The Outlaw Bible Student | Studies on the Fringe of Christianity
My name is Raymond Hermann, an ordained Christian minister. You will find many articles uploaded that are serious in-depth studies on religious-related topics. Many topics could be either controversial or adult in nature. I do like the offbeat, uneasy, and unconventional topics and I like the strange and curious things in the bible that sometimes get passed over rather quickly in a pastor’s..
This article is not a discourse on the whole book of Job in the Bible, but only concerns the second half of chapter 4, where one of Job’s friends explains a dream he once had. The friend believes it is divine wisdom from God, and we will examine the dream to see if that is true.
Most visitors to this website are probably familiar with the Old Testament story, but for those who are not, here is an overview of the first four chapters, along with some supplementary information, which will help in understanding the time, place, and situation. If possible, you should actually read chapters 1 through 4.
The Book of Job, tucked between Esther and Psalms in most Bibles (but not all), is a story to teach us about God’s justice concerning humanity’s suffering. It’s unknown author does this by reshaping an already existing story concerning the trials and tribulations of a righteous man.1 The story, written in a poetic form, flows through a variety of perspectives and you can tell it was rewritten as an allegory, because it begins in the same language style many parables do: “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job” (Job 1:1, NRSV [some translations vary]).2
The Book of Job was written before the Mosaic Law, because his daughters were heirs of his estate along with their brothers (Job 42:15) and this would not have been possible under the Law if a daughter’s brothers were still living (Numbers 27:8). Also, he lived 140 years after his calamities ended (Job 42:16) and that corresponds with the life spans of the founding fathers of the Hebrew people. So, we can assume that he lived sometime during that of the Patriarchs.3
The land of Uz was probably situated in an area where the modern day borders of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq join.4 It was a fertile area where good hard-working people could prosper. One such person was this man named Job who is described as a righteous man and blessed with a large family, great wealth, and many servants.
The first two chapters of Job contrast two scenes, the first is on Earth and the second in Heaven. On Earth we learn about Job and his righteous life, while in Heaven we learn about a discussion concerning Job between God and Satan.
After God points out to Satan how good Job is by saying, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8), Satan replies that Job’s strong moral principles, religious devotion, and reverence are only manifest because God has continually blessed him. Take it all away and he will curse you, Satan suggests. “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD” (Job 1:12) and then, through a series of various events, took everything away from Job, his home, his animals, his servants, and his children.
Job tears his robe and shaves his head, both customary acts of mourning.5 Even after all that Satan did, Job still had a firm grip on his integrity. So, in another meeting with God, Satan suggests that if Job lost his health, he would surely then curse God. “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life. So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head’” (Job 2:6-7). It became so bad for Job that his wife told him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). But Job’s reply was, “‘Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
We aren’t told what this illness was, but “the same Hebrew word is used to describe one of the plagues (Exodus 9:9–11), Hezekiah’s illness (2 Kings 20:7), and a disease associated with the curses of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 28:27). Subsequent references in Job give us the following symptoms of this disease: inflamed eruptions (Job 2:7); intolerable itching (2:8); disfigurement (2:12); maggots in the ulcers (7:5); terrifying dreams (7:14); running tears (16:16); fetid breath (19:17); emaciation (19:20); erosion of the bones (30:17); blackening and peeling of the skin (30:30).”6 We are told that Job sat in ashes (Job 2:8) which some primitive cultures used to sooth their sores.7
Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, hear about his misfortune and came from afar to visit. For a whole week after arriving they said nothing, but sat silently with him, because they saw how great his suffering was. It was a custom, at that time, that the afflicted or grieving person should be allowed to speak first.8
Finally in chapter 3, Job starts to speak and his complaint questions the wisdom of God in allowing him to be born, but he does not curse God. He wonders why life was given to someone whose lot in life is to suffer.9 As biblical scholar David Dockery wrote, “The day of birth is to the individual what creation is to the whole world. Job cursed the day of his birth and, in doing so, reversed the language of Genesis 1. He called for darkness to overwhelm the day in contrast to the ‘Let there be light’ of Genesis 1:3. He called for the stars and sun to be blotted out (Job 3:9; contrast Genesis 1:14–19). Job even invoked the name of Leviathan, a monster symbolic of destruction and chaos (Job 3:8). Job desired creation to revert to chaos (Genesis 1:2). For him the order and structure of the universe had already been turned upside down, and life no longer made sense.”10
Chapter 4 and the Vision
Now we are at chapter 4, the main part of our study, when the first of Job’s friends speaks. Eliphaz, most likely the oldest, is identified as a Temanite—meaning from Teman in Edom. His speech is of a simple theological tradition with a tone of moral superiority.11
Although starting off politely and almost apologetically, he soon begins to “add salt to Job’s wounds” by pointing a finger of accusation. “His one thought is that the righteous cannot perish; the wicked alone suffer, and in measure as they have sinned (Job 4:7–9).”12 In other words, Job must have sinned against God to be in his present position. Eliphaz continues by using a farming analogy about reaping what you sow; those who cause evil and trouble to others would experience trouble themselves and a blast of God’s anger could blow them away.13
To add credibility to what he was stating, Eliphaz relates about once having a vision—one he believed came from God. For Eliphaz, this special personal revelation given to him in a vision determined how Job should respond to his problems. Basically, the vision demonstrated that suffering is sent by God to punish, so everyone has trouble, because everyone sins. Therefore, he implies, Job suffers because Job has sinned.14 However that is not truly the case because, in the New Testament, Jesus even specifically mentions that those who suffer and perish are not necessarily more guilty than those who escape (Luke 13:1-5).15
However, even though Eliphaz attempts to add authority to his theological viewpoint brought to him by the dream, his understanding of God is limited, at best. And of course, the fact is that the LORD himself said Job respects God, that he was blameless, and he turned away from evil (Job 1:8), but Eliphaz did not know about this discussion in heaven. So, we must make a case against Eliphaz’s errors using his own words.
First, Eliphaz said of his vision, the spirit had come secretly: “Now a word came stealing to me, my ear received the whisper of it,” (Job 4:12). This is an appeal to Job’s desire for special revelation, and reminiscent of what the serpent did with Eve. Notice it says “a word came” but does not say “a word of God came,” which is the usual way it would be stated in the Bible if it was from God. Second, the spirit came at night in an intimidating hair-raising nightmare: “Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals, dread came upon me, and trembling,” (Job 4:13-14). God’s spirit is one of love, not of fear. An announcement of “fear not” is common among angelic-human encounters, but was plainly missing from this one. Then he said, “I could not discern its appearance,” (Job 4:16), which is odd, since we do not normally find obscurity in angelic appearances.16
This spiritual being further tells Eliphaz that God can trust neither his angels, nor humankind, “Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who live in houses of clay” (Job 4:18-19). This “would place man beneath the level of moral judgment, as a mere earth-creature whose life and death are of no account even to God.”17 But the fact is God does trust his servants and, certainly, humans. Throughout history, God has entrusted people to deliver his messages: Moses, Elijah, the prophets, the Apostles, and others. God, in fact, wants people to be his messengers and has entrusted the content of the gospel to humankind, (1 Thessalonians 2:4).18
Eliphaz may understand some truths, but his assumptions and conclusions in this case are wrong, so did Eliphaz receive his vision from a spirit or angel of God? No, it appears that, once again, the evil of Satan is disguised as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). “Who else but the devil would point out that his angels he charges with error. Eliphaz was a false prophet.”19 The Bible refutes all the assertions that this spirit makes. Eliphaz was being used to impart false information to influence Job in his time of affliction. Satan was using Eliphaz to deceive and trick Job into cursing God.
“The patience of Job was the patience of a man who endured up to the very end. No break down occurred; at every stage he triumphed, and to the utmost point he was victorious.”20 This lesson in Job 4 is important because it illustrates the value of testing a spirit by what it says. If it doesn’t follow what is taught in the Bible, it isn’t from God. In 1 John 4 we are given good advice on testing the spirits.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus, is not from God.” (1 John 1:1-3)
There is much more to the story of Job, so read it all. His other friends speak and present arguments and even God speaks his own mind. And finally, there is a happy ending—Job’s fortunes are more than restored.
This book is all about why people suffer, especially godly people. The moral is to have patience, endurance, and faith and put your trust in God. The summary I get from the whole Book of Job is that, just like within its story, God is allowing Satan to rule our present world for a time. He is letting Satan try to manipulate his earthly children with false doctrine to see if they will keep their integrity. Like with Job, a full restitution of things is possible. As told in the creation story in Genesis, God rested after six periods of work, but it does not say that he was finished. Now is the time for humankind’s education. The end of our schooling is approaching, but how many will pass the final exam?
(See ‘References & Notes’ for a song about Job.)21
Schultz, Carl, “Job,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 343.
Zuck, Roy B., “Job,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Ed.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 721.
Ibid., p. 722.
Elwell, Walter A. and Beitzel, Barry J., “Job, Book Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 1170.
Dockery, David S., (Ed.), Holman Bible Handbook, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), pp. 313–314.
Brand, Chad, et al., (Eds.), “Eliphaz,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), p. 481.
Singer, Isidore, (Ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes, (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), p. 136.
