Questions on the Bible

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Critics of Christians will often quote the Old Testament as the current law. I would like to be able to direct people to verses or chapters in the Bible that let everyone know this is no longer correct. Where can I start?

Others have shared your experience:  you post a comment on Facebook or another kind of discussion forum on what the Bible says about marriage or homosexuality, and someone else replies:  “Why don’t you stone adulterers while you’re at it?  And why are you wearing clothes made out of two different kinds of material?”  Those questions are usually followed by references to Leviticus or Deuteronomy.

Where do you start with a response?  To begin with, we recognize that while the Bible does not use the terms “civil,” “ceremonial” and “moral” to categorize God’s laws in the Old Testament, there are different kinds of laws in the Old Testament and those terms are helpful in distinguishing the differences among them.

“Civil” laws regulated the nation of Israel.  While the theocracy of Israel was in place, the civil laws were in force.  When God’s Old Testament people ceased being a nation, the civil laws became obsolete.  God’s directive to people in New Testament times is to render obedience to governments, without relaying specific mandates (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2).

“Ceremonial” laws regulated the worship life—and related items—of the people of Israel.   Those laws dealt with, among other things, sacrifices, festivals, the priesthood, diet and (un)cleanness.  It is clear from Scripture that these laws have been abolished.  They had their purpose:  pointing to the promised Messiah.  But once the Messiah came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the ceremonial laws were no longer in effect (cf. Galatians; Colossians 2; Hebrews 4-10).  Jesus rendered perfect obedience to the law of God; he was our perfect substitute in life (Romans 10:4).

That leaves us with the “moral” law.  That is often defined as God’s will for all people of all time.  The moral law is every command of God that applies to every person, no matter when or where he or she may live.  People naturally have knowledge of the moral law because God’s law is written in their hearts (Romans 2:14-15).  The Ten Commandments serve as a good summary of the moral law (even though there are references to civil law and ceremonial law in them).

While it would be nice if Old Testament laws were packaged and labeled “civil law” and “ceremonial law,” that is not the case.  Still, we can identify laws that were binding only on Old Testament Israel (the civil and ceremonial laws), and we can identify laws that reflect the moral law in that they direct all people of all time to love God and their neighbor.  God grant you patience and wisdom as you witness to others through social media.

I have an old Bible from grade school that is of no use to me (it has been torn up and written over). Is there a proper, respectful way to dispose of a used Bible?

There are different proper, respectful ways of disposing of a used Bible, but there is no specified way. I have heard and read of people burying their used Bibles and others recycling them so that the pages can be turned into something new and useful (perhaps another Bible). The approaches to disposing of a used Bible vary, but the approaches are driven by respect for what people are discarding. You can dispose of your old Bible in any number of ways that do not bother you or your conscience.

To me, your concern about what to do with a used Bible reflects a love for the Word of God in general (Psalm 119:105-112). That is a wonderful attitude. God bless you.

Please explain how come sometimes we will stand for the readings during church service and other times we will not. Pastor says, "Out of respect for Jesus' words, please stand." But another reading will be from the Bible, etc. and we will not stand. Thanks!

Christian Worship: Manual, the “handbook” for our hymnal, explains: “The congregation stands for the reading of the Gospel. In the past soldiers put down their weapons and kings removed their crowns when the Gospel was read. Christ—his life, his words of law and gospel, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his assignment to his Church, his promise to return—is the center of the Gospel. The faithful have waited for this moment, this reading. They stand in reverence. ” (pp. 173-174)

Through the gospel lesson Jesus—the Word (John 1), the Word of God (Revelation 19:13)—comes to us. The gospel lesson relays the words and works of Christ. For those reasons, we have retained an ancient practice of showing respect and awe for the Lord and his gospel by standing.

That practice of course falls into the category of adiaphora: those things that God has neither commanded nor forbidden. In Christian freedom we gladly include that posture in our liturgy.

How do I know the Bible is the Word of God?

This is an extremely important question. “Because the Bible says it’s God’s Word” is the short answer, but one that most people won’t be satisfied with. It’s certainly true that the Bible says it is God’s Word (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Just think of how many prophetic books in the Bible begin with, “The word of the LORD came to” or how often the prophets introduce their words with, “This is what the LORD says.”

On the other hand, most people who pose the question want corroboration from an independent, outside source that proves that the Bible is God’s Word. And that, of course, is the problem. What independent outside sources are there? God is one, of course—but the Bible is the only Word of God that we have, and the Bible itself tells us not to expect any other (Isaiah 8:20, Revelation 22:18, 19). God isn’t going to speak from heaven and tell us, “This is my book. Believe it!”

