Scripture Studies

What is Man?

what is man“What is man, that You should exalt him, that You should set Your heart on him?” Job 7:17

“What is man?” Five passages of Scripture asked this question.

Job asked it twice (Job 7:17; 15:15), King David also twice reflected on the question (Psalm 8:4, 144:3), and in the New Testament this same question was again seriously quoted and asked (Hebrews 2:6).  So I think this question deserves our serious thought, if we want to know who we are, why we exist, and what the future holds for us.

Fact is, this same question has exercised the minds of philosophers and thinkers from time immemorial. But at a certain time in our life, we need to face the question ourselves.

Today we live in a very strange yet frightening age where despite man’s technological advances, new scientific discoveries, and engineering marvels, man seems to grapple when it comes to the basic issues of life. We have a very narrow, if not conflicting views of what it means to be “us”.

We are continually redefining ourselves, albeit narrowly. We measure ourselves based on our personal choices, sexual preference, work, look or physique, and even in terms of material acquisitions.

Now, we have awesome powers at our disposal, but we have no solid moral ground as to how these powers are to be used. The most dangerous part is, man has now the means to destroy the entire human race, in an instant!

In a day when the power of life and death seems to be in the hands of a few men, the question of “What is man?” is not simply academic and philosophical, but a moral and practical one.

In light of these issues, the need again to reexamine God’s word—what it really reveals about ourselves—our nature. So what is man?

The book of beginnings, or Genesis tells us very succinctly as to the nature of our origin,

“And theLORDGod formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [soul,KJV]”(Genesis 2:7 NKJV).

Basically this verse tells us how finite and mortal man is—“of the dust of the ground”. Without God’s Spirit breathing into man, man is just one lifeless creation. This is in direct contrast to the popular view that man is an “immortal soul” encased in a material body. The Hebrew word “soul” nephesh is a typical reference to our physical body. 

But what makes man unique? This was revealed earlier in a preparatory verse,

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’  So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

Clearly we can already see the God-given potential of man. Out of ‘man’-kind (Heb. adamah, red earth) God created ‘male and female’.  From these two beings (becoming ‘one’ [echad] family), God destined them to be His living symbol (‘image’, Heb. tselem –a figure, or representative). So God placed in mankind this unique role to be God’s very representative of Himself and of His reign (kingdom). This context fits well with God’s subsequent command to reign over all that was made.

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Is “Easter” Christian?

easter boyHave you ever wondered why one of the most important of Christian holidays was named Easter? Such a strange name, isn’t it? What does a feminine sounding name Easter have to do with the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? Surely you wanted to know!

Undoubtedly, Easter is the most solemn of Christian commemoration, and we, Filipinos are particularly very observant of this holy week. But has anyone asked how the name Easter came into play? Added to this are the equally strange mascot of bunnies and colored eggs for hunt? Now that is really weird considering that what we are supposed to be celebrating is the most brutal and murderous death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve got be earnestly looking into this, if we are to be serious about the basis of our Christian faith!

A quick look at the word Easter in the Bible will show that the name appears only once in the King James Version of the Bible, inActs 12:4, and it was a clear mistranslation. Reputable scholars will point out that the word Easter in this verse comes from the Greek word pascha, meaning Passover. Modern translations correctly translate the word to “Passover”—as even the King James Version does in other verses (seeMatthew 26:2-19;Mark 14:12;1 Corinthians 5:7). But the name stuck in our Christian vocabulary.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words also explains on the name Easter:“Pascha… mistranslated ‘Easter’ inActs 12:4,KJV, denotes the Passover … The term ‘Easter’ is not of Christian origin. It is another form of Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess, the queen of heaven. The festival of Pasch [Passover] held by Christians in post-apostolic times was a continuation of the Jewish feast … From this Pasch the pagan festival of ‘Easter’ was quite distinct and was introduced into the apostate Western religion, as part of the attempt to adopt pagan festivals to Christianity” (1985, p. 192, “Easter”).

Who was this Astarte or Easter? Let our authoritative Bible scholars and other reference works tell us about the name and its adaptation.

