Jesus Christ Our High Priest

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It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. (LBCF 8.1).

A study of Hebrews shows that the central motif of the book is the superiority of Christ over Jewish religion including prophets and angels. Even Moses. This central motif was revealed  by juxtaposing Christ with angels, prophets, Moses, the Old Testament Priesthood and Levitical order with its rituals and sacrifices and draws a conclusion at every point with the superiority of Christ over all these.

Jesus Christ in his work of redemption holds a mediatory role as a High Priest interceeding for believers and bringing reconciliation between sinners and God. In Hebrews 4:14—5:1-10, the author presents Jesus Christ to us as a High Priest comparing him to the Levitical Priesthood order of the Old Testament. And as is consistent with the central motif of Hebrews mentioned earlier; Christ’s superiority over that priesthood order is revealed: “we have a great high priest” (Heb. 4:14).

Christ is not only presented to us as a high priest; but a Great High Priest. This points to Christ’s superiority in his role as a Priest. Also, Jesus’ priesthood is after the order of Melchidzedek:“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”(Heb. 5:6). The difference between the Levitical Priesthood and that of Melchidzedek is that the former is hereditary while the latter is not. Melchidzedek is presented to us as “without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”(Heb. 7:3). Also, as a Priest after the order of Melchidzedek, Jesus lives forever to make intercession for his own (Hebrews 9:27). This makes Christ a superior high priest after the order of Melchidzedek.

Who Is A High Priest?

High priest, Hebrew kohen gadol, in Judaism, the chief religious functionary in the Temple of Jerusalem, whose unique privilege was to enter the Holy of Holies (inner sanctum) once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to burn incense and sprinkle sacrificial animal blood to expiate his own sins and those of the people of Israel…The office, first conferred on Aaron by his brother Moses, was normally hereditary and for life.¹

The High Priest, as seen above in Jewish religious worship had a mediatory role. He stands in between God and the Israelites to offer annual sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people and for his own sins.

How The Author Presents Jesus As High Priest

Jesus’ Humanity

The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity … when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary…(LBCF 8.2)

The role or office of a high priest is a human role that is, a human being must occupy that office: “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (v.1). The high priest as we see is a mediatory role where another man stands as an intermediary between God and other human beings. And Jesus as we know was born of the Virgin Mary and lived on this earth as a human being. He is the God-Man, fully God and fully man–hypostatic union. The high priest is human so as to understand the plight of his fellow human beings: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward , since he himself is beset with weakness”(Heb. 5:2).

In his humanity, Jesus understood the state of humans–our sins, weaknesses and frailties– and therefore sympathetic to our cause. The Bible is however careful to point out to us that he was a sinless high priest: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15). This distinction is important as it sets Christ apart from all the human high priests of Jewish religion who needed also to make sacrifices for their own sins.

Jesus Offered Himself As A Sin Sacrifice

For every high priest chosen from among men j is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (Heb.5:1)

The main duty of the high priest was to offer yearly sacrifices on behalf of the people and his own behalf. Jesus Christ in this same role as a high priest offered himself up as a sinless sacrifice to God on behalf of his people–God’s elect. He suffered on our behalf. He not only suffered, but obeyed God’s laws for us fully (Heb. 5:8). Jesus’ death on the cross was to atone for the sins of humankind so they will be reconciled to the Father through faith ( Matthew 1:21)John 3:16

Appointed by God As High Priest

Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. (Heb 5:5).

In the Levitical Priesthood order, no one personally appointed themselves as a high Priest, but rather it was God who established the priesthood and those who qualified to be priest. They are to be from the Priesthood family established by God (Exodus 28:1). Now in this same pattern, Jesus was appointed by the Father as High Priest. He didn’t take that honour unto himself as the Scripture testify. Jesus Christ is God’s appointed high priest.

The Only Mediator Between God And Man

Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation God has provided for sinful humankind to be reconciled to him ( Heb 5:9; John 3:16; Acts 4:12). Jesus himself said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”(John 14:6). Paul says “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim. 2:5).

Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest who reconciles sinners to God. Apart from him, no one can have access to the Father. And by his finished work on Calvary, we can access to the throne of grace:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16).

Notes
1.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/high-priest

Post was originally posted on http://www.sovereigngracegh.org

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Christian Maturity

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When a child is born, they are expected to grow (Ex.2:10; 1Sam. 2:21; 26; 3:19; Luke 1:80; 2:52) and at every point in their biological calender, we expect certain traits of growth in them. When these are not forth coming, we may begin to worry that perhaps something may have gone wrong. At the birth of our youngest son about three years ago, Theodora my wife signed up to a website that gave her weekly updates about what to expect at every stage of our son’s growth. We followed these weekly updates to monitor his growth and the day he took his first step was an exciting moment in our lives.