Human beings are the only other possibility. But human beings are hardly unbiased or impartial. As they are by nature, they have every reason not to believe the Bible’s claims about itself. That’s one reason why arguments that believers find persuasive—like biblical prophecies that were clearly and obviously fulfilled, or the fact that the Bible is still around despite centuries of being vehemently attacked and suppressed—don’t necessarily convince unbelievers.

Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t need independent corroboration, because it is self-authenticating. The best advice we can give to someone who is wondering whether the Bible is God’s Word is, “Read it, and you’ll find out.” You’ll discover a book by people you’ve never met, and yet who know you better than you know yourself. And you’ll find them leading you straight to your loving Savior. That is finally the only “proof” that the Bible really needs.

Who wrote the Bible?

Picture this: the CEO of the company is dictating a letter to the secretary. As the CEO speaks, the secretary takes down every word. When the CEO is done, it’s clearly the CEO’s letter.

At the same time, the secretary’s abilities, skills, etc., are sure to show through. For example, if the secretary has poor eyesight, the letter will probably be typed in a larger font. Yet, the letter remains the CEO’s.

Although simplistic, that basically illustrates how we got the Bible. God is the “CEO,” various human writers are the “secretaries.” God gave the writers the exact words which He wanted them to use. The Bible describes it this way: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 ). Similarly, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 ). Often in the Old Testament (written about 1400-400 B.C.) you’ll hear God say something like, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 36:2). These words are God’s words.

Does Jesus agree? Yes! One time Jesus quoted a passage from the book of Psalms. After he did, he made a parenthetical, yet important, remark: “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He was saying, “These words are God’s words.”

The New Testament makes the same claim. One example is found in 1 Thessalonians: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Again, these words are God’s words.

And yet God in mercy chose to work through human writers, more than 35 of them. God used people like Moses, Isaiah, Luke, John, and Paul to write down his words, to be his secretaries, and indeed their personality/talents shine through. For example, Luke was a physician. In his books, we see lots of details, as you might expect from a physician. Paul was a learned man, so the books he wrote are often quite deep, even a bit more difficult to understand.

To summarize, God gave the Bible through human writers; we can learn a few things about them by reading their books. Yet they remained merely the secretaries. The words, finally, are God’s.

Who were the nephilim mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4? Were they offspring of fallen angels or fallen human children of God? And how did the Nephilim survive the Flood?

These verses have generated more than their share of imaginative interpretations and have become a breeding ground for fantastic speculation. Thanks for allowing us to review options and offer comments.

More Bizarre but Less Likely Option

The less plausible yet persistently popular idea is that Genesis 6 is talking about fallen angels (“sons of God”) who impregnated select beautiful women (“daughters of men”) and the demon-human offspring (“the Nephilim”) were giants in stature and accomplishment prior to the Flood. Since Nephilim are spoken of after the Flood (Numbers 13:33), this race of giants somehow survived the Flood (or was restarted by another, post-Flood, demonic invasion with sexual unions with humans).

This scenario, of course, is exciting stuff that grabs people’s attention. Superhuman giants! Hybrid creatures! And, stated honestly, it is grammatically and linguistically possible to arrive at this conclusion through a reading of Genesis 6:1-4. To say this view is utterly impossible or flagrantly contrary to Scripture is perhaps an overstatement.

Less Bizarre and More Likely Option

The less exotic understanding of this section, but one more compatible with everything else revealed in the Bible, is this: Male descendents of Adam and Eve through Seth (the dominant line of believers, “sons of God”) intermarried with attractive female descendents of Cain (the dominant line of unbelievers, “daughters of men”) resulting not only in a deterioration of religious principle, but also in aggressive children who became strong in activity and reputation (“the Nephilim”).

The term Nephilim is most likely derived from the Hebrew nphl (“to fall” or “fall upon”) and refers to “fallen” people (unbelieving rebels against God) or aggressive bullies who “fall on” others (overpowering and tyrannizing them). Nephilim might also derive from the root pl’ (“to be awesome, full of wonder”), and the title then stresses they were people who were strong in physical stature, accomplishment, and reputation – including (if ancient traditions are considered) bullying others as gangsters or mobsters.

These early Nephilim perished in the Flood (Genesis 7:21), but other giants in stature developed in later generations and family branches of mankind. The term Nephilim need not refer to a specific race or tribe, but to people who bore the same general characteristics. Included among them were the Anakim, Rephaim, and Emim mentioned in Numbers 13:33, Deuteronomy 3:11, and 2:10. The Philistine warrior Goliath is probably the best known example of an aggressive giant (1 Samuel 17:4), but there is evidence that people of exceptional size lived in various parts of the world through most of history.

