fool (Mark 12:41-44). In 2 Corinthians 8:3, Paul commended the Macedonian churches for voluntarily giving more money than they were able to spare. There is a sense in which we are hardly giving at all if not sacrificially, for we are giving things to God that do not cost us anything—they are just our excess.
  6. No one is too poor to give. The story of the widow’s mites illustrates this, as does the giving of the Macedonian churches (Luke 21:1-4; 2 Cor 8:3; Phil 4:14-19). In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul commanded “each one” to give (for a special collection) when the church gathered on Sunday. On the other hand, there were times when impoverished saints in the Jerusalem church had to accept large financial gifts from other churches, rather than giving to those other churches. Still, the OT required the Levites to give a tithe of the tithes they received (Num 18:26; Neh 10:38), and it is reasonable to expect those who receive money from the church to give a portion back to the Lord’s work.
  7. The eternal rewards that God will give to us will be in proportion to what we give to Him. This principle is stated in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, which is in a context that speaks primarily of monetary giving, but also includes other forms of gifts to the Lord. The one exception is that gifts given to receive recognition will not be rewarded in the judgment (Matt 6:2-4). It is important to give much, because our eternal reward is great (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:17), and is well worth the price of perishable goods (Matt 6:19-21; Luke 16:9). The poor have as much opportunity for reward as the rich in the matter of giving, since reward is based primarily on proportion, sacrifice, and non-recognition, rather than on dollar amounts (Luke 21:1-4).
  8. There is a need to give. The New Testament presents giving as the norm in the church, and regular gifts (not just special offerings) are required for a church to operate according to New Testament principles (1 Tim 5:9-10, 17-18). Believers also have a need to give in order to receive God’s eternal rewards and His (spiritual and physical) blessings in this present life.

The idea that tithing was an income tax has given rise to two common errors. One is the idea that the Bible requires Christians to give ten percent of their (net) income to the church. The New Testament never commands this, and a tithe on income is not even commanded in the Old Testament. The second common error is the idea that people have done their duty if they give ten percent of their income to the church, and the rest is theirs to do as they please. In truth, everything we have is a stewardship entrusted to us by God, and giving in accordance with one’s means (1 Cor 16:2) or as one has purposed in his heart (2 Cor 9:7) does not limit us to ten percent. There is no set amount that the New Testament requires Christians to give—there is no minimum required gift in order to be in good standing with God (we are under grace, not under law), nor is there a maximum ceiling on what God has a right to receive. The New Testament focuses more on one’s spirit and attitude as he gives, and on the blessedness of giving (Acts 20:35). Christians should be taught to have the correct theological perspective on giving, and to give with the proper motivations, rather than being burdened with a mandatory church income tax of ten percent.

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Edom’s heir, Edom’s wrath



And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel. So they departed from him and returned to their own land. (2 Kings 3:26-27, NKJV)

When the king of Moab realized he was losing the battle, he and 700 swordsmen tried to break through and attack the king of Edom, but they failed. So he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him up as a burnt sacrifice on the wall. There was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland. (2 Kings 3:26-27, NET Bible)

The verses quoted above are a terse conclusion to a chapter which describes a war involving Israel, Moab, Edom, and Judah. The above verses have long been a subject of controversy because they may be misread to mean that Mesha, the Moabite king, killed his own firstborn son as a human sacrifice to his god (Chemosh), and that this pagan god responded with an outburst of wrath against Israel, forcing the Israelite army to flee. Indeed, the translation of ‎קֶצֶף־גָּדוֹל as “an outburst of divine anger” by the NET Bible seems to accommodate this interpretation (the NKJV “great indignation” is better).‎ Such an interpretation is entirely foreign to biblical theology, which always presents pagan gods as false gods, i.e., as fictions. But then what does 2 Kings 3:26-27 describe?

The background of this story is that Jehoram has just replaced his father Ahab (and brother Ahaziah) as king over Israel. During Ahab’s reign, Moab had paid tribute to Israel, since Ahab was divinely granted extraordinary military success, particularly against Aram (Syria). But when Ahab died, Moab rebelled. Jehoram understood that Israel’s army was too weak to attack Moab on its own, so he appealed to Judah for help. King Jehoshaphat of Judah, who had a very large army (2 Chr 17:10-19), agreed to go with him. Jehoshaphat is the kingpin in this war, although his forces seem to occupy a reserve role and basically stay out of frontline combat.

When Jehoshaphat brought his forces to go to battle against Moab, the king of Edom came with him, with an Edomite army (v. 9). The armies also passed through Edomite territory to attack (v. 8). Edom’s army had to go to war whenever Judah went to war because Edom was a vassal state of Judah in those days.[1] This relationship probably went all the way back to David’s annihilation of Edom in 1 Chronicles 18:12-13. Second Kings 8:20 says Edom rebelled from under the hand of Judah in the days of Jehoshaphat’s son Joram, indicating that they were subject to Judah during Jehoshaphat’s reign. This also explains how Jehoshaphat could build a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber (1 Kgs 22:47-48), which is in the land of Edom (1 Kgs 9:26).