Now in the same way, growth is also required of believers. When we come to faith in Christ; putting our trust in him for salvation, we are expected to grow. At various places in the Bible, the necessity for Christian growth is commanded and one of the clearest places is Hebrews 5:11-14.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Here the author rebukes immaturity among his audience. You can immediately sense his fraustration: “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain.” In my mind, I am hearing him saying: “There is much to talk about concerning the topic in view–Christ’s priesthood — but I don’t know how to go further since you lack understanding” He then addressed certain traits which can generally be seen as marks of immaturity. However, I will move from the negative– immaturity–to the positive —maturity— using the author’s rebukes to address Christian maturity. From the rebukes; dull of hearing (v.11), you ought to be teachers (v.12) trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (v.14), there seem to be a beautiful pattern: Understand, teach and live what you understand and teach.

Having said these, let me now attempt to list three points from the text which I have identified as Marks of Christian Maturity.

Understanding Basic Christian Doctrine

The charge is: “…you have become dull of hearing”(v.11). This charge is simply a charge of lack of understanding. The antidote obviously is, you must become sharp in hearing. Clearly then, the charge is a call for understanding.

From the beginning of Chapter 5, the author wrote certain truths and doctrines about the person of Jesus Christ and draws a comparison between the High Priesthood of Christ and Melchidzedek. However, he tells his original readers, there are many things to say about this topic but the people were not ready for since they had not grasped even the basics of the Christian faith (v.12c). Think about this. The immaturity of these people has denied us what more things the author intends to say.

This is a reminder that failure to appropriate the truth of the gospel produces stagnation in spiritual advancement and the inability to understand or assimilate additional teaching (cf. Jn 16: 12 ).¹

A believer must not be dull in hearing, that is, they must grasp things about the Christian faith. If this is not happening, then it means people may not be applying themselves to growth. Every believer must grasp the basic doctrines and teachings of the Christian faith and must indeed desire this to happen. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is instructive here: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him“(Eph 1:16-17). James also said “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”(James 1:5). These texts point to the fact of desire. We must desire growth in our walk and in fact ask for it.

Ability to Teach Others

Every believer has a responsibility of passing on Christian truth to others. One sure sign of Christian maturity is our ability to teach and instruct others in the Christian faith: “by this time you ought to be teachers…” the Hebrews writer told his recipients. We cannot tell how long they have been believers. But we can be sure if this is required of them, then they may have been believers for long. To be able to pass on Christian faith, we must know and understand it.

Unfortunately, there are many believers who have a disdain for Christian doctrine. They are all of experience and lacking in any knowledge of what they believe. R. C. Sproul calls them “sensous Christians”:

Sensuous Christians don’t need to study the Word of God because they already know the will of God by their feelings. They don’t want to know God; they want to experience him. Sensuous Christians equate “childlike faith” with ignorance. They think that when the Bible calls us to childlike faith, it means a faith without content, a faith without understanding. They don’t know that the Bible says, “In evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor 14:20). They don’t realize that Paul tells us again and again, “My beloved brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (see, for example, Rom 11:25).²

Such people, as the ones mentioned above stand the danger of being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). We deny ourselves the joy of the Christian faith if we don’t apply ourselves to learning and maturity. In an age of great deception; believers would have to pursue growth in the Christian walk.

Now it is not all believers who are called to vocational or Christian pulpit ministry, nonetheless, every believer has a responsibility of communicating Christian truth wherever they find themselves. But if we don’t know what we believe, logically, it will follow that we would not be able to pass on what we believe. When Jude wrote to his audience, he called upon them to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 1:3). But how can one contend or defend the faith if they do not know what they believe? Here Peter’s charge is also relevant: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pet. 3:15). It is important you and I know what we believe to be able to pass it on and defend it.

Right Living

Perhaps this will be the most difficult mark of Christian Maturity because it calls us to a practical application of Christian doctrine: discernment to distinguish between good and evil. Here, doctrine and living fuses together. It is not enough to know Christian truth and to be able to pass it on to others by instruction. Rather, our knowledge and ability to teach must reflect in how we live. We must, as the author puts it be able “to distinguish good from evil.” All what he calls for in that text is discernment. Can you identify error when you see one? When you are living in disobedience are you able to tell and repent? We are not tasked to only know and teach the truth. But we are to live the truth. We are to be able to apply the word of God to every area of our lives.

What is required here is a proper application of the word to our lives, exactly what Paul charged Timothy to do “rightly handling the word of truth.” A proper handling of Scripture, its application and obedience in the Christian faith is a sure sign of maturity. We are to be doers of the word and not hearers only. (James 1:22-25). On this point I will end with the words of J.I. Packer:

If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.³

Where do you find yourself in these exhortations? The Bible calls us to maturity and that call we must answer.

Notes

1. John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible ( Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2006), Kindle

2. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2009), Kindle.

3. J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 15.

Jesus: Our Only Master And Lord

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Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and l deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1-4 ESV).

