Course Spotlight: Joel’s Prophecy

The Apostle Peter quoted the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18).

What was the meaning of this prophecy? What was fulfilled…and what is left for the future?

Course Spotlight From God’s Feast Days: Pentecost

Course Spotlight: By Prayer and Fasting

Scripture tells us what our Savior did to acquire spiritual strength, in connection with the devil’s attack on Him: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [or tried] by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry” (Matthew 4:1–2). Notice—He fasted!

Course Spotlight from The Life Ministry and Teachings of Jesus Christ: (Unit 1) The Early Life of Christ

Digging Deeper: Who is Reverend?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading Time: 8 min

Did you know that the English word reverend appears in our King James Bible only once and that it is never used of human beings?

Despite that, this word is often used as a title for clergy in the Christian world. This naturally raises the question of why it is customary to refer to members of religious orders by this term. This Digging Deeper explores the original intent of this word’s appearance in Scripture and some brief history behind its popular usage when referring to clerics. Our focus verse is: “He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name” (Psalm 111:9 KJV throughout).

The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable offers a description of this psalm’s genre: “This is one of the acrostic psalms (cf. Psalm 9, 10; Psalm 25; Psalm 34; Psalm 37; Psalm 112; Psalm 119; Psalm 145). Each successive line in the Hebrew text begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The writer evidently expressed his thoughts this way so the Israelites could memorize and recite the psalm easily. He recounted the Lord’s great works of redemption that should draw out His people’s praise” (e-Sword 13.0). Redemption and covenant are deeply related to the word reverend when used of God, as we will consider later.

The meaning of reverend

Webster’s 1913 Unabridged Dictionary defines reverend as “Worthy of reverence; entitled to respect mingled with fear and affection; venerable” (e-Sword 13.0). Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible provides its etymology: “The word reverend comes to us from the Latins, reverendus, and is compounded of re, intensive, and vereor, to be feared; and most or right reverend, reverendissimus, signifies to be greatly feared” (e-Sword 13.0).

However, when this word is used in western culture of a religious office, the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary declares it to be: “A title of respect given to the clergy or ecclesiastics. We style a clergyman reverend; a bishop is styled right reverend; an archbishop most reverend. The religious in catholic countries, are styled reverend fathers; abbesses, prioresses, &c. reverend mothers. In Scotland, as in the United States, the clergy are individually styled reverend. A synod is styled very reverend, and the general assembly venerable” (e-Sword 13.0).

Nonetheless, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible boldly protests: “This title belongs not to man; nor does any minister, in assuming the title reverend, assume this. Indeed, the word reverend, as now used, gives us a very imperfect conception of the original term. Holy and tremendous is God’s name. He is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders, both in the way of judgment and in the way of mercy” (e-Sword 13.0). Once again, we see that what rightly belongs to God has been assumed by men for themselves.

Terrible and to be feared

Henry Morris defines the Hebrew word translated reverend in his July 1, 2021 “Days of Praise” reprinted article entitled The Reverend God: “However, the Hebrew word so translated in this verse (yârê’) occurs therein frequently, usually being translated (some 30 times) as ‘terrible.’ The first time it is applied to God was by Moses. ‘Thou shalt not be affrighted at them: for the LORD thy God is among you, a mighty God and terrible’ (Deuteronomy 7:21). Note also Moses’ testimony in Deuteronomy 10:17: ‘For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.'”

Since yare is used in several different contexts, Ethelbert Bullinger’s Companion Bible defines it as: “to be feared. Hebrew. nora’ from yare’ to be afraid. The Niphal Part, (as here) rendered “dreadful” (5); “to be feared” (3); “fearful” (2); “fearfully” (1); “to be had in reverence” (1); “reverend” (1); “terrible” (24); “terrible acts” (1); “terrible things” (5); “terribleness” (1). Compare Psalm 45:4; 47:2; 65:5; 66:3,5; 68:35; 76:12; 99:3; 106:22, &c” (e-Sword 13.0).

