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..
The Church has changed a lot since the time Christ walked on earth, especially since the Bible came to be easily available to almost everyone. But there are a few things that haven’t change much at all. Take the subject of sex, for example. We talk about sexual immorality as a problem and can look back long before Christianity to the very first Old Testament book of the Bible, Genesis, and see that much has been written about it. Church sermons and classes on sex teach a lot about sinful things we must not do, but little to nothing about pleasurable things we can and should do.
Before the philosopher and Church Father Augustine of Hippo1 (Saint Augustine, 354–430 AD), not much about sex, from a Christian perspective, was ever talked about, concerning the events surrounding the fall of humankind in the garden of Eden. It seems that the Church fathers weren’t comfortable talking about all that stuff—you know—all that nakedness, clinging to each other, becoming one flesh, being fruitful, and multiplying stuff. That sounds like some churches, even today. But that was the way it was, before Augustine. An article in The New Yorker actually went so far as to state “he rescued Adam and Eve from obscurity” by devising the doctrine of “original sin.”2
Augustine started out living a fairly sexually active life and even admitted so, writing that at the age of sixteen “the frenzy gripped me and I surrendered myself entirely to lust.” This continued for another sixteen years, and as he later detailed in writings, he “was a frequent loser in the battle with lustful passions.”3
In his book series, The Confessions,4 he wrote about his battles with being a slave to his sexual impulses. He had a very negative attitude toward sexuality. A scholar said, “desire for Augustine is almost a compulsion, an irrational impulse that he feels incapable of controlling without God’s help, a bondage that he is too weak to escape. Desire becomes the last obstacle between Augustine and a complete commitment to God, because he is certain he cannot live a celibate life.”5
It is because of sex that he thought it was impossible for humans to behave morally saying, “Original sins makes human moral behavior nearly impossible: if it were not for the rare appearance of an accidental and undeserved Grace of God, humans could not be moral.”6 He thought sexual relations were for procreation purposes only and insisted that the experience of arousal, unless for that reason, is in itself a sin. He wrote, “such disobedience of the flesh as this, which lies in the very excitement, even when it is not allowed to take effect, did not exist in the first man and woman.” Since we experience desire apart from free will, sexual desire naturally involves shame, therefore “a man by his very nature is ashamed of sexual desire.” The truth of that assertion, Augustine believed, was the universal practice of covering the genitals and of shielding the act of intercourse from public view.7 To him, the shame came from the sexual desire, a consequence of disobeying God’s command—maybe a punishment, so to speak.
“How weird it is, Augustine thought, that we cannot simply command this crucial part of the body. We become aroused, and the arousal is within us—it is in this sense fully ours—and yet it is not within the executive power of our will. Obviously, the model here is the male body, but he was certain that women must have some equivalent experience, not visible but essentially identical. That is why, in the wake of their transgression, both the first woman and the first man felt shame and covered themselves. Augustine returned again and again to the same set of questions: Whose body is this, anyway? Where does desire come from? Why am I not in command of my own penis? ‘Sometimes it refuses to act when the mind wills, while often it acts against its will!’”8
Yes, Augustine did have a very negative attitude toward sexuality; he probably didn’t discuss these feelings with his wife, who could have, at least, given him a feminine viewpoint (or he just didn’t listen to her). Maybe it just didn’t dawn on him that the sexual pleasure was to be shared with his wife and was a gift of God, not something to be battled against with all his might. If God made woman from the first man, isn’t it logical that there would be an attraction, a desire, to be one again? But, at that time, it wasn’t a subject that could be easily discussed, I guess.
Sex for pleasure, instead of procreation, was sinful to him and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t control it. Anyway, Augustine’s manuscripts and philosophy had a great influence upon the Church for a very long time. Unfortunately, some of the attitudes attributed to him are still echoing in the classrooms, sanctuaries, chapels, and halls of Christendom today.
Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not advocating that churches not speak about sins that are actually related to sexual matters, but what about joyful sex in marriage—what about romance? Doesn’t God want us to indulge in sexual pleasures? It surely doesn’t seem like it according to the hundreds of sermons and Bible studies I’ve attended over the years. There are indications in the Bible that suggest God approves of sexual and romantic pleasures, but not many pastors speak or teach about them.
There is no need for specifics in a sermon, of course, and we must be careful of age-related situations, but a well-worded overview along with suggested Bible scripture would do wonders in letting members know that God not only approves of sexual pleasures between husbands and wives, but that they should actually be encouraged.
A common retort from pastors is that this is a subject that is not proper for mixed company, or not something to be talked about publically, or it’s just plain embarrassing to put into a sermon. “Well,” I asked, “how about in segregated Bible studies: men’s classes, women’s classes, special subject matter for special groups?” But there is always a reason or two against every such suggestion. I guess the most negative response I got from a pastor was, “Are you suggesting that I turn my church sanctuary into some sort of pornographic place?” Umm, no! That is not what I suggest at all, but if this information is in the Bible, God wants us to know about it. There are ways and means to approach such mature subjects tastefully and with class.
Allegories, Metaphors, & Euphemisms
Many areas of the Bible are saturated with allegories, metaphors, and euphemisms9 to avoid offensive, unpleasant, uncomfortable, or embarrassing thoughts and ideas. A pastor or teacher can indicate when such methods are used, so the audience can get a complete mental picture of the situation, thereby presenting sensitive biblical stories and passages acceptably. Let’s analyze scripture from the book of Proverbs, for example which, by the way, speaks of both the pleasures and the sins of sex. This was written by Solomon, the son of David and king of Israel about 1000 B.C.
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for sharing with strangers.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
May her breasts satisfy you at all times; and may you be intoxicated always by her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Proverbs 5:15–20, NRSV).
Now, let’s find out what Solomon was talking about. This is a contrast between a private, rather than a common issue, concerning promiscuity and marriage fidelity. “The images of the cistern, well, or fountain are used of a wife . . . because she, like water, satisfies desires. Streams of water in the street would then mean sexual contact with a lewd woman.” She never stays home, but goes into the streets and becomes the property of many. “The point is that what is private is not to be shared with strangers; it belongs in the home and in the marriage. The water from that cistern is not to be channeled to strangers or to the public.”10
Then we learn what is good about sex. We should find pleasure in a fulfilling marriage. The fountain of sexual delight is blessed, as it is given by God. The graceful doe is indicative “imagery for intimate love in marriage” and sexual fulfillment as it was intended.11 Now let us read this same scripture selection from a Bible written in contemporary language. Although the language is modern-day, the verbiage is rather mild, but the implication is vivid, and the message is concise.
“Do you know the saying, ‘Drink from your own rain barrel, draw water from your own spring-fed well?’ It’s true. Otherwise, you may one day come home and find your barrel empty and your well polluted.