Horton, Stanley, and Phelps, Mark, (Eds.), The Old Testament Study Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, The Complete Biblical Library, (Springfield, MO: World Library Press Inc., 2000), p. 367.
Ibid., p. 369.
Schultz, Carl, “Job,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 344.
I do not believe that science is the enemy of faith, but that science and Christian doctrine can be accommodated together. So all through my life I studied science and feel what I’ve learned has given me a better and closer relationship with my heavenly Father. In a book titled Is God a Scientist? it states: “In the past scientists have said that God has two books, one of scripture and one of nature. If this is so, then religion and science should complement one another as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton believed.”1
Previously, I wrote an article about some amazing new discoveries in modern science that touched upon the awesome mechanics behind God’s creations, but the length was too long and the number of topics were too many. It is for this reason that I’ve taken the information from that long article and divided and revised it into shorter material. This article is part of a series I call “Science Reveals God’s Majesty.”
What is Quantum Entanglement?
In modern physics, there is very active research into two mind-bending and seemingly wacky discoveries known as ‘quantum entanglement’ and ‘non-locality.’ Now, when we talk about quantum entanglement, we are speaking of the invisible tiny particles that make up the parts of atoms; ‘quantum’ meaning the smallest amount possible. For example, a photon is a single quantum of light.2 The physicists that study these things work with particle accelerators (atom smashers).3
Scientists have found that quantum entanglement occurs when separated pairs or groups of these tiny quantum particles interact in ways that the properties of each particle or group cannot be described independently of the others. Although no force passes between them, they are connected and act as one. As an example, if something is done to one particle, its entangled counterpart also reacts; this happens without any touching and they act as one unit.
When the entangled particles are separated by distance, the interaction continues and this fact, known as ‘non-locality,’ is a phenomenon that Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” If you tamper with one particle of an entangled pair, the other particle perceives that the action has been performed, even if separated by distance, and acts accordingly. The particles – or even groups of particles – react instantly and in unison, to any events without regard to distance or the limits imposed by the speed of light. In such a case, the groups of particles are not each individual, but a single undivided whole. In other words, two or more particles, be they protons, electrons, atoms, or molecules, could be entangled whereas one will affect the others instantaneously, even if at very great distances of separation.4 This effect has already been demonstrated across hundreds of miles, but believed to be true across distances measured in light years.
An even stranger discovery, in connection with this research, is that “a particle’s behavior changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Some particles, such as photons or electrons, can behave both as particles and as waves.”5 That is, sort of, if someone isn’t looking at it, it’s not there. As physicist Niels Bohr6 said, “if quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.”
Dr. Dean Radin, researcher, author, and previous senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, wrote: “Physicists have even speculated that entanglement extends to everything in the universe, because as far as we know, all energy and all matter emerged out of a single, primordial Big Bang. And thus everything came out of the chute already entangled. Such proposals suggest that despite everyday appearances, we might be living within a holistic, deeply interconnected reality.”7
What Does This Have to Do With the Bible?
Now, you may ask, how does all this scientific stuff about the new physics relate to the Bible? Well, a radio interview of physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, by Deepak Chopra, should get your attention of how this may relate. Chopra “commented on this non-local phenomenon, saying, ‘You know, the more I hear about quantum entanglement, it sounds like a mathematical description of omniscience, omnipresence, [and] omnipotence.’ Dr. Kaku responded, ‘That’s what it leads to. Their theory says that I exist because you look at me, somebody looks at you so you exist, so who looks at her? Who looks at us? Well, God.’ Mind before matter is the correct order of the equation to creation, not the other way around. Matter is nothing less than an expression of divine intelligence giving it the command: ‘Make it so.’”8
That is a similar thought of what was written on a bumper-sticker I once had on my pick-up truck, many years ago, which read: “Big Bang Theory: God said it, and BANG, it happened.”
This science is in its infancy, but scientists are already considering future use for this new knowledge in computers, communications, cryptography and, possibly, teleportation. Some exotic quantum computers are actually now being built; research is moving at a fast pace, just as predicted in the book of Daniel. “But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase” (Daniel 12:4, NLT).
Who knows what other uses will be found in the years ahead. But, for now, just contemplating this solid scientific research adds expanded thought and understanding to the creation story in the book of Genesis—as an example: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3, NLT).
Although many Christians believe science has nothing to do with faith, learning the science behind God’s creation can help us understand him as well as his purpose. So my advice is continue to read scripture, of course, but don’t be afraid to keep up with scientific knowledge, for you can be learning about God’s physical universe, as well as his spiritual one.
Most times that I’ve brought up the story in the Book of Daniel about the three Hebrew boys being thrown into the fiery furnace, people respond to the event as being mostly just a child’s Bible story. It is a good story with life applications for youngsters trying to plow through their youth, as it gives a great example from moral and ethical perspectives. But this story is not just for children.
As Christian adults, we all need inspiration to do the right thing; we all need role models to help us attain a proper path through life’s trials and tribulations. Having chosen this Christian-based life that we have, it is important to know that God is with us and guiding us as we suffer through the tests that this life imposes upon us.
The Book of Daniel has several stories with useful life lessons, but this study is only about one of them: the story of Daniel and his three young Hebrew friends named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who lived in Jerusalem during the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. Our story is told in the third chapter of Daniel, which should be read. And since we need to know what events led up to that point, we need an overview of the happenings beforehand, so below is a brief outline. If you have the time, read chapters 1 and 2, also.
How it all started – Chapter 1
Nebuchadnezzar ascended to the throne of Babylon and was the longest reigning king and most powerful monarch of the Babylonian Empire (c. 605 – 562 BC). His conquest of Judah is described in the Books of Kings and the Book of Jeremiah and he is the most important character in the Book of Daniel.1 Although some scholars believe the Book of Daniel is only a collection of legendary tales and visions, there are others who insist there is truth to the narrations, and that the visions are prophetic. Many non biblical sources and literature indicate this man existed as revealed in the Bible.
In the year 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar’s army invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem,2 capturing some of the Israelites of royalty and of the privileged class—those that were known to have the attributes of enlightenment, intelligence, discernment, and competency, to be brought to live in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in Babylon. They were to be fed and treated well and schooled in the language, literature, and ways of the Chaldeans.
Upon arriving at the palace, Daniel and his friends were given new names. Their Hebrew names were witnesses not only to their nationality, but to their religion.3 Since their names indicated their religious alliance (in each case, the Hebrew name contained a name of the true God: either el or iah, abbreviations for Yahweh), their new Babylonian names would contain the names of a pagan god. To be allied with the Chaldean culture, Daniel became Belteshazzar, Hananish became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abednego.4
It was also a long-standing custom throughout the middle east to change one’s name at some outstanding event in their lives. Some other examples of this custom were Abram changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Sarai to Sarah (Genesis 17:15), Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and others (see Genesis 41:45; 2 Kings 23:34; Esther 2:7; 2 Chronicles 36:4).5
Considering they were forced to live under pagan rule, Daniel and his associates lived as best they could by God’s laws. They even refused to eat any food which was unclean under the Mosaic Law. Their request for only vegetables (or “sown things,” which included grains) and water was granted.6
The King had a Dream – Chapter 2
Nebuchadnezzar was plagued with a troubling and recurring dream so “he called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed” (Daniel 2:2, NLT).7 These wise men said they needed to know the dream in order to tell him what it was about, but the king said if they were really so wise, they should be able to know what he dreamed. Since they failed in providing an answer, Nebuchadnezzar sentenced them to death.
Now Daniel and his three friends—all still learning the Babylonian ways—were also classified as wise men, so they as well fell under the judgement. Daniel petitioned the king stating he could reveal the dream and its meaning. When confronting the king, he indicated the dream was prophetic and concerned the political dominance that Gentiles would exercise in the future. He said the dream was of a very large statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with baked clay. Eventually, this statue was struck on the feet by a rock, which made it crumble and blow away. The rock then grew into a mountain that filled the earth.8
Giving details of what it meant, Daniel explained that the head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar himself, who ruled the Babylon worldwide empire, but that would end in the future giving rise to two inferior nations which, together, would rule for a time. Then again there would be more power changes, with each ruling nation or nations less competent than the ones before. Eventually, a new leader, represented by the striking stone (i.e., Jesus Christ), would bring them all to an end and he would then rule forever.9
“Through Daniel’s revelation and interpretation of the dream, Nebuchadnezzar was led to confess that Daniel’s God is superior to all the gods of Babylon and that he is Lord over the earth’s kings.” Daniel’s God was exalted because through Daniel he revealed the course of forthcoming events. Nebuchadnezzar apparently recognized Daniel’s God was the authority which appointed Nebuchadnezzar to power.10 Even more important, Daniel interpreted his dream as Yahweh implying the king was the greatest leader over all those who would follow. So, the king rewarded and promoted Daniel, and at Daniel’s request, his friends were promoted, too.