The title for this article is taken from the last words of the theme text: “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” In relation to that, Jude, who undoubtedly is the author of the epistle with his name also describes himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ.” These words are profound with lessons I will attempt to glean in the course of the article. Now in an attempt to unpack those words, I will begin by looking at the background of the author of the epistle.

Apart from identifying himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, he also identifies himself as a brother of James giving us a clue to who he was. This James has been identified as a half-brother of Jesus Christ and therefore Jude is also a half-brother of Jesus: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? (Matt.13:55); “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3).

These texts lists Jesus’ brothers and of interest in this article is the name Judas. That name is Jude; the writer of Jude. Two commentators explain it:

As its title implies, the book was written by Jude, brother of James and Jesus (cf. Matt.13:15; Mark 6:3, where Gk[Greek]. “Judas” is the same as “Jude” in Jude 1).¹

Jude, which is rendered “Judah” in Hebrew and “Judas” in Greek, was named after its author (v. 1 ), one of the 4 half-brothers of Christ ( Mt 13: 55 ; Mk 6: 33).²

Submission To The Lordship Of Christ

The words Master and Lord communicates the idea of ownership or rulership. Which means Jude was submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and sees himself as owned by Christ. That Jude is a brother of Jesus is one of the first things to consider. It is amazing that a brother would go as far as describing himself as a servant of his own brother; more so to call him his only Master and Lord? That is a great example of humility in faith. It is of interest to note that, while Jesus was alive, prior to Jude writing his epistle, even Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him:

Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him (Jn. 7:2-5).

We notice here a point in time when the biological brothers of Jesus didn’t believe in him. But as at the time of penning his epistle, Jude had come to personal faith in Christ after his resurrection: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”(Acts 1:14). It is important to state here that salvation in Christ has no biological links. If a half-brother of Jesus would have to come to personal faith in him for his salvation; then you, a Gentile—alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of God as said by Paul in Eph. 2:12, has no other chance but to come also in faith. There are no different ways of salvation in Christ but one; coming through faith for both Jews and Gentiles.

Also, apart from describing himself as a servant of Christ, another compelling evidence for Jude’s faith and salvation is what he said in the opening verses: “I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation…” Jude shares salvation with his recepients and it is clear in those words. Your biological relationship with a Christian cannot save you. Your parent’s faith cannot save you. And attending church all your life cannot save you. What will save you is coming to faith in Christ Jesus and repenting from your sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16).

The Deity of Christ

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deut. 6:4).

The above is called the Shema and every Jew grows up reciting it. It is a Jewish confession of faith that confesses the Oness of God: “Often called the Shema, from the initial Hb.[Hebrew] word meaning “hear”, this verse is the great confession of Israel’s monotheistic faith, and to this day it is recited morning and evening by Jews (cf. Mark 12:29).³

Considering the above, if Jude is a Jew and he confesses Christ as “Master and Lord” then it gives us something to ponder over. And Jude didn’t just describe Jesus as “Master and Lord” rather he qualified it with an adjective “only”. This makes his statement even more stronger. It means apart from Christ, Jude and his readers have no Master and Lord. For a Jew who ascribes to the Shema to say this, there are theological and doctrinal issues at stake and the foremost is the person of Jesus.

Perhaps, one of the biggest controversies that has hit church history is the person of Jesus Christ. While traditional Orthordox Christian beliefs uphold Jesus as God; there are others like Jehovah witnesses who proclaim Christ is a created being—the first created being of God. But Scripture doesn’t teach that and Jesus himself made several statements in the Bible to point to his divinity. One of the popular been “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). At the pronouncement of these words; the Jews picked stones to stone Christ having understood clearly the implications of what Jesus was saying:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them , “I have shown you many good works from theFather; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God (Jn. 10:31-33).

Interestingly, the Jehovah Witnesses New World Translation renders “Our only Master and Lord” as “our only owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” How would they go about this if it has no implications for the divinity of Christ?

As Christians, we must confess the divinity of Christ because Scripture clearly teaches it: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1); “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1Timothy 3:16). These are just but two of numerous texts to affirm the Deity of Christ.

Jude, a Jew and half-brother of Jesus by calling him “our only Master and Lord” points us to who he believed Jesus was. Jesus was more than a brother to him. Jesus was his only Master and Lord and he was Jesus’ servant. And Christians of all ages have held to this truth of Jesus’ divinity.

I will leave you in conclusion with the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

Notes

1. Doug Oss and Thomas R. Schreiner, Introduction To The Letter of Jude, in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2447
2. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1978
3. R.C Sproul, study note on Deuteronomy 6:4, in The Reformation Study Bible: New King James Version (Orlando: Florida, Reformation Trust), 275

 

–Originally posted on Sovereigngracegh.org by author.

