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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 15:27-34

27 For “God[a] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”[b] 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s instructions on worship; it must be ‘done decently and in order’. Good news for the Frozen Chosen and the reason why orderly worship has been the norm for over two millennia.

1 Corinthians 15 is all about the Resurrection and eternal life.

In the preceding verses, Paul describes how Christ’s mediatorial kingdom will end, at which point he will deliver it to God the Father (emphases mine below):

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

In verse 27, Paul says that everything is in submission — ‘in subjection’ — to Christ, except for God the Father, and cites Psalm 8:6, a Messianic verse:

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,

Matthew Henry describes Christ’s nature as our Mediator:

… though his mediation supposes his divine nature, yet as Mediator he does not so explicitly sustain the character of God, but a middle person between God and man, partaking of both natures, human and divine, as he was to reconcile both parties, God and man, and receiving commission and authority from God the Father to act in this office. The Father appears, in this whole dispensation, in the majesty and with the authority of God: the Son, made man, appears as the minister of the Father, though he is God as well as the Father. Nor is this passage to be understood of the eternal dominion over all his creatures which belongs to him as God, but of a kingdom committed to him as Mediator and God-man, and that chiefly after his resurrection, when, having overcome, he sat down with his Father on his throne, Revelation 3:21. Then was the prediction verified, I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion (Psalms 2:6), placed him on his throne. This is meant by the phrase so frequent in the writings of the New Testament, of sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1, c.), on the right hand of power (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69), on the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2), on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, Hebrews 8:1. Sitting down in this seat is taking upon him the exercise of his mediatorial power and royalty, which was done upon his ascension into heaven, Mark 16:19. And it is spoken of in scripture as a recompence made him for his deep humiliation and self-abasement, in becoming man, and dying for man the accursed death of the cross, Philippians 2:6-12. Upon his ascension, he was made head over all things to the church, had power given him to govern and protect it against all its enemies, and in the end destroy them and complete the salvation of all that believe in him. This is not a power appertaining to Godhead as such; it is not original and unlimited power, but power given and limited to special purposes. And though he who has it is God, yet, inasmuch as he is somewhat else besides God, and in this whole dispensation acts not as God, but as Mediator, not as the offended Majesty, but as one interposing in favour of his offending creatures, and this by virtue of his consent and commission who acts and appears always in that character, he may properly be said to have this power given him; he may reign as God, with power unlimited, and yet may reign as Mediator, with a power delegated, and limited to these particular purposes. (2.) That this delegated royalty must at length be delivered up to the Father, from whom it was received (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:24); for it is a power received for particular ends and purposes, a power to govern and protect his church till all the members of it be gathered in, and the enemies of it for ever subdued and destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25; 1 Corinthians 15:26), and when these ends shall be obtained the power and authority will not need to be continued. The Redeemer must reign till his enemies be destroyed, and the salvation of his church and people accomplished; and, when this end is attained, then will he deliver up the power which he had only for this purpose, though he may continue to reign over his glorified church and body in heaven; and in this sense it may notwithstanding be said that he shall reign for ever and ever (Revelation 11:15), that he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:33), that his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, Daniel 7:14. See also Micah 4:7.

John MacArthur says:

Jesus Christ takes the assignment from the Father to redeem the earth, and He goes about and does it. And when He’s all done, when He’s all finished – He’s finished coming as a baby; He’s finished living as a man. He’s finished dying, rising, coming back. He’s finished fighting the enemies of Satan and all the other world enemies. He’s finished with all the rebellions; He’s squelched all the enemies; He’s crushed all the foes.

It’s all done, and He reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He’s got all the redeemed, and they’re all gathered together, and all the ones who were unbelieving are gone, and they’re judged, and they’re all away. And all that’s left are the redeemed. Then He gives it all to God and says, “Here, I did My task.” He gives it to the Father. And that’s what the Bible calls the eternal state: the new heaven and the new earth. No more rebels. He gives it all to God. All things in the kingdom are under His feet.

There’s an interesting footnote, in verse 27, I’ll call your attention to. He says, “God the Father’s going to put all things under His feet in that kingdom.” But he adds one thing, “But when God the Father says, ‘All things are put under Christ,’ it is obvious” – manifest means obvious – “it is obvious that He” – that is God the Father – “is an exception.”

At that point, Paul says, Christ will become subject to His heavenly Father so that those who are redeemed will know their salvation came through God’s power (verse 28).

Henry interprets the verse:

… it will appear to the divine glory, that God may be all in all, that the accomplishment of our salvation may appear altogether divine, and God alone may have the honour of it. Note, Though the human nature must be employed in the work of our redemption, yet God was all in all in it. It was the Lord’s doing and should be marvellous in our eyes.

MacArthur clarifies the reign of Christ:

You say, “Christ is going to keep on reigning?”

Yeah, because when He was born, in Luke chapter 1 it said, “Fear not, Mary, for thou has found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David – now listen to this – and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be – what? – no end. He will reign forever. Forever.

In Revelation chapter 11, verse 15, it says, “He will reign forever and ever.” You know what I love? I’ll illustrate it, Revelation 3 he says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with Me in My throne.” And where is My throne? My throne is in the Father’s throne. You see what Jesus is saying? “Ultimately, My throne and the Father’s throne is your throne.” In other words, all things return to God. As in the beginning we were all coming out of God, in the end we all return to God, and we reign with Him in common life. No wonder Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I made everything, and all things resolve in Me.” That’s where history’s going. It came from God, it goes back to God, and resurrection makes it happen.

When God made a humanity, he made a humanity of righteousness, with a plan that they would dwell with Him forever. When they lost that righteousness, He didn’t give up the plan; He will raise them to a new humanity of righteousness and gain them back into His presence. That’s history. That’s history, that God may be all in all. Everything goes back to Him. And not in a mystical, Greek philosophical way are we – do we float back into some deity, but we are united with God by the common life that flows through us. And we sit with Him on His throne, with Christ who is in the same throne, and the Holy Spirit no doubt is there as well. A great, great reality.

I’m positive the Holy Spirit will be there, too. Be in no doubt.

Then we come to verse 29, which must be one of the most problematic in the Bible. Paul speaks of people being baptised on behalf of the dead, and if there were no resurrection of the body, why would such baptisms take place.

Matthew Henry goes through the most common theological explanations of what ‘baptised on behalf of the dead’ means and poses this question:

But who shall interpret this very obscure passage, which, though it consists of no more than three words, besides the articles, has had more than three times three senses put on it by interpreters?

Henry’s conclusion is that some Corinthians became baptised when they saw that those in the congregation who disgraced the Lord’s table through drunkenness became sick and died:

We read that many were sickly among them, and many slept (1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 11:30), because of their disorderly behaviour at the Lord’s table. These executions might terrify some into Christianity; as the miraculous earthquake did the jailer, Acts 16:29; Acts 16:30, c. Persons baptized on such an occasion might be properly said to be baptized for the dead, that is, on their account. And the hoi baptizomenoi (the baptized) and the hoi nekroi (the dead) answer to one another and upon this supposition the Corinthians could not mistake the apostle’s meaning. “Now,” says he, “what shall they do, and why were they baptized, if the dead rise not? You have a general persuasion that these men have done right, and acted wisely, and as they ought, on this occasion; but why, if the dead rise not, seeing they may perhaps hasten their death, by provoking a jealous God, and have no hopes beyond it?” But whether this be the meaning, or whatever else be, doubtless the apostle’s argument was good and intelligible to the Corinthians.

MacArthur also had problems interpreting this verse in 1977, when he delivered his sermon on it:

Now, there are some of you persistent Bible students in this congregation who have asked me to interpret 1 Corinthians 15:29 for the nine years that I’ve been here. And I have stalled you off until this very hour. And now I can no longer stall you because here we are, at a very, very difficult passage in the Scripture, that we’ll endeavor to gain an understanding of as we look at it this morning …

Now, that verse, beloved, has between 40 and 400 interpretations, any one of which might be right with some exceptions. What it’s saying I really don’t know; I’ll be very honest with you. I do not know. I will take a calculated risk; I will throw myself at your mercy this morning, and you can determine whether or not there is much grounds for my conclusion. But believe me; you don’t hardly have time during one week to study 40 views intelligently, let alone to come to a conclusion. But I have one anyway, and I’ll offer it to you. I will not be dogmatic on this simply because this is one passage that is so obscure and so difficult, that we couldn’t be dogmatic, but we can draw some conclusions that I think the context sort of lends itself to.

Now, let me give you a basic point that I’m working with as a result of working over the text. By the way, I started with a completely different view on Monday than I wound up with on Friday. In fact, I was very surprised at my conclusion. I think three people talked to me during the week, and I told them three different views that I was holding on that day.

But anyways, this is Sunday morning, and here we are. As for me tomorrow, you don’t know where I’ll be. But anyway, I think that the context lends itself to the fact that Paul is trying to point out things that would be lost if we give up bodily resurrection. And so, in my mind, there must be legitimate things. And there’s much reason for that; I just make that statement to you. But I think what Paul is saying here is simply this: people get saved because they anticipate resurrection. In other words, one of the strongest incentives for people to become Christians is the hope of resurrection.

MacArthur discusses proxy baptism, which is what the Mormon Church does. It is a heresy:

Let’s look, first of all, at the simple statements in the verse. “What shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”

Now, the Mormon Church takes this verse, and they take what appears on the surface to be the most obvious view: that somebody is baptized for a dead person. And the Mormons call it vicarious baptism. And they teach – and incidentally, you might note that that is not common only to Mormonism; that was a heresy taught by two ancient fathers in the Church known as Cerinth and Marcion. They both believed this. In fact, it was branded as heresy even then.

But they say, “Paul is saying this, that a Christian who is alive and has been baptized can get rebaptized for a dead person to that the dead person can get saved by proxy.” Okay? So, like if your great, dear friend at work dies without the Lord, you can come here and get baptized for that dead person, and by proxy he’ll get saved.”

The Mormons, of course, teach that the spirits of those who have died can’t enter heaven unless a Mormon is baptized for them by proxy.

Now, it’s obvious, I think, to all of us that we don’t believe that. Proxy baptism, vicarious baptism could only be extrapolated out of this text. And there’s a simple principle of biblical interpretation: you never generate a doctrine out of an obscure text when no other text in the Bible teaches it. I mean you – that’s mercilessly attacking the Bible with your own bias and making it say what you want it to say. And you can’t do that.

The person who gets baptized himself doesn’t get saved by being baptized, let alone a dead person. We believe you’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Right? And baptism is simply an act of obedient faith that proclaims that testimony of salvation. But no one is saved by baptism, not living people, to say nothing of dead ones. “It is appointed unto man once to die,” the Bible says, “and after this” – the baptism? – “after this the judgment.”

MacArthur thinks that verse 29 means the following:

… “Some people, unbelieving people, are being saved because of the dead.” Now it is most likely that the dead have reference to Christians. The dead.

There is the yearning among mourners to be reunited with the people they lost to death. Therefore, if the dead were Christians, the mourners become Christians. They also see the way that those who died, in their final days, were optimistic about dying because they would be with the Lord.

MacArthur says:

There are some people who come to Christ and are saved because of some dead person or persons. What do I mean by that? Just this: there are two things, I think, in this particular area that draw people to Christ. One is this: an unbeliever sees a Christian, and he watches that Christian face death. And that Christian has hope and confidence; he is encouraged; he anticipates being with Jesus

And you know, there have been people come to Christ simply because they’ve seen the hope in the heart of a believer. And what Paul was saying here, possibly, is just that, “If there is no resurrection, then why are some unbelievers being baptized because of the great hope they see in those that have died?” See? If there’s no resurrection, why?

There’s a second element to this. You know, another great thing in death that is a cause for people to be saved is the hope of reunion. Do you know that? I’ve never had a funeral in which I didn’t give that word. You say to – someone who’s a Christian has died, and you’ll say, “You know, this person knew and loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and they went to be with Him. And if you will come to Christ, you can be rejoined with this one you love.” Right? You’ve heard that at funerals? I would dare say some of you came to Christ because you wanted to be reunited with somebody you loved who went to be with the Lord. That happens all the time. All the time.