Our Study of Chapter 3: The Golden Image and the Fiery Furnace
Nebuchadnezzar, patting himself on the back for being recognized as playing a superior leadership role in the history of Babylon, decided to erect a magnificent gold statue of colossal size. While some academics believe the statue was of a pagan god, most likely this statue was of Nebuchadnezzar himself. It is reasonable that he would erect a statue of immense size, one visible for miles around, in his own image and expect everyone to respect and worship it. In Babylon, a reigning monarch was seen as the son of the god,11 so by building such a monument, Nebuchadnezzar was deifying himself as a representative of this god of the Hebrews. The proportions of this structure shows that it was in the shape of a man 90 or 110 feet high by 9 or 11 feet wide, according to whether we take the cubit of 18 inches or that of 22 inches.12 Its size may have included some sort of foundation or pedestal on which it stood.
Music by a full orchestra was included in the statue’s dedication ceremony on the plains of Dura outside of Babylon. Everyone was instructed that they must not only bow down before the statue, but to worship it, too. When all were assembled, a herald proclaimed, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (Daniel 3:4-6).
This literal image of Nebuchadnezzar is a typical prophecy of ‘the image of the beast,’ connected with mystical Babylon in chapter thirteen of Revelation.13 “He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast . . . then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die” (Revelation 13:14-15).
Daniel’s three Hebrew friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, decided to defy this command. This defiance of Nebuchadnezzar’s laws was not an account of persecution in this story, neither was it supposed to imply such a thing. There is properly no account of persecution in this narrative, nor any reason to suppose that Nebuchadnezzar designed any such thing. He demanded recognition and worship, “but this does not imply any disposition to persecute on account of religion, or to prevent in others the free exercise of their own religious opinions, or the worship of their own gods. It is well known that it was a doctrine of all ancient idolaters, that respect might be shown to foreign gods—to the gods of other people—without in the least degree implying a want of respect for their own gods, or violating any of their obligations to them.”14
Anyway, some officials brought accusation upon Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but not Daniel. Daniel may have been out of town in some service capacity or duty, or since he had such a high position in the government, he may have been exempt from attending this event. And we don’t exactly know why each of his three friends was singled out, but it may have been resentment concerning their previous promotions or some other form of jealousy. Then again, it may have been honest zeal for obeying the law.
Whatever the reason, the king became furious with them. But Nebuchadnezzar had a passion for justice and built the Babylonian court system to follow certain rules. To be legal and acceptable to all, the process had to take this form: (1) issuance of the decree, (2) offense observed, (3) accusation, (4) opportunity to reform, (5) testimony by the defendants, (6) verdict, (7) application of the sentence. And this is the exact process that was taken. (See further information in ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article.)15
“Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?’” (Daniel 3:14). And the three young men replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18).
They were Conscientious Objectors
Now these guys are taking their stand and are not afraid. They are brave just as Peter and the apostles were when the Jewish Council tried to silence them in the Book of Acts.16 “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). For the Jews, this event turns into a contest between Yahweh and this false golden god representing Nebuchadnezzar. “Their faith is so strong that they are determined not to submit to this act of state worship, even if the Lord does not miraculously deliver them.”17
These three men, and Daniel, too, were basically conscientious objectors, for the same principles cite the same authority as any official status of a conscientious objector in any given situation. “The Bible entreats Christians to be good citizens, and in principle this involves subjection to the governing authorities. (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17).” It depends on the morals and ethics of each individual believer as to what should be applicable.18
Being found guilty by law, the three were bound and thrown in the blazing fire. Although death by furnace was usually done after clothing was removed, in this case, because of haste, that detail was not performed. So angry was the king that he even instructed that the fire be increased seven times more than customary. Even the guards that brought them to the furnace were burned, so hot was the fire. There is even mention in apocryphal literature (extra to the Book of Daniel) that the flames ascended just short of fifty cubits. “Now the king’s servants who threw them in, kept stoking the furnace with naphtha, pitch, tow, and brushwood. And the flames poured out above the furnace forty-nine cubits, and spread out and burned those Chaldeans who were caught near the furnace” (Daniel 3:23-25, NRSV [Anglicized Edition] addition to Daniel [Azariah and the Three Jews] – see ‘References & Notes’).19
Nebuchadnezzar observed this event from a safe distance and as he looked into the flames he saw the unbound men walking around inside, but now there were four men instead of three. I suppose that one was noticeably different, maybe even supernatural, for he said “‘Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?’ ‘Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,’ they replied. ‘Look!’ Nebuchadnezzar shouted. ‘I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god’” (Daniel 3:24, 25).
The king immediately recognized that the god of these three men is truly God and he commanded the three men to come out of the furnace. Neither their bodies, nor their hair, nor their clothes were burned. He now knew that Yahweh was superior to his Babylonian gods and he blessed them and honored them by decreeing that the God of these men was to be honored. And he promoted them to higher positions with greater power in his kingdom.
As commentator Adam Clarke stated, “On this occasion God literally performed his promise by Isaiah [in the second part of verse 43:2, below] . . . for an angel of God, appearing in the furnace, protected these young men, and counteracted the natural violence of the fire; which, only consuming the cords with which they were bound, left them to walk at liberty, and in perfect safety, in the midst of the furnace.”20
“When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2b)
For a little diversion, be sure to view a short music video based upon the theme of this study, when you get a chance. It is listed in the ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article.21
There is more to Daniel 3 which appears as extra apocryphal content in some Bibles. Included are The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men. The prayer is said by only Azariah (Abednego), while the song is a hymn of thanksgiving given by all three men. This extra content is between verses 23 and 24 in some translations of the Bible, including the ancient Greek Septuagint translation and the Latin Vulgate. In some Greek Bibles, the prayer and the song appear in an appendix to the book of Psalms.22 “The song’s arrangement is similar to the repetitive refrains in Psalm 136.”23
The book of Daniel demonstrates that wise living is characterized by integrity, faith, and dependence on God’s wisdom. “Most scholars agree that some of the apocalyptic visions in the book of Daniel are related to the Revelation of John.”24 So there is prophetic significance from this story.
In the coming tribulation, a gentile ruler will demand that he be worshiped, else we will be killed (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:7-8). “Most of the people in the world, including many in Israel, will submit to and worship him. But a small remnant . . . like the three in Daniel’s day, will refuse. Many who will not worship the Antichrist will be severely punished; some will be martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. But a few will be delivered from those persecutions by the Lord Jesus Christ at his second coming.”25
In this present day, whether at work or during social events or other activities, we must never do anything that conflicts with God’s moral and ethical principles. Stand firm, keep your faith, and never compromise. Just as God saved Daniel and his friends from their harm, so he can save all of us in any present (or future) oppression. We must always do what is right in God’s eyes.
Farrar, Frederick W., “The Book of Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible: Jeremiah to Mark, W. Robertson Nicoll (Ed.), (Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton Co., 1903), vol. 4, p. 385.
Freeman, James M. and Chadwick, Harold J., Manners & Customs of the Bible, (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), pp. 281–282.
Note: Daniel means “God is judge,” and Belteshazzar means “May Bel protect his life.” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious,” and Shadrach possibly means “command of Aku” (the moon god). Mishael means “Who is what God is?” and Meshach may mean “Who is what Aku is?” Azariah means “Whom Yahweh helps,” and Abednego means “servant of Nebo.”
Pentecost, J. Dwight, “Daniel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (Eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 1331.
Pentecost, J. Dwight, “Daniel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (Eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 1336–1337.
Brand, Chad, et al., (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003), p. 1076.
Stevens, W.C., The Book of Daniel: A Complete Revelation of the Last Days of Israel’s Subjugation to Gentile Powers, (Los Angeles, CA: Bible House of Los Angeles, 1949), p. 43.
Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A. R., and Brown, David, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), vol. 1, p. 627.
Barnes, Albert, and Murphy, James, Notes on the Old and New Testaments, 26 volumes, (Glasgow, Scotland: Blackie & Son, 1853), Daniel, Vol. 1.
Merrill, Randall S., “Judicial Courts,” John D. Barry, et al. (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
Note – You can follow Nebuchadnezzar’s legal process in scripture, as listed below:
a) issuance of decree (Dan 3:1–6);
b) offense observed (implied in Dan 3:12);
c) accusation (Dan 3:12);
d) opportunity to reform (Dan 3:13–15);
e) testimony by the defendants (Dan 3:16–18);
f) verdict (Dan 3:19–20);
g) application of the sentence (Dan 3:21–23).
Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, [1st Augsburg books ed.], (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), p. 346.
VanGemeren, Willem A., “Daniel,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 594.
Brand, Chad, et al., (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003), p. 334.
From the contents, it appears evident that the unsigned letter to the Hebrews was written for Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. Most scholars agree that this letter is specifically directed to the newest Jewish converts who may have been having second thoughts, because of persecution. These Jewish Christians were losing enthusiasm in this new faith in Christ and considering returning to their traditional Jewish cultural roots.
The letter “tells them that Jesus also suffered and knows how life is for them. It lists the heroes of faith in the past, and describes them as a great cloud of witnesses” who were urging them to go on. It was probably written in an area of strong Christian focus, such as Rome, during the 60s A.D., since the people receiving the letter had already suffered, and some were still in prison.1
Most authorities of the Greek language consider The Epistle to the Hebrews as the most polished and eloquent of any book in the New Testament.2 Although originally attributed to the Apostle Paul, a good number of historians believed otherwise and have proposed different authors, such as Clement of Rome, Silas, Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, or Priscilla.