Before the battle began, the armies of Judah, Israel, and Edom encountered serious trouble when their water supplies ran out in the desert. At that point, Jehoshaphat called for Elisha, who prophesied that God would supply them with water, and that Yahweh would “deliver the Moabites into your hand. And ye shall smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones” (vv. 18b-19).

The next morning, the Moabites were tricked by a mirage into approaching the allied armies carelessly. The army of Israel counterattacked and “smote the Moabites” (v. 24). Israel then proceeded to fulfill Elisha’s prophecy by beating down Moab’s cities, marring every good piece of land, stopping up all the wells and springs, and felling every good tree. The last stronghold in the land was Kir-hareseth, which is where the king of Moab and his army gathered for their last stand. As the Israelite slingers began to break down the wall of the city, Mesha, the king of Moab, realized that he was in desperate straits.

The king of Edom plays a pivotal role in the events which follow. It is significant that in v. 26, when the king of Moab was in serious trouble, he tried to break through the Israelite army to reach the king of Edom—apparently not caring about the possibility of his avenue of retreat being cut off. He felt that if he could somehow break through to the king of Edom, he would be rescued, and the attack would be broken. It is noteworthy that Mesha specifically wanted to break through to the king of Edom, and not simply to the Edomites generally. Evidently the king of Moab had previously captured the king of Edom’s firstborn son, and was holding him as a hostage. Because the Edomites were forced to accompany Jehoshaphat, they would not have been enthusiastic about the war in the first place, and a threat to kill the crown prince of Edom would make the Edomite army turn against the Israelite army, thereby ending the attack.

After Mesha’s attempt to break through to the king of Edom was unsuccessful, he retreated back into the city and performed an extreme act of desperation. His whole land had just been completely destroyed, and the Israelite army was about to break into his sole remaining city and kill both him and his army. This desperate situation prompted Mesha’s despicable act in v. 27. Mesha took the the king of Edom’s oldest son onto the height of the wall and burned his body (alive?) in full view of the attacking armies—which is what is meant by “offered (lit., ‘presented’) him as a burnt-offering.” When the Edomites saw that Israel’s assault had resulted in the death of the heir to their throne, they became enraged with Israel to the point of launching an attack, forcing the Israelite army to withdraw immediately to avoid a major battle. After all, Edom had come along involuntarily, and now they felt that the war had occasioned this great horror against them. It was Israel that had requested this war, and it was Israel’s interests that were at stake in it—so Edom was furious with Israel. Since the Edomites and the Judeans were merely representing the interests of Israel, they also withdrew from the land of Moab when the Israelites withdrew. Thus, Moab’s rebellion against Israel was successful, and the Moabites regained their independence.

In defense of this interpretation, note the ambiguity of the pronouns in v. 27: “the king of Edom” is the last person mentioned before this verse, while “the king of Moab” is second-to-last. Thus, “his oldest son” could refer either to Mesha’s oldest son or to the king of Edom’s oldest son—but the latter is the closest antecedent, even though Mesha is the subject of the verbs in these verses. Thus, based on the grammar, it is not unlikely or implausible that the king of Edom’s son is referenced here.[2] Note that the text does not say “his own firstborn son,” which is the phrasing that would normally be used to eliminate ambiguity, were the text referring to the king of Moab’s son. It is also noteworthy that Amos 2:1 says Moab “burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime,” which appears to be a reference to the events of v. 27—the crown prince was considered a co-regent.

Other interpretations of this episode are unsatisfactory. The usual interpretation is that the king of Moab sacrificed his son to his god Chemosh. There are then several different methods of explaining the verse. One is to say that Israel became very afraid when they saw the lengths to which the king of Moab would resort to win the battle. However, it would seem that Israel would be happy to see the king of Moab’s son be killed, and it would not weaken their military position in the least. However, if Mesha killed the king of Edom’s firstborn son, that would make a huge difference in the story.

Another explanation is that Israel became very afraid of the wrath of Chemosh when Mesha did this despicable deed. However, the text says that actual wrath came upon Israel, not just great fear.

Finally, some say that the wrath of Chemosh really did come upon Israel. Of course, there never was such a god as Chemosh, who was a mere figment of the Moabite imagination, but there were demonic forces behind the Moabite religion (1 Cor 10:19-20). Since the Israelites were idolatrous, some speculate that demonic wrath could very well have come upon them, and Yahweh would not necessarily save them from it. After all, Elisha’s prophecy had already been fulfilled, and the only thing that was left to accomplish was complete annihilation of the remaining Moabites, which Yahweh had not commanded. However, there is not a word in this chapter about the god Chemosh, nor does the text say that the king of Moab was offering his son to Chemosh. The main point in the text is that the king of Edom’s oldest son was killed horrifically in full view of the attackers. He may have been sacrificed to a pagan deity, or perhaps “offered him as a burnt-offering” is just a way of saying that Mesha bound him, cut him open, and burned him to death on a platform. The Moabite Stone makes no mention of the king of Moab sacrificing his son to appease Chemosh, as we would surely expect if that were what actually happened.[3] It is also questionable whether God would actually allow demonic forces to turn the tide of a human battle so dramatically, as if to vindicate such a despicable deed; the Bible always presents God as the one who controls the outcome of battles (1 Sam 17:47; Prov 21:31).