I’ve seen a husband, who wouldn’t come to Christ for any to her reason, finally come to Christ when his wife died because he wanted to be reunited. I’ve seen it happen in the case of a mother dying, and a child who had been wayward and rebellious come to Jesus Christ in the hope that he would be reunited with his mother. Reunion.

Paul then discusses his own ministry. If there were no hope of resurrection, why would he put himself in danger every day (verse 30), saying ‘I die every day’ (verse 31) and says he fought with ‘beasts at Ephesus’ (verse 32a).

He mentions that because he was persecuted when he preached: beaten, imprisoned, thrown out of town. If there is no hope of resurrection, then enduring that was pointless and masochistic.

Did Paul actually fight with beasts at Ephesus?

Henry says that it is possible he did, although he probably meant ‘beasts’ as being a figurative expression for enraged men:

he had fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 15:32), and was in danger of being pulled to pieces by an enraged multitude, stirred up by Demetrius and the other craftsmen (Acts 19:24, c.), though some understand this literally of Paul’s being exposed to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheatre, at a Roman show in that city. And Nicephorus tells a formal story to this purport, and of the miraculous complaisance of the lions to him when they came near him. But so remarkable a trial and circumstance of his life, methinks, would not have been passed over by Luke, and much less by himself, when he gives us so large and particular a detail of his sufferings, 2 Corinthians 11:24, ad fin. When he mentioned that he was five times scourged of the Jews, thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice shipwrecked, it is strange that he should not have said that he was once exposed to fight with the beasts. I take it, therefore, that this fighting with beasts is a figurative expression, that the beasts intended were men of a fierce and ferine disposition, and that this refers to the passage above cited.

MacArthur thinks an actual fight with fierce animals might have taken place, although he is not sure:

People say, “Well, it can’t be real beasts, because, you see, we don’t have any other record of it.”

Well, you have this record. How many times does God have to say something to make it true?

“Well,” you say, “they couldn’t be real beasts simply because Paul was a Roman citizen, and a Roman citizen really couldn’t suffer that kind of a situation; he couldn’t be brought to – into the arena before the beasts. And Paul, as a Roman citizen, wouldn’t have done that.”

Well, listen, Paul’s Roman citizenship did get him out of some things, but it may well have been that it didn’t get him out of this. And those people would have figured if the beasts all eat him, who’s going to protest? Right? Who’s going to write Rome and tell them? Not us. And not him either.

I don’t know. Some say, “No, this is a wild beast; it’s a metaphor.”

I know Lenski, in his commentary, goes on paragraph after paragraph to prove it’s a metaphor. And I’m not sure he does, but it might be. He says it’s really just saying “wild beast” is a metaphor for the wild people at the riot in Acts 19 that occurred in Ephesus. Maybe so; I don’t know. But whatever it is, Paul says, “Look” – verse 30 – “all of us apostles are in jeopardy. I particularly am in jeopardy; I die daily. Here’s one incident: I had to fight beasts in Ephesus.”

By the way, there is an old historic church legend that says he did fight beasts in Ephesus, and that they had the same problem that they had in the den of Daniel; they became totally passive and left him alone. That’s just a legend.

The next half of verse 32 says that, if there is no resurrection, then we might as well live life as Epicureans, indulging our base instincts.

Paul was citing Isaiah 22:13:

and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life. There might have been some Jews in the Corinthian congregation who adopted that same outlook, unbiblical as it is.

However, as those who have studied the Classics know, this was also a widespread philosophy in Greece and Rome. Atheists were likely to have been in the Corinthian church, more about whom below. Perhaps they enjoyed the revelry of eating and drinking before the Communion service.

MacArthur tells us how parties ended in ancient Egypt:

Classic literature is full of this kind of thought. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells one of the customs of the Egyptians. He says, “In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet was ended, a servant would often carry around to the guests a coffin. And in the coffin was a wooden image of a corpse carved and painted to resemble a dead person as nearly as possible. And the servant would show it to each of the guests, and he would say, ‘Gaze here, and drink and be merry, for when you die, such you shall be.’” That’s a great way to end a party. I’ll tell you what; it’s a great way to get a party going. If you really believe that, you are going to party.

Paul warns the Corinthians about keeping bad company: it ruins good morals (verse 33).

Henry says:

Note, Bad company and conversation are likely to make bad men. Those who would keep their innocence must keep good company. Error and vice are infectious: and, if we would avoid the contagion, we must keep clear of those who have taken it. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed, Proverbs 13:20.

Paul issues a reprimand to the congregation, saying that they must wake up from their ‘drunken stupor’ and repent, because there are people among them who have no knowledge of God — atheists; he says that to their shame (verse 34).

Henry explains:

… I am apt to think that the expression has a much stronger meaning; that there were atheistical people among them who hardly owned a God, or one who had any concern with or took cognizance of human affairs. These were indeed a scandal and shame to any Christian church. Note, Real atheism lies at the bottom of men’s disbelief of a future state.

MacArthur emphasises the importance of good theology:

See, some in the church didn’t know God truly, didn’t know God’s teaching truly. And so, they were espousing heresy. And listen to this – now here’s our point that we made at the beginning of the message – bad theology leads to bad behavior, just like good theology leads to good behavior. Just like because of all God has done, because of this truth, you are to so live. So, if you introduce error, you’re going to have corrupt morals.

So, he says, “Stop being deceived. Bad theology will corrupt your good morals. You’ve got to break the association with these people teaching this heresy. You can’t run around with heretics without it having a corrupting influence.”

In other words, what he’s saying is, “Look, holiness is predicated on a association with good teaching. If you deny the truth of the resurrection, you have removed an incentive to good living” …

You see, beloved, the resurrection has tremendous implications. If Jesus rises from the dead, if He is alive, and we shall live also, then there is an incentive for people to be saved, because there’s hope after death, and there’s reunion. There is an incentive for people to serve Jesus Christ, because you can throw this life away and know that you’re going to get it a million-fold in the life to come. There is an incentive to sanctification, because morality will be honored and rewarded in the days to come. And anything less than that is shameful heresy and will corrupt the truth.

The hope of resurrection is in both the Old and New Testaments. Only those with a poor understanding of the Bible or an atheist would discount it.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 15:39-41

The Third Sunday after Trinity is June 20, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 4:35-41

4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading continues from last week’s.

John MacArthur puts this storm and the Sea of Galilee into context for us:

the Sea of Galilee – which isn’t really a sea, it’s a fresh water lake, and today it’s known as Lake Kinneret, in Israel – but it’s, to us, called the Sea of Galilee. It is the lowest fresh water lake on the planet; it is 682 feet below sea level. It isn’t as low as the Dead Sea, but the Dead Sea is not fresh water; it is highly mineralized content, and the salt in the Dead Sea is so thick that you can float on the top of it rather easily. But this is the lowest fresh water lake in the world, and as a result of that, it has been much studied for its unique properties. It has a stratification of water. There are literally three stratifications of the water, that go down a hundred and fifty feet, and those stratifications have a lot to do with the surface of the lake at various times of the year. They have a lot to do with the content of algae, which has a lot to do with the content of fish. In 1896, one fishing boat alone brought in 92 hundred pounds of fish. It is a prolific lake for the production of fish, and having that kind of water and that kind of resource in Galilee was a great blessing to the people who live there.

It is surrounded by mountains. Essentially, on the west and the northwest, the mountains rise to 1,500 feet. On the northeast and the east, they rise to 3,000 feet, to the Golan Heights, which runs 42 miles in length, and the lake is only 13 miles, so it goes far past the lake; the lake is 13 by 8. So, it sits in a bowl, and the water that comes into the lake that comes – comes partly from some hot springs, but primarily from the Jordan River, which flows out of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is up in the north, on the Lebanon border, at 9,200 feet, so the water flows about 10,000 feet down, to fill up this lake in this bowl. It is such pristine, fresh water that it provides, even today, about fifty percent of the water for the nation Israel, so it was a tremendous resource to them, for water as well as for fish.

Now, that’s why so many of the disciples were fishermen; up to seven of them. We know James and John, Peter and Andrew, and there may have been three more who were also fishermen on that lake. Because of its unique location, because it’s only 30 miles from the Mediterranean, and it sinks so low, it has very special properties, because it is surrounded by these mountains. That adds to the uniqueness of the lake, and as a result, scientists have done research on this lake through the years to study it. It is different than all other bodies of water in the world, and what particularly makes it unique is the fact that it is subject to very, very severe winds. And both in the summer and the warm part of the year, and in the winter in the cold part of the year, it experiences these kinds of winds. The winds that come in the summer are the Sirocco winds, from the east; they’d be like our Santa Ana winds, only they typically come every day from noon to six o’clock. They’re pretty predictable. The wind comes down hard off the Golan Heights and a little north of that, and it comes down, and it turns the lake into a boiling cauldron, and it’s pretty much the routine every day during the summer. These make it a very treacherous place to be in a boat at the wrong time.

The winter is even worse, because the winter winds are cold winds, that come from the north and the northwest, and when the cold air comes down, and it hits the warm air that naturally sits in the bowl, it creates a turmoil; the cold air goes through the warm air, and causes tremendous turmoil on the lake.

So, whether you’re in the summer or the winter, it is subject to this. I have been there on a number of occasions, and I have seen these kinds of winds come out of nowhere. I remember one time we got in this metal boat, and we were going to go across the Sea of Galilee. And we were up in the bow, standing on the bow and enjoying the ride, and, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the lake began to foam, and the waves began to rise. And pretty soon we had to run to the stern, to avoid the water splashing over the bow, only to be drenched by the water that went over the wheelhouse, and hit us all the way in the stern.

So, it can be a very troublesome place if you’re there at the wrong time; between, I guess, November and April, that is the most dangerous, treacherous time. And in very unexpected ways, those winds can come, those cold winds, and the waves can get anywhere from five to ten feet. And that just doesn’t happen on a lake, but it happens there, and it can be a very terrifying experience. In fact, one historian gives the record of the fact that on one occasion, they were in Tiberias, on the western shore of the lake, and the waters, the waves were coming so high that they were coming two hundred yards into the city of Tiberias, off this little lake. All of this is the basic product of the wind.

So, that’s the place where this happens, and so it couldn’t have been a better place for the Lord to demonstrate His power over nature, and that’s exactly what He does here.

Jesus had finished a day of teaching and probably healing, although Mark’s text does not say, and wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee (verse 35).

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that He had been teaching from the boat. He was using parables.

The disciples left the crowd on the shoreline. They went into the boat, including Jesus, who had no cloak. There were other boats accompanying the one Jesus was in (verse 36).

MacArthur tells us about the boats and a discovery of one of them in 2009, when he preached this sermon:

The word boat, by the way, ploion, doesn’t tell you anything about the size of the boat; it’s a very generic word. It doesn’t say whether it was a large boat or a small boat, but we know it was a relatively small boat, because the kind of boats that were used for fishing on the Sea of Galilee were relatively small boats. In the last month – you may have seen it – they have discovered one of them, which they were able to dig up from the bottom of the lake. And they have – sort of the rib cage of that boat still remains, and from what I could tell in looking at it, it would probably hold, comfortably, 15 to 20 people.

Well, that wasn’t going to transport all the apostles, and Jesus, and all the disciples who were following Him across, so there were other boats. Everybody else who had a boat and was a follower of Jesus joined, and you had this little flotilla going across the north end of the Sea of Galilee, headed to the other side – “other boats were with Him.”

Mark adds the detail about Jesus being ‘just as he was’. Henry explains:

They took him even as he was, that is, in the same dress that he was in when he preached, without any cloak to throw over him, which he ought to have had, to keep him warm, when he went to sea at night, especially after preaching.