Paul’s Theology — Someone Else’s Hand
The debate has been going on for a long time. As far back as the third century, Origen3 wrote: “In the epistle entitled To the Hebrews the diction does not exhibit the characteristic roughness of speech or phraseology admitted by the Apostle [Paul] himself, the construction of the sentences is closer to the Greek usage, as anyone capable of recognizing differences of style would agree . . . If I were asked my personal opinion, I would say that the [subject] matter is the Apostle’s but the phraseology and construction are those of someone who remembered the Apostle’s teaching and wrote his own interpretation of what his master had said.”4
As author Taylor Holmes states, “It is Paul’s theology—and continues his logic. But it definitely isn’t in Paul’s voice nor does it follow many of his standard writing quirks. The author of Hebrews also quotes widely from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) whereas Paul always quoted directly from the Hebrew . . . [And] it was Paul’s style to continually refer to himself with the use of personal pronouns like I, me, my, and mine. The author of the Book of Hebrews refers to themselves only seven times in the entire book.”5
Several modern scholars are leaning toward Priscilla as the author. She was the teacher of Apollos and was married to Aquila and traditionally listed among the Seventy Disciples (see Luke 10:1), and also thought to have been the first example of a female preacher. The couple lived, worked, and traveled with the Apostle Paul (see Romans 16:3).6 A. J. Gordon, one of the founders of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, ascribed the authorship of Hebrews to Priscilla, and said, “It is evident that the Holy Spirit made this woman Priscilla a teacher of teachers.”7
To have a woman given such honor and authority, at this time in history, was not only extremely rare, but sometimes detrimental to the cause. So Ruth Hoppin, author of Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, suggests, her “name was omitted either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter itself from suppression.”8
The background information of Priscilla is unknown, but she was the wife of Aquila and both were Jewish Christians. They were from Pontus, a Roman province in northeastern Asia Minor. Prisca, or Priscilla (an alternative more modern form of Prisca), is an early Roman family name, which suggests that she may have a Roman ancestry.9 Both were makers of tents and had their own business. At that time, tents were made mostly of leather and the term translated as ‘tentmaker’ also meant a ‘leather worker’ which would imply they worked on all kinds of leather goods.10
The Apostle Paul, also a tentmaker by trade, met and lived with Priscilla and Aquila when in Corinth during the middle of the first century. Although the Bible speaks about Aquila and Priscilla as missionaries traveling with Paul, the scriptures do indicate a lot about their relationship as husband and wife.
She was a Leading Teacher and Preacher
“The New Testament references to Priscilla and Aquila make it clear that, despite the male-dominant culture, Aquila was not the leader and Priscilla his assistant. In fact, of the seven times the two names are mentioned together, Priscilla is listed first five of those times (Acts 18:18-19,11 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). Because it was the custom to list the husband’s name first, this reversal indicates Priscilla’s importance in the minds of the New Testament writers Luke and Paul. It also indicates that Priscilla was not teaching as a secondary partner under the ‘covering’ of her husband’s spiritual authority. If there were a universal spiritual principle requiring a woman to be subordinate to the teaching authority of the man, Priscilla would not have been referred to in terms indicating either her equality or her prominence in the Priscilla-Aquila teaching team.”12
This equal status would have been appropriate in this beginning Christian Church period, because Jesus had a radical view of the status of women. “Jesus demonstrated that he valued women and men equally as being made in the image of God. Luke [in writing Acts 18] clearly indicates Priscilla’s ‘agency and her interdependent relationship with her husband. She is certainly not Aquila’s property—as was customary in Greco-Roman society—but rather his partner in ministry and marriage.”13 They acted and lived as God ordained; they were united and lived as one — one in marital bliss, one in the Lord, one in secular occupation, one in their friendship for Paul, one in their profound knowledge of Scripture, and one in service to the Church.14 It was only much later, after internal Church power and political struggles started, that corrupt men took complete control of the Church organization and women were demoted in status.
The Bible gives a peak into women’s freedom in the story of Apollos. When the Jew, Apollos, came to Ephesus, it was evident that he was not only a scholar, but an eloquent and persuasive teacher when speaking in the synagogue. After Priscilla heard him, she realized that although a learned man, he did not know the full story about Jesus.15 “Rather than correct Apollos publicly, Priscilla and Aquila . . . invited him to their home and explained to him the way of the Lord . . . more adequately” (Acts 18:25).16 In this part of the story, it was mentioned that her husband Aquila was present, but only in a secondary capacity. It is clear Priscilla was the one in charge.17
Australian author and theologian Marg Mowczko wrote, “As church leaders, there would have been many occasions for Priscilla and Aquila to teach, either informally or in slightly more formal house church meetings. Neither Luke nor Paul gives any hint of censure or disapproval about Priscilla teaching Apollos, or her role as a house church leader. In light of the fact that Priscilla did explain Christian doctrine to a man, the blanket ban by some that prohibits women from teaching men [today] must be reassessed and redressed.”18
In addition to Priscilla instructing Apollos, elsewhere in the Bible we discover that Lois and Eunice taught Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) and Phoebe was named as an overseer and deacon in the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1-2). So, we learn that women did, indeed, teach men and serve as leaders; believers were urged to teach and learn from one another, without reference to gender.19
“In the book Priscilla, Author of Hebrews?, author Ruth Hoppin says she finds an apologetic feminine voice when Priscilla says, ‘I appeal to you, brethren, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly’” (Hebrews 13:22, RSV). Commentator Robin Cohn implies this may have meant “’I am not worthy, with the words I have, of doing justice to this important subject,’ which would be a submissive comment as if a woman had been addressing men.”20
The evidence presented leans heavily toward a feminine author for the Epistle to the Hebrews and someone with a high degree of Greek language skills, expert leadership abilities, as well as extensive knowledge of Jesus’ life and teaching. The person that best fits these capabilities was Priscilla, the wife of Aquila.
Concerning their joint activities, an author stated, “Aquila and his wife Priscilla are the most prominent couple involved in the first-century expansion of Christianity . . . Their contacts with Paul and their presence in three of the most important centers of early Christianity—Corinth, Ephesus and Rome—underline their importance in the history of early Christianity.”21
We do not know what happened to Priscilla and Aquila later in life. The last scripture that mentions them was written by the imprisoned Apostle Paul, when he sends a greeting from Rome just before he was put to death. “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Timothy 4:19, NRSV).
Note: Origen, Latin in full Oregenes Adamantius, (born c. 185, probably Alexandria, Egypt—died c. 254, Tyre, Phoenicia [now ūr, Lebanon]), the most important theologian and biblical scholar of the early Greek church.
Chadwick, Henry, “Origen Christian theologian,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved 5 April 2019), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Origen
Davis, James A., “1-2 Corinthians,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 959.
Baker, William H., “Acts,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 912.
Note: One reference of the couple (Acts 18:19) is indirect and does not actually mention the names, although assumed to reference Priscilla and Aquila. The word in the Greek text (Strong’s # 2548) is kakĕinŏs and implies, them or they.
Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill, Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997) p. 194.
The Ten Commandments are ten principles given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai after the enslaved Israelites were delivered out of Egypt. These ten major rules were written upon two tablets of stone and called the Decalogue,1 but best known as the Ten Commandments. These commandments are listed in the Bible in two forms, which exhibit some variations. They can be found at Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–18.2
Although some people believe that the Ten Commandments were abolished with Christ’s sacrifice, it is not true. The full Decalogue may not be listed in the New Testament, but is alluded to in five places (Matt. 5:17-19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 7:7-8; 13:9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10),3 and Jesus even stated that it was not his job to do away with the law.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17–20. NRSV).4
Many Bible teachers and most all scholars say there are more commandments than just ten, and this is true. The Hebrew Torah contains 613 detailed commandments from God,5 but generally, everyone means just the major ones given to Moses on stone tablets at Mt. Sinai, when speaking about God’s commandments.
The Last One
This study is about the tenth commandment—the last one. It is about “coveting” and a modern dictionary definition states covet as: (1) to wish for, (2) to inordinately desire what belongs to another.6 The biblical definition is pretty much the same, which is “desiring to possess something at the expense of the legitimate owner.”7 This word covet8 is translated as lust or strong desire in many Bible versions.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
Catholicism deletes one of the commandments (“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…”) and divides the last commandment into two separate ones: 9th, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and 10th, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”
A common belief is that the Catholic Church changed the listing of the Ten Commandments by removing the commandment about “not worshiping idols” and divided the 10th commandment into two, so there would still be a total of ten. The Catholic Church, however, gives a different reason for the change. They justify the change by claiming the original texts did not have verse numbers and did not specify how they should be grouped. According to one Catholic writer, it was St. Augustine’s reasoning to divide the Decalogue this way and the church just continues to observe it.9 It should be noted here that the Lutheran Churches (but not the Reformed) and some few others, follow this same tradition.
This commandment is different.