The Certainty of The Christian Faith

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Just this Saturday, 18th August, 2018, I was at the funeral of a youngman in my neighbourhood who sadly passed on after a short illness. In this same Saturday, the death of the former UN secretary General Kofi Annan was announced. Now during this funeral, 1Corinthians 15 was read and portions of it made a profound impression upon me concerning the certainty of the Christian faith and especially the resurrection of the dead as that was primarily what Paul was addressing. The text was read in Twi¹ and I supposse that may have contributed to its effect on me such as hearing a biblical passage  in words so strong in my own mother tongue. Robert Kwasi Aboagye-Mensah’s words perhaps will throw more light on the power of the word in the mother tongue. He says,

God speaks to our hearts, minds and innermost being in a way that another language can only do in approximation. We we hear the Bible read in our mother tongue, suddenly we realise that God speaks our language too…To understand this excitement one must turn to Acts 2 and the account of the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to the people who had gathered ‘from every nation under heaven.’ The crowd was bewildered ‘because each one heard them speaking in his own language

I will now attempt to express the profoundity in the words I experienced through the points that follow in the rest of the article ( Please note I will quote biblical texts in Twi and English).

The Certainty of The Preached Word.

Firstly, as I have already said, the main defense Paul was putting up in this text was the resurrection of Christ. He says a lot of things from verse 1. But from verse 14 where my attention was piqued at the funeral, Paul says “na sɛ wɔannyane Kristo a, na yɛn asɛnka yɛ ɔkwa, na mo gyidie nso yɛ hunu” (And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.) (v.14).  What he is saying is that, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then their preaching of the gospel is in vain likewise the faith of the people. The gospel, the good news of Christ is the hope by which every sinner will be saved. And the basis of the gospel and the faith we hold is in the certainty of the resurrection.

The Certainty of The Resurrection

The Christian message, following from the first point  is not a make belief; but a message grounded in historical events. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are authentic events and hence we can trust the events as they are recorded in Scripture. The resurrection is the reference point upon which all our hope hinges. Paul says that “Na wɔbɛhu yɛn sɛ Nyankopɔn ho adansekurumfoɔ, ɛfiri sɛ yɛdii Onyankopɔn adanseɛ sɛ, ɔnyanee Kristo a sɛ awufoɔ nnyane a, anka wannyane no (We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.”(v.15). That word “adansekurumfoɔ” in English can be translated as false witnesses or liars who testify that God raised Christ from the dead when he didn’t.

Here the Apostle Paul puts his neck out and that of the other apostles and says if Christ was not raised from the dead but we say he was, then we are liars—false witnesses. These are very strong words indeed. The Apostle puts his intergrity on the line and says if Christ was not raised from the dead then we are liars. Considering all we know about Paul, how he, prior to his conversion hated Christians and persecuted them, it is unlikely this same man will testify about something he hated so much if it were not true. Of course we know what happened to him. He encountred Christ on one of his journeys to persecute Christians. He gave his own testimony in Acts 26:10-18 while he stood trial for what he believed:

I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you , Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from  the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

If a man who once persecuted people for believing in Jesus Christ now embraces the faith, I think he deserves a hearing and what he says in favour of what he once persecuted ought to be listened to.

The Certainty of Eternal Life

Another part of the text which piqued my interest was the verse 19: “Sɛ nkwa yi mu nko ara na yɛwɔ Kristo mu anidasoɔ a, ɛnneɛ na yɛne nnipa nyinaa mu mmɔborɔfoɔ.” (If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”) This text speaks of hopelesness for those who believe in Christ if indeed all their hope is earthly–this side of eternity only. The word “mmɔborɔfoɔ” depicts people who are hopeless and to be “pitied.”

Here is a certainty of eternal life and of the resurrection. Our hope in Christ transcends this life. As believers, we have hope that one day we will see our loved ones who have gone ahead to be with the Lord and most importantly, we shall see our Lord; the One who though we have not seen, we love and believe (1Pet. 1:8). If all these are lies, then we might as well cast off our hope and join the world in living to please ourselves. But as Christians, we have certainty in the Scriptures that its teachings are the very words of God and in those words we have hope of eternal life. Our loved ones who died in Christ have not died in vain because Christ’s resurrection gives us a certainty of hope that one day we shall see our loved one. So with confidence we can say to all those who have departed this world as Christians that “Rest in Peace” for indeed “…whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his labour” (Hebrews 4:10).

If you are mourning any departed soul who was a Christian, be encouraged that one day at the resurrection we shall see our loved ones and be united together. Be assured also that they are at a better place in the presence of God. If you are reading this and not a believer, know that the certainty of these things puts you in enmity with God through unbelief. Seek Christ now and be united with him in faith. The gamble is risky. You will wake up one day out your body faced with the reality of what the bible teaches and then you realise you have squandered all opportunities to reconcile with God (Hebrews 9:27).