MacArthur says that ‘just as he was’ also implies food:

He didn’t go to change, didn’t go to eat; they just took Him the way He was, and headed off in the water …

A great windstorm arose which caused the waves to crash against the boat, filling it with water (verse 37).

Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep, resting His head on the cushion, while the disciples were panicking. They asked Him if he did not care that they were ‘perishing’ (verse 38).

MacArthur describes the scene:

Mark 4:38 says, “He was asleep on the cushion” – literally, the pillow. It contains the word – that word for cushion contains the word kephalē, which is the word for head; something to put your head on. So that’s the kind of cushion it was, it was a pillow for His head, some kind of pillow that sailors used when they needed to lie down and get a bit of a rest.

So, He lay down in the boat, and immediately fell asleep. This is a beautiful picture of the truly human Jesus, who is exhausted, who is weary. He is the very one who created the water. He is the very one who created the sky. He created the wood the boat was made of. He even created sleep. And now, He employs these things for His own benefit, and He goes to sleep in the boat. Trailing along behind that boat are all those who were followers of His.

MacArthur points out that the disciples in the other boats would leave Jesus in John 6:

It turns out they’re not all true followers; some of them are rocky soil, some of them are weedy soil, as we saw in the parable earlier in the chapter, because John 6:66, which comes later, says that many of His disciples “walked no more with Him.” So, they’re not all going to be the real deal, but they were, at least for now, following Him

Henry says that the disciples felt comfortable enough in His presence to seemingly chide Him:

Their address to Christ is here expressed very emphatically; Master, carest thou not that we perish? I confess this sounds somewhat harsh, rather like chiding him for sleeping than begging him to awake. I know no excuse for it, but the great familiarity which he was pleased to admit them into, and the freedom he allowed them; and the present distress they were in, which put them into such a fright, that they knew not what they said. They do Christ a deal of wrong, who suspect him to be careless of his people in distress.

Jesus awakened to rebuke the wind and the sea, which resulted in complete calm (verse 39).

Henry points out:

It is spoken of as God’s prerogative to command the seas, Jeremiah 31:35. By this therefore Christ proves himself to be God. He that made the seas, can make them quiet.

Then Jesus reproved the disciples, asking them why they were afraid and if they had no faith (verse 40).

Henry compares Mark’s account of this episode with Matthew’s:

The reproof Christ gave them for their fears, is here carried further than in Matthew. There it is, Why are ye fearful? Here, Why are ye so fearful? Though there may be cause for some fear, yet not for fear to such a degree as this. There it is, O ye of little faith. Here it is, How is it that ye have no faith? Not that the disciples were without faith. No, they believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; but at this time their fears prevailed so that they seemed to have no faith at all. It was out of the way, when they had occasion for it, and so it was as if they had not had it. “How is it, that in this matter ye have no faith, that ye think I would not come in with seasonable and effectual relief?” Those may suspect their faith, who can entertain such a thought as that Christ careth not though his people perish, and Christ justly takes it ill.

Instead of being relieved, however, the disciples ‘were filled with great awe’ — terrified — that Jesus had such control over nature (verse 41).

MacArthur says this is because they realised that He could see into their souls:

They were afraid during the storm; now, they’re very much afraid. Why? Well, what’s worse than having a storm outside your boat, is having God in your boat; that’s enough to panic you.

They knew what they were dealing with. The living God was in their boat, the Creator, the controller of His creation. Terror set in. Panic set in. You remember, on another occasion on the sea, when Peter couldn’t catch any fish? Luke 5, and Jesus said, “Try this side of the boat.” Peter threw his net over there, and they had so many fish they couldn’t bring them in, and what was Peter’s response? “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man.”

Well, what kind of reaction is that? That’s the reaction of somebody who knows that the Creator controls all of the living animals, all the fish in the sea, and they go where He tells them to go. That’s frightening, because if you see God, then God sees you. You see His glory, He sees your sin. That’s a very normal response through Scripture.

In closing, some people think that although God created nature, He cannot always control it. John MacArthur explains why that belief is wrong:

only God has such power over wind and waves. We shouldn’t be surprised about that, since we hear the testimony of John, in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word” – meaning Christ – “and the Word was with God, the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” That is to say that Christ, the Word, is the Creator of everything that exists. If He has the power to create it, He has the power to control it.

In Hebrews, chapter 1, it speaks of God’s Son, who is appointed heir of all things, verse 2, “through whom also He made the world.” And then in verse 3, He “upholds all things by the word of His power.” Here, we are told that God made the world through the agency of Christ, and Christ sustains it by His power.

MacArthur says this about climate change believers:

I just wish the people in our world who think they can control the future of the planet understood what the Bible says. They’re not in charge of the planet; none of them are, and they aren’t collectively, and they’re not going to make this planet last one split second longer than the Creator has designed for it to last. They have nothing to do with it. All of that is nonsense, absolute nonsense.

I wish I could convince the Church of England of that.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:36-40

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction that women be silent in church. My post provided as nuanced an explanation as possible, especially the excerpt from Dr Craig S Keener’s work on hermeneutics in the Bible.

In today’s verses, Paul wraps up the directives he has given the Corinthians about worship. Theirs was disorderly and chaotic.

Paul was sarcastic in his letter to the Corinthians more than once. He uses sarcasm once more in verse 36, which John MacArthur interprets as follows (emphases mine):

This is very sarcastic. Whew. He’s saying, “Did you write the Bible?”

See, you are either – listen to this – you are either the one who wrote it, or you are required to submit to it, that’s all. So if you didn’t write it, obey it. Now if you’re not going to obey it, maybe you wrote it. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you; it’s just for everybody else.

“You think you have a monopoly on Scripture?” That’s what he’s saying. “Did it just come to you or from you? You got some special dispensation? If not, if the same Scripture applies to you that applies to everybody else, the same Scripture authored by God, then you have one response: obey.” And I’m telling you, boy, he really calls a halt to all their activity, doesn’t he. “Let’s make it edify.”

Paul says that anyone who thinks he can prophesy (preach) or has spiritual gifts should acknowledge that Paul’s directives come from the Lord (verse 37).

Furthermore, anyone who does not recognise that principle is not recognised (verse 38). The Corinthian church had false teachers who were part of the problem in worship.

MacArthur interprets Paul’s message to the church in Corinth:

He says this: “Look, if the gift is legitimate, they will acknowledge that I speak the Word of God; and if they acknowledge that I speak the Word of God, they will bring that gift into submission to the principles I’ve just spoken. Now if they don’t, it isn’t the true gift.” You see that?

If you go somewhere and they don’t do it by two or three, and they don’t do it in order, and it isn’t interpreted, and prophets don’t speak in this manner, et cetera, et cetera, believe me, they do not acknowledge this as the Word of God; and if they don’t, then they’re not legitimate. So Paul really lays it down. It’s one of the greatest claims Paul ever made to being inspired by God: “The things that I write are the commandments of the Lord.”

Matthew Henry picks up on a crucial spiritual aspect in verse 37:

If he will not own what I deliver on this head to be the will of Christ, he himself never had the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ can never contradict itself if it speak in me, and in them, it must speak the same things in both. If their revelations contradict mine, they do not come from the same Spirit; either I or they must be false prophets. By this therefore you may know them. If they say that my directions in this matter are no divine commandments, you may depend upon it they are not divinely inspired.

Paul concludes his chapter on worship by saying that the men should desire the gift of preaching and to allow the true gift of tongues (verse 39), which is speaking the word of God in a foreign language that can be interpreted — not the pagan-influenced ecstatic gibberish of the Corinthians.

Paul’s final word on the subject is that worship be conducted in a decent and orderly manner (verse 40).

MacArthur explains what decency means in Greek:

“Let all things be done” – all things, all things – “decently.” That is a word that means beauty. Beauty is a word that means harmony; and harmony has to do with the way everything fits together. “Let it all be done in beauty and in order.” Sequence. God is a God of harmony and beauty. God is a God where everything fits together. And God is a God of order, system, order. He says, “Let your service manifest God.”

Paul would commend the Frozen Chosen, those who like decency and order in their worship.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 15:27-34

The Second Sunday after Trinity is June 13, 2021.

These are the readings for Year B.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 4:26-34

4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,

4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

4:30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?

4:31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;

4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;

4:34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I am starting with the last verse first today, because John MacArthur explains why Jesus did not explain the parables to others outside of His circle:

So, there was a time when Jesus was proclaiming the truth, and they had heard and believed the truth. But there’s been a very interesting turn in the tide of things … In fact, if you go back to verse 11, Jesus says to the disciples and the apostles, “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” They’re past grace; they’re past forgiveness; they’re past believing.

What has happened is in all these months of ministry in Galilee day after day after day after day, the final verdict of many of the people and the leaders in Galilee is they reject Jesus Christ. Not only do they reject Him, but according to chapter 3, verse 22, they say, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul and cast out demons by the ruler of the demons.” And that’s when it says He began speaking to them in parables.

They made their final verdict, and they rejected Jesus. And now in an act of divine judgment, he cuts them off from any further truth. And so, in regard to the disciples, he speaks to them explaining the parables.

When the crowd gathers, He speaks to the crowd in parables without explanation. From now on, in His ministry in Galilee, He doesn’t explain anything because they have made their final decision. Our Lord’s judgment then is to withhold the light from that generation of Jews in Galilee who had finally rejected Him and were beyond hope

So, the point is this, the plan is the light will shine, the seed will be sown. For the moment, a judgment has been rendered on those people in Galilee who made their final decision. But just a few chapters later, there are other folks in other places, even in Galilee, as well as later on in Judea to whom they are to go.

But the assumption, when He sends them out in chapter 6, verses 7 to 13, is that they’re going to be rejected. He tells them if they – “If they reject you, just shake the dust off your feet and get out of there.” But that was a kind of a training mission for what would finally be their full commission.

Now, this is in accord with the divine intention. If you go to verse 22, you see that in the next little parable. Nothing is hidden except to be revealed, nor has anything been secret that it – but that it would come to light. This is a simple, simple, little concept. People hide things because there’s a certain time that they need to be revealed.

Mark 4 begins with the Parable of the Sower. The Lamp under a Basket follows. The Parable of the Seed Growing and that of the Mustard Seed, today’s reading, follows that.

Jesus discusses the divine plan for the Church, comparing it to someone planting seed (verse 26).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The good seed of the gospel sown in the world, and sown in the heart, doth by degrees produce wonderful effects, but without noise (Mark 4:26; Mark 4:26, c.) So is the kingdom of God; so is the gospel, when it is sown, and received, as seed in good ground.

As the sower’s days and nights pass, and he knows not how, the seed sprouts and grows (verse 27), first into a stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head (verse 28).

Henry makes the following comparisons to the word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit:

1. It will come up; though it seem lost and buried under the clods, it will find or make its way through them. The seed cast into the ground will spring. Let but the word of Christ have the place it ought to have in a soul, and it will show itself, as the wisdom from above doth in a good conversation …

2. The husbandman cannot describe how it comes up; it is one of the mysteries of nature; It springs and grows up, he knows not how,Mark 4:27; Mark 4:27. He sees it has grown, but he cannot tell in what manner it grew, or what was the cause and method of its growth. Thus we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes. Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; how God manifested in the flesh came to be believed on in the world, 1 Timothy 3:16.

3. The husbandman, when he hath sown the seed, doth nothing toward the springing of it up; He sleeps, and rises, night and day; goes to sleep at night, gets up in the morning, and perhaps never so much as thinks of the corn he hath sown, or ever looks upon it, but follows his pleasures or other business, and yet the earth brings forth fruit of itself, according to the ordinary course of nature, and by the concurring power of the God of nature. Thus the word of grace, when it is received in faith, is in the heart a work of grace, and the preachers contribute nothing to it. The Spirit of God is carrying it on when they sleep, and can do no business (Job 33:15; Job 33:16), or when they rise to go about other business …

MacArthur points out the Greek used in verse 28:

I love this, verse 28, “The soil produces crops by itself.” It’s the Greek word automatē, from which we get the English word “automatically.” It’s divinely automatic. How encouraging is that? Regeneration, transformation, spiritual transition, conversion, new birth can’t be produced by anyone or any human means. The whole process is divinely automatic. You can’t start it, and you can’t stop it. And once it starts, it goes to the full.