“Unlike the other commandments which focus on outward actions, this commandment focuses on thought.” It is imperative not to set one’s desire on things that are forbidden. “One commandment forbids the act of adultery. This commandment forbids the desire for adultery. One commandment forbids stealing. This commandment forbids the desire for acquisition of another’s goods.”10 As an example, Jesus emphasized this fact when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
A German theology professor and monk, Martin Luther, said by nature no one desires to see another have as much as himself. Be careful not to openly pretend to be Godly, while concealing our rascality, by inventing ways to make our neighbor jealous or angry. A man doing things only to make his neighbor’s beautiful wife desire himself over her husband, even if not breaking some law, is still “coveting” by being unwilling to allow his neighbor to enjoy what God has granted only to him.11 Regulating our thoughts, according to French theologian John Calvin, is necessary to keep them from becoming depraved and distorted.12
Welsh minister and author Matthew Henry said that the commandment “Thou shall not covet” implicitly forbids any desire of doing that which will bring injury to our neighbor and “this forbids all inordinate desire of having that which will be a gratification to ourselves.”13
This commandment is different “in that it did not deal with a specific act, but rather with an emotional, psychological sin. Therefore, the breaking of this commandment could not be prosecuted in a law court.” Yet it often led to acts that could be prosecuted. “It may have been possible for someone to keep the first nine commandments but no one could have avoided breaking the 10th at some time. In this respect the 10th commandment is the most forceful of all, because it made people aware of their inability to keep God’s Law perfectly. And this awareness threw them back to depend on God’s grace and mercy.”14
The tenth commandment (or the 9th and 10th for Catholics) forbids the desire of what another has “as the root of theft, robbery, and fraud, which the seventh commandment forbids.” It is a “lust of the eyes” and “summarizes all precepts of the Law.”15 A modern interpretation for today’s world comes from author Kelli Mahoney.
“The tenth commandment asks us to look inside ourselves . . . [‘Want’] in itself is not wrong. We want food. We want to please God. We want love. Those things are good things to want. What is key to fulfilling this commandment is wanting the right things in the right way. Our possessions are temporal, they will only please us today, not for eternity. God reminds us that our wants should reflect our eternal life with Him.
“Also, we must beware of our needs and wants becoming obsessions. When our entire focus is our wants, we can sometimes become ruthless in trying to get those things. We forget about people we care about, we forget about God . . . our desires become all-encompassing. When we spend our time comparing ourselves too much to others, we lose a sense of whom we are as individuals. [And] God created each of us as individuals.”16
Covet for Goodness?
Although rarely used, in the New Testament covet17 can be applied as a commendable earnest desiring, such as a desire for the greater spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, 39).18 In these cases, one may greatly desire a beneficial attribute like that of another, but without actually wanting to take it away from, or doing any harm to, the other person.
The Apostle Paul, when speaking to the Corinthian church, said there are some things that should be coveted and they are the gifts from God. “The gifts are gifts—they aren’t prizes for goodness or effort . . . [and] they may be given to individuals, but they are for the whole church. Even the most sensational gift is only valuable when it builds the church in the understanding, service, and mission of Christ.”19
“You shall not covet” means that we should overcome our desires for whatever does not belong to us, so obedience to the tenth commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart. “Covetous desires create disorder because they move beyond satisfying basic human needs and exceed the limits of reason and drive us to covet unjustly what is not ours and belongs to another.”20
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21–23, ESV).
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References & Notes
Decalogue: Greek: deca + logos (ten words).
Singer, Isidore, (ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes, (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), p. 492.
Easton, M. G., Easton’s Bible Dictionary, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893).
Luther, Martin, The Large Catechism, (translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau, Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), pp. 565-773.
Strong’s Greek #2206. ζηλόω zēlŏō, or ζηλεύω zēlĕuō; from 2205; covet (earnestly), (have) desire, (move with) envy, be jealous over, (be) zealous (-ly affect).
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
Manser, Martin H., “Coveting as a commendable earnest desiring,” Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies, (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
Knowles, Andrew, (ed.), The Bible Guide, [1st Augsburg Books], (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), p. 586.
I am often asked by new Christians, “How should I go about studying the Bible?” Many pastors will just say come join one of their Bible study groups, and this is usually good advice, because there will be several people available to help newcomers get started or even take them “under their wing” as the study moves along. Some newcomers may feel intimidated or overwhelmed with this approach, but there are other less stressful ways to begin a study.
Some people suggest purchasing a ‘study Bible’ and start reading from page one and continue all the way to the end. Of course, there are dozens of different ways to vary this approach. I’ve heard great arguments for reading the New Testament first, and just as many advantages for starting with the Old Testament. Then some people say read the book of John first; others say read Paul first. Some say use only “this translation” or “that translation.” It can be very confusing for a new Christian and that is before they even actually sit down and start their study.
Which Bible to Use?
My own suggested approach is a bit different. Whether you are the new Bible student, or someone else that is coming to you for help, these suggestions are equally applicable. When inquiring about what Bible should be used, I generally say whichever one they have is fine. If after using it a while they don’t like it, then it is time to obtain a different one. At least they can then compare scripture styles in new ones against what they read in the old one, to help make a decision. If I am leading the study, I just use the same translation as they do, but if your library is not large, you may wish to direct them to a particular translation you already have.
If the new student has no Bible or will be studying alone, I generally suggest the New International Version (NIV) or New Living Translation (NLT),1 because they use a balanced combination of general and formal writing, with an easy reading level.2 I do tend to lean more toward the NLT than the other. (Also see the Bible Versions Chart for other options, which is listed in ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article.)3 When someone wants to read and study God’s word, I want to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for them to get started.
Where to Start?
I like to have a short talk with the new Christian student to get a feel of what she or he expects and what biblical subject or topic or character they are most curious about. The more you know someone, the easier it is to guide them in directions where they will find subjects of interest. If they are interested in God’s creation story, start in Genesis. If they want to know more about God’s commandments, start with the story of Moses. This way they get answers to the questions they have, sooner rather than later.
But, if they are at a loss about where to start, I suggest something relating to an upcoming holiday or a current news item. As an example, if the Christian world is anticipating the approaching Easter holiday, you could start with the death and resurrection of Jesus — or if in the late fall, maybe the story of Jesus’ birth could draw interest. If there is a current news item concerning some horrible or evil situation, a study could be started about Adam and Eve and how sin and evil entered the world. Then again, sometimes the need for Bible study arises from some personal problem. If they have shared their situation, you can help them by finding relevant helpful scripture to start the study.
Other Things to Consider
Schedule a specific time for Bible study. Although not a great fan of author Joyce Meyer, I did like her comment that she purposely makes “an appointment with God” for Bible study every day.4 We make important doctor appointments, business appointments, and even appointments to get our car fixed, so we should also do so with our creator. I think regularly scheduled Bible time should become a lifetime habit.
Make sure you have an appropriate place to study. It should be well lighted (at least where you sit) and comfortable. And it should be quiet; I find it really hard to concentrate in a place that is noisy or one with a lot of activity, but some of my friends don’t seem to have a problem with that.
Pray! Just take the opportunity, before you open the Bible, to talk to God. Open your heart, thank him, and confess, if need be. Ask God to help you understand what you read and help you utilize your new knowledge in your own life as well as in others’ lives. Begin your Bible study time with love and in peace.
As a Bible study progresses, either alone or with a leader, consider getting a few tools to help you. Have a note pad handy on which to jot down questions, references, thoughts, etc. This will allow you to remember things to check later and not have to interrupt the flow of your reading or discussion. Some people keep a journal to document their progress. Others just make a lot of notes along the margins of their Bible pages. One person I know, when studying alone, uses a small voice recorder. I tried that once and found it great to make quick notes. However, it was double work, because later I had to listen to the recording and make written notes, too.
Having a Bible dictionary, handy will help define proper names and the meaning of unfamiliar words, besides helping to understand the proper context of what you are studying. I like having a hard copy within arms reach while studying, but there are various dictionaries available online for free (see ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article).5
Another helpful study tool is a Bible commentary written by a respected theologian. Not only will a commentary help with verse-by-verse explanations and interpretation, but it will also aid in providing background information and history. If you are like me, you may want more than one commentary available to present more than one opinion. There is no need to invest heavily on these volumes, for there are several available online, also for free (see ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article).6
Why Study the Bible?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT).
“For thousands of years the Bible has been read not only as history and God’s Word, but also for personal edification.” This word edification comes from edify which means to instruct and improve, especially in moral and religious knowledge (uplift, enlighten, inform).7 Although this is the most meaningful reason to study the Bible for those believing in God, the Bible is edifying even for those people who do not believe in God. Why? It is because of all the stories about individuals and groups facing moral choices, life challenges, and other situations, will have applications similar to those needed by people today.8
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28, KJV).1
Over the years, I’ve been asked many times about the wording of Genesis 1:28 (and similar verses) in The Authorized Version of the English Bible (commonly called The King James Version), which seems to imply that there was a previous civilization on earth, before the one started by Adam and Eve. “If not,” I’m asked, “why does God tell them to replenish the earth?” The people that ask this question are in good company, because even scholars and academics have asked this same question for more than two hundred years.