Webster’s 1913 Unabridged Dictionary states that the word terrible in this context means: “Adapted or likely to excite terror, awe, or dread; dreadful; formidable” (e-Sword 13.0). God is a fearsome God to His enemies. However, His servants consider Him worthy of reverence, respect, fear, and veneration. Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments explains: “Terrible to his enemies, venerable in his people’s eyes, and holy in all his dealings with all men” (e-Sword 13.0).

A title fit only for God

Since this word should only be used of the Almighty, C.H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David describes the profound respect and love that humans owe Him: “The whole name or character of God is worthy of profoundest awe, for it is perfect and complete, whole or holy. It ought not to be spoken without solemn thought, and never heard without profound homage. His name is to be trembled at, it is something terrible; even those who know him best rejoice with trembling before him” (e-Sword 13.0). Many Jews will not even pronounce His name out of deep respect but use substitute titles instead.

The Pulpit Commentary, edited by H. D. M. Spence and by Joseph S. Exell, compares the awe and devotion our focus verse requires and reveals how most people have failed to offer them to God: “‘Reverend’ here means ‘worthy of reverence.’ Horace Bushnell has a striking sentence: ‘This age is at the point of apogee from all the robuster notions of Deity.’ And therefore this age is an irreverent age. Even in the shaping of religious beliefs there are signs of undue familiarity with God. And that undue familiarity explains much of the weakness of Christian living, and lightness of Christian worship” (e-Sword 13.0).

Many today are too casual with the Great God of the universe. Witness how frequently we hear people declare, “Oh my God (OMG)!” or “Oh, God (Gosh, Golly).” In cursing and swearing, many take God’s name in vain with shocking profanity – at least it should be shocking but so many are inured to this vulgarity. A healthy fear of God will motivate people to live godly lives that bring glory to His name and will deter them from misusing it. Notice the next verse: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever” (Psalm 111:10 KJV).

Related to a covenant relationship

In the first part of the verse, the psalmist declares that God sent redemption unto His people. The Holman KJV Study Bible details the word redemption for us: “Redemption (Hb padah) denotes the exchange of a payment price for liberation (Deuteronomy 7:8; Isaiah 35:10; 50:2; 51:11) and it occurs in this noun form only three other times (Exodus 8:23 ‘division’; Psalm 130:7; Isa. 50:2)” (Tecarta Bible App). Egypt paid a terrible price for Israel’s freedom. Because God redeemed His people, they were to fear and revere Him through willful obedience.

It is important to notice that the middle of the verse states that God commands His covenant forever. The next phrase, “Holy and reverend is his name” relates to this. The Holman KJV Study Bible explains: “The phrase reverend (lit ‘to be feared’) is his name implies a covenantal relationship (68:35; 89:7; 99:3; Exodus 34:10; Deuteronomy 7:21; 28:58)” (Tecarta Bible App).  Because God’s people are in covenant with Him, they owe Him the glory due to His name and should shudder at the thought of treating this relationship disrespectfully in any way.

To conclude our brief study on this word, we should consider how this may apply to us today. Multiple nations lack a deep reverence for the Almighty God. Their plunge into demeaning vulgarity and debauchery seems to have no bottom. How may it be restored? The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, edited by Sir W. Robertson Nicoll and Jane T. Stoddart, asserts: “Now it is plain is it not? it is needless to labour the point, that there can be no great future for any nation which is lacking in the sense of reverence. In the case of the people, as in the case of men, we can only rise if we can dare to stoop; we can only rise in character if at some point we bow in reverence. It is forgetfulness of God that is accountable for the spread of impudence and irreverence. It is the fear of God that alone can restore it” (e-Sword 13.0). This is the only way to make a nation great again (Deuteronomy 4:5-6; Psalm 33:12).

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA, and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Course Spotlight: How to Pray When You Are Discouraged

Do you find it difficult to pray when you are discouraged or depressed? It is ironic that just when we need God’s help the most, we may have our greatest difficulty in reaching out to Him for the help that we so desperately need. Why is this?