The Preferable Option

One could argue that both options outlined above are possible and the relatively obscure references in Genesis 6 should lead us to advocate no preference between them. One reason we list the second scenario as more plausible is that the idea of angels being capable of, interested in, or allowed by God to impregnate humans is simply foreign to the rest of Scripture. The words of Jesus in Mark 12:24-25 lead us to conclude that angels are not sexual beings the same way humans are. Notions of angel/human hybrids stem from later, non-biblical sources.

There’s a second reason we may prefer the view about believers compromising religious principle through bad choices (including selection of spouses) that often results in ethically challenged progeny. This reason is more theological than textual or exegetical. It fits the pattern so often warned against yet so often repeated in subsequent generations of mankind. This way of deriving the meaning of a text is not adequate in and of itself – but when the conclusion is fully compatible with everything else the Bible says on a given subject, it may be seen as preferable.

Do I have to believe the whole Bible?

Your chest feels as if an elephant is dancing on it. You’re gasping for air. Sweat is glistening on your face. You are in the emergency room of a hospital. Nurses are hooking wires all over your chest. Another nurse is searching for a vein to start an I.V. Another nurse is putting a small pill under your tongue. After looking at the monitor and the EKG tape, the doctor informs you that you are having a heart attack. It’s a frightening scene. Other tests prove that there is a blockage in your heart. The doctor tells you what has happened to your heart and then proceeds to explain what needs to be done to repair your heart so that you can continue to live.

Are you going to believe everything he says? Or are you going to pick and choose what you want to believe and disregard the rest, which could cost you your life? Your life depends on believing everything the doctor tells you.

There are people who believe the whole of the Bible. There are people who don’t believe anything in the Bible. But how can a person believe just some of the Bible? How does a person pick and choose what parts of the Bible are true and what parts are not true? How can a person believe that Jesus died on the cross to take the sins of the world away and yet not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? How can a person believe that Jesus did miracles, but that Jonah could not have spent three days in the belly of a great fish?

What is true and what is not true? The Bible is God’s Word. Not believing some of the Bible will lead to doubting all the Bible. The Bible is not a collection of human ideas and thoughts. The Bible is God’s Word, given word for word by the Holy Spirit to human writers. If any part of the Bible is merely human thoughts, and not God’s Word, then all of God’s Word can’t be trusted. If it is God’s Word, then all of it is true and is to be believed.

We believe the entire Bible is God’s Word and it is true. Our belief is not founded on shaky ground. First, there is more evidence for the documents of the Bible than for any other ancient book. Second, all the writers of the New Testament wrote within the first century of Christ’s birth. They all knew Jesus. Third, even historical facts cited by the writers have been proven to be true. Fourth, God promised that the writers would tell the truth. The Holy Spirit guided them so that they did just that.

We believe all of the Bible because in it God tells us that he loves us sinful human beings so very much that he sent His Son Jesus to live, suffer, die and rise for us so that we could be with him in heaven. That is why God tells us that his words “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

God’s Word is all true. You can trust every word of it from beginning to end.

Can you tell me anything about the Book of Enoch?

There are actually three books of Enoch. The second currently exists only in Old Church Slavonic, and theories about its origin place it anywhere from the 1st century BC to the 10th century AD (Nobody knows, in other words). The third is very late, and seems to have been written in Hebrew in Babylonia in the 6th or 7th century AD. I assume you mean so-called “1st Enoch.”

“1st Enoch” dates from the time between the Old and New Testaments (probably no earlier than the fourth century BC). Today the whole thing exists only in a Ge’ez (the language of Ethiopia) translation from Aramaic originals, but many fragments of it were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

1st Enoch is a pseudepigraphon–a book attributed to an author who couldn’t possibly have written it–and is said to be the work of Enoch, the son of Jared, who the Bible says “walked with God” (Genesis 5:21-24). It is a collection that includes many different kinds of material, but it is mostly known for its dreams and visions, in which Enoch is said to receive revelations about cosmology, wars between heavenly beings, and the last judgment.

The book seems to have been widely known in the last centuries BC and the first centuries AD. It was not, however, accepted by the Jews at the time of Jesus as part of the canon of Scripture.

What is WELS' position on the importance of believing the entire truth of the Bible? I'm in a WELS congregation where all members believe the basic truths, but many members believe falsely in areas like fellowship, end times, or replacement theology. My experience in WELS churches is that the pastors concentrate on basic law and gospel, but rarely or never address "secondary" areas of doctrine like those above. Since other churches and TV evangelists hit those areas hard, their false teachings propagate widely, including into WELS churches. Is that something that WELS pastors should be more concerned about, and spend more time countering? Thank you for your consideration of my question.