At the end of the 1700s and during the 1800s, when the scientific study of geology became firmly established, intellectuals “determined that the Earth was far older than common interpretations of Genesis and the bible-based flood geology would allow.” The religious geologists (the majority at that time) found need to “reconcile their faith in the Bible with the new authority of science.”2
Since Creationism theorizes a six-day production period, they needed a solution to explain the new scientific observations involving the age of the earth and the new large animal and exotic plant fossil records being discovered. A new concept of gap Creationism or ‘Gap Theory’ evolved. Simply put, “there was a gap of time [millions of years] between two distinct creations in the first and the second verses of Genesis.” A previously created civilization grew and was then supposedly destroyed. Needless to say, this Gap Theory was a perfect explanation for the need to have Adam and Eve replenish the Earth, as stated in Genesis 1:28.
This Gap Theory was very popular at the beginning of the twentieth century and was promoted by C. I. Scofield’s The New Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s notes suggested Genesis 1:1 relates to a prior creation ruled by Satan before his fall. This “had the advantage that it allowed for the universe and earth to be old, but the days of Genesis to be recent. Anything that did not fit into a recent earth (e.g., geological strata, dinosaurs) could just be shoved back into the first creation.”3 Now it appears, to some extent, that this Gap Theory is resurfacing within certain modern churches.
Author Bert Thompson suggests that the Gap Theory was first publically proposed in 1814 by Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers, who suggested that a “vast ‘gap’ of time should be inserted between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, and that during this indeterminable amount of time there lived and died an entire pre-Adamic world, complete with plants, animals, and even pre-Adamic races of people.” There are several scholars who have suggested pre-Adamic populations, including J. Sidlow Baxter who believed in a pre-Adamic rebellion involving angels.4
Another author, G. H. Pember (Earth’s Earliest Ages and Their Connection with Modern Spiritualism and Theosophy), believed between Genesis “verses 1 and 2, the fall of Satan occurred, in which the earth underwent cataclysmic change as a result of divine judgment. Verse 2 is an independent, narrative sentence describing the condition of the universe after the fall of Satan. Verse 3 is an independent, narrative sentence describing the first step in the process of reconstruction and reformation of the judged earth.”5
“More contemporary proponents of the gap theory were well-respected Bible teachers Dr. J. Vernon McGee (1904 – 1988) of Thru the Bible [radio programs], as well as Pentecostal televangelists Benny Hinn and Jimmy Swaggart.”6 John Walton wrote that everyone was trying to “reconcile the scientific findings about the material cosmos with the biblical record without compromising either. They all assume that the biblical account needs to be treated as an account of material origins, and therefore that the ‘different’ scientific account of material origins poses a threat to the credibility of the biblical account that has to be resolved.”7
Not everyone was jumping upon this opportunity to justify long-held Bible beliefs. Celebrated scholar Charles Ryrie, summed up the confusion by stating it this way, “The gap concept does not rest on solid exegetical grounds. The fact that it became popular about the same time as geology came on the scene makes one suspect that it gained acceptance because it easily accommodates the findings of uniformitarian geology” [see note].8
Now, it is only fair to offer a slightly different version of the “Gap Theory,” one that was taught by author and Bible teacher Chuck Missler (1934-2018). He said there was evidence elsewhere in the Bible of a gap in time, implying two separate earthly creations. Using verses in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms, he implied some Hebrew words were inaccurately translated.
He also suggested that verses in Jeremiah 4 were a proof of God’s anger causing the first creation to be destroyed. “I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger” (Jeremiah 4:25-26, KJV).
I always thought Missler gave very good arguments in his speeches and sermons, but there were some people that believed some of his thoughts did not fit the context of what was meant in the Bible. I assumed that his intention was to give people something to think about. For those that want to pursue a brief example of his explanation on Gap Theory, see the reference at the end of this article for a short video.9
There are various other theories, relating to the Genesis creation account, besides the Gap Theory and the current popular idea of God’s days being much longer than six literal 24-hour days. But our study is only concerning why God states, very plainly, “replenish the earth.”
Why has this problem only surfaced recently?
If this word “replenish” has only been a problem since the science of geology brought it to the forefront within the last few hundred years, why was it not found to be a problem before then? Could it be that it is a translation problem?
Creationist and author Henry Morris gets right to the point in saying, “The King James translation used the term ‘replenish,’ but this does not suggest the idea of ‘refilling,’ either the Old English term itself or the Hebrew word from which it is translated. The Hebrew word . . . means simply ‘fill,’ ‘fulfill,’ or ‘be filled’ . . . It is certainly erroneous to use this one verse as a proof text for the gap theory, as many have done.”10
Examination of the Oxford English Dictionary “shows that the word was used to mean ‘fill’ from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. In no case quoted in these five centuries does it unambiguously mean ‘refill’.”11 In Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, American Dictionary of the English Language, it gives the definition of replenish as: “To fill; to stock with numbers or abundance. The magazines are replenished with corn. The springs are replenished with water. ‘Multiply, and replenish the earth,’ Genesis 1.”12
There are seven times in the King James Version where the words replenish or replenished are used, and each time it means “fill” or “filled” (Genesis 1:28, Genesis 9:1, Isaiah 2:6, Isaiah 23:2, Jeremiah 31:25, Ezekiel 26:2, Ezekiel 27:25). There are plenty of other versions that do the same in some or most of these instances.13 So, although today the word replenish is commonly used to mean refill, that just wasn’t what it meant a long time ago. Strong’s dictionary indicates that the greatest number of uses of the Hebrew word used in ancient manuscripts means to fill.14
Most modern Bible translations used today use the English word fill, instead of replenish. “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:28, NRSV). Also, see similar use in: ESV, NET, NKJV, NLT, RSV.
The evidence has been presented and it is your choice as to what to believe. But for me, at this time, the word “replenish” in Genesis 1:28 (and similar verses) printed in The King James Version, as well as some other versions, definitely means “fill.” While I truly believe that science is not the enemy of faith and that science and Christian doctrine can be accommodated together, this does not mean that twisting scripture to fit current scientific theory, is the way to do it.
Walton, John H., The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), p. 112.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), pp. 210–211.
Note: Uniformitarianism – The belief that geological processes are essentially unchanged today from those of the unobservable past, and that there have been no cataclysmic events in earth’s history.
Strong’s Hebrew #4390: מָלֵא mâlê˒, maw-lay’; a prim. root, to fill or (intr.) be full of, in a wide application (lit. and fig.):— fill, fulfil, full.
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
The answer to the title of this essay is, yes! Jesus was dead for a full three days and three nights, and that fact can be established from Jesus’ own words. The Bible tells the story of a time the Pharisees, who had accused Jesus of collusion with the devil, asked him for a sign from a source other than just his own words—one that clearly originated with God—to prove he was who he said he was. So Jesus referenced the story of Jonah to his own pending burial and resurrection. Showing that Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites to repent,1 the Son of Man would be the same to the current generation.
But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!” (Matthew 12:39-41, ESV).2
As explained in a well-known Bible commentary, “Jonah’s case was analogous to this, as being a signal judgment of God, reversed in three days, and followed by a glorious mission to the Gentiles. The expression ‘in the heart of the earth,’ suggested by the expression of Jonah with respect to the sea [see: Jonah 2:3, YLT] . . . means simply the grave, but this considered as the most emphatic expression of real and total entombment.”3 Jesus’ statement makes it evident that ‘three days and three nights’ is an established biblical truth.
But if this is true, why do most Christian religions suggest Jesus died on Friday afternoon (Good Friday) and was raised from the dead on Sunday (Easter) morning, for that is only a day and a half span of time? Think about it! Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon is one day and Saturday afternoon to early Sunday morning is only a half day. That is not what Jesus said would happen.
Many people believe this error to be a deceptive or political decision by the early Church to manipulate the Christian people, while others think it may have started as an error of understanding. Whatever the reason for the error, it is not the only one concerning the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible plainly indicates neither the day of the week for Christ’s death, nor the time of day for his resurrection, so how can we resolve these problems?
Jews kept time differently.
Unlike days on our secular calendar, which begin and end at midnight, the Jews follow God’s creation of darkness before light. Since God established night first, the Jewish day begins in the evening and continues until the next evening — nightfall to nightfall.4 “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:5, NRSV).5 Generally, the evening, and a new date, begins about 6:00 p.m. Morning begins about 6:00 a.m. Remember this: evening before morning.
Of course, at that time, A.M. or P.M. indicators were not used for morning and evening, but time was called by “watches” and “hours.” At night, “First Watch” was sunset to 9:00 p.m. and “Second Watch” was 9:00 p.m. to midnight, and etc. In day time, “First Hour” was dawn to 8:00 a.m. and “Second Hour” was 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., and etc. Even the months were counted differently in Jewish culture, using the moon phases for guidance. Holidays seem to roam around on the Jewish calendar, whereas most stay static on ours.
We will touch lightly on the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection for this short study, but the full story should be read for proper context. The more comprehensive accounts can be found at: Matthew 26:14—28:15; Mark 14:10—Mark 16:18, Luke 22:3—24:12, John 13:36—20:10.
According to the book of Mark, Jesus was placed on the cross6 early in the day: “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him” (Mark 15:25). His death came mid-afternoon, just a few hours before the day ended: “At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice . . . Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:34 & 15:37).
The body of Jesus was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb just prior to the beginning of the new day: “When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath . . . a respected member of the council . . . went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:42–43).
“Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:53–56).