When the grain matures, the farmer knows it it time to harvest it (verse 29).

MacArthur says that, for believers, the enjoyment of the harvest will be ours forever, not just as part of a church community:

one way we enjoy the harvest is fellowship, don’t we? This is fellowship. Another way, in eternity in the future, friends for eternity, that we don’t even know now that we’ll meet then. So, forever and ever, we will enjoy the harvest. We’ll taste the harvest.

Jesus then segues into the Parable of the Mustard Seed by asking what can be compared to the Kingdom of God (verse 30). He answers by saying that the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds (verse 31), yet grows into the greatest of shrubs, able to accommodate nesting birds (verse 32).

MacArthur says that the mustard seed was the smallest known to them:

Now, a mustard seed was the smallest seed that they used in their farming. It wasn’t the actual smallest seed on the planet, but it was proverbial for something small to them because it was the one they were familiar with. Matthew 17:20, “Jesus said, ‘If you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed’” – and so forth. So, that was their proverbial expression for something very small, and it was the size of a grain of sand.

But proportionately, there was nothing that they planted that started that small and became so large. A mustard bush would be up to 15 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. A massive thing to come out of a seed the size of a grain of sand. And what our Lord is saying to them is obvious. There’s no explanation here. The small beginnings, guys, do not give you any indication of where this is going.

Therefore, from small beginnings a great Church will grow and expand, as we saw in the reading from Acts 2 on Pentecost Sunday.

Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to the disciples in parables to the extent that they could understand them (verse 33).

Henry says:

The glory of the Lord was covered with a cloud, and God speaks to us in the language of the sons of men, that, though not at first, yet by degrees, we may understand his meaning; the disciples themselves understood those sayings of Christ afterward, which at first they did not rightly take the sense of. But these parables he expounded to them, when they were alone. We cannot but wish we had had that exposition, as we had of the parable of the sower; but it was not so needful; because, when the church should be enlarged, that would expound these parables to us, without any more ado.

MacArthur offers us a practical application of these two parables:

The promise is the Lord will bless the seed you sow. The Lord will return to you blessing. It doesn’t mean that all the seed you sow will bring about salvation, but what it does mean is that as you are faithful to sow the seed God will be faithful to give you in return. And not just equally. Because at the end of verse 24, “And more will be given to you besides.” And at the beginning of verse 25, “For whoever has, to him more shall be given.” If you’re one of those who has, that is you have eternal life, you have the truth, you have the seed, you will receive not only in measure what you’ve done but far more.

This is Luke 6:38, Jesus said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” And it will come from men in this life, and from God and spiritual blessing, and in the future eternal blessing.

So, I say we listen obediently and appreciatively because of the promise of reward the Lord has given to us as faithful listeners who let what we hear be known to others

So, we throw the seed, and we shine the light obediently because of the innate obligation, and appreciatively because of the individual opportunity. Each one of us will receive personally the blessing of God on our faithfulness and much, much, much more than we deserve.

What an encouraging thought to lead us into the week ahead.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions for orderly worship, something sorely needed in the church in Corinth.

Paul’s instructions ended with verse 33a (emphases mine):

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Today’s post is the hardest one I will ever write.

Paul says that in all the proper churches (verse 33b), women should ‘keep silent’; they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission as Scripture teaches (verse 34).

John MacArthur says that the Corinthian women were trying to dominate worship:

the women were leading the parade in this seeking for the showy gifts; and women were usurping the place of the men; and women were not being silent and submissive in the church, they were bursting out and trying to take over

That isn’t a Corinthian cultural issue, that’s everywhere in the church to be the standard. Here are these women speaking in tongues, and interpreting, and singing their songs, and prophesying, and usurping the authority; and Paul singles them out. Not that men were not equally guilty; men were guilty of all these things. But he reminds the women that they are to take the place of submission and silence in the public service of the church.

Genesis has the ‘Law’ of men ruling women:

What law? The law of God, the Pentateuch, Genesis 3:16, which says, “He shall rule over thee.” From the very beginning, the man was given the authority over the woman.

Paul also mentioned women in a letter to Timothy:

In 1 Timothy chapter 2 in verse 11, “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. I permit not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The reason is not because now we’ve got a culture in Ephesus or a problem in Timothy’s town, but because Adam was made first, and because Eve sinned. In other words, “This is a divine design from the beginning. You can’t acculturate it, you can’t just slide it out the door on the basis of culture; it is in the law of God.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary agrees with this general premise but cites an important exception:

And seeing there were women who had spiritual gifts of this sort in that age of the church (see Acts 22:9), and might be under this impulse in the assembly, must they altogether suppress it? Or why should they have this gift, if it must never be publicly exercised? For these reasons, some think that these general prohibitions are only to be understood in common cases; but that upon extraordinary occasions, when women were under a divine afflatus, and known to be so, they might have liberty of speech.

Paul says that if women have difficulty understanding the messages delivered during worship, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is ‘shameful’ for them to speak in church (verse 35).

MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘shameful’:

“It is a shame for women to speak in the church.” And the word aischros means it is ugly, it is a deformity. It is a deformity of God’s intention; it is a perversion of beauty into ugliness.

However, ten years ago I wrote about Dr Craig S Keener’s exploration of hermeneutics in the Bible. Keener addressed these verses and offered the following interpretation, which was specific to an era when women had little education:

we need to take into account differences in situation: in the first century, men were far more apt to be educated, including in the Bible, than women; would Paul have written exactly the same applications for today, when women and men are more likely to share equal opportunities for education? [Gordon] Fee’s principles resemble those we articulated above on the use of cultural background.

We may provide one stark example of how we need to take Paul’s situation into account. In two texts, Paul requires women to keep “silence” in church (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:12). If we press this to mean all that it could mean, women should not even sing in church! Few churches today press these verses this far, but are they ignoring the passages’ meaning? Not necessarily. In other texts, Paul commends women for their labors for the kingdom (Phil 4:2-3), and in Romans 16 commends more women for their services than men (even though he mentions more men!) Moreover, he at least occasionally uses his most common terms for his male fellow workers to some women: “fellow worker” (Prisca, Rom 16:3); diakonos (“servant,” Phoebe, Rom 16:1); and once even “apostle” (Junia, according to the best translations; Rom 16:7)! Even more importantly, he accepts women praying and prophesying with their heads covered (1 Cor 11:4-5). How can they pray and prophesy if later in the same letter he requires them to be completely silent in church (1 Cor 14:34-35)? Does the Bible contradict itself here? Did Paul contradict himself in the very same letter?

But the two texts about silence probably do not address all kinds of silence, but deal with special kinds of situations. The only kind of speech specifically addressed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is asking questions (14:35). It was common for people to interrupt teachers and lecturers with questions in Jewish and Greek cultures alike; but it was rude for unlearned people to do so, and they might have considered it especially rude for unlearned women. Keep in mind that women were usually much less educated than men; in Jewish culture, in fact, boys were taught to recite God’s law but girls almost never received this education. As to 1 Timothy 2:11-12, scholars still debate how Paul uses the Old Testament background (he applies Old Testament examples different ways in different passages, even the example of Eve: 2 Cor 11:3). But one point, at least, is interesting: Paul’s letters to Timothy in Ephesus are the only letters in the entire Bible where we know that false teachers were specifically targeting women with their false teachings (2 Tim 3:6). In fact, they may have targeted widows (1 Tim 5:9) who owned homes so they could use their houses for churches–one of the Greek terms in 1 Tim 5:13 nearly always meant spreading “nonsense” or false ideas. Those who knew less about the Bible were naturally most susceptible to false teachings; those who do not know the Bible should not be allowed to teach it. Whatever other conclusions one may draw from this, it seems unlikely that Paul would have refused to let women sing in church!

There, that’s done and dusted.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:36-40

The First Sunday after Trinity is June 6, 2020.

This day is also known as Corpus Christi Sunday.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 2:23-3:6

2:23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

2:24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

2:25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?

2:26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”

2:27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;

2:28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.

3:2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

3:3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”

3:4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

3:5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To put this into context, John MacArthur explains the Jewish Sabbath:

The word “Sabbath” comes from sabbaton. Its root is the verb “to cease.” The double beta like the double “B” in Sabbath is an intensified form, so it’s a complete cessation. It was God who defined Sabbath in Genesis 2:3. He ceased completely from the work of creation. And so, Sabbath came to refer to that day when people ceased working. That’s all the Old Testament says. It simply says you’re not to work. It doesn’t give any particular detailed minute prescriptions. You’re not to work, you’re to rest. It’s to be a day of joy. It’s made for man, a day of rest, recuperation, restoration, worship.

But the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes had developed all kinds of things to make Sabbath worse than every other day because of its unbelievable restraints. Edersheim, in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, has done some marvelous work in researching this and going back and digging it out of the Talmud. The Talmud comes after Christ some time but picks up and codifies all the laws that have long existed in Judaism.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that fasting was common among some Jews:

Why do the Pharisees and the disciples of John fast? They used to fast, the Pharisees fasted twice in the week (Luke 18:12), and probably the disciples of John did so too; and, it should seem, this very day, when Christ and his disciples were feasting in Levi’s house, was their fast-day, for the word is nesteuousi–they do fast, or are fasting, which aggravated the offence. Thus apt are strict professors to make their own practice a standard, and to censure and condemn all that do not fully come up to it.

The disciples began picking grain to eat because they placed more importance on listening to Jesus than having a meal, but then they became hungry (Mark 2:23).

Henry says:

They were so intent upon spiritual dainties, that they forgot even their necessary food; and the word of Christ was to them instead of that …

MacArthur provides more context about fields of grain:

They were going through sown fields. Literally, sown fields is what Luke calls them, maybe wheat or barley. The grain is ripe, which makes it presumably spring or summer. In the Jordan Valley, grain ripens in the Valley from April to August. Harvest may have been very near. The fields are laid out in strips with paths crisscrossing the strips. The roads are not distinguishable from the paths through the field. There aren’t thoroughfares, highways, big roads. Everybody goes through the land walking through the fields and that’s the way it’s always been.

And so, in Deuteronomy 23:25, God makes a wonderful – wonderful provision for travelers. When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain. Obviously, you can’t just harvest the grain and haul it off, but when you’re traveling through his fields, have at it. Take what’s there. This would be true of – of any kind of food in a reasonable, sensible way. To stave off your hunger, you’re welcome to what is there. So the Old Testament provides for that and it doesn’t restrict it to six days a week, it simply says you can do it.

The Old Testament never restricts how far a person can walk, how far they can go, how heavy the burden they can carry. It simply calls them to stop working and rest and spend the day worshiping God with no other narrowing restrictions. So His disciples are doing exactly what the Old Testament allowed them to do. His disciples making their way along while picking the heads of grain. Luke adds they were then rubbing them in their hands. They pick off the heads of grain, rub the heads of grain so they could get the inside fruit out from the husk and the shell. Matthew adds they did it because they were hungry.

This, of course, was perfectly within the purposes of God and the revelation of God in the Old Testament, but in direct violation of the religious rules manmade which dominated that legalistic culture. So you have then the Sabbath incident. It leads to the scornful indictment in verse 24 …

They’re scrutinizing Jesus. They’re wanting to indict Him because of His violation of their ridiculous manmade rules. Now this is what the Talmud said. If you roll wheat in your hands to remove the husks, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you rub the heads of wheat, it is threshing and it is forbidden. If you clean off the shell, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you throw the chaff into the air, that is winnowing. It is forbidden. So just in picking and rolling and rubbing and discarding, they had been reaping, threshing, sifting, grinding, winnowing and preparing food.

The Pharisees followed Jesus a lot. Therefore, upon seeing the disciples eating grain, they asked Him why His disciples were breaking Sabbath law (Mark 2:24), which was man-made law.