Nelson’s Bible commentary noted of the name “Easter”: “Easter was originally a pagan festival honoring Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of light and spring. At the time of the vernal equinox (the day in the spring when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length), sacrifices were offered in her honor. As early as the eighth century, the word was used to designate the annual Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ.” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary,“Easter,” p. 373).

Explained by the editors of Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “The ancient Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar symbolized Mother Earth in the natural cycles of fertility on earth. Ishtar was the daughter of Sin, the moon god. She is the goddess of love, so the practice of ritual prostitution became widespread in the fertility cult dedicated to her name. Temples to Ishtar had many priestesses, or sacred prostitutes, who symbolically acted out the fertility rites of the cycle of nature. Ishtar has been identified with the Phoenician Astarte, the Semitic Ashtoreth, and the Sumerian Inanna. Strong similarities also exist between Ishtar and the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, and the Roman Venus.

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The Promise of Eternal Life

eternal life(What is Life Series- 6)

What is eternal life? To many, the thought of eternal life conjures a limitless, never-ending life—ageless, free from pain, sickness and death. While this concept is very appealing to people, yet it remains very illusive.

The prophet Daniel provided us the first glimpse of an everlasting life through a vision,

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,

Some to everlasting life,

Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)

Since then, many sages have been speculating on how and when can such life be attained or discovered. Science weigh in by trying to formulate a medicine that will stop sickness, thwart the degenerative processes of old age, and even death.  While this quest has given rise to some daring but unsuccessful expeditions in the past, still others believe that searching for that elusive “fountain of life” can be attained through utilization of the “inner self”.

While eternal life has varied connotations, what does the Bible really says about it?

While the Old Testament (OT) is scant on this subject, not surprisingly this has been one of the foundational teachings of New Testament (NT). A common Greek word for “everlasting” and “eternal” aiónios, provides its foundational understanding. Aiónios carries with it the idea of quality as well as quantity of time. The Greek word zoe is one of several Greek words that are translated life. According to Vine's Dictionary, zoe means "life as a principle, life in the absolute sense, life as God has it...”

Therefore, when eternal life is referred to in the Scripture, it is not simply associated with “length of years”, as it is independent of, and beyond time. Eternal life can function outside of and beyond the limit of time, as well as within time.

John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible, as it reminds us of its ultimate purpose,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

From the above text, it is clear that this “everlasting life” is anchored on our belief in the “begotten Son”, and that it will be given so that no one will see death. This understanding is further anchored on the knowledge and faith from its true Source,

“This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,” (John 17:3).

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Is Your Life ‘Predestined’ to be Lost?

pre lost(What is Life Series- 5)

If someone tells you that your life is doomed to fail, would you be concerned? Would it matter to you knowing that others are “pre-chosen” to be a success in life? What if it’s all about the choices we make that will determine or define who you are or what you will become-will it make a difference?

Most religions teach a very defining and formulaic teaching called “Predestination”.

There are various ways in which this doctrine is taught, but the most common in Christianity is the idea that God, even before the time began has already set or “predetermined” every choice and detail of every person’s life, including whether he/she would be saved or lost.

A 16th century Protestant theologian named John Calvin popularised this idea (though originally it came from the teachings of a Catholic bishop, Augustine of Hippo). This doctrine is now known as “Calvinism” and embraced by most Evangelicals today.

Based on its “five-point” principle using the acronym Tulip, the concept was primarily focused on God’s sovereignty, power and foreknowledge. Accordingly, nothing can ever happen that God did not, before all time and space, design and decide to happen. God knew all along before everyone was born, who would be saved and who would be lost because He has the power to predetermine it. That’s why it is also called “double-predestination.”

That everything is already laid out, no matter what you do or make in life, seems to appeal to modern theologians, but is this teaching really grounded on the Bible?

Among the most quoted passages in Scriptures widely viewed as supporting this doctrine are as follows,

Romans 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”(NKJV, all throughout unless noted) 

Ephesians 1: 4-5,11,13-14; just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself...In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,... In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

Based on the above texts, the word “predestined” comes from the Greek προορίζω, or “prooridzo.”  It basically carries the meaning of “determine beforehand,” or “ordain”. It carries the sense of establishing a boundary, usually in the sense of predetermining a future condition. The word occurs six times in six verses in the New Testament (see also in Acts 4:28 and 1 Corinthians 2:7).