Thus, the interpretation of 2 Kings 3:27 that is most consistent with the context and which best accounts for the actual words in the text is that the king of Moab killed and burned the king of Edom’s firstborn son, and that the Edomites responded with great wrath against Israel for the death of their hostage. Other interpretations do not follow the nearest antecedent of “his son” and do not adequately account for other information in the text, nor do they comport with biblical theology. The best translation of 2 Kings 3:27 is as follows: Then he took his oldest son who should have reigned in his place, and burned him as a sacrificial victim on the wall. And there was great indignation against Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.

[1] It may be asked why this passage (2 Kgs 3:9) places a king in Edom, when 1 Kings 22:47 and 2 Kings 8:20 say there was no king in Edom in those days. However, the text of 1 Kings 22:47 gives the answer: “a deputy was king.” There was a “king” in Edom, but since he was subservient to Judah, he was not a true sovereign.

[2] The Bible contains many potentially ambiguous pronouns, whose antecedents must be determined by context as well as grammar. See 2 Chronicles 3:1 (“where he appeared unto David his father”), Matthew 27:3 (“when he saw that he was condemned”), etc.

[3] The famous Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone) evidently was written sometime after the death of Jehoram. It is a celebration of Mesha’s victories over Israel. The Mesha Stele portrays Omri and his unnamed son as oppressors of Moab for many years, prior to Mesha’s recovery of Moabite independence. It is significant for naming Yahweh as the God of Israel, and for noting how the Gadites had lived in Ataroth since ancient times (cf. Num 32:34). It gives the round number of 40 years as the length of time in which Omri’s dynasty oppressed Moab (the Bible gives 12 years for Omri’s reign, 22 years for Ahab’s, 2 years for Ahaziah’s, and 12 years for Jehoram’s, for a total of 48 years, minus the number of years after Moab broke free from Israel partway through Jehoram’s reign). Many other biblical places are mentioned in the inscription, which is written in a language very close to biblical Hebrew. This inscription is a testimony to the accuracy of the Bible’s historical record, and it is one of many extrabiblical texts that have prevented intelligent but anti-Christian critics from dismissing the Bible as a fairy tale.

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The March for Science



Scientists around the world today are participating in the “March for Science,” holding banners such as “Science – A Candle in the Dark” and “Science is the Answer.” Although this event coincides with Earth Day, the planning for it began at the anti-Trump Women’s March in January. The March for Science will be followed by a “Week of Action” from April 23 to 29 that will include voter registration drives and asking people to sign an environmental voter pledge. The message behind these rallies is that science represents objective truth which should shape one’s (supposedly) subjective religious and political beliefs. Essentially, science becomes one’s religion and politics. Some observations:

  1. The scientific method cannot be used to prove itself—that is circular reasoning—nor can it give absolute certainty. We all start with foundational beliefs; faith in God and His Word is entirely coherent and rational, and gives absolute certainty where science cannot.
  2. Scientific dogma is constantly changing; good theories are refined, bad theories are overturned, and new theories are being put forth. The history of science shows how dangerous it is to label one generation’s understanding of a particular scientific theory as unchangeable, absolute truth.
  3. There is a huge difference between what is observed in science and how these observations are applied to theology, history, and politics. Science itself does not teach that there is no God, that the earth is billions of years old, that life evolved, that the United States should join a climate treaty, or that nuclear weapons are a threat to world peace. These are all interpretations that some scientists make on the basis of reasoning outside of their own scientific observations. Many of the questions involved are clearly outside the domain of science (e.g., “What does Genesis 1 teach?” “What are the political and economic costs of reducing carbon emissions?” “What is the deterrence value of nuclear weapons?”). Scientists have lost a lot of credibility by casting as scientific dogma conclusions that properly belong to the realm of other disciplines. In particular, mainstream scientists have created powerful enemies for themselves by joining the political and religious left, and calling their political and religious views “science.”
  4. As is typical throughout academia, the majority opinion, that of the so-called “mainstream” scientists, is represented as “the” scientific truth, when in fact there are many scientists who strongly disagree with the mainstream view on issues such as evolution, the age of the earth, climate change, and vaccines. Scientists lose credibility by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of scientific debate, and by casting the majority opinion as the absolute, unquestionable truth. Historically, science has made the greatest progress when it has allowed freedom of research and thought, while its progress has been most hindered when it refuses to allow any deviation from current scientific dogma.
  5. While science can improve physical quality of life, it cannot meet man’s deepest needs, which are spiritual. History shows that technological development does not improve the condition of the human heart, or even make people happier or more satisfied. While science has produced many good and beneficial discoveries, it is limited to the physical sphere and therefore cannot help man spiritually. Only God can do that.

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