The Bible doesn’t mention the day or time of resurrection, but does mention the day that it was first realized Jesus had been raised. “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body” (Luke 24:1–3). We may conclude that this day must have been Sunday, because it was the ‘first day of the week’ for Jews, but remember that the first day of the week began the previous evening at 6:00 p.m.
Is there is a problem here?
Using the above scripture, Jesus was placed in the tomb the day before the Sabbath (day of rest), and then on the first day of the week (Sunday) he was found missing from the tomb. Isn’t the Sabbath a Saturday? So, does that prove he was in the grave for only one day and a half?
No! If you are a Jew, you will understand, if a Christian, then probably not. There were two Sabbaths that week, because it was also the time of Passover. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was celebrated over a seven-day period, had its own Sabbath day. At the time of Jesus’ death, the high Sabbath of Passover (or of Unleavened Bread) was Thursday, and should not to be confused with the regular weekly Sabbath on Saturday.
Although the Jewish calendar varies from our secular calendar, at the time Jesus died,7 this is how the events unfolded. On Wednesday evening (after sundown Tuesday), Jesus ate his Last Supper8 (Matthew 26:17-19; Luke 26:1-20). Later that evening, he was captured, then brought to Pilate (Matthew 27:1-2) and was crucified in the morning (still on Wednesday). He died later in the afternoon (still on Wednesday). To keep his dead body from remaining upon the cross on a sabbath day, it had to be removed (John 19:31) without delay (still on Wednesday).9 Jesus was then placed in a tomb prior to sundown. All this happened during one single 24-hour day, the Hebrew’s Wednesday (sundown Tuesday to sundown Wednesday—remember, evening before morning); Thursday was Passover day (beginning at sundown Wednesday).
Okay, let’s get this straight. Jesus was laid in the tomb and remained there for three days and three nights: (1) Thursday (sundown Wed. to sundown Thurs.), (2) Friday (sundown Thurs. to sundown Fri.), and (3) Saturday (sundown Fri. to sundown Sat.). He was resurrected sometime after sundown Saturday (the new Sunday night) and early Sunday morning when the women arrived to apply the spices and ointments, but found his body missing.
The common modern belief of Jesus being crucified on Good Friday and then resurrected on Easter Sunday morning is incorrect. The evidence proves that Jesus died on Wednesday afternoon, placed in his tomb at the very beginning of Thursday and was resurrected sometime after sundown Saturday, and then discovered missing from the tomb on Sunday morning; that time period includes a full three days and three nights, just as stated by Jesus beforehand.
The day Jesus died. The Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which typically falls in March or April of the Gregorian calendar. Passover is a spring festival, so the 15th day of Nisan typically begins on the night of a full moon after the northern vernal equinox.
“Passover,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 January 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover
Note: Many people call the Last Supper as Jesus’ Passover meal, but some claim it was not, because it was eaten the day before Passover. One author, Ted Montgomery, gave a great response to this thought: “There does appear to be some historical confirmation that some Jews ate the Passover meal on 14 Nisan, while others ate it on 15 Nisan. Jesus ate the meal with His disciples on 14 Nisan (one night earlier than the majority of other Jews would eat the official Passover meal) simply because He would not be alive to eat it the following night. He really did not have a choice to do it at the regular time. Otherwise, He could not have been crucified at the same time as the other Passover lambs were slaughtered, at mid-afternoon on 14 Nisan. That is when Christ, our Passover lamb, was sacrificed.”
Montgomery, Ted M., “How could Jesus and His disciples have eaten a Passover meal on Wednesday night?” (TedMontgomery.com, retrieved 8 March 2019), http://tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/emails/lambforLastSupper.html
Note: Corpses of the crucified were typically left on the crosses to decompose and be eaten by animals, but Jews were generally allowed to remove the body after death for burial.
“Crucifixion,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 22 February 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion
People had only one name, during Biblical times. To distinguish between people of the same name, a description was often used. Jesus was a common Jewish name in Judea, so our Savior was called ‘The Nazarene’, after the city in which he lived.1 Likewise, the Mary of this study was from the town of Magdala2 and she was called ‘The Magdalene’, hence she became Mary Magdalene.
There isn’t any record of her parentage, marital statue, age, or home obligations, but because she later helped finance Jesus’ ministry, she is assumed to have had some wealth. Some people believe she was a sinner—a harlot. The idea that she was a sinner has no real support and is suggested by various writers only from vague and circumstantial evidence. Ideas, such as the only way an unmarried, un-widowed, childless woman at that time could have access to a lot of money was through prostitution, are pure speculation.
Magdala ruins on shore of Sea of Galilee, 1900
The primary source of Jewish religious law, the Talmud, indicates that the city of Magdala had an unsavory reputation and, because of immorality, was destroyed by the Romans.3 Also, in the Bible (Luke 7:37–8:2), Luke’s first reference of Mary follows the story of the unnamed woman sinner. It was from these references that “the idea developed that Mary was a prostitute, but there is not a shred of genuine evidence to suggest such a bad reputation.”4 In fact, the idea of demonizing her as a sinner seems like a patriarchal agenda of the growing organized Church in the first century and later, to counter the view of her as a powerful Christian leader.5 After all, it was thought, women were supposed to be subordinate to men, not equal to them!
“At some point, Mary Magdalene became confused with two other women in the Bible: Mary, the sister of Martha, and the unnamed sinner from Luke’s gospel ([Luke] 7:36-50) both of whom wash Jesus’ feet with their hair. In the 6th Century, Pope Gregory the Great made this assumption official by declaring in a sermon that these three characters were actually the same person: Mary Magdalene, repentant saint.”6 That announcement presented a powerful image of redemption, which could have been used to bring sinners into the church, or for some political purpose.
Whatever the reason, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t withdraw its unjust opinion of Mary Magdalene until 1969. But for hundreds of years, they brought in money from their sanctuaries for reformed prostitutes and pregnant unmarried women, most notably during the 18th to the late 20th centuries, that were called Magdalene asylums, institutions, and laundries.7
In our present time, from novels and movies, Mary Magdalene’s image has been continually twisted, distorted, and renounced, so there is a continued convoluted image presented for this important biblical person. Even more damage to her personality, as well as that of Jesus, comes from such books as Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982), The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed (1996), and The Da Vinci Code (2003), which suggest that Mary was the wife of Jesus.8
The Real Mary of Magdala
The Bible mentions Mary Magdalene twelve times in the New Testament. Eight of those times was when associated with other women, where she heads the list, implying that she was a leader of the female followers of Jesus.
Even as a woman of superior standing and affluent circumstances, she came to Jesus’ attention for having been possessed by seven demons, of which our savior cured her.9 An article in Smithsonian Magazine states “the seven demons, as applied to her, indicates an ailment (not necessarily possession) of a certain severity” and a New Testament scholar and historian, Bart Ehrman, “contends that the number seven may be merely symbolic, since, in Jewish tradition, seven was the number of completion . . . .”10 Whether her ailment was physical, emotional, psychological, or real demonic possession, the healing she received from Jesus must have impressed her greatly to make her so devoted to him.
Not only did Mary follow Jesus, she was also present when Pontius Pilate sentenced him to death, when he was led to Calvary and crucified, when he was buried in the tomb, and when he was resurrected. This woman was the only disciple present at all these events which led to the movement that transformed the world.
It is not just in canonical New Testament scripture that Mary of Magdala is described, but there is mention in several New Testament apocryphal books, as well. The Gospel of Philip depicts her as being closer to Jesus than any other disciple, calling her Jesus’ koinonos (Greek: κοινωνός) which can metaphorically mean a close friend, a spiritual or business partner, or a companion in faith.11
In the Gospel of Mary (written about her, but not by her), “Mary Magdalene is framed as the only disciple who truly understands Jesus’ spiritual message, which puts her in direct conflict with the apostle Peter. Mary describes to the other apostles a vision she has had of Jesus following his death. Peter grows hostile, asking why Jesus would especially grant Mary — a woman — a vision.”12 But Jesus is well-known for his radical treatment of women. An article in Christian History magazine stated the following.
The world Jesus entered largely discriminated against women. He rejected the false criteria upon which the double standard was built. He measured men and women by the same standards, the inner qualities of character and not by such accidents of birth as ethnic or sexual differences. He affirmed women by His manner, example, and teaching.
Jesus included women where Jewish piety largely excluded them. Women were excluded from participation in synagogue worship, restricted to a spectator role, and forbidden to enter the Temple beyond the Court of the Women. A woman was not to touch the Scriptures, lest she defile them. A man was not to talk much with a woman, even his wife. Talk with a woman in public was yet more restrictive.
Jesus brushed aside all such discrimination. He astonished His disciples by talking openly with “a woman” at Jacob’s well (John 4:27). His dearest friends included Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene. There were many women who ministered to (or with) Him, following Him from Galilee to Golgotha (Mark 15:41).13
We don’t know what happened to Mary in her later life, but according to Eastern tradition, “she accompanied St. John the Evangelist to Ephesus (near modern Selçuk, Turkey), where she died and was buried. French tradition spuriously claims that she evangelized Provence (now southeastern France) and spent her last 30 years in an Alpine cavern. Medieval legend relates that she was John’s wife.”14 Although Mary Magdalene has been portrayed throughout history in a number of ways, we can be assured that she was a crucial witness, disciple, and spiritual leader in the Christian movement that changed the world.