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of the time when David and his companions became hungry and ate the bread of the Presence, which was reserved for the priests (Mark 2:25-26).

MacArthur recounts the event, which took place at a time when David was in great danger:

The story is in 1 Samuel 21David was fleeing south from Gibeah because Saul was after him. Saul wanted to kill him. He came, according to 1 Samuel 21:1 to Nob … That’s about a mile north of Jerusalem. That’s where the tabernacle was located. And he had no food and he was hungry.

There he met the priest named Ahimelech and he asks the priest for food. Fleeing for his life – those who were with him, they were all hungry and he asks him for food. He asked him for at least five loaves of bread but was told by the priest that none was available. Verse 4 of 1 Samuel 21 says, “And the priest answered David and said, “There’s no common bread on hand.” Don’t – I don’t have any bread. “But he said, interestingly, this priest, Ahimelech, “There is holy bread,” – Holy bread? What is holy bread? And then he said – “if only the young men have kept themselves from women.”

In other words, I’m willing to let you have the holy bread if your men have been holy. David confirmed, in verse 5, they were holy. In that sense they were clean. Verse 6, “The priest gave him consecrated bread for there was no bread there but the bread of presence. It’s called the bread of the presence, presence meaning God, the ever-present One, which was removed from before the Lord in order to put hot bread in its place.” Let me tell you how that worked. Every Sabbath – every Sabbath, hot bread was brought inside the tabernacle to a golden table. Twelve loaves of hot bread were placed on a golden table inside the tabernacle in the presence of God, symbolizing the need for the twelve tribes to have fellowship with God.

The following Sabbath, the bread that had sat there for a week would be removed and more hot bread would be brought in to keep that symbol fresh. According to Leviticus 24, verses 5 to 9, this is called the bread of the presence. There were two rows, two piles of these twelve loaves. The old bread on the Sabbath when it was removed, was to be eaten by priests only. Now that was the provision that God had made. Verse 26 tells us what happened from Mark’s record of what Jesus said. David and his companions show up, as 1 Samuel 21 says. They “entered the house of God” – the tabernacle – “in the time of Abiathar the high priest.”

The actual priest at the time was Ahimelech, but he was soon replaced and Abiathar had a lengthy priesthood during the time of David. And so he is the one whose priesthood dominates that era. And they ate the consecrated bread, which it is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him. The priest was very, very wise. He understood that no ceremony should survive while some person dies. Ceremony is ceremony, ritual is symbolic. You don’t save a ceremony and lose a person. It has its place, but mercy triumphs over ritual and ceremony.

This priest understood what anybody would understand. That’s common sense. Nothing is as valuable as a life. It, perhaps, was actually a Sabbath when the old bread was coming out, and that’s why he could say, “I could give this to you.” So here on a Sabbath, not only were they eating bread but they were eating the bread that was symbolic of the twelve tribes before God and it was to be eaten only by priests. But all symbols are done away with when it comes to human need. Necessity always overrules ritual.

Jesus then said that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

Henry explains:

First, God never designed it to be an imposition upon us, and therefore we must not make it so to ourselves. Man was not made for the sabbath, for he was made a day before the sabbath was instituted. Man was made for God, and for his honour and service … but he was not made for the sabbath, so as to be tied up by the law of it, from that which is necessary to the support of his life. Secondly, God did design it to be an advantage to us, and so we must make it, and improve it.

Jesus added that He is Lord, even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). It was a rebuke to the Pharisees.

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath; and therefore he will not see the kind intentions of the institution of it frustrated by your impositions.” Note, The sabbath days are days of the Son of man; he is the Lord of the day, and to his honour it must be observed; by him God made the worlds, and so it was by him that the sabbath was first instituted …

Mark tells us of another incident, about a man with a withered hand in a synagogue (Mark 3:1).

The Pharisees watched Jesus to see if He would cure the man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:2).

Jesus asked the man to come forward (Mark 3:3), then asked the assembly in the synagogue whether it was better to save life or kill it on the Sabbath, but the people were silent (Mark 3:4).

Henry makes an excellent observation:

What fairer question could be put? And yet, because they saw it would turn against them, they held their peace. Note, Those are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against a truth, will say nothing to it; and, when they cannot resist, yet will not yield.

Jesus looked at everyone in righteous anger, grieved by their hardness of heart; He asked the man to extend his hand and healed it (Mark 3:5).

The Pharisees left and conspired with the government — the Herodians — to kill Him (Mark 3:6).

MacArthur explains the Jewish hierarchy’s hate for Jesus:

The shocking truth that the religious leaders of Israel desired to destroy Jesus Christ seems very hard to grasp. What had He done? Brought healing so that people debilitated and distressed by diseases could find relief and comfort and restoration and usefulness; brought deliverance from demons so that people possessed, indwelt, demonized, could be freed from that hellish domination. Brought comfort therefore to the sorrowing, even brought food to the hungry; and then the message of eternal salvation, the message of the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God in heaven for all who repent and believe.

Wasn’t this more than the Jewish people could have ever hoped for? Not only a message of salvation, but a messenger who demonstrated His power to give salvation by showing that He had power over the material world, power over the demonic world, and even power over sin. What else could they want? Why did they hate Him? Well, they didn’t hate Him because He healed people. They didn’t hate Him because He fed them. They didn’t hate Him because He cast out demons. They didn’t hate Him because He brought funerals to an abrupt end by raising the dead.

It was what He said that made them hate Him, not what He did. And what He said was that He was God, God the Son. He had come down from heaven, that He was the Messiah, the Savior. But more than that, He, in fact, was God. The truth is, He supported that claim by His power over disease, by His power over demons, by His power over death and by His authority over sin. Wasn’t that convincing enough? Why would the claim so infuriate the leaders of Israel? Why would it drive them to want Him dead? And wasn’t the good news good news?

Wasn’t it good news that the spiritually blind could receive spiritual sight, the spiritually dead could receive spiritual life, the spiritually oppressed could receive spiritual liberation? Wasn’t it good news that the Kingdom of God was open to all who would repent and believe? It should have been good news. But there was a tremendous barrier to that because the message of Jesus was that this salvation which He offered was not available by human works. You couldn’t earn it. You couldn’t merit it. You couldn’t deserve it. You couldn’t achieve it.

No matter how many morally good things you did, and morally bad things you avoided, how many rituals you performed, or how many ceremonies you observed, this salvation was apart from works, apart from merit, apart from worthiness, apart from human achievement by grace through faith. And in their religion, spiritual pride reigned. You earned your spiritual status.

Jesus said, “That won’t do it. You need to humble yourself, confess your unworthiness and repent of your sin.” In essence, His message was in complete, direct opposition to the apostate Judaism that dominated the nation and was pervade by the religious leaders, namely the Pharisees and scribes. It was for this they hated Him. They hated His theology. They hated the fact that He attacked them at the point of their spiritual pride.

It’s an age-old story, folks, but the more religious people are and the more proud they are of their religion, the more proud they are of their spiritual achievement, the more proud they are of their accomplishment religiously, the more resistant they are to the gospel of grace. That’s why the people the responded to Jesus were the tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals; lowlifes, who had no spiritual pride, who were not allowed to go to the synagogue, who were not allowed to go to the temple, who were the outcasts, the unsynagogued, they had no pride to hold on to. They came to Jesus

But highly religious people say no to those things on the outside. They’re willing to live under binding moral constraints. They’re willing to live under very tight rules and regulations that make it look like they’re very holy. You say, “Well how can sinners do that?” Because pride, spiritual pride, is such a self-satisfying sin that it makes up for all that you have to forfeit. Listen. Spiritual pride is like an aphrodisiac, it’s like a drug. Spiritual pride is a high, walking around in overtly spiritual pretense in the way you dress and the way you conduct yourself, and making outward pretenses and outward prayers and outward acts of manifest fasting, making an issue out of your giving for all to see. That’s what they did.

They found so much personal satisfaction in spiritual pride that they were willing to let other behaviors go. Spiritual pride is a very, very powerful, powerful sin. It’s also a damning sin. Now, of course, in secret, oh, that’s another story. In secret, they couldn’t restrain the flesh so in secret they committed every sin in their hearts

Why did they hate Jesus? Because He attacked them at the point of their pride. He said, “I reject your assessment of your condition before God.” He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your righteousness doesn’t exceed that as the – exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you have no part in the Kingdom.” He denounced them. Their hostility toward Jesus was the result of His rejection of their entire works/righteousness system that elevated human pride. That was sort of all they had left and He attacked it. The zenith of this system of manifest spiritual pride was Sabbath. On Sabbath they all came out into public view at the synagogue. On that great day, all the focus of their self-righteous proud system reached its clarity. This was their time to shine.

Spiritual pride is why the Jewish hierarchy hated Jesus. Interestingly, the Deplorables of the day flocked to Jesus, because they had no spiritual pride.

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:26-33a

Orderly Worship

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s conclusion on the false gift of tongues that the Corinthians displayed. That false gift is the one evident in today’s Pentecostal churches and Charismatic movements, not the one in Acts 2 of preaching spontaneously in a foreign language at the first Pentecost, a special gift only for the Apostolic Era to further the growth of the Church.

In the remainder of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul tells the Corinthians how to worship together properly, as their worship assemblies were a true free-for-all, with no structure or leader whatsoever.

In short, Paul wants the whole congregation to be edified.

John MacArthur discusses edification and what it means in Greek (emphases mine):

the key to this chapter is the word “edification” or “edify.” In this chapter, it appears in many, many ways. In many, many ways, the form of edification is used, its actual word, and in other cases it is alluded to. You’ll remember that in verse 3 it talks about edification; and in verse 4, edifying the church; and in verse 5, “that the church may receive edifying;” and in verse 12, “that the church may be edified;” and in verse 19, “that I might teach others also.” And in verse 26 comes the sum of it all, “Let all things be done unto edifying,” – the end of verse 26.

So this is the thought that is the emphasis of the entire chapter, that when the church comes together – and, incidentally, all the way from chapter 11 to the end of 14, he is referring to the assembly of the church when it comes together in corporate worship. But he is saying that when the church comes together, the primary point is that they be edified.

Now I want to talk to you for just a minute or two about the word “edification.” The Greek word oikodomeō in the Greek verb form, or oikodomē in the noun, comes from two words: oikos, which is a word that means house, and demō, which means to build. And so the word is to build a house or a house builder.

Edification then is to build up. That is the term that is used here. The word is translated five times in the same phrase in the New Testament. Five times there is the phrase “the stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner,” and it’s a metaphor picturing Christ. But the word used there for builder, in all five cases, is a form of this word oikodomé or edify.

So in a spiritual sense it means to build up, like a person would start with a foundation and build a house. So the church has as its intention and design, the building up of the saints into full completeness. It means, spiritually, to promote spiritual growth, to develop the character of the believer to the place of real maturity.

Now this then is the major element of the church. We are together to be edified. Evangelism may take place, but that is a sidelight. Edification is the issue. Beyond that, beloved – and I only remind you of this because I’m sure you’re aware of it – it is the responsibility of every individual believer to be busy about edifying the other believer.

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 in verse 11, a simple word comes to us, and this is what it says: “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another.” So it is the task of the people to edify. It is not just the task of the preacher or the leader. It is all of our tasks to edify each other…

“Christ did not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Christ did not seek that which would be the most beneficial to Him, but that which would be the most beneficial to others. And that is exactly what we are enjoined to do. We have a responsibility before God to edify each other.

This was not happening in the church in Corinth:

In Corinth, the whole procedure of edification had come to a screeching halt. Edification was non-existent in the Corinthian church because of the confusion and the disorder with which that church was functioning. And so in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is trying to call a halt to the perversions, to call a halt to the counterfeit, to call a halt to the confusion, and bring the Corinthians back to a system of order that would grant them edification.

Paul begins by saying that everyone has a way in which they want to participate in worship, but those elements must be delivered in a way that edifies everyone present (verse 26).