Course Spotlight From Tools for Christian Growth: Prayer

Digging Deeper: Are you a Christian?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated reading time: 8 min., 42 sec.

Did you know that the designation Christian, or its plural form, appears in our Bible only three times?

Today, these words are frequently repeated about those who are disciples of Jesus Christ. Is it not surprising that these words appear so few times in our Bible? As might be expected, they only appear in our New Testament; but they never appear in the gospels. Jesus did not give His followers this name. This naturally raises questions about the meaning and use of these words today. This Digging Deeper searches these questions from the New Testament to come to grips with the origin of these commonly used names.

And the disciples were called Christians…

The first appearance of either word is: “And when he [Barnabas] had found him [Saul-Paul], he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26 KJV throughout). In this section of Acts, Luke describes the beginning of the church in Syrian Antioch, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, in the 40s AD. Notice that God’s people were first called Christians outside the Holy Land!

The early disciples did not originate the name nor choose it for themselves. Rather, Smith’s Bible Dictionary reports: “They were known to each other as, and were among themselves called, brethren, Acts 15:1; 23; 1 Corinthians 7:12, disciples, Acts 9:26; 11:29, believers, Acts 5:14, saints, Romans 8:27; 15:25″ (e-Sword 13.0). Its origin is explained by The ESV Study Bible: “The fact that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch probably reflects a label applied by the unbelieving public in Antioch and shows that the disciples were beginning to have an identity of their own apart from other Jews. Cf. also 26:28 and 1 Pet. 4:16” (Tecarta Bible App). The name would not have originated with Jews, as the KJV Study Bible asserts: “The Jews would never label them as Christians, because that would be tantamount to saying that these were the people of the Messiah” (Tecarta Bible App).

The Church of God by then was rapidly growing among several ethnic communities. The Word in Life Bible (CEV) provides a probable scenario: “For the most part, people of the Lord’s Way had been Jewish believers. But in Antioch there was an infusion of other ethnic groups, and observers were perplexed as to what to call the multicultural body. The new reality required a new name. Standard ethnic designations – Jew, Greek, Roman, Gentile – no longer fit. So the Antiochians seized on the one factor that united the diverse community – Christ” (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998, p. 1703). This name was probably intended to mean “belonging to Christ” or “followers of Christ.”            

The meaning of “Christian”

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers explains its language derivation: “In its form it was essentially Latin, after the pattern of the Pompeiani, Sullani, and other party-names; and so far it would seem to have grown out of the contact of the new society with the Romans stationed at Antioch, who, learning that its members acknowledged the Christos as their head, gave them the name of Christiani” (e-Sword 13.0). David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary answers this question: “How did the name Christian ever become associated with the followers of Jesus?

i. The ending ian meant ‘the party of.’ A Christ-ian was ‘of the party of Jesus.’ Christians is sort of like saying ‘Jesus-ites,’ or ‘Jesus People,’ those of the group associated with Jesus Christ.

ii. Also, soldiers under particular generals in the Roman army would identify themselves by their general’s name by adding ian to the end. A soldier under Caesar would call himself a Caesarian. Soldiers under Jesus Christ could be called Christians.

iii. In Antioch, they probably first used the term Christians to mock the followers of Jesus. ‘Antioch was famous for its readiness to jeer and call names; it was known by its witty epigrams.’ (Gaebelein) But as the people of Antioch called the followers of Jesus the ‘Jesus People,’ the believers appreciated the title so much that it stuck” (e-Sword 13.0).

The NKJ Study Bible provides later historical recognition of these people by this term: “The believers were called Christians because they worshiped Christ, the Messiah. The historian Josephus called them ‘that tribe of Christians.’ Tacitus, the Roman historian, referred to them as ‘Christians, a name derived from Christ'” (Tecarta Bible App). The name continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire. J.R. Dummelow’s A Commentary on the Holy Bible notes: “In 64 a.d. Tacitus mentions that the name was in use among the common people at Rome” (e-Sword 13.0).