Your spring water is for you and you only, not to be passed around among strangers. Bless your fresh-flowing fountain! Enjoy the wife you married as a young man! Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose—don’t ever quit taking delight in her body. Never take her love for granted! Why would you trade enduring intimacies for cheap thrills with a whore, for dalliance with a promiscuous stranger?” (Proverbs 5:15–20, TM).12
There are other commentaries on the metaphorical language of these verses. Some consider the “spring” or “fountain” as referring to the husband and the “cistern” or “rain barrel” as the vagina. Some experts suggest that “drink” refers to sexual intercourse.13 Some few others (older commentaries) say that the whole allegorical book is about the relationship between God and Israel, or between Christ and the Church,14 and has nothing to do with sex. As you can see, there is varied opinion, but most point to sex.
The Bible is Filled with Sexual Innuendo
The Bible is filled with sexual innuendo. Most people read over it and do not know what it means—still, it is there, but hidden in plain sight. As one person stated, about a book on this subject, some “may use the Good Book to justify sexual conservatism, but the actual text of the Bible is anything but prudish. The book is filled with innuendo, bawdy behavior, and enough obscenities to make modern, HBO-inured adults blush.”15 Yes, it tells about real life experiences.
Of course there are stories of sin, but that is only because people have been (and still are) sinful. But there is sexual innuendo about pleasures and pleasuring, too. Most are in the book of Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon, or Canticles). This book is “unique within the Hebrew Bible: it shows no interest in Law or Covenant or the God of Israel, nor does it teach or explore wisdom like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes . . . instead, it celebrates sexual love, giving ‘the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other, proffering invitations to enjoy.’ The two are in harmony, each desiring the other and rejoicing in sexual intimacy . . . .”16
You will have to read Song of Songs, which is packed with the lovers’ erotic encounters, especially since it is rarely spoken of or studied in the Church. Just keep in mind that different versions say different things, depending upon the interpretation of the translator, which varies quite differently across the full spectrum of thought. The sample below is taken from the New Living Translation.17
The man says, “You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain. Your thighs shelter a paradise of pomegranates with rare spices—” (Song of Songs 4:12–13).
The women’s chorus says, “Oh, lover and beloved, eat and drink! Yes, drink deeply of your love!” (Song of Songs 5:1).
The woman says, “I slept, but my heart was awake, when I heard my lover knocking and calling: ‘Open to me, my treasure, my darling, my dove, my perfect one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.” Then she teases him by responding, “. . . ‘I have taken off my robe. Should I get dressed again? I have washed my feet. Should I get them soiled?’” (Song of Songs 5:2–3).
But she dallied too long, for when she finally took action, it was too late. “My lover tried to unlatch the door, and my heart thrilled within me. I jumped up to open the door for my love, and my hands dripped with lovely myrrh as I pulled back the bolt. I opened to my lover, but he was gone! My heart sank,” (Song of Songs 5:4–6).
Song of Songs is filled with such verses, including these from chapter 7 when the man says, “You are tall and supple, like the palm tree, and your full breasts are like sweet cluster of dates. I say, ‘I’m going to climb that palm tree! I’m going to caress its fruit!’ Oh yes! Your breasts will be clusters of sweet fruit to me, your breath clean and cool like fresh mint, your tongue and lips like the best wine,” (Song of Songs 7:6–9).
Some scholars studying Song of Songs believe the “Lover compares the Beloved’s virginal sexuality to a locked garden full of fruit and spices (Song of Songs 4:12–15), and the Beloved beckons him to come in . . . for a banquet (Song of Songs 4:16). Their visual feast includes descriptions of both male and female bodies (Song of Songs 4:1–5; 5:11–16; 6:4–7), incorporating each of the five senses . . . .”18
The New Testament also demonstrates that sexual pleasure is God’s gift to humankind and in marriage “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:2-4, NRSV). “In the human animal, sexual desire and activity continually exist—not just in periods of female fertility [like most other animals]. For us he made sex to be more than just the joining of two bodies for procreation. He made it so that when we join another person in sexual union, a spiritual union of sorts takes place at the same time.”19 So, we can and should satisfy the other’s sexual needs and pleasures, and enjoy this spiritual coupling all with the blessing of God.
Maybe you, or someone you know, are currently living under inaccurate ideas about sex and shame handed down by your church organization or taught by your parents, who in turn were taught those same inaccuracies by the generation before them. It is amazing how saturated Augustine’s antisex influence has been in the Church. I pray that more Christians realize that erotic love between a husband and wife (male and female) is sacred. Since husband and wife are two parts of a single unit, what they agreeably do within their union is blessed.
Pagels, Elaine, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, (New York: Random House, 1988), pp. 111-112.
Greenblatt, Stephen, “How St. Augustine Invented Sex,” (see above).
(a) allegory – imaginative comparison; using fiction to generalize broader human experiences
(b) metaphor – figure of speech that makes implied or hidden comparison between things; denotes a similarity
(c) euphemism – an inoffensive expression used to replace delicate ideas and substituted to get the point across
The NET Bible, First Edition Notes, (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Proverbs 5: 15-23.
Peterson, Eugene H., The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005).
Bramer, Stephen J., “Drink,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), p. 188.
Beal, Matthew, “Sexuality,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, John D. Barry, et al. (Eds.), (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
Gordon, Bennett, “The XXX Bible,” (Utne Reader Magazine, February 2010).
Jesus died– the veil was torn– there was an earthquake– and immediate resurrection of saints!
The remarkable events recorded in some verses of Matthew 27, which occurred at the very moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, have been passionately debated for years. Scholars are ‘all over the map,’ so to speak, about what is really meant by this short description in the Bible’s first Gospel.
(50)”Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. (51)At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. (52)The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. (53)After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. (54)Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matthew 27:50–54, NRSV).1
This written account not only contains inconsistencies, but the events concerning the saints are only described in the book of Matthew. There is some variation of all New Testament wording between various translations, mostly due to the fact that the original manuscripts of the New Testament were written letter-after-letter with no punctuation and no spacing between words, pages, or paragraphs. And of course, there were no divisions by verse numbers, either. Basically, all decisions on punctuation and division are the translator’s choices, as well as interpretation. Even so, let’s try to understand the meaning of the curtain tearing in verse 51, and then give attention to the resurrection event in verses 52 and 53.
The Curtain was Torn
The mentioned earthquake in verse 51 must have been a powerful one, because not only did the earth (soil) shake, but the rocks (bedrock) split. The curtain (veil) of the temple/tabernacle was torn from top to bottom, signifying an act of divine intention sent from heaven to earth, for if it was torn by human hands grabbing at the curtain to avoid falling (if even possible), most likely it would have been torn from the bottom to the top.
According to 1 Kings 6:19-20, the inner part of the sanctuary was about 30 feet high, so any curtains there would have to be about 30 feet long. But there has always been debate about which curtain Matthew refers to: the inner separating the Holy of Holies, or the outer separating the court of the gentiles from the inner working of the Temple. The Bible description is not specific.