Should anyone manage to speak with a true gift of tongues, there should be only three at the most, and they should all speak in turns, with someone available to interpret the message (verse 27).

MacArthur says:

I told you that when tongue appears in the chapter in a singular form, earlier in the chapter in the first twenty-five verses, it had reference to the false gift, to gibberish, which couldn’t be plural. Here it could have reference also to the true gift, because it’s simply singling out, “One of you has a tongue.” It could be translated, “One of you has a language, the true gift; or one of you has gibberish, a counterfeit.” But the idea of its singularity is demanded because the subject is singular, “One of you.”

And the same is true in verse 27 as we shall see. So that doesn’t do any violation to our premise that where it appears in the plural, it is the true gift; in the singular it is false. We would say, where it is in the singular demanded by a single subject, it could be either true or false.

Paul adds that if no interpreter for the message in a tongue is present, the person with the true gift should remain silent and pray silently to God about the message he received (verse 28).

Paul goes on to say that only three prophets should speak, each in turn, allowing other prophets to discern what has been spoken (verse 29).

MacArthur explains that prophets were part of the Apostolic Era, therefore, for a limited time only:

Now, you say, “Who are the prophets? Are these Old Testament prophets?” No, these are New Testament prophets, from prophēmi, to speak before. They were the men who spoke before the people. They were those who stood up to declare God’s message.

They spoke in two ways: they spoke revelation, that is direct revelation from God, direct revelation, never been given before for the life of the church; and they spoke what I call reiteration, that is they repeated a message given by the apostles, a message already received which they just preached in a manner not unlike what I do. And so there could be direct revelation or there could be just this reiterating something already revealed. And the church service apparently was structured so that one, or two, or at the most, three, could take their time to be the ones who spoke God’s message.

They were foundational, incidentally, and we don’t find any prophets later in the church. In fact, when Paul writes the Epistles to set the churches in order – 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – he never mentions prophets. He simply talks about elders, and presbyters, and deacons, and bishops, and deaconesses. And he’s referring to pastors there, and deacons and deaconesses and elders. That’s all he ever talks about, because prophets passed away with the passing of the apostolic age; they were a unique group.

Ephesians 2:20 says, “They were given for the foundation of the church,” and they belong to that time. And so they were to speak God’s message. Sometimes they had prepared the message and they spoke out of that preparation. On other occasions, they literally received a direct revelation from God without any preparation, and they spoke.

MacArthur goes on to explain the discernment of the prophets’ messages:

Second principle in verse 29: “Let the others judge.” “The others” refer to the other prophets. The other prophets were to sit in the front there and sit beside the one speaking and to evaluate the truth of what he was saying. It might well be that these had, what is in chapter 12, verse 10, called the gift of discernment. But they could discern whether something was of God or not of God, and so they were there to evaluate the truth of the message. People just couldn’t stand up and speak, and nobody evaluate it.

Paul instructs the prophets on making way for someone with a new revelation or insight. The prophet delivering a reiteration should make way for a prophet who has a revelation to share (verse 30).

MacArthur says:

Here’s a guy up there, and he’s got his message prepared, and he’s up there giving it. But all of the sudden, God gives a new revelation. And as soon as one of those other prophets receives from God a new revelation, he pulls the tunic of the guy speaking, and he says, “Hey, I got a new revelation,” number one has to sit down, because a new revelation takes precedence over reiterating something already given. God has a special word for the church.

Now, beloved, this reinforces a point that I’ve been trying to make all along, and sometimes people argue with me about it, and that is I don’t believe – some people say, “Well, the prophets only spoke new revelation.” No, I don’t think so. I think they spoke revelation or reiteration; and I think here is one of the strongest proofs. Here is somebody who is up there proclaiming; but when another one gets a new revelation, he has to sit down. So it is very reasonable to see that some received new revelation on occasion, while others were simply reiterating a message that was no less from God but was not a fresh new revelation for the moment. So number one had to sit down; and it changed the order a little bit.

Paul says that every prophet may prophesy one by one for everyone’s edification (verse 30), but according to his rule of a maximum of three (verse 29).

He adds that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (verse 31). That means that the prophets have a modicum of self-control and restraint when they speak.

Matthew Henry explains:

the spiritual gifts they have leave them still possessed of their reason, and capable of using their own judgment in the exercise of them. Divine inspirations are not, like the diabolical possessions of heathen priests, violent and ungovernable, and prompting them to act as if they were beside themselves; but are sober and calm, and capable of regular conduct. The man inspired by the Spirit of God may still act the man, and observe the rules of natural order and decency in delivering his revelations. His spiritual gift is thus far subject to his pleasure, and to be managed by his discretion.

Then there is verse 33a, which is worth committing to memory when it comes to public worship:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

To conclude on the false gift of tongues on show today, MacArthur points out that the true gift of tongues from the first Pentecost was limited:

It was a gift reserved for those special times when an unbelieving Jew was there, those special times when an interpreter was there, those special times, and those alone; and never should it occur more than three in any one given time. That’s the limit.

Now, beloved, I would just add this. This is not true today in the Charismatic tongues session. They do not have such limitations. They do not limit them on the basis of an unbelieving Jew being present, they do not limit them on the basis of them being a legitimate language, and they do not limit them to two or three in most cases. Now some may; but in most cases that is not true of those who engage in tongues sessions. And so, you see, what you have today is so much of the Corinthian problem all over again that ignores these basic features.

Secondly, the second principle – two or three is the limiting principle. Secondly, “and that by course.” The Greek means in turn, or in order, or in sequence. The Corinthians were involved in a simultaneous expression where everybody was doing it all at the same time – as I’ve pointed out. That is forbidden. And that is precisely, again, what you see so frequently in Charismatic tongues meetings today: everybody speaking in tongues all at the same time.

Have you ever noticed sometime when you turn on a program on the television and you see them all begin to pray, that they all begin to pray at the same time, and they all begin to pray together? In fact, that’s just normal procedure in almost all Charismatic churches, to pray all at the same time. And various people will go into their tongues language, all simultaneous, all in direct violation of 1 Corinthians 14:27; but exactly what the Corinthians were doing.

Next week’s verses are highly contentious, especially in today’s churches.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

holy_trinity by st andrei rublevTrinity Sunday is May 30, 2021.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary can be found here.

The Epistle follows (emphases mine):

Romans 8:12-17

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–

8:13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This passage discusses the believer’s privileges, which are many.

Paul exhorts the Romans not to be debtors to the flesh (verse 12). We have a higher calling. We are debtors to Christ and to the Holy Spirit; if we live in a carnal way we will surely die, but if we conquer sin during our lives, we will live forever (verse 13).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates further:

Let not our life be after the wills and motions of the flesh. Two motives he mentions here:– [1.] We are not debtors to the flesh, neither by relation, gratitude, nor any other bond or obligation. We owe no suit nor service to our carnal desires; we are indeed bound to clothe, and feed, and take care of the body, as a servant to the soul in the service of God, but no further. We are not debtors to it; the flesh never did us so much kindness as to oblige us to serve it. It is implied that we are debtors to Christ and to the Spirit: there we owe our all, all we have and all we can do, by a thousand bonds and obligations. Being delivered from so great a death by so great a ransom, we are deeply indebted to our deliverer. See 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 6:20. [2.] Consider the consequences, what will be at the end of the way. Here are life and death, blessing and cursing, set before us. If you live after the flesh, you shall die; that is, die eternally. It is the pleasing, and serving, and gratifying, of the flesh, that are the ruin of souls; that is, the second death. Dying indeed is the soul’s dying: the death of the saints is but a sleep. But, on the other hand, You shall live, live and be happy to eternity; that is the true life: If you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, subdue and keep under all fleshly lusts and affections, deny yourselves in the pleasing and humouring of the body, and this through the Spirit; we cannot do it without the Spirit working it in us, and the Spirit will not do it without our doing our endeavour. So that in a word we are put upon this dilemma, either to displease the body or destroy the soul.

John MacArthur says that, with the Spirit’s help, we can vanquish sin in our lives:

When you became a Christian, the Spirit of God took up residence in your life. And with the Spirit of God came the power of God, mighty enough to pull down strongholds, to tear down every high thing that exalts itself against God and to bring you into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Right? In other words, there’s a resource there that can enable you to have victory over Satan and victory over demons and victory over the flesh and bring everything in your life into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Listen, I’m going to say something that might shock you. You have the potential to be perfect. You have the potential to be perfect. If you do not have victory in each individual case, it is not because the power for victory isn’t there, it is because the appropriation isn’t there. And I confess, I agree that it is somewhat debilitated by the power of the flesh but nonetheless, the potential is there.

You say, “You mean I’ve got power to deal with the sin in my life?” That’s right. You say, “I’m not doing too well.” I understand that. And there’s something else you might need to know that will help you. Look at Ephesians chapter 5, verse 18, a familiar verse. And I want to remind you of something you perhaps have studied before. By the way, the word “power” in the Bible is dunamis, from which we get our word “dynamite.” And as a believer, you ought to be explosive; the power of God ought to be blasting its way through you.

But there is a key to that and I think it’s given in Ephesians 5:18 where it says, “Be not drunk with wine in which is (astia, dissipation) excess, but be being kept filled with the Spirit.” You see, the key is in appropriation. And the way you appropriate the available power is to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit, basically, simply means to have habitual permeation of your life by the Holy Spirit. You think His thoughts, you feel His feelings. You obey His will. It’s to be controlled by the Spirit of God. Frankly, you’re controlled by whatever fills your mind, isn’t that right? You’re controlled by whatever fills your mind. And that’s the old computer thing: G.I.G.O. — garbage in, garbage out. Whatever you pump into your computer is going to come out in your behavior. Whatever controls your mind is going to control your behavior. And if the Spirit of God can control your mind, then you’ll have a mind renewed in the Spirit, as the Bible talks about. You’re going to find that that fleshes itself out in your good and godly and holy behavior. And so all it means here when it says, “Be being kept filled with the Spirit,” doesn’t mean fall backwards in some trance. It doesn’t mean you flip out into some sort of ecstatic experience. It simply means you get under the control of the Holy Spirit so that He fills your life.

Paul makes a simple, yet powerful, statement: all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God (verse 14).

This is the greatest privilege anyone can have.

Henry explains:

Observe, (1.) Their property: They are led by the Spirit of God, as a scholar in his learning is led by his tutor, as a traveller in his journey is led by his guide, as a soldier in his engagements is led by his captain; not driven as beasts, but led as rational creatures, drawn with the cords of a man and the bands of love. It is the undoubted character of all true believers that they are led by the Spirit of God. Having submitted themselves in believing to his guidance, they do in their obedience follow that guidance, and are sweetly led into all truth and all duty. (2.) Their privilege: They are the sons of God, received into the number of God’s children by adoption, owned and loved by him as his children.

Paul says that when we received the Holy Spirit, we were no longer to be afraid of judgement having received a spirit of adoption (verse 15), which we recognise when we cry ‘Abba! Father!’

Henry tells us:

it is God’s prerogative, when he adopts, to give a spirit of adoption–the nature of children. The Spirit of adoption works in the children of God a filial love to God as a Father, a delight in him, and a dependence upon him, as a Father. A sanctified soul bears the image of God, as the child bears the image of the father. Whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Praying is here called crying, which is not only an earnest, but a natural expression of desire; children that cannot speak vent their desires by crying. Now, the Spirit teaches us in prayer to come to God as a Father, with a holy humble confidence, emboldening the soul in that duty. Abba, Father. Abba is a Syriac word signifying father or my father; pater, a Greek work; and why both, Abba, Father? Because Christ said so in prayer (Mark 14:36), Abba, Father: and we have received the Spirit of the Son. It denotes an affectionate endearing importunity, and a believing stress laid upon the relation. Little children, begging of their parents, can say little but Father, Father, and that is rhetoric enough. It also denotes that the adoption is common both to Jews and Gentiles: the Jews call him Abba in their language, the Greeks may call him pater in their language; for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew.