Notes:

1. Twi is a dialect of Akan language (Asante, Akuapem and Fante) spoken by people in southern and central Ghana.

2. Robert Kwasi Aboagye-Mensah, Dynamics of Preaching The Word: God still Speaks ( Legon:Accra, Adwinsa Publications, 2013), 5

Basic Hermeneutics

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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling word of truth (2Timothy 2:15).

The underlined phrase was the theme for a seminar titled Basic Hermeneutics I spoke at. In the text before us, Paul writes to young Timothy instructing him on several doctrinal issues in his role as a pastor and particularly in this verse; Timothy is instructed on rightly handling the word of truth. Now though a pastoral letter, the charge nonetheless holds true for every believer. As Christians, we are all called upon to engage in a right handling of the word of truth. The question therefore is what is the meaning of rightly handling the word of truth? The Greek word ὀρθοτομοῦντα (orthotomounta) translated as rightly handing the word of truth comes from the field of engineering which simply means to cut straight. The idea therefore means cutting straight the word of God that is, accurately teaching the word of God. And before we can teach the word of God accurately, we obviously have to interpret it accurately. So correct interpretation and correct teaching go together. Charles Spurgeon in a sermon on this text noted that:

Timothy was neither to mutilate, nor twist, nor torture, nor break in pieces the Word of God, nor keep on the outside of it, as those do who never touch the soul of a text, but rightly to divide it, as one taught of God to teach others.

Now many of the false doctrines in Christianity are simply problems of wrong interpretations and we will do well to grasp some basics of proper interpretation.

Hermeneutics

When we speak of hermeneutics, we are simply speaking of the science of the correct interpretation of any document or literature. So it is a big word with a straight forward meaning: correct interpretation. The purpose of hermeneutics, according to Sproul “is to establish guidelines and rules for interpretation…Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding” Before I say anything further. Let’s establish a few things about the Bible that will guide us in our interpretation of it. These are presuppositions we must come to the Bible with. Without them we are not going to get any far with Scripture

1. The Bible is the Word of God.
2. The Bible is inerrant; that is, it contains no errors in what it teaches
3. The Bible has authority over our lives.

If the Bible is the word of God and it is, then you and I have a responsibility not to misinterpret God’s word. If the Bible is inerrant in all it teaches, then you and I can trust it. If the Bible has authority over us, then you and I must allow it to correct us and not way correct the Bible.

Interpretation is hard work

The phrase “Do your best” in the text gives us a picture of effort, preparation and diligence. Prior to vs 15 of 2 Timothy, Paul had drawn certain analogies from the life of a soldier (v.4), athlete (v.5) and farmer (6). These analogies help us understand well the phrase “Do your best”. The soldier seeks to please his superiors, the athlete competes according to the rules and a farmer works hard. According to John MacArthur “The phrase “Do Your Best”, in the Greek–Spoudaźo, speaks of zeal or being zealous. To “Do your best” therefore speaks of zeal in presenting ourselves as one approved–that is people who please God. And one of the many ways in pleasing God is handling His word accurately.

Rightly Handling The Word

If Paul says : “rightly handling the word”, it means the word can be wrongly handled. Suppose you are to engage the services of any professional, what will be your standard for selection? For example, if you are to engage the services of a tailor/seamstress ( fashion designer), would you engage one who cuts clothes indiscriminately without precision and accuracy? Would you engage an architect whose drawings are inaccurate. And who would live in a house that tilts to its side? I doubt if anyone would. But if these are important, why do people leave their lives and eternal destiny into the hands of people who “wrongly handle the word of truth” and teach their followers same? “Rightly handling the word of truth” speaks of accuracy, precision, exactness and straightness.

Precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation, beyond all other enterprises, because the interpreter is handling God’s Word. Anything less is shameful [3]

At this point we will consider Exegesis and Eisegesis. These two words almost sound the same but they are different words both in spelling and pronunciation.

Exegesis.

Exegesis is the correct way of handling a text or interpreting a text. It simply means bringing an understanding of a text out of the text itself. So in exegesis we look at the text, its immediate context and the larger context of the bible to bring an understanding. The meaning that comes out of the text must be true to the whole teachings of Scripture. You cannot bring from a text what is not there. We are to bring out only what is true in a text. In engaging in exegesis, you look at all there is in the text.

Eisegesis

Have you ever encountered someone say this to you about a biblical text? “That’s your opinion” “I have my own opinion”. “That’s how you choose to interpret the text, I choose to interpret it differently”. You probably may have spoken those words yourself to someone who disagreed with you on a biblical text. In a world of subjectivity, this might sound appealing. The problem however is that the bible is not left to our subjective interpretation and “opinionising”. The Bible has an objective meaning in its context.

Though it is God’s word, it is written in human language and all the rules of reading, comprehension and interpretation of literature or any written document applies.
When we speak of Eisegesis, we are simply speaking of reading meaning into a text, that is, a meaning that is not there.

Now let’s attempt to answer “how can we handle the word of truth with accuracy and precision?” I will offer some points here.