The Bible scholar Robert Baker Girdlestone was accurate when he stated, “The difficulty of the translator usually begins with the name of God . . . it has caused perplexity, if not dissension, in the case of many new translations.”1 This dilemma is caused by many problems inherent to the Hebrew language and the facts that it contains no written vowels, “is read from right to left . . . [and] each character of the text and its attendant symbols are read from top to bottom.”2 Also, early Hebrew writers had a fear of expressing God’s name in disrespect, so they often substituted different words relating to his position or status.
There were a great number of gods worshiped in the ancient world, so there are many words used in original Bible manuscripts which translate to the English “god.” The Greek language also has some problems, but not as many as that of the Hebrew. Most of the words for a deity, mentioned in the Bible, are all common nouns which can also mean “great” or “mighty” or “ruler.”
If all this sounds confusing, that is because it is! This article is merely an overview of a rather complicated subject, but that is unavoidable, unfortunately. At least you will understand why different versions of the Bible vary so much. You will find a wealth of detailed information, concerning this complex subject, in the references and notes at the end of the article. But, let us move on and figure out how to discern one god from another. We will examine usage in the Old Testament, first.
The Old Testament: Hebrew Scriptures
In Hebrew scripture, there are seven words in reference to God: Tetragrammaton (YHWH or Adonai), El, Eloah, Elohim, Shaddai, Ehyeh, and Tzevaot.3 A few other words are used, but only as description or titles. The name most often used for God is the Tetragrammaton4 (YHWH), transliterated5 Yahweh (or Jehovah) and it appears more than 6,800 times. A scholar said, “Yahweh, then, is the name par excellence of Israel’s God,”6 because the words “god” or “lord” can also be applied to other uses.
While many Bible translators and academics prefer Yahweh, the most commonly used English pronunciation in the recent past has generally been Jehovah. “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth” (Psalms 83:18, KJV). The Jerusalem Bible is a modern English translation which employs the name Yahweh throughout the Old Testament. It translates this verse differently: “Let them know this: you alone bear the name Yahweh, Most High over the whole world” (Psalms 83:18, TJB). It should be noted that most modern translations just use the word LORD in this scripture.
There is another form of the name Jehovah, a shorter form, Jah or Yah, which occurs a few times. One example is in Exodus 17:16, “a hand is on the throne of Jah” (YLT), but most translators have rendered it LORD; it is also found a few times in Isaiah, and also in the Psalms. We are familiar with it in the expression Hallelujah, meaning ‘Praise Jah,’ and also in compound names such as Elijah7 and others.
In many cases, some mortal men are considered gods. Moses was called a god: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet’” (Exodus 7:1).8 The Hebrew shows that LORD means Yahweh, and God means god in the ordinary sense.9 And in the first book of the Bible, Abraham is called lord: “Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us” (Genesis 23:6). In this case, lord comes from a word meaning chief, governor, or ruler. Notice the spelling in these verses. If you notice “LORD” you can be sure it only refers to God Almighty. LORD in all capital letters refers to Yahweh, while lord in small letters (or upper & lowercase [Lord]), can refer to a leader or important person only.
Angels — those Messengers of God — are also called gods. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them [humans] a little lower than God [angels],10 and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:4, 5). The word God, as used here, refers to angels (elohim, plural in the ordinary sense). Another version gives a better understanding: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than angels and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:4, 5 NIV).
Even the princes of Egypt are referred to as gods: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12).
The New Testament: Greek Scriptures
“In the New Testament, Theos, Kyrios, and Patēr11 are the essential names”12 of God. In three scriptures, Abba13 is also used. Interesting, too, is the fact that, in Greek scripture, the Tetragrammaton is generally not used; the word used in quoting Hebrew scripture containing the Tetragrammaton in the New Testament is Kyrios, and, generally, Jesus is also referred to by that word. “The use of Kyrios in the New Testament has been the subject of debate among modern scholars, and . . . based on the Septuagint usage, the designation is intended to assign to Jesus the Old testament attributes of God.”14 Also, it is a “fact that first-century Greek translations of the O.T. did not use Kyrios as a translation for Yahweh.”15 To add to the confusion, there were sometimes other less special uses of this word. One example is that “in Classical Athens, the word kyrios referred to the head of the household, who was responsible for his wife, children, and any unmarried female relatives.”16 These facts, as you can imagine, create somewhat of a problem in translation from the Greek language.
A few Bible translations have taken the liberty to substitute Jehovah or Yahweh where Kyrios – as referring to God Almighty — appears in the New Testament. Most notable is the Bible used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, although there are other non-affiliated publishers and sects that have done the same (see References and Notes at end of article for more examples).17 Doing so, at least illustrates where God’s real name probably should appear in Greek scripture.
In the New Testament, the Greek word most translated for god is theos, however it is important to point-out that this word is also a common noun applied to all types of gods, and this is easy to understand, considering the polytheism of the Greeks. Even Jesus made mention of mortal men being called gods. Jesus said, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled — can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:34–36).
Even Satan is called a god in the New Testament: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The ruler Herod, along with many others, is also called a god: “On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. The people kept shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a mortal’” (Acts 12:21–22).
As you have read, there are many problems in translating from the original Bible languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek [and all their variations] into English. It is no wonder that discerning where the name of God Almighty appears is difficult. I guess you can say that Yahweh did an excellent job when he confused the languages during the Tower of Babel debacle.
This study is but a small peek into this very complex problem. Having a dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words is, by far, the best approach to seriously studying the Bible, but here are a few basic rules you can use to better understand what scripture is saying.
In the Old Testament, the name of God (the Tetragrammaton) is not a common term like god, but is a proper and personal name for God and is not applied to any other being in the Bible. Although some Bible translations use a form of God’s real name (YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah), most translate the Tetragrammaton as LORD or GOD. It is easy, however, to locate where God’s real name should appear in most of the common translations, because the words, LORD and GOD, are printed in small capital letters in those places.
In the New Testament, when passages from the Old Testament are quoted, in which the Tetragrammaton appears, most translators use LORD in small caps. When Jesus spoke of God Almighty, he sometimes referred to him as Father or Abba (Aramaic language). When you see this, you will know that they are referring to Yahweh. Other places, when Kyrios or God or Lord is used, it is often hard to figure whether it is in reference to Yahweh or Jesus; this is where extra study tools come in handy.
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Girdlestone, Robert Baker, Synonyms of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1897) p. 18.
Unger, Merrill F. and White, William, (Eds.), Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980), p. xiv.
“Names of God in Judaism,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., June, 24 2017), en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God_in_Judaism
Note: Tetragrammaton (whether written YHWH or Adonai), El (“God”), Eloah (“God”), Elohim (“Gods”), Shaddai (“God Almighty”), Ehyeh, and Tzevaot (“[of] Hosts”)
Tetragrammaton, Hebrew יהוה (letters: Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei).
Note: There are several transliterations/translations for this word for God: Yahweh (YHWH), Jehovah or Jahveh (JHVH), Yahveh (YHJH), and Adonai or Elohim (which are sometimes used as substitutions for the tetragrammaton) are but some examples. In scholarly work, Yahweh seems to be the current preference in the Hebrew scriptures, as it is thought to be the most accurate transliteration, but Jehovah is fairly common, too. In Greek, kuriŏs (Strong’s G2962) translated as: supreme in authority, God, Lord, master, is usually printed as Lord or LORD. Or, thĕŏs (Strong’s G2316) translated as: supreme, Divinity God, god [-ly, -ward], is usually printed as Lord or God.
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
Note: Translated is taking text from one language and converting it into another; transliterated is taking text from one language and rewriting it to make it more understandable. (This is a very simple explanation of a complex topic.)
Van Groningen, Gerard, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 1, p. 884.
Strong’s: H3050, יָהּ Yâhh, yaw, and means the same as Jah, the sacred name:— Jah, the LORD (Jehovah), also in names ending in “-iah,” “-jah.”
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
LORD, (Strong’s H3068), יְהוָֹה Jehovah. God, (Strong’s H430), אֱֱלֹהִים (ĕlôhı̂ym) applied as a superlative, such as Godly, great, mighty.
Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
Bracket inserts of “humans” and “angels” added for clarification.
Patēr: πατήρ (i.e. Father, in Greek)
Berkhof, Louis, Manual Of Christian Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Williams B. Eedmans Publishing Company, 1939) pp. 19-20.
Abba, in reference to Yahweh, is used in Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6.
Some publishers have used the Hebrew name for God (Yahweh or Jehovah) in the New Testament: Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation by William Newcome (1809); Emphatic Diaglott by Benjamin Wilson (1864); American Revised Version (also known as Revised Version, Standard American Edition) by Thomas Nelson & Sons (1901); Sacred Scriptures Bethel Edition by Assemblies of Yahweh (1981); Original Aramaic Bible in Plain English by David Bauscher (2010); Divine Name King James Bible by Divine Name Publishers (2011); The New World Translation by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (2013); The Scriptures by Institute for Scripture Research (2009) has gone a step further by using the Hebrew characters rather than any English rendering for both God and his Son.