Most commentators believe that the earthquake and tearing of the curtain signify “that the old system of law and sacrifice had become obsolete with the death and subsequent resurrection of the Messiah,”2 but there are other ideas, too. Some suggestions are: an act of divine judgment that foreshadows the destruction of the temple in AD 70; a removal of the barrier that separated sinners from God; or it signified the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God.3
One writer’s detailed suggestion is: “regardless of which curtain was in Matthew’s mind, the theological significance remains—if the inner curtain was split, then the separation between God and humanity had been removed and the covenant given to Moses at Sinai had been completed, rendering the annual temple sacrifice . . . as well as the whole sacrificial system obsolete. If the outer curtain was split, Jesus’ death had accomplished what Matthew has only been hinting at all along in his Gospel—the gentiles now have access to the worship of Yahweh through Jesus’ fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant that, through his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.”4
For me, personally, it is only logical that the main curtain or veil that was separating the two chambers—the Holy and the Most Holy—was the one torn. This is the one which represented the division between God’s pure holiness and mankind’s unclean sinfulness. The Most Holy room was where the High Priest sprinkled the blood on the Day of Atonement, to be accepted by God. “But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come . . . he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption,” (Hebrews 9:11–12).
The Resurrection of Saints
In explaining the cause of these events, verse 51 is quite straightforward, but the inconsistencies in verses 52 and 53 are many. Verse 52 tells us that the tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints arose (or were raised). Tombs in Israel typically consisted of a small, slightly underground cave, the mouth of which was covered by a large, disk-shaped rock. This rock was rolled into place by means of a shallow trench at the tomb’s entrance.5 Now, tombs being opened are reasonable to believe, as there are many historical notes of earthquakes causing graves and the buried bodies to be exposed, but not, of course, dead bodies being brought to life. So, was that event a part of the first resurrection to life for the saints (i.e., the body of Christ, Christians, the church6)?
There are places in the Bible where a particular person was raised (e.g., Lazarus), but it never says that their “body” was “raised” (or arose). When Jesus or others brought individuals back to life, it was never described in that way (Luke 7:15; John 11:44; Acts 9:41; etc.). Also, if we are to believe that when Jesus died this event was a resurrection, why were only some of the saints raised and why is it not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible?
Some Bible teachers suggest that the phrase, “after his resurrection,” in verse 53 refers to the entire event, and that the dead were not raised until after Jesus’ resurrection. “However, that is not how the Greek text reads. The raising from the dead is clearly set at the time of the death of Christ. Thus if they were raised, they could not have been raised with everlasting bodies.”7 The first resurrection (to immortality) will not come until after Christ returns. “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first,” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And this is the explanation believed by Augustine, Jerome, and Thomas.8
If verse 53 implies that, after Jesus’ resurrection, the saints came out of the tombs and entered Jerusalem and were seen by many, does this mean they came back to life and just laid around or relaxed inside their opened tombs, waiting until after Jesus was resurrected three days later?
And consider another scholar’s comment: “If the resurrected saints were martyrs who died at the hands of the people of Jerusalem like the prophets, sages, and scribes described in [Matthew] 23:37, their appearance in the city would have been interpreted as a bad omen and terrified the people . . . [and if] these saints announced Jesus’s identity as the Messiah and proclaimed his resurrection power, this too would likely have struck terror in the hearts of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”9 Wouldn’t there be a record of this disorder in the city? And besides, there are no extra-biblical sources for this resurrection event, either.10
If there really was a resurrection of some saints, was it one to immortality or just temporary, like that of Lazarus? Why weren’t they with Jesus when he appeared after he was raised? Why did Jesus not make mention of them? Why didn’t they join the apostles? Why didn’t the apostles make mention of this miracle? Where were these saints on the Day of Pentecost? Should this be considered ‘part one’ of the first resurrection expected after Jesus’ return, or as a separate resurrection event? This is all very odd, indeed! So many questions, but no answers. The Bible says nothing more about these resurrected people.
Various ideas abound about verses 52 and 53. One thought is that “Matthew’s account was never meant to be seen as historical in the first place.” Maybe he inserted the raising of saints to represent an earlier apocalyptic fragment inserted into the passion narrative, or even to foreshadow the final resurrection.11 Someone even thought that the verses represented a “hymn, or some familiar liturgical formula, which talked about the great and glorious Resurrection of the Dead, the day when all the dead will be raised (the saints first, and then others).”12
In his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, academic Michael Licona spoke of classical parallels in ancient literature and apocalyptic language and wrote that the difficulty with Matthew 27:52-53 is what he called the description of a poetic device added to communicate “special effects, with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind.”13 What? Special effects! It is difficult for me to get my mind around what he is talking about. All these people seem to be going out on a limb looking for understanding when there may be a much simpler answer. No one wants to provoke any possible idea of inerrancy14 of the bible, but maybe those two verses just don’t belong there!
What if they shouldn’t be there?
There is no record of any earlier Greek, Latin, or Aramaic manuscripts that do not include this event, but it isn’t unheard of for things to be added or inserted into scripture after the fact, usually when an interpreter, translator, or copier has an agenda. Although unusual, it has been known to happen before and there was a span of time up to the first part of the second century where these two verses could have been added. “The first thing to notice is that (in any version of Scripture) if we delete verses 52 and 53, the biblical text flows smoothly, as the earthquake recorded in verse 51 is referred to by those in verse 54.”15
“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Matthew 27:50-51, 54).
There are a couple of other reasons to believe that these verses were added later. First, Jesus said, “Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” (John 5:28-29). However, at the event of Jesus death and resurrection, he did not shout or call out that demand, as he had done previously when Lazarus died (John 11:43). And second, we are assured that no one has been resurrected to eternal life yet, except Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
There is one more very important fact to consider. “The most unusual word in Matthew 27:53 is ‘resurrection’. The particular Greek word in this instance is egerais, and this is the only time it is used in the New Testament. Indeed, it is used only once in the Greek Old Testament [Psalm 139:2] . . . . Although the word was used in reference to the raising of the dead, it was not used that way in Christian literature until the Church Father, Irenaeus [AD 130 – AD 202].” Many believe verses 52 and 53 were written a little later than the Gospel of Matthew and then imported into it. “Although there is no ‘absolute proof’ that Matthew would not have used the word, it is very unusual that its only occurrence in the entire New Testament is in this one difficult section.”16
As said, there is no proof to this, and I’m not suggesting that it must be the case. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God written by man, but not all of that record survives into our Bible, or has been discovered, as yet—newer discoveries still happen. All I’m saying is that it may be possible that these two verses had been placed where they are by other means or for other reasons and that leaving them out would make much more sense.
Note: For many Christians, the saints are New Testament followers of Christ still buried on earth, while some also believe they include the Old Testament believers of Yahweh (e.g., Noah, Moses, etc.). But for Catholics, the saints are only New Testament righteous people that are already in heaven, after having been canonized by the Pope.