Read Your Bible

First and foremost you must read the Bible if you will come any close to rightly handling the word of truth. Many believers don’t know what the Bible teaches simply because they don’t read it. They believe the Bible is God’s word, but they can’t even tell of the last time they read the Bible. Writing about why people don’t study their Bible, R.C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture nailed it to one reason–laziness: “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy” [4]

Read It Orderly

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”(Luke 1:3-4)

Luke tells us something about his gospel account which is true of every book of the Bible. The Bible is an “orderly account” of events. It is not a disorderly, haphazard, magical words appearing on a paper.

Study Your Bible

Reading and studying are two different things. “There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying. Reading is something we can do in a leisurely way, something that can be done strictly for entertainment in a casual manner. But study suggests labor, serious and diligent work“[4].
There is a level of seriousness that comes with studying that is not required of reading. Again we turn to Luke’s gospel. He said to Theophilus:
…having followed all things closely.
This statement indicates an attention to detail and facts concerning gospel truth. This same disposition of mind is required in studying the Bible. Luke poured over– examined, investigated, scrutinised, paid attention, analysed and engaged–the facts of what was handed over by the eye witnesses of Christ’s life, i.e. the apostles (Luke 1:2).

As believers, our regenerated minds have been empowered with the capacity to “spiritually discern” God’s word in contrast to the unregenerated man who can’t discern or receive spiritual things. So dear believer, do just that! Engage the text! Take note of phrases, meaning of words, figurative expressions, grammatical constructions and pray the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind.

Present Yourself To God As one Approved

As believers we need to grow in sanctification and mature in holiness. Our effort in cooperation with the Spirit of God towards sanctification as believers is not what secures our salvation, yet it is necessary for our spiritual growth and usefulness. See the result or the objective Luke hoped to achieve with his orderly presentation of his gospel to Theophilus: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”.

This is important for us Bible readers. An orderly presentation of truth brings clarity. It gives roots to faith. It solidifies ones beliefs. Paul tells Timothy something similar to the impact Luke hopes his gospel would have on Theophilus (2Timothy 3:14-15).
When we rightly handle the word, it makes us wise in our faith walk and saves us from error of false teachers: But avoid irreverent babble , for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”(2Timothy 2:16- 18).

Basic Tools Of Hermeneutics

To rightly handle the word of truth we need tools to help us. At this point I will share three basic tools of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics “…is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible…The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible” .

Analogy Of Faith/Synthesis Principle
This rule holds that Scripture is its own interpreter: “Sacra Scriptura sui interpres“. What this teaches basically is that no interpretation of a Scripture or Scriptures must contradict any other Scripture. Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, we must expect His word to also be in harmony as a whole. Biblical interpretation therefore must be approached with the whole body of biblical revelation in mind. When we interpret a Scripture, we must be sure that our interpretation agrees with other Scriptures rather than contradict. Where a Scripture is contradicting another, we must solve the contradiction or throw away our interpretation.

Literal Interpretation

It has been said already that the Bible is a book and as such must be read as a book. When we are told to read the Bible literally, what is being spoken of here is that we must “…interpret the Bible literally… as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context” . So the next time you approach the Bible, take notice of the words you are reading

Genre Analysis

Bible is a Greek word biblio which means book. So the Bible is a book. It is not only a book but a book made up of different collection of books of different genres. The genres of the Bible includes historical narratives, wisdom literature, Psalms, Letters (epistles), Gospel, Prophetic writings, Apocalyptic writings and each of these genre must be identified and read with the rules governing a particular genre. Now genre analysis involves the study of figures of speech and style, literary devices and any other literature forms. This tool goes hand in hand with literal translation. So in genre analysis, we consider the literary style of every particular genre and how to interpret it.

Grammatical-Historical Principle

The Bible is written in human words and we must not read beyond the meaning of words. Linking this to the Literal interpretation, we must not spiritualise where there is no spiritualisation. We must also consider the history of the bible when interpreting.

God’s Secret And Revealed Will

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The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29)

“The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words to the Israelites as they waited on the plains of Moab to enter Canaan. Moses begins by reviewing the events of Israel’s last journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab.” [1] In the previous Chapters, God set forth commandments for the Israelites with its commensurate promises when obeyed and threats of punishments for disobedience.

In this verse, there are at least three important things to consider. The secret things of God contrasted with the Revealed things of God and the end of God’s revealed will; that is, obedience

The Secret Things.

The Hebrew word translated as secret is hannistārōṯ ;[2] meaning to hide or conceal. This teaches there are some things God has hidden or concealed from humankind. Scripture teaches clearly that God has revealed Himself to humankind in two distinct ways: general revelation and special revelation (Ps. 19:1-3; Rom 1:19-20; Heb. 1:1-2).