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What is Lent?

lent penanceLent is a forty-day period of preparation leading to Easter Sunday. It starts on “Ash Wednesday” as churches, mostly Catholics (also adapted later by Lutheran, Anglican, Methodists, etc), through their priests, put ashes on the foreheads of devotees after holding a mass.  The word comes from an Anglo Saxon lencten, which means "spring."

Among Filipinos, lent is seriously and uniquely observed being the only Christian-observing nation in Asia. They believe that Lent provides time for introspection, prayers, and do some penance. It is also called quaresma (from the Spanish; Latin: quadragesima, meaning ‘fortieth’).    

Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, describes Lent,

“In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penance. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ's carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event. Throughout Christendom, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, most notably among Roman Catholics.”

The Bible does not mention the custom of “Ash Wednesday” or the word “Lent”, however, it does teach the importance of repentance and mourning in “sackcloth and ashes” as found in these instances: Genesis 37:34, 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Jonah 3:6; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21. But the Bible also spoke of the idolater as a person who “feeds on ashes” (Isaiah 44:20)—a clear figure of vanity and deceit. It also warns us about making pretense and false way of showing repentance (Isaiah 58:3-5).

The number 40 also figured prominently in the Bible, such as the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness by the Israelites, and the tempting of Jesus after he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.

However, it is to be stressed out that none of these practices and events are connected in any way with Jesus’ supposed observance of Easter. In fact, as admitted by “church fathers”, these are not even practiced by the early church,

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The Future Resurrections

resurrectionsThe resurrection of the dead is one of the foundational tenets of Christianity, yet very rarely we hear from the preachers today talk about it. They would rather want to assure believers of some “heavenly abode” for their departed loved ones.  However the Bible speaks very plainly and even emphatic about it. Just what is resurrection and why we should look forward to it?

Consider what Jesus said in John 6, after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand and revealing himself to be the true Messiah (Saviour), the “Living bread” that comes down from heaven, he declared:

“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. (verse 39)

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(verse 40)

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day(verse 44).

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (verse 54).

Four times in these verses, Jesus Christ underscores the importance of our faith in Him and the Father, if we want to be part of that resurrection. There will be resurrection of the dead, and according to Jesus, this will take place at the “last day”—in a yet future time!

In fact this is one of the core teachings of Jesus, He himself the first one to be resurrected to life and immortality, proving that He already conquered death, and now has power over it! As He earlier articulated on,

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Our faith in the works of Christ in us through His Holy Spirit is what makes us ‘heirs’ of the eternal promises (Romans 8:17).  This is our continuing and future blessed hope.  The apostle Paul understood this very clearly, and that it must be consistently preached and taught, he wrote:

“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

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Is Going to Heaven Your Reward?

going to heavenOne of the most prevailing beliefs among majority of Christians today is the assurance that faithful believers will go to heaven when they die. In fact, we will often hear it expounded in funeral sermons from priests and ministers that our departed loved ones are already “in” heaven just awaiting for their families to be reunited again. While this thought provides some comfort in times of loss, what does the Bible really tell us about heaven?

The gospel of Matthew provided us familiar texts, as it often used the word “heaven” in referencing Jesus Christ’ words. In the Beatitudes, it is written:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:10

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Matthew 5:12

Matthew recorded “kingdom of heaven” as it also mentioned “reward in heaven”, the phrase appears throughout the book a total of 32 times. From these verses, it generally assumes that heaven is indeed part of a reward and/or destination.

But what did Jesus mean when He told the disciples about the kingdom and a certain “reward” in heaven? Because in the same context of Beatitudes, Christ also said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (verse 5). So anyone may reasonably ask, “Do the persecuted go to heaven to collect their reward, while the meek inherit the earth?”

Again the consistent answer in the Bible is provided by harmonizing all the relevant texts. The epistle of Peter has given us the answer, notice:  

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3–4).

Plainly these verses tell us that the reward of the saved—the incorruptible inheritance of true Christians—is “reservedin heaven.” It does not say of heaven as a reward itself, but only as a place where the reward is kept (for a time). The word “reserved” in the Greek istereo, meaning “safeguarded; watched closely” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 1985). Heaven is where the reward is currently preserved and kept—but not the heaven itself as a reward!

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