Note: Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible is without error or fault in all its teaching or, at least, that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.
“Biblical inerrancy,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 23 June 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy
Bennett, Kevin, “The Veil Torn, the Earthquake, and the Resurrection of the Dead – Matthew 27:51-54,” (see above).
Chapter 5 of the book of Matthew starts off with Jesus listing the Beatitudes, given in the Sermon on the Mount. These items are the characteristics of true believers. Immediately following these blessings, Jesus gives what is called the Similitudes about salt and light, which describe the functions of our Christian character.
This study will be only about the salt: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot,” (Matthew 5:13, NRSV). What does this mean?
Most people think of table salt when reading this verse. Commentator Andrew Knowles likens the flavor and preservative qualities of the substance to Christians promoting goodness to society.1 Author Joseph Exell suggests that, like salt saving the flavor of food, Christians are the saviors of others.2 Writer Leonard Greenspoon said when “Jesus spoke of his audience as ‘the salt of the earth,’ he was obviously paying them a high compliment. Salt preserves; it also adds taste and flavor. Even today, being called ‘the salt of the earth’ is frequently a good thing.”3 But to get the real understanding, we must examine salt from the perspective of people at that time.
More than just a flavor enhancer?
“You may be interested to know that the first reference to salt in literature is in the Scriptures.”4 In Job 6 it states, “Don’t people complain about unsalted food? Does anyone want the tasteless white of an egg? My appetite disappears when I look at it; I gag at the thought of eating it!” (Job 6:6, NLT).
Salt was once scarce and precious and even related to money5 and legal matters.6 Ceasar’s soldiers received part of their earnings as a salt allowance. The Latin word salarium, from which the word salary was derived, originally was ‘salt money’ and indicated the sum paid to soldiers for salt.7 The biblical phrase ‘covenant of salt’ indicated a two-way agreement, “the inviolability of which was symbolized by salt (e.g., between God and Aaron, Numbers 18:19).8
This ‘covenant of salt’ custom of pledging friendship or compact is still retained among some Arab people. An interesting story about explorer Charles Doughty was that in his Arabian travels, the salt covenant saved his life a couple of times. “Once an Arab has received in his tent even his worst enemy and has eaten salt (food) with him, he is bound to protect his guest as long as he remains.”9
Refined salt had other uses besides being an additive to food; it was used as an antiseptic in medicine. “Newborn babes were bathed and salted (Ezekiel 16:4), a custom still prevailing.”10 Another custom, this one a Catholic liturgical baptismal ritual tradition, included “putting salt on the infant’s tongue, as a symbol of incorruptibility.”11
Now, those are uses for refined salt, today’s common table salt, or at least the somewhat purified salt available several thousand years ago. The possibility of salt losing its flavor seems debatable, since sodium chloride (NaCl – table salt) is a stable compound and can’t lose its flavor, so why would Jesus make such a statement? “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” (Matthew 5:13a, NRSV).
The best explanation “is that what would have been called salt of that era was quite impure, containing a wide array of other compounds” besides sodium chloride. And since the more pure the salt, the higher the price, most ancient people used salt of a lesser quality. “The salts in Jesus’ day were mixtures of chlorides of sodium, magnesium, and potassium [all called salts by chemists], with small amounts of calcium sulfate (gypsum). Some of these would dissolve more quickly than others, while some were better able to withstand the [environmental] elements.
“These hardier . . . salts were generally more valuable in an agricultural context because that meant their benefits would last longer.”12 So, during any times of high moisture, rain, or flooding, the sodium chloride salt, being the most soluble in water, would dissolve and wash away, leaving a white powder looking just like salt, but not having any flavor or preservative properties.13
While too much modern refined salt will produce sterility and barrenness in the ground,14 most ancient salt samples didn’t have enough sodium chloride to be dangerous and, because of the other salt compounds, could even be useful as fertilizer to improve the soil.
Author Anthony Bradley wrote about an article he read in Biblical Archaeology Review where the writer15 “argued that in Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50, and Luke 14:34–35, Jesus was speaking not primarily of salt’s household use but of its agricultural use.” According to the writer, “several kinds of salt are found in Palestine that are different from the kind we’re familiar with. There is rock salt, salt evaporated from Dead Sea water, salt pits (Zephaniah 2:9), and more.” Additionally there are many references in agricultural literature to the use of various salt compounds as a fertilizer. He noted that “the value of salt in small quantities appears to have been known in ancient times; many sources record its power to improving herbage of pastures.16 Although various kinds of chemical compounds are necessary for the soil to be fruitful, soil that is nothing but sulfur and sodium chloride salt is a desert wasteland (Psalm 107:34).17
So, changing our perspective about salt can change our perspective about what Jesus said. He may have been implying that his disciples were like the salt that made soil more fertile in an agricultural sense. He was warning them that they should not lose their ability to bring about life and growth and change. The “salt of the earth” could very well be “salt for the earth” or “salt for the soil.” If we lose our saltiness, we are of no further value in spreading the good news. It is evident that Christians are not here just to merely season or preserve the world from decay, but to stimulate growth in parts of the world that are barren—to encourage this Christian life and make sure it grows and spreads.18
Elwell, Walter A. and Beitzel, Barry J., “Covenant of Salt,” (see above).
Note: Charles Montagu Doughty (1843-1926), English writer and explorer wrote the 1888 travel book Travels in Arabia Deserta.
Patch, James A., “Salt,” James Orr, et al., (Eds.) The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 2664.
Hull, Edward, “SALT,” in A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology, James Hastings, et al. (Eds.), (New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark, 1911–1912), vol. 4, p. 355.
Note: Reference was to Eugene Deatrick, former head of the soils department at West Virginia University, in his article “Salt, Soil, Savior” in Biblical Archaeology Review.
Bradley, Anthony B., “You Are the Manure of the Earth,” (Christianity Today Magazine, vol. 60, no. 8, 23 September 2016).
Reid, Barbara E., “You Are the Salt of the Earth,” (see above).
Bradley, Anthony B., “You Are the Manure of the Earth,” (see above).
Someone asked me, the other day, if I believed that aliens were here. They weren’t talking about legal or illegal people from a foreign country living in the United States, but of intelligent beings, other than human, from outside the earth’s boundaries. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question and it is becoming much more of an issue as the years drift on.
In the past, I would always tread lightly on such beliefs, because this is a touchy subject, especially for a Christian minister. I have, in fact, been writing this article over the last couple of years and kept stopping work on it, because I thought it wasn’t the proper time, yet. But I recently began getting nagging or gut feelings that it was now the proper time. Some kind of announcement about alien life is nigh, I believe, although it may be given in bits and pieces, to blunt the impact. I had often thought that if prayer is a message to God, maybe a gut feeling is a message from God. I wrote an article about this last year (see References & Notes at the end of this article).1
I was born in the early 1940s and during all the years since then, I’ve heard and seen many kinds of strange things—stories of captured exotic space craft, development of anti-gravity technology, possible ancient bases on the moon and other celestial bodies, various alien contacts, and other dimensions of reality, to name a few. Today, the tide is changing, so to speak, for there is a lot more talk about unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and alien life and hidden technologies than there used to be.