Other areas of this Web site do explain our synod’s position on Scripture.  For example, the following paragraph is from “What the Bible and Lutherans Teach About the Bible:”

“The Bible and Lutherans teach that the Bible is the true word of God. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. This means that God breathed into the writers the exact thoughts and words they were to write. As a result every statement in the Bible is the truth. One part of the Bible explains another part. It is the only guideline for the faith and life of Christians. We are to read and study it diligently. It clearly teaches all we need to know in order to obtain our eternal salvation.2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:15; Luke 11:28; John 5:39.”

The “God and his Revelation” section of This We Believe has a longer treatment on our position toward Scripture.

Scripture is not partly true and partly false.  Scripture is a unit and all of it is truth.  (John 10:35; 17:17)  Christian faith acknowledges that.

The apostle Paul reminded Timothy:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5).

Because the message of the Bible is timeless, those instructions still hold true for pastors today.  Pastors will be able to “correct, rebuke and encourage” and expound on the “whole will of God” (Acts 20:27) because sermon texts, especially those connected to cycles of Scripture readings such as those found in Christian Worship:  A Lutheran Hymnal, provide great variety in content and cover numerous biblical doctrines.  As pastors apply God’s word to contemporary settings, they will have opportunity to address current false doctrines and practices.  If you feel, in your setting, that there could be greater emphasis on addressing contemporary false doctrines, do speak to your pastor.  And certainly pray for your pastor.  Pray that he faithfully proclaims the Word of God—saying no more and no less than what Scripture states.

In 1 Chronicles 22: 7-8 we read that the Lord denied David the right to build a house unto his name because, and I quote: "You have shed blood abundantly and have made great wars: you shall not build a house unto my name because you have shed much blood upon the earth in my sight." If we read Chronicles, it is evident that David had the support and encouragement of the Lord to wage his wars against the enemies of Israel. Is this denial then not a contradiction....? Your insight, please. Thank you.

David definitely did have “the support and encouragement of the Lord to wage his wars against the enemies of Israel.”  Scripture tells us that David “became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him” (2 Samuel 5:10).  When David wondered about waging war against the Philistines, the LORD assured him:  “Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you” (2 Samuel 5:19).

When David first proposed the building of the temple, the prophet Nathan personally endorsed that idea.  Then, the Lord gave Nathan a message to relay to King David.  That message informed David that his offspring, and not he, would build that house for the Lord.  While that news may have been disappointing to David, the Lord had other—good—news for the king:  the Lord would build another kind of house for David.  From David would come a line of kings, including most importantly the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

So were the Lord’s dealings with David contradictory in any way, as you asked?  Not at all.  David carried out his role in protecting Israel from its enemies.  That role involved war and bloodshed.  When it came time to build the temple, the Lord decreed that it was more fitting that a man of peace, and not a man of war, be the one to oversee the building of the temple—a structure that proclaimed peace with God through the sacrifices that pointed to the Messiah and through the ministry of God’s word.  (Solomon’s name is related to the Hebrew word for “peace.”)

Rather than seeing the Lord’s actions as contradictory or inconsistent, we recognize what the psalmist did:  “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3).   The Lord had one role for David and another role for Solomon.  Both roles were important and were given by the Lord.

Hello. God promised Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob) that his descendants will become as many as you see the stars in the sky. The covenant was made between God and Abraham to inherit the land of Canaan. My question is that Abraham was considered a righteous man but the Church has replaced the promise: Replacement Theology. What Scriptures support this? Thank you for your time. I hope you will be able to answer my question.

Some people use the term “Replacement Theology” to mean that the Christian Church has “replaced” Israel as God’s chosen people.  Other people use that term to maintain that God cannot possibly abandon Israel and so he will establish an earthly kingdom for Israel during the millennium.

Romans 9-11 helps us understand things correctly.  That section of Scripture explains that the Christian Church is not a replacement of Israel but a continuation of the real Israel.  God explains through the apostle Paul that when it comes to Jews, it is not ancestral heritage that saves (Romans 9:6-8).  It is faith in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, that saves.  And so in that part of the Bible God pictures Jews who reject Jesus, the promised Messiah, as branches broken off a tree, and Gentiles who are led to believe in Jesus as the Messiah as branches grafted on to a tree (Romans 11:17-24).  Those who have the faith of Abraham—trusting in the promised Savior, Jesus Christ—are the real Israel (Romans 9:8).

Hello! Where would the present-day Garden of Eden be located? Also, where is the present day place of Jesus' death? Thanks!

Because of the destruction of the world by the flood in Noah’s day, there is only speculation on precisely where the Garden of Eden might have been located.  We simply do not know.

Jesus’ crucifixion would have taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Because we do not know exactly the placement of those walls at the time of the Lord’s crucifixion, there cannot be absolute certainty regarding the identification.  For numerous reasons, many think that the crucifixion site is on the northwest side of Jerusalem.

More important than identifying that site, of course, is knowing what happened on Calvary.  “He himself [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  Of that we can be certain.

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