Even though its earthly origin may appear to have been pagan, The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series declares this name may unknowingly have had a divine origin: “Isaiah prophesied that God’s people would be called by ‘another name’ and a ‘new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name.’ (Isaiah 65:15; 62:1-2.) The name Christian is the only one that is new, for in the Old Testament we have Godly people called saints (Psalm 16:3), brethren (Psalm 133:1), and disciples (Isaiah 8:16). I therefore believe this name was given to us by God, and not by the heathens or Gentiles” (e-Sword 13.0). God may have worked behind the scenes to give His people an appropriate moniker by the unbelieving community of Antioch.

To suffer as a Christian

The second appearance of either word is: “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28 KJV). For the background and explanation of this verse, please read my Digging Deeper article Almostfrom June 23, 2021. The third appearance of either word is: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:16 KJV). To understand this verse better, The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series provides essential context for Peter’s admonition from within this same book: “The phrase ‘suffer as a Christian’ is here equivalent to ‘when ye do well’ (1 Peter 2:20), ‘zealous for that which is good’ (1 Peter 3:13), and ‘for righteousness’ sake’” (1 Peter 3:14)” (e-Sword 13.0). Their suffering from the unbelieving world was evidence they were doing the right things.

Even though the brethren had not chosen this term for themselves, Peter exhorts that brethren who are persecuted by unbelievers are to accept it gracefully. Peter admonishes them to not be ashamed if they suffer for Christ. The culture of the time was based on honor and shame. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible reports: “Greek and Roman male society craved honor, but, as here, many Greek sages noted that it was genuinely honorable to suffer scorn for doing what was right” (Tecarta Bible App).

The price of following Christ

Nonetheless, being called Christian could be a serious charge. Lange’s Commentary of the New Testament explains: “In the opinion of their enemies, the name was infamous, and so we must understand it here, cf. 1 Peter 4:14. With the Jews it was tantamount to sectary, renegade and rebel; with the heathen it was equal to atheist” (e-Sword 13.0). The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds this chilling note: “The title seems a political nickname (resembling Pompeiians—members of Pompey’s party—and other titles of political parties). Those who believed that Christ was king could be accused of treason, and the title ‘Christians’ became a legal charge (1 Peter 4:16), though it was soon embraced by Jesus’ followers as a welcome title. Here it was probably merely ridicule; Antiochans developed a reputation for mocking people” (Tecarta Bible App).

Christians were soon being seen as separate from Judaism, which was recognized as a legal religion of the Roman Empire. Jews began to expel Christians from their synagogues. This opened up Christians to life-threatening persecution from the Roman state. James Hastings’ Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels makes this alarming comment: “To ‘suffer as a Christian’ i.e. (for being a Christian) covers a wide range of experience, from molestation to official and even capital punishment. The latter extreme, however, is not prominent in this passage, although the term ἀπολογία certainly suggests it. But the vague outline of 1 Peter 4:14-17 is filled out and vividly coloured by the later evidence of Pliny and of the 2nd cent. martyrs’ literature, which shows how Christianity was treated as a forbidden or illicit religion, hostile to the national cult, and therefore exposing any of its adherents, without further question, to the punishment of death” (e-Sword 13.0).

The word Christian is used so commonly and casually today in all sorts of contexts. In surveys, many profess Christianity but seldom adhere to its tenets. Kingcomments challenges professing Christians: “This name is still used, but unfortunately it no longer only includes true believers. The world no longer knows who is a real and not a real Christian. Unfortunately the world gets a false impression of the Lord Jesus by the wrong behavior of the nominal Christians and even more unfortunately also of true Christians” (BP Bible App). Few understand its significant and potentially dangerous connotation from the first century. To identify oneself as a Christian then could mean death (John 16:2). This is a sobering thought for those who profess to be Christ’s disciples at this end of the age. One way or another, there is a price to pay for following Jesus of Nazareth. Let every Christian count the cost (Luke 14:28).

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA, and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.