Over many years, especially during the last several, it seems like we are being conditioned to accept such ideas. Stories about UFOs and alien life show up on television, in motion pictures, in magazines, in newspapers, in books, and even in serious discussion sessions among Christians. Some stories are very serious and have hard evidence to back them up, such as photographic proof, documented government black budget spending, as well as Senate authorization and large secret industrial programs. One such public announcement revealed many details in 2017 by The New York Times.2
What used to be considered as foolishness has slowly evolved into plausibility as the evidence (direct as well as circumstantial) has filtered through the haze of ridicule established early on. There are an increasing number of scientists, politicians, and other educated people willingly being accessible for serious discussions of this subject. Catholic scientists at the Vatican have publically discussed that visitors from another planet are probably real and are considered to be merely other creations of God and there are even serious views about possible baptism of such beings.3
When I was young.
In my youth, my preferences for science knowledge and science fiction reading material became well established, as did a fondness for the sciences over most other school subjects. When first entering college, my aim was for a chemistry degree. Scientific interest runs in the family, I guess; my brother was a research biologist and my father was a telecommunications technologist from the 1930s into the mid 60s. Although my college degrees are far from my original intent, my intense interest in the sciences has remained.
I learned a number of key bits of information over my lifetime, which I still remember in detail, that has directed my thoughts about life and my relationship with nature and God. I have already shared a few such thoughts, in my articles about “God’s Majesty.” (Search for these articles by this subject in the search box called “OBS Articles by Category” on the right side of this website).4
In the past, our government officials, and even the news media, ridiculed people who believed in other worldly contacts—just reporting a UFO sighting would bring a sneering response. In the early days of my life, just admitting to reading science fiction could get a chuckle from people, along with the verbal observation, “He likes to live in a fantasy world.” Those attitudes would shut-up many, but I was never one who let peer-pressure rule my life. I didn’t believe science-based speculation was a fantasy, as I recognized the many new discoveries unlocking the secrets of our God’s creation.
Like some other people, I believe that miracles appear as magic only because most universal laws are not fully understood, yet. Over my life I’ve found that this is true—the more we understand, the more amazing our technologies become. Is all this being directed by God? His new world, after Jesus’ return, will be quite pleasant and we will have all the benefits of these newer technologies, without the greed and sinfulness that drives the world today.
So, do I believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe? Yes, I do. Do I believe that such life has visited the earth sometime in the past? Yes, I do. We will explore some concepts, thoughts, and ideas, but understand that I am not trying to change anyone’s mind, nor imply that ideas inferred are anything but speculation. We all have free will, to believe something or not to do so, as God intended.
This is just a thought experiment, not a lesson in scripture. Not all of the thoughts are mine; some come from other Christian researchers and thinkers. A few of these ideas may be lightly discussed in church groups, but probably not at their Sunday services. Even a few links to materials in “References & Notes” are controversial “far out” sites (but you are encouraged to view those references at the end of this article). We might as well have a bit of fun, okay? How does all this relate to the Bible and God? Well, I’ll get to that, too, in due course.
Things I’ve thought about.
There are several thoughts that have intrigued me for decades. The first thought is about that major national war on cancer announced with great fanfare by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1971.5 That was nearly fifty years ago and still no cure – or has there been? We can put a man on the moon (more about that in a moment) and we can peer deep inside an atom and learn about all its parts, and actually take an atom apart into to its many pieces, but we can’t cure cancer! Many speculate that it’s all about the money; too much profit involved in just treating the cancer, why announce a cure and cut off the flow of wealth. Declaring a cure would only close down a profitable industry.6
The second thought is why did the United States stop sending people to the moon? The last time men went to the moon was aboard Apollo 17, when they landed on the moon’s surface in December 1972. After that flight returned, all of a sudden the government said they couldn’t afford to do it any more, because the cost was too high. Come on! When did that excuse ever stop the government from doing anything? The rockets for the last three moon flights were already built or under construction, the supplies were already under contract, the men had already been trained, and the schedule was already set; all this was cancelled without any advance notice. Many people believe there was another reason—they may not have stopped at all and the Apollo flights may have continued in secret.7 Many suggest that something was found on the moon that the government did not want the public to know about.
Third on my list is that of anti-gravity. I remember, as a kid, during the late 1950s reading about anti-gravity research and how scientists stated that they were on the very threshold of solving that problem. Then, all of a sudden, news about this research completely vanished. Many think the problem was solved and the government wanted to keep it secret. The Germans were working on it before World War II, and after Germany was defeated, the United States brought over many of their scientists and kept the research going. We have already seen what advances the Germans made in many sciences—it was even their knowledge that put our own rockets into orbit as well as men on the moon.
Many believe anti-gravity is now flying some United States (secret) aircraft, such as the TR-3B (black triangle craft),8 and others.9 In my early thirties, I taught a college photography course and remembered one adult student, who worked at one of the government facilities building the Saturn moon rocket engines in Louisiana,10 telling me stories of secret anti-gravity craft testing he observed when stationed in the Nevada desert. Maybe most of those UFOs being spotted are not really from outer space and are piloted not by them, but by us.
Although I have many other ideas, the last I will mention is the supposed alien spacecraft retrieved in the southwest United States in 1947. Something crashed at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico and it was reported, by the 509th [Atomic] Bomb group of the Eighth Air Force at Roswell Army Air Field, to be a “flying disc.” That report was soon retracted stating it was really just a weather balloon and that the original story was in error.11 The government continued to say there is no such thing as alien space craft and those that believe so are foolish, stupid, or crazy. That is until the people involved in the cover-up, later in life, wanted to tell their story before they died. That along with the invention of the internet, and independent investigative reporters, helped revive public interest.
My point in mentioning all this, is that all governments cover up things they don’t want people to know. Why? There are all kinds of reasons, but usually all eventually point to money and power. As someone told me, if the government goes out of it way to say something isn’t true, then it probably is true. All types of knowledge may be kept secret because a dark, but powerful, military-industrial-financial world order wants to keep their flow of money intact, as well as to keep a technological advantage over others. As an example, there is some evidence that a means for free energy can be tapped to run our machines and electronics, but it isn’t allowed for the general public, because it can’t be controlled, measured, or regulated for profit—how do you attach a meter and charge money for something that is free?
We are getting a bit closer to the reason for this article and answering the questions concerning the denial of any extraterrestrial activities on earth. Governments have maintained that attitude of denial for decades, but as mentioned above, the tide is changing and there is a lot more talk about UFOs and alien life and hidden technologies than there used to be. Why?