However, though God has revealed Himself to humankind and can be known and related with, He has not revealed everything there is to know about himself, his ways and his will to us. There are things that have been held back from us. Some commentators have argued that, Moses, not knowing what lies ahead in their sojourning calls the people to trust in God for that uncertain future:

The reference to “secret things” may suggest that Moses anticipates the uncertain future of the nation, remembering their waywardness and how they turned to the golden calf at Horeb (Ex. 32). In his uncertainty, Moses trusts the hidden future to his trust worthy God. [3]

Throughout the Bible, we see many instances that speaks of God having a hidden or concealed “things” which humans do not have the capacity to comprehend. One of the first instances we see this is the call of Abraham. The Bible tells us when God called him, he went not knowing where he was going (Heb. 11:8). This indicates Abraham had no road map so to speak, yet he obeyed God. God also provided Abraham with no plan; his ways were kept secret from Abraham. Concerning salvation and the oft debated doctrine of election; Paul argues that God works all things according to His will (Eph. 1:5; 11; Rom 9:11). When speaking to his disciples about the end time or when God will restore the Kingdom to Israel, Jesus spoke of these things in terms of a secret or hidden plan of God (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:6-7).

Apart from these, there are many other aspects of life God has told us nothing about. For example nobody knows with certainty what will happen the next hour or day or even week. All of these things have been held back from us. Unfortunately, some people have made it their aim to know beyond things God has revealed. This has caused many people unnecessary heartaches for in the long run; they are unable to figure out many of the things they seek out for.

The Revealed Things

As has already been said, there is a contrast between the secret things of God and the things that has been revealed. And that contrast is done with the word “but”: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Emphasis mine). This contrast brings us into what can be termed God’s revealed will. Though there are things hidden by God from us, there are those things that have been clearly revealed to us in God’s laws and commandments. In Deuteronomy, Moses continues to pronounce God’s laws and commandments to the people. And it is in these that God has revealed things to the Israelites. In God’s laws, we find what God wants and requires of us. The Christian’s marching order or rule of life is the Bible that tells us how to live for God and please him:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture. [4]

One clear example of God’s revealed will in Scripture is found in 1Thessalonian 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” God’s commandments are not hidden from us because in them we are able to know God and know what pleases Him. God in his laws sets forth promises and threats of punishments when his laws are broken (Deut. 28). Another truth taught about the revealed will of God is its timelessness; the word is relevant for all generations—“the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (see vv. 14-15)

Obedience

There is a purpose for which God reveals His will, that he may be obeyed: “that we may do all the words of this law.” The law of God is not revealed to be only known. It is revealed to be, most importantly, obeyed. What God has revealed is to bring us to the saving knowledge of Christ and of his ways. Scripture is given so we may know, believe and observe what is written. Beyond this, there is no other reason for the word. The word is to be obeyed to keep us from sinning against God. Now to obey is to live in conformity to God’s revealed will (Rom. 12:1-2).

Repeatedly, while giving out the commandments of God, Moses reiterates the importance of obedience to that command: “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do” (v.9; cf 18). The prove of our love for God is obedience to his revealed will. Jesus said if we love him, we should keep his commandment, which is his word (1 Jn. 5:3). It is not enough to know God’s will; we must also obey and do it.

We may not know all of God’s ways but He has revealed enough in his word to bring us into a fruitful relationship with Him. Often, we ignore what God has revealed and pursue after things we have no business or right to pursue. This Scripture, Deuteronomy 29:29 therefore teaches us very vital lessons in our walk with God. There are things hidden we cannot know however we try. That should bring us peace. Also, there are things God has made plain and those things must necessarily guide us in our walk with God and in obedience to his word.

Notes
1. Paul Barker, “Introduction To Deuteronomy” in The Global ESV Study Bible, (ed. Parker J.I. et al.; Introduction to Deuteronomy, Crossway 2012
2. Strong’s Concordance 5641
3. Study notes on Deuteronomy 29:29, in The Reformation Study Bible ESV (ed. R.C. Sproul et al; Reformation Trust Publishing, 2015) ebook edition.
4 Westminster Confession of faith 1.6

Salvation According To Peter, Paul and Jesus.

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1Peter 1:3 ESV).

This week, as part of my personal devotional time, I commenced reading of the first epistle of Peter to the exiled believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (v.1). This morning, while reading over again, I paused on 1 Peter 1:3 and thought to myself; “that sounds Pauline”. And what I had in mind was Ephesians 1:3.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

See the similarities in doxology? That prompted me to read the introduction to the book (which I should have done before starting the book). I guess most of us take for granted that part of our study of the word. We ignore the introduction which gives information about authorship, timelines, purpose and recipients of a biblical book. Going back to read the introduction, I found I wasn’t alone in thinking Pauline authorship or seeing similarities in Peter and Paul. The epistle is thought of, among some scholars, to be pseudonymous (falsely ascribed to Peter).¹ Five points against Petrine authorship are listed as below;