MacArthur explains how adoption by God is similar to adoption in Roman times. As such, it was encouraging for the Roman converts — as it should be for us, too:

Now let me just talk for a minute about adoption as such because when you say the word “adoption” some people think that’s sort of a second-class status. You’re not a real son, you’re an adopted son. You’re sort of a Johnny-come-lately or a Janie-come-lately. You got added on to the end of the deal because nobody wanted you and sort of second-class idea. But that is not true. It may be that some people in our day think of it that way but in the first century, it was quite the very opposite.

For example, in the Roman culture, if a father looked over his children, particularly his sons, and he didn’t see among the born sons that he had brought into the world a son that he deemed to be worthy to inherit his name, his title, his offices, his estates, he would go outside and he would find such a worthy son and he would adopt him into the family based upon his virtue, based upon his character, based upon his talent, and that adopted son would then take precedence over all of his natural sons who didn’t qualify at the level of qualification that the father had established. So an adopted son is not, in the Roman culture, a waif picked up off the street just so he’s gotten cared for. No, no. An adopted son in the Roman system is a son who is chosen by the father for the purpose of inheriting the estate and of bearing the name and the title of that father.

And so, when it says in the Bible that we have become the adopted sons of God, it is not to say that God scoops us off the street somewhere just so we can get cared for, it is to say that God out of all the world has chosen us to bear His name and His title and inherit His estate. And it is not just that He takes us because we happen to come along through natural process, it is that He sovereignly chooses us out of all the world. That’s a little different, isn’t it? And that’s the essence of this thought. We are the preferred of God. We are the choice of God by His free involuntary election and in no sense in the world are we inferior, in no sense. We have been chosen to bear His name. We have been chosen to inherit His kingdom.

Our Spirit bearing witness distinguishes us as children of God (verse 16).

Henry says that this should be a great source of comfort to us:

those that are sanctified have God’s Spirit witnessing with their spirits, which is to be understood not of any immediate extraordinary revelation, but an ordinary work of the Spirit, in and by the means of comfort, speaking peace to the soul. This testimony is always agreeable to the written word, and is therefore always grounded upon sanctification; for the Spirit in the heart cannot contradict the Spirit in the word. The Spirit witnesses to none the privileges of children who have not the nature and disposition of children.

Paul ends by saying that if we are children of God, then we are also joint heirs with His Son, Christ Jesus, meaning that if we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (verse 17).

What a happy thought. Our suffering in this world for our faith will be eclipsed when we are glorified with Him in Heaven.

Henry tells us:

It surpasses all that we have yet seen and known: present vouchsafements are sweet and precious, very precious, very sweet; but there is something to come, something behind the curtain, that will outshine all. Shall be revealed in us; not only revealed to us, to be seen, but revealed in us, to be enjoyed. The kingdom of God is within you, and will be so to eternity.

What an encouraging message for us!

May all of my readers have a happy and blessed Trinity Sunday.

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:20-25

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign[a] not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to speak and sing in worship in clear language so that everyone in attendance could understand and say ‘Amen’ with confidence that they had grasped the message of a prayer or hymn.

The Christians of Corinth claimed to have the gift of tongues, but they did not. They were reverting to their pagan habit of ecstatic, incoherent babbling as they used to do before a man-made deity.

It is a blessing to be covering Paul’s teaching on tongues on Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday.

My exegesis on Acts 2:1-21 explains the proper use of speaking in tongues, which served to evangelise to the Jews in Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot, which occurs around the time of Pentecost. By the end of that miraculous preaching in different foreign languages, 3,000 converts had been gathered into the fledgling Church.

John MacArthur explains the divine message behind the use of tongues on that marvellous day (emphases mine):

The tongues at Pentecost were saying, “Look, God’s not going to any longer work through one nation. God’s not any longer going to speak just one language. God’s not any longer going to favor one people. God’s going to go to the world, and through the world to build His church, see, the kingdom for all nations.”

And, you know, the very fact that they spoke in all those languages was God’s way of saying, “It’s all over for the uniqueness of Israel, and I’m going to speak in the world’s languages, and build that church that’s hidden in the Old Testament.” So tongues speak primarily as a sign of a curse on Israel.

But notice, no sooner have I said that, than I have to say they speak too of the blessing that’s going to come to the whole world; because as Christ turned away from a rebellious people, He opened His arms to the world. So it becomes a sign of blessing, residually. It’s like Romans 11, you know, where Paul says, “The fall of them is become the riches of the world.” Jerusalem destroyed, Israel set aside; and yet, in their setting aside, we became beneficiaries – don’t we? – because God reaches out to us.

So God’s New Testament apostles and God’s New Testament prophets suddenly burst out spontaneously declaring the wonderful works of God in every language. Read Acts 2: an unmistakable sign that a transition had come; a curse on one hand, but then a blessing on another hand; because even Jews could still come, couldn’t they? Three thousand did on the day of Pentecost. So, in a sense, while being a judicial sign of a curse, residually it’s also a sign of blessing.

MacArthur thinks that the true gift of tongues ceased with the destruction of the temple, which had not yet taken place when Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians:

Seems to me that once the destruction of Jerusalem came in 70 A.D., the whole purpose for the gift of languages ceased. That’s what the text says; that’s not my opinion. It never was intended to be something for a Christian, it’s for one who doesn’t believe. Which one? A Jew, one of this people, that they might know God is acting in judgment.

Jesus said, in Luke 13:35, “Behold, your house is left to you desolate.” And then in Luke chapter 20 in verse 21, He carried it a step further. He said – let’s see, Luke chapter 21, verse 20 rather: “And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then you know that its desolation is near.” And verse 24, “They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles.”

Jesus said, “Hey, judgment, judgment.” All through the apostles’ ministries judgment was coming on Israel. Jesus preached it, and the sign of languages again showed it.

I’m not sure I fully agree that it died out that soon, if the purpose of tongues was also to spread the Good News to the many nations in the ancient world. In any event, that gift of the Holy Spirit was limited in time in order for the Church to grow and expand. It no longer exists.

In today’s reading, Paul continues his discourse on tongues by saying that Christians must not think as children do, rather they must be ‘infants in evil’, yet display clear, mature thinking (verse 20).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why Paul gave the Corinthians that particular instruction:

Children are apt to be struck with novelty and strange appearances. They are taken with an outward show, without enquiring into the true nature and worth of things. Do not you act like them, and prefer noise and show to worth and substance; show a greater ripeness of judgment, and act a more manly part; be like children in nothing but an innocent and inoffensive disposition. A double rebuke is couched in this passage, both of their pride upon account of their gifts, and their arrogance and haughtiness towards each other, and the contests and quarrels proceeding from them.

Paul then cites Isaiah 28:11-12 and Deuteronomy 28:49 (verse 21), which warn impenitent Jews of God’s judgement on them delivered by a people who speak a foreign language.

MacArthur takes us through the history behind those verses, beginning with Isaiah:

when they began to hear that unintelligible language of Babylonia that they couldn’t understand, they would know the judgment of God had fallen. And it happened in 588 B.C. And because of their unbelief and apostasy, God brought a terrible judgment.

This wasn’t the only time they’d been warned. Back in Deuteronomy chapter 28 in verse 49, back in the 15th century before Christ, listen to this, 28:49. “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand.” I believe that most likely could have reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. So in the 15th century, God warned them that when they heard a strange language it would be judgment.

In the 8th century, Isaiah, God warned them that when they heard a strange language it would be judgment. “Jeremiah” – that great weeping prophet – “said, ‘Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel,’ saith the Lord. ‘It is a mighty nation. It is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you know not, neither understand you what they say,’” Jeremiah 5:15. And God had clearly pointed out in their minds that when they were going to be judged, there was going to be a sign, and the sign was they would hear a language they couldn’t understand. Do you see?

He thinks that Paul was preoccupied with the temple in Jerusalem:

When Paul quotes that here, he is saying, “Look, just as when Isaiah said it, just as when Moses said it, just as when Jeremiah said it, those languages are a sign to the unbeliever that God is about to act in judgment.” That’s what he’s saying.

You say, “Well, what did it mean in this generation in which Paul lived?” Well, listen; when they began to speak those languages on the day of Pentecost, every Jew should have known that the judgment of God was eminent. And do you know it wasn’t but just about thirty years later when the Roman Emperor came in and wiped out Jerusalem, and with it, Judaism as such. The sacrificial system ended and it’s never been restored. They should have known the judgment of God was going to fall.

Henry gives us Paul’s purpose in those citations for the Corinthians — that God might abandon the church in Corinth if they persist in speaking in false tongues:

surely the apostle’s discourse implies, “You should not be fond of the tokens of divine displeasure. God can have no gracious regards to those who are left merely to this sort of instruction, and taught in language which they cannot understand. They can never be benefited by such teaching as this; and, when they are left to it, it is a sad sign that God gives them over as past cure.” And should Christians covet to be in such a state, or to bring the churches into it? Yet thus did the Corinthian preachers in effect, who would always deliver their inspirations in an unknown tongue.

Paul goes on to say that the true gift of tongues is intended to evangelise to unbelievers while the gift of preaching is for the benefit of believers (verse 22).

Henry says:

The gift of tongues was necessary to spread Christianity, and gather churches; it was proper and intended to convince unbelievers of that doctrine which Christians had already embraced; but prophesying, and interpreting scripture in their own language, were most for the edification of such as did already believe: so that speaking with tongues in Christians assemblies was altogether out of time and place; neither one nor the other was proper for it. Note, That gifts may be rightly used, it is proper to know the ends which they are intended to serve. To go about the conversion of infidels, as the apostles did, had been a vain undertaking without the gift of tongues, and the discovery of this gift; but, in an assembly of Christians already converted to the Christian faith, to make use and ostentation of this gift would be perfectly impertinent, because it would be of no advantage to the assembly; not for conviction of truth, because they had already embraced it; not for their edification, because they did not understand, and could not get benefit without understanding, what they heard.

Paul warns them that outsiders or unbelievers will think if they walk into an assembly of Corinthians babbling in gibberish; they would think the Corinthians were mad (verse 23), something that God would find deeply displeasing.

Henry says:

Note, The Christian religion is a sober and reasonable thing in itself, and should not, by the ministers of it, be made to look wild or senseless. Those disgrace their religion, and vilify their own character, who do any thing that has this aspect.

Paul says that when an outsider or an unbeliever enters an assembly of Christian worshippers, he should feel convicted by what he hears (verse 24) with the secrets of his heart disclosed so that he comes to be humbled and worship God, declaring that He is truly present in that place (verse 25).

Henry explains:

Note, Scripture–truth, plainly and duly taught, has a marvellous aptness to awaken the conscience, and touch the heart. And is not this much more for the honour of our religion than that infidels should conclude the ministers of it a set of madmen, and their religious exercises only fits of frenzy? This last would at once cast contempt on them and their religion too. Instead of procuring applause for them, it would render them ridiculous, and involve their profession in the same censure: whereas prophesying would certainly edify the church, much better keep up their credit, and might probably convince and convert infidels who might occasionally hear them. Note, Religious exercises in Christian assemblies should be such as are fit to edify the faithful, and convince, affect, and convert unbelievers. The ministry was not instituted to make ostentation of gifts and parts, but to save souls.

That provides us with a good segue to Paul’s next topic: worshipping in an orderly manner.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a

Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday is May 23, 2021.

Readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary can be found here.

The feast of Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church, as the baptism of the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples, including the Apostles, enabling them to spread the Good News, the Gospel story.

Acts 2:1-21 can be read either as the First Reading or as the Epistle. As I have been writing about Acts 1 for Ascension Day and Exaudi Sunday, it seemed apposite to continue with Acts 2.

Emphases below are mine.

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is how the true gift of tongues — enabled for the Apostolic Era — worked. Those Galileans with this special gift spoke in existing foreign languages fluently and eloquently, easily understood by outsiders who spoke those languages.