One suggestion I’ve heard (there are many) is that there will be some sort of public “disclosure” coming soon, because many secrets are beginning to leak out from government records and the people that maintain them. As private companies begin to venture into outer space, what they find will be harder to keep secret. How do you keep such things confidential when the general public can take trips into space as passengers? And new very high-tech cameras will expose things that have previously been covered up, such as off-world artificial structures and contact experiences.
A recent example of new information being disclosed is of the United States Navy announcing an interest in UFOs and releasing footage of such events recorded on the cameras of Navy planes.12 Also, the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Christopher Mellon, stated “We know that UFOs exist. This is no longer an issue,” and the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a public news interview said the U.S. government would be surprised how well the American public would accept the truth about UFOs.13
Aliens: a New Religion?
A recent news story suggests that in the near future, more people will be convinced of the existence of extraterrestrials than in the existence of God. Diana Pasulka, a professor at the University of North Carolina, wrote a book (American Cosmic) on why humans chose to believe in the supernatural, and how we use both God and aliens to explain the unexplainable. She explained, “the paradigm is shifting from one to another . . . this is because no proof of God has been discovered in human history, while alien life could one day be confirmed.”13
Pasulka continued, “a very old but functional definition of religion . . . [is] simply the belief in nonhuman and supernatural intelligent beings that often descend from the sky. There are many definitions of religion, but this one is pretty standard. There is another distinction about belief in nonhuman extraterrestrial intelligence, or UFO inhabitants, that makes it distinct from the types of religions with which we are most familiar. I’m a historian of Catholicism, for instance, and what I find when I interact with people in Catholic communities is that they have faith that Jesus walked on water and that the Virgin Mary apparitions were true. But there’s something different about the UFO narrative. Here we have people who are actual scientists, like Ellen Stofan, the former chief scientist at NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], who are willing to go on TV and basically make announcements like, ‘We are going to find extraterrestrial life.’15
“She says we’re going to find life, we’re going to find habitable planets and things like that. So that gives this type of religiosity a far more powerful bite than the traditional religions, which are based on faith in things unseen and unprovable. But the belief that UFOs and aliens are potentially true, and can potentially be proven, makes this a uniquely powerful narrative for the people who believe in it. Is it fair to call this a new form of religion? I think so.”16
Keep in mind that, though Pasulka is a Catholic historian, she also stated, “My job as a scholar of religion isn’t to determine whether religious beliefs are true; I’m interested in the effects of the belief itself.”17 I guess that could be true, because there are people with college degrees in theology that do not believe in God.18
What does the Bible say?
So, if extraterrestrial life and unidentified flying objects are serious possibilities, why don’t we find them mentioned in the Bible? Well, some people think they are mentioned. On a recent television program, I heard several so-called scientists and researchers discussing Ezekiel’s wheel and how it described a apaceship. Ezekiel was a very descriptive writer, supplying details better than most writers of the Bible, and you can read his full description of what some say is a UFO in the verses 1 through 28 of Ezekiel chapter 1. It is best to read the account in the Bible, but here is a brief description of some interesting features.
“As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings that looked human,” (Ezekiel 1:4-5, NRSV).19
“As I looked at these beings, I saw four wheels touching the ground beside them, one wheel belonging to each. The wheels sparkled as if made of beryl. All four wheels looked alike and were made the same; each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it. The beings could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved,” (Ezekiel 1:15-17).
A popular journal even published an article titled “The Spaceships of the Prophet Ezekiel,”20 which has also been issued as a book. The author was a chief in NASA’s program development office at the Marshall Space Flight Center. He made detailed drawings of the craft and decided the technology of the builders must have been somewhat higher than mankind’s.21
And here is an interesting tidbit of information from more than a hundred years ago. In the late 1890s a Baptist minister, Burrell Cannon in the U.S. state of Mississippi, became interested in Ezekiel’s flying machine and began construction on his “Ezekiel Airship” using the Bible description as his blueprint. “On an unspecified Sunday in 1902, the aircraft is alleged to have flown approximately 160 feet (49m) at a height of between 10 feet (3.0m) and 12 feet (3.7m) . . .” This was about a year or so before the Wright brothers’ flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. His original aircraft was destroyed in a storm two years later en route to St. Louis, Missouri for a presentation at the 1904 World’s Fair.22
There is an old spiritual song with lyrics stating, “Now, Ezekiel saw the wheel in a wheel; way in the middle of the air.” I’ve listed an old Johnny Cash video of this song in the ‘References & Notes’ at the end of this article.23 Although I do have plans to later write an article on Ezekiel’s vision, I do not believe it is a spaceship from another planet, but there may be other places in the Bible that would better fit that idea.
Besides actual vehicles from outer space, let’s consider the possibility of contact with the alien beings themselves? Could we have been visited by off-world entities that are mentioned in the Bible? Why, yes, of course! In fact, the accounts in the Bible are too numerous to mention in this article and begin as far back in biblical history as the book of Genesis.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26, ESV). It is quite obvious God was talking to one or more beings that were not of this earth. An interesting study on this subject has already been uploaded to this site.24 Furthermore, I would say the following verses also qualify as close encounters of the third kind (and probably the fourth kind, too).25
“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown,” (Genesis 6:1-2, 4).
The point I’m making is that any encounters with angels or demons mentioned in the Bible were alien contacts. This establishes the fact that alien contact is possible and can be good or bad, depending upon the entities involved. Someone recently told me they believed in aliens in spaceships visiting the earth, but did not believe in God. Well, that is the point mentioned above—space aliens are replacing God in a new religion.
Don’t be deceived.
So, here is the important message and question of this article; if and when full or partial disclosure about space aliens and secret technologies is announced by our government, what should a Christian do? Well, for one thing, don’t be deceived, even if some Christian ministers and churches accept it as truth, because any such disclosure will be deceptive. Contact will likely be suggested as either the coming of a higher and more advanced alien species, or it will be implied that they are our original creators, themselves from another realm (dimension) or another planet. If that happens, there will be displays and signs that will seem awesome and astonishing. Heed the warning, “Let no one deceive you in any way” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), because Satan and his demons will make a move before Jesus and his angels return.
“The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned,” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12).
Remember the very words of Jesus Christ, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). How do we protect ourselves? If something is announced and it is true, then everything ‘said and done’ will follow the truth written in the Bible. If it is false, then it is not from God. Check and recheck; remember that Satan is a deceiver, and has been since the creation of humankind in the garden in Eden.
Jesus had wrestled and waged war with the devil and won, but as imperfect humans, we cannot win unless we have help. So, the apostle Paul gave instructions about putting on an armor of God,26 because he knew we must..
I have covered some of this biblical information about people’s names in bits and pieces of other articles over the last few years, but never consolidated the data into a study of its own. We will look into how people’s names during bible times were chosen, and more importantly, why were they sometimes changed into something completely new.