(1) the cultivated Greek of the letter could not have been written by a Galilean fisherman,  (2) the theology is too much like Paul’s to be ascribed to Peter, (3) the OT citations come from the Greek OT(septuagint), but the genuine Peter would have cited the Hebrew OT; (4) the background of the letter reflects the reign of the Roman emperors Domitian (A.D. 81-96) or Trajan (98-117), both of whom reigned after Peter’s death and (5) the genuine Peter would have referred more to the historical Jesus.²

Despite these objections to Petrine authorship, six arguments for Petrine authorship are also advanced:

(1) Peter was a middle-class fisherman who very likely knew Greek from his youth, (2) Although the common elements in the theology of Peter and Paul should not be exaggerated (for there are distinctive themes in Peter; e.g the particular emphasis on suffering), it should not be surprising that Peter and Paul shared the same theology, (3) It is hardly unexpected that that Peter would cite the Greek OT in writing to Greek readers, (4) There is no clear evidence that the letter was written under the reign of Domitian or Trajan, (5) the reader must be careful of saying what an author “must do”; i.e., although one cannot demand that Peter refer to the historical Jesus in a short letter written for a specific purpose, therr is significant evidence that Peter alludes to some of the sayings of Jesus (e.g Luke 12:35 in 1Pet 1:13; Matt.5:16 in 1Pet. 2:12; Matt.5:10 in 1Pet 3:14). (6) Finally there is no historical evidence in early church history that pseudonymous books, especially letters, were accepted as authoritative and inspired. Indeed, writing in someone else’s name was considered deceptive…”³

Having said all these, this article is not to argue Petrine authorship though I have no doubt about it. I will leave that to New Testament textual critics of which I am no expert. What struck me however between 1 Peter 1:3 and Ephesians 1:3 is that for both Paul and Peter, salvation proceeds from God.

The Doctrine of Election

Firstly, in Peter’s theology, it is God who “caused us to be born again.” For Paul also, it is God who “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” In Peter’s opening words, he clearly identified who he was writing to: “To those who are elect “(v.1). That is the doctrine of election. Paul also spoke of this same doctrine using words such as “chose, predestined before the foundation of the earth.” The doctrine of election is one of the hotly debated topics among Christians. Has God determined before hand those who will be saved (Calvinism) or God knew those who will have faith in him and based on that, he chose them (Arminianism). I am of the Calvinistic view.

However, regardless of where one stands on the subject, election as a doctrine must be upheld for Scripture teaches the doctrine of election. Our interpretations might differ, but the final decision for salvation is God. Again, Peter in his epistle speaks of how this election occured: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (v.2). Paul speaks of this as done “according to the counsel of [God’s] will” (Eph. 1:11). Clearly, God has a people he calls his elect. The Bible does teach about election and we must not run away from the subject. J. C. Ryle says this better: “Is Election in the Bible, or is it not? Does the Bible speak of certain people as God’s Elect, or not?”

Salvation Is Trinitarian

As you read Paul and Peter, one fact of the Christian faith emerges and that is, salvation is Trinitarian in that it is a work done by the truine God. Peter says: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”(v.2). This is to say our salvation is a work done by God the Father, through Jesus the Son and the faith to believe applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Paul says same identifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit as involved in our salvation (Eph 1:2-14). Again, in salvation; we are kept by the power of God through the Holy Spirit (1Pet 1:4; Eph. 1:14).

Jesus is God’s only way of salvation

Salvation comes to the sinner only through faith in the work of Christ: his death and resurrection. Peter says the salvation of the elect is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v.3). Of course he has to die before he can resurrect and the resurrection is a fundamental Christian doctrine which anyone who denys cannot be a Christian. Paul also speaks of salvation been through Christ: “adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph.1:5). He also speaks of Christ’s resurrection (Eph 1:20)

The Gospel Is One

It is no wonder Paul and Peter have the same themes running through their message. This points us to only one gospel message hence Paul and Peter couldn’t be contradicting themselves in the same message about the same person– Jesus Christ. Indeed, when Christ spoke; he spoke of these same themes of God having an elect people. In his High Priestly prayer, Jesus spoke of a people the Father has given him: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”  (John 17:6; c.f John 6:44). Christ also spoke of our salvation in a Trinitarian sense that The Father sent the Son to die so that whoever will believe will have life (John 3:16). Prior to this, he had spoken of how the Spirit is behind our regeneration. Just as it is in the natural world that we have no power to be born, in the spiritual world we equally have no power to be born again. God must change our hearts: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).

In concluding, if you are a Christian, it is all a work of the Sovereign grace of God. Peter taught this. Paul taught same. And of course they got their message from their Lord and our Lord — Jesus Christ.

Notes

1. Thomas R. Schreiner, “The First Letter of Peter” in The ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton:Illinois, Crossway, 2008), 2401

2. Schreiner, “The First Letter of Peter”, 2401

3. Schreiner, “The First Letter of Peter”, 2401