Jews from many foreign countries went up to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, or Shavuot. It takes place 50 days after Passover. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter; the word itself means ‘fiftieth’. In 2021, Shavuot was commemorated from May 16 to May 18. Hebcal describes its significance:

Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day G-d gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The holiday is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer.

Jesus rose from the dead on the day of the offering of the First Fruits. Fifty days later, on Shavuot, the Holy Spirit descends upon His disciples.

The disciples were gathered in one place (verse 1), possibly in the upper room where they drew lots for Matthias’s accession to apostleship. In any event, they would have been in Jerusalem, along with Jewish pilgrims for Shavuot.

Suddenly, they heard the sound of a violent wind, which filled the entire house (verse 2).

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes it as follows:

Probably it alarmed the whole city, but, to show that it was supernatural, presently fixed upon that particular houseThis would direct the people who observed it whither to go to enquire the meaning of it. This wind filling the house would strike an awe upon the disciples, and help to put them into a very serious, reverent, and composed frame, for the receiving of the Holy Ghost. Thus the convictions of the Spirit make way for his comforts; and the rough blasts of that blessed wind prepare the soul for its soft and gentle gales.

Tongues of fire appeared, one tongue over each of them (verse 3).

Of these flames, Henry says:

The flame of a candle is somewhat like a tongue; and there is a meteor which naturalists call ignis lambens–a gentle flame, not a devouring fire; such was this.

Henry explains how God used outward signs to designate prophets and fire in the Old Testament :

(1.) There was an outward sensible sign, for the confirming of the faith of the disciples themselves, and for the convincing of others. Thus the prophets of old had frequently their first mission confirmed by signs, that all Israel might know them to be established prophets.

(2.) The sign given was fire, that John Baptist’s saying concerning Christ might be fulfilled, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; with the Holy Ghost as with fire. They were now, in the feast of pentecost, celebrating the memorial of the giving of the law upon mount Sinai; and as that was given in fire, and therefore is called a fiery law, so is the gospel. Ezekiel’s mission was confirmed by a vision of burning coals of fire (Acts 1:13; Acts 1:13), and Isaiah’s by a coal of fire touching his lips, Acts 6:7; Acts 6:7. The Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, separates and burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul, in which, as in the fire upon the altar, the spiritual sacrifices are offered up. This is that fire which Christ came to send upon the earth. Luke 12:49.

Shavuot traditionally involved an offering of wheat. John MacArthur says that the Jews made loaves of bread, signifying their unity as God’s people.

He applies this to the first Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the creation of the Church:

Now, I want you to know that, so that you’ll be able to understand your identity in Christ. You’re one with Him. You’re one with every other Christian. That’s what occurred in verse 2 when it says, “There came a sound from heaven like a rushing mighty wind,” – we know that to be the breath of God, the Holy Spirit – “filled the house where they were sitting.” And if He filled that house, He filled them who were in it. And I believe at that point the baptism of the Spirit took place.

Kind of an interesting play on words, if you take the idea that it filled all the house, and carry it to Ephesians 2:22. There’s a new house there where all the believers are called the house or the habitation of the Spirit. So He filled the physical house in Acts 2:2; but in the same moment, He filled the spiritual house, and all believers became His new house.

Now, let me add another thought here, because I want you to understand this. The baptism of the Spirit is also extremely important understood this way, because if it isn’t, then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 goes unanswered, and then you’ve got some real problems. You see, Jesus prayed this four times: verse 11, 21, 22, 23. He said, “Father, I pray that they be” – what? – “one. One, one, one.”

Now, my friends, this happened right here. This is the answer to Jesus’ prayer. When the Spirit of God came, He made us one positionally. Now, we aren’t always one practically, are we? There’s divisions and strife among us when we’re carnal. But, positionally, are we one blended together? Are we that common loaf? Sure we are. We’re not just a loosely-gathered sheaf tied together with string, we are one in Christ, inner-dependent and mutually-dependent on life from each other in the ministry of our gifts and fellowship. And so we must assume the baptism of the Spirit to be that baptizing all believers into oneness, or the prayer of Jesus Christ goes unanswered.

Now, notice another phenomenon that happened in verse 3 accompanying the first; and this is all proof that the Spirit came. Verse 3: “And there appeared unto them,” – that is to those believers who had been baptized, immersed at that moment into the body of Christ by the Spirit – “appeared unto them cloven” – or parted – “tongues as of fire,” – they weren’t fire, they were as like fire – “and it sat upon each of them.” Now, here’s another interesting phenomenon. These parted tongues that appeared over everyone of them was testimony that with no exception, each of them had received the Holy Spirit.

As the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at that point, they began speaking in other languages — tongues — ‘as the Spirit gave them ability’ (verse 4). This was in order to spread the Good News to those from other nations who were celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem (verse 5).

As Henry surmises above, the roar of the wind must have drawn a large crowd to the house where the disciples were gathered, because the foreigners were ‘bewildered’ to find that the people inside were speaking their own languages (verse 6).

They were amazed to hear, each in his own language, humble Galileans proclaim the mighty works of God (verses 6-11).

Henry contrasts this with the Tower of Babel from Genesis:

The tongues were divided, and yet they still continued all of one accord; for there may be a sincere unity of affections where yet there is a diversity of expression. Dr. Lightfoot observes that the dividing of tongues at Babel was the casting off of the heathen; for when they had lost the language in which alone God was spoken of and preached, they utterly lost the knowledge of God and religion, and fell into idolatry. But now, after above two thousand years, God, by another dividing of tongues, restores the knowledge of himself to the nations ...

And we may suppose that they understood not only themselves but one another too, which the builders of Babel did not, Genesis 11:7. They did not speak here and there a word of another tongue, or stammer out some broken sentences, but spoke it as readily, properly, and elegantly, as if it had been their mother-tongue; for whatever was produced by miracle was the best of the kind. They spoke not from any previous thought or meditation, but as the Spirit gave them utterance; he furnished them with the matter as well as the language.

MacArthur says:

Now, the miracle of languages here was important because of the strategy of the spread of the gospelin Jerusalem at this time there were people from all over the Jewish world and there could have been as many as one million. You could fit 200,000 of them into the temple courtyard alone. They were jammed into this place. And this specific miracle was … not to become the pattern or the norm for all Christians ...

In other words, if the gift still exists, then God for some strange reason has put unnecessary, crippling strings on the gospel because He makes people go through years of studying languages before they can ever begin to witness. And if people have this so-called gift to speak in foreign languages, it would seem rather unnecessary. And if God had designed such a language miracle for today, it would seem as though it could be put to great use. And if there is a gift of languages, my friends, let me ask this: Why is it only for certain special people in certain special movements who get together in special prayer meetings and speak it to each other who already speak the same language and who already know the truth? And if unbelievers are present, Paul says they will say you’re mad because it will only confuse them.

You see, if such still exists, why doesn’t it exist for missionaries? Or better yet, why are there some missionaries who claim to have the gift but still go to language school? So, you see, this experience in Acts is by no means the norm. We cannot make it the norm for all Christians. You cannot say that every Christian is supposed to be speaking foreign languages.

Those in the crowd asked what such a phenomenon could mean (verse 12). However, others were sceptical, accusing the disciples of being drunk on ‘new wine’, which was rather weak in alcohol content (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

They did not understand and they tried to explain it away by mocking them and saying, “Look at these babies, can’t handle grape juice.”

That accusation galvanised Peter, ever the boldest of the Twelve, into standing up to address the Judeans and those from Jerusalem (verse 14). The other Eleven were around him.

Once the Holy Spirit entered into Peter, he now understood Christ’s ministry and could competently preach about it, as his sermon shows. He addressed it to the local Jews and not the foreigners, so he spoke in his own language.

MacArthur sets the scene for us:

So Peter stands up. Now, the moment is fantastic. The Holy Spirit has set the stage. The people are confused. Their minds are all messed up. They can’t understand what’s been going on. From their standpoint everything is ready. From Peter’s standpoint everything is ready. He’s been filled with the Spirit of God. He’s about to open his mouth and God is going to speak and so he stands up. And then I like this, it says he lifted up his voice. Oh, preachers love that verse because that’s a wonderful text that grants New Testament precedent for yelling. And Peter lifted up his voice.

Peter refuted the idea of drunkenness, especially as it was nine o’clock in the morning (verse 15). Nine o’clock was the time for private prayers. The Jews did not eat or drink anything until afterwards.

He then launched into a prophecy from Joel (verse 16), citing Joel 2:28-32 (verse 17), wherein the prophet said that in the last days — and we are still in those ‘last days’, even now — God declared that He would pour out his Spirit upon humankind at which point men and women would preach (the original meaning of the word ‘prophesy’):

and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Joel’s prophecy included slaves who would prophesy (verse 18).

Joel spoke of the coming day of judgement, with visible, terrible signs in the skies as well as on the earth (verse 19). The sun will become dark and the moon become like blood just before the Lord comes to us again (verse 20).

Everyone at that time who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 21).

Henry says that Peter was using Joel’s prophecy to alert the Jews that the temple would be destroyed, which it was in AD 70. There were a number of phenomena that occurred in Jerusalem around that time:

Those that would not submit to the power of God’s grace, in this wonderful effusion of his Spirit, should fall and lie under the pourings out of the vials of his wrath. Those shall break that will not bend. First, The destruction of Jerusalem, which was about forty years after Christ’s death, is here called that great and notable day of the Lord, because it put a final period to the Mosaic economy; the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial law were thereby for ever abolished and done away. The desolation itself was such as was never brought upon any place or nation, either before or since. It was the day of the Lord, for it was the day of his vengeance upon that people for crucifying Christ, and persecuting his ministers; it was the year of recompences for that controversy; yea, and for all the blood of the saints and martyrs, from the blood of righteous Abel,Matthew 23:35. It was a little day of judgment; it was a notable day: in Joel it is called a terrible day, for so it was to men on earth; but here epiphane (after the Septuagint), a glorious, illustrious day, for so it was to Christ in heaven; it was the epiphany, his appearing, so he himself spoke of it, Matthew 24:30. …

Secondly, The terrible presages of that destruction are here foretold: There shall be wonders in heaven above, the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood; and signs too in the earth beneath, blood and fire. Josephus, in his preface to his history of the wars of the Jews, speaks of the signs and prodigies that preceded them, terrible thunders, lightnings, and earthquakes; there was a fiery comet that hung over the city for a year, and a flaming sword was seen pointing down upon it; a light shone upon the temple and the altar at midnight, as if it had been noon-day

The blood points at the wars of the Jews with the neighbouring nations, with the Samaritans, Syrians, and Greeks, in which abundance of blood was shed, as there was also in their civil wars, and the struggles of the seditious (as they called them), which were very bloody; there was no peace to him that went out nor to him that came in. The fire and vapour of smoke, here foretold, literally came to pass in the burning of their cities, and towns, and synagogues, and temple at last. And this turning of the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood, bespeaks the dissolution of their government, civil and sacred, and the extinguishing of all their lights.

Yet, when the temple was destroyed, those who believed in Christ were not harmed:

Thirdly, The signal preservation of the Lord’s people is here promised (Acts 2:21; Acts 2:21): Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (which is the description of a true Christian, 1 Corinthians 1:2) shall be saved, shall escape that judgment which shall be a type and earnest of everlasting salvation. In the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, there was a remnant sealed to be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger; and in the destruction by the Romans not one Christian perished. Those that distinguish themselves by singular piety shall be distinguished by special preservation. And observe, the saved remnant are described by this, that they are a praying people: they call on the name of the Lord, which intimates that they are not saved by any merit or righteousness of their own, but purely by the favour of God, which must be sued out by prayer. It is the name of the Lord which they call upon that is their strong tower.

There was much more to Peter’s first sermon, the first fire and brimstone sermon in the history of the Church.

The result was this (Acts 2:41):

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

From there, the Church in Jerusalem grew dramatically day by day:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[d] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

What an awe-inspiring experience that period after the first Pentecost must have been.

Pentecost Sunday concludes Eastertide. Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday.

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