Generally, 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 from the town of Magdala2 was called ‘The Magdalene’, hence she became Mary Magdalene. However it is not the issue of descriptive additions that this article is about, but how people got their individual given names.
As it is in selecting first names today, parents in biblical times were usually the ones to name the newborn, and to answer why a particular name was chosen, we need to examine the things that motivated their selection. Most choices fell within particular categories, as mentioned below from the book Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.
(1) To some aspect of a person’s birth. Moses was so called by his adoptive mother because he was drawn from water, hence the Hebrew verb for “to draw out” (Exodus 2:10).
(2) To express parental reactions to the birth. For example, “Isaac” means “laughter” (Genesis 17:17; 18:12).
(3) To secure the solidarity of the family (Luke 1:59).
(4) To reveal the nature, function, or a significant matter about the child. “Jesus” is a prime example, being named for his mission of saving his people (Matthew 1:21).
(5) To communicate God’s message. The name “Isaiah” (Shear-jashub) means “a remnant shall return” [many dictionaries shorten this meaning to ‘Yahweh is Salvation’].
(6) To establish religious affiliation. All the names in the Bible with the endings of -iah (the LORD), or -el (GOD) refer to the true faith of the person or parents. Examples are “Jeremiah,” and “Nathanael”.3
There are times when someone’s name was later changed, too. When Sarai’s name was changed to Sara (Genesis 17:15), it revealed an important change to her nature or status, especially in relation to God. This happened to her husband, also, when God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, because he would become the “father of a multitude of nations” Genesis 17:5).4
A new name may indicate a new character and relationship with God, as with Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:27), and in the New Testament, when Simon became Peter (John 1:42). Another reason for a name change was to align a person to a new loyalty.5 This happened to Daniel and his friends when they were captured by the enemy.
Upon arriving at the enemy’s palace, Daniel and his friends were given new names, because their Hebrew names were testimonies not only to their nationality, but also to their religion.6 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.7 This wasn’t just a Hebrew tradition, it was also a long-standing custom throughout the middle east to change one’s name at some outstanding event in their lives.8
“In Eastern countries a change of name is an advertisement of some new circumstance in the history, rank, or religion of the individual who bears it.” The change can be made in a number of ways: by the original name being entirely dropped for the new one, or by consolidating the new with the old; or maybe just adding a few letters.9
Often, royalty from Assyria, Judah, Egypt, and China took different public names when they took the throne. In Europe, it is sometimes traditional for a new Pope to take the name of a former Pope, if he wished to emulate them (especially since Mercurius was named Pope and thought it bad form for a Catholic Pope to have the name of a Roman god).10
I Will Give You a White Stone With a New Name
In the new age to come, Jesus said all those that have accepted and followed him faithfully in this life, will receive a new name for eternity. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NRSV).11
“In antiquity a white stone was used as an entrance ticket, or voting piece.”12 In some ancient court systems there was a practice of jurors using black or white stones to vote for condemnation or acquittal of a defendant.13 In this respect, we are all guilty of sin and deserve the penalty of death. But Jesus has taken our sin upon himself and those worthy of overcoming will be voted not guilty and issued a white stone with our new name. Here it guarantees us entrance into God’s kingdom.
Have you ever heard a Pastor tell his congregation that it is not necessary to tithe? Well, although I may get a lot of criticism for writing this article, let me state right here and now that there is no New Testament authority for mandatory giving of money to the Church. Tithing was part of the Mosaic law, but Christians today are not subject to that detailed group of several hundred laws—but only to the basic Ten Commandments of morality.
Let us take brief look at the meaning and history of tithing. According to the dictionary, tithe means a tenth part of something paid as a voluntary contribution or tax, especially for the support of a religious establishment.1 Records show that in the ancient past it was not always voluntary, but sometimes mandatory, too.
Tithing is an activity rooted deeply in the history of the human race, and believed by many to have been in existence even before the time of Moses. The Pentateuch (or Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) lists legislation concerning involuntary tithes. These mandatory laws demanded inclusion of seed, crops, fruit of trees (including oils and wine), and animals of the herd or flock. And the Talmudic law includes exacting detailed instructions concerning precisely the proper portions and content.2 So most tithing was generally a portion of personal goods, stock, and crops (processed or not). Tithing of gold and silver or other metals was not normal, unless it came from production (e.g., mining).
Early on there were, in fact, two tithes; one which was required and one voluntary. The required law of tithing was for the support of theocratic Israel and the voluntary tithe was to help the poor. There were, from time-to-time, other tithes for certain specific reasons, but they should not be considered as normal repetitive actions. One example of such a tithe was when Abraham gave Melchizedek one tenth of everything (Genesis 14:20) or when Jacob made a vow to give one tenth of everything he possessed to God (Genesis 28:20-22).3
Some historians suggest there were three tithes (at least for a time) and the “Jewish scholar, Flavius Josephus, mentions the custom of paying three tithes: ‘In addition to the two tithes which I have already directed you to pay each year, the one for the Levites and the other for the banquets, ye should devote a third every third year to the distribution of such things as are lacking to widowed women and orphan children.’”4
The New Testament & Tithing Today
In New Testament times, Jesus, being a Jew, faithfully lived by the Mosaic covenant and even affirmed the tithe, but that was before the commencement of a New Covenant after his death and resurrection. The New Covenant is a Christian theological teaching that the person and work of Jesus Christ is now the central focus of the Bible. Basically, after Jesus’ resurrection, the old laws were replaced with the new Law of Christ,5 which most commentators say is the law or principle of love which Jesus taught.6
Now it is true, as mentioned previously, the moral norms of the Old Testament—the original Ten Commandments—are still in force today, but not the Mosaic covenant, which is sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Law, or the 613 detailed commandments called the Mitzvot.7 Since the Mosaic Law is not in force today, neither is tithing.
The purpose of the old Mosaic covenant law was to expose sin—the purpose of Jesus’ new covenant is to defeat sin.8 Being under this new covenant, we are now not under the old law, but under a time of Grace.9 “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14, NRSV).10
New Testament scripture does not command Christians to give a tithe, and it is scripture, not tradition, that is our rule and authority. But that does not mean we should not support those that teach and preach. We enjoy the good things God gives us and we are called to be generous to those who are in need. Voluntary donations to help provide the basic or suitable needs of religious institutions is acceptable, but to demand regular payments, or charge a fee for spreading the Gospel, or even implying it is an obligation to do so, is not acceptable. When Jesus sent out his apostles to teach, preach, and minister to the people, he said, “You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:8).11
Look around the Christian world today, there are many churches organized, chartered, and incorporated as big businesses designed to be money-making machines. They try to make you think they can’t operate without your help and keep begging and pleading for your money—and they get it. Television preachers point out that tithing doesn’t have to go to a local church, you can fulfill your obligation by sending the money directly to them. Many churches not only want your tithe, but want you to put it in writing that you will continue to do so. They purposely make you feel guilty if you don’t give at least ten percent and, if you are fortunate to have a high income, they even expect more than that.
Today, tithing is generally regarded, not as produce and livestock, but as spendable money—cash, checks, or bank card charges—and churches also encourage transferring of assets upon death, be it an automobile, home, or other property. Granted, as a Christian, we should help those who teach and preach God’s word, but not to support churches and their buildings designed beyond necessity, or those staffed with people receiving extravagant salaries and perks you would generally only see with celebrity status, large corporate offices, or high government positions.
Keep in mind that if you do decide to tithe, the value of your time is a valuable asset, too. An electrician that makes twenty-five dollars an hour at his place of work, should be able to count the time he spends fixing the church’s electrical problem as part of his tithing donation.
The apostle Paul gave a lot of attention to charity, but he never used the word tithe. Many ministers, church leaders, and preachers keep proclaiming the popular expectation that giving should be a systematic weekly tithe.12 They sometimes imply that the tithe is an entitlement to the church.
Jesus recommended giving, yet nowhere in the New Testament “is the tithing rule urged for this purpose or for charity. Instead, giving must be spontaneous, the amount governed by what a [person] has” as stated in the Pauline letter at 2 Corinthians 8:1–15.13 If you feel like you should tithe, that is wonderful, and your are encouraged to help. Just remember it is not mandatory to do so. Give with your heart, not because of undeserved pressure or guilt.
Orr, James, et al., (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Tithe,” by Paul Levertoff, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), pp. 2987-2988.
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, (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), vol. 12, p. 150.
The other day, someone I know was relating something that happened in a department store parking lot. He was waiting as an automobile backed out and left a parking space, but before he could drive his car into the space himself, another vehicle approaching from the other direction zipped into it. Sound familiar?
When things happen, such as this, another life situation appears where one must make a quick decision. You can verbally express your thoughts, which could escalate into a physical encounter, or you can just “chalk it up” to an impolite and self-centered jerk and move on. I remember once hearing the victim, in a similar situation, tell the offender, “You better keep a close eye on your car for the next half hour or so; something could happen to it.” I thought that was funny, but probably it was a bit worrisome for the offending driver. My friend, however, just moved on, making this comment in a whisper, “Karma will get you for that!”
Now, most of us have heard about karma, even if we don’t fully understand its real meaning. We have heard statements throughout our lives, such as: “Whatever you do will always come back to you,” “Karma has no menu, you get served what you deserve,” “The people who hurt you will eventually face their own karma,” or “Revenge will never solve anything, karma will.”
What is Karma?
But what is karma, really? Some people say it’s just “cause and effect,” but that is an over-simplification of something more complicated. Causality is one process that contributes to another process, where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause.1 So it is true, the more someone does evil to other people, the more they are stacking the odds that someone is going to return the evil. That isn’t karma; that is logic.
According to the dictionary, karma is a force generated by a person’s actions, as maintained in the beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism. This force can pass from life to life, so its ethical consequences determine the nature of the person’s next existence. Basically, each individual is born with karma, a residual characteristic aura or force, which infuses someone from past lives and must eventually be resolved.2
There is a significant problem with the doctrine of karma—besides believing in reincarnation, it implies a prearranged destiny and the lack of free will. Scholar and historian A. L. Herman, asked this question in his book about the concept of evil in Indian philosophy, “Does the karma doctrine undermine the incentive for moral education—because all suffering is deserved and the consequence of past lives, why learn anything when the balance sheet of karma from past lives will determine one’s action and sufferings?”3 Let’s look at a comparison of these karma teachings and those of our Creator God.
Karma vs. Judeo-Christian Beliefs
In some Asian and Far Eastern religions, reincarnation is a rebirth into a new body and a new form of existence that is entirely different from one’s previous life; you are coming back as a different man or woman than the one you were before (or maybe even a lesser animal). The previous woman or man stays dead, and your soul is born afresh with a different body and a new distinct identity.4
But in the Judeo-Christian Holy Bible, we are taught of a resurrection in which the human being remains the same human they were before. There is a direct relationship between the physical body that dies and the body that physically rises.5 After Jesus was resurrected and he appeared to his disciples, he said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” (Luke 24:39, ESV).6
The doctrine of karma teaches all suffering from doing bad is deserved and the consequence of actions in past lives; in each succeeding life, you get the result of what you merit from the past lives. The Bible, on the other hand, explains that suffering is caused by evil in this lifetime and not carried forward to us from any previous life. And it is possible for good people to sometimes suffer when it isn’t their fault. Look at what happened to Job! In fact, the Bible book of Job “is all about why people suffer, especially godly people. The moral is to have patience, endurance, and faith and put your trust in God.”7
This is not a debate about who is responsible for evil in the first place (a debate that has been going on for millennia), but what the struggle is against. It is not ourselves, as implied by other religions, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan and his associates are the spiritual forces of evil. Our struggle is against them.
Another difference of karma and God’s real world is karma’s implication of a prearranged destiny and the lack of free will—that our soul carries on from the point we left in our previous life and is moving in a prearranged direction. The Bible teaches that we have free will to do good, as well as to do evil. We can change from one to the other in this life. We are in charge of our own path.
Through his prophet Ezekiel, our LORD disposed the misconception that God holds the succeeding generation accountable for the sins of the previous generation.8 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit,” (Ezekiel 18:30–31 NIV).
About the only thing God’s word has in agreement to the doctrine of karma is “we reap what we sow,” but even here there is a slight difference. In the ancient Indian epic poem9 by the sage Vyāsa,10 it states, “As a man himself sows, so he himself reaps.”11 But this karma quote implies, from the supporting evidence, that the sowing and reaping could carry over from their past lives into their new lives, while the Bible specifically means in your life now, and continuing in your own life again, when finally resurrected.
“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith,” (Galatians 6:7–10).
In this scripture, “Paul was talking about not being deceived or led astray or wander off course. Don’t let outside influence sway you in the wrong direction . . . If we sow to satisfy our old nature, we will become corrupt and be destroyed. If we sow to please the Spirit, we will grow in holiness and reap eternal life. It’s our decision.”12
I hear many Christians using the word karma. They usually do so because karma has become, sort of, a buzzword in modern American slang usage, meaning “we reap what we sow—the evil someone does, will eventually come back to them.” I understand this, but I tend not to use that word, because some people may assume I am a believer of non-Christian concepts. I wouldn’t want to make my Christian brother or sister think I fell from my faith and therefore make them stumble. As Jesus said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
If we are the recipients of wrongdoing by others, it would be better and more productive, spiritually, to forgive than to wish revenge or desire that they will soon get their due. Yes, in the end, we will get what is deserved, good or bad, but for those doing evil now, we should hope and pray that they will repent, rather than being pleased by their possible punishment. What would Jesus do?
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.