Digging Deeper: Those Who Love His Appearing

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

Estimated Reading Time: 8 min., 32 sec.

Did you know that God promises a crown of righteousness to all those who love Jesus’ appearing?

Not only are Christians to look for it but they are to love it. This presents a different dimension for believers as they patiently await the soon coming of their Lord. Just what did the apostle Paul mean by this phrase? Observant Christians around the globe will soon observe the Festival of Trumpets, which represents, by typology, Jesus’ Second Coming after seven trumpet plagues. This Digging Deeper explores Paul’s phrase about loving His appearing to gain a deeper appreciation for how Christians should await the coming of our Lord while we prepare for the next Holy Day.

Our focus verse is: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 KJV throughout). This verse comes near the end of Paul’s last epistle in our New Testament. He is suffering deplorable conditions in a Roman prison awaiting his execution during a time of growing anti-Christian activism in the Roman government. In this epistle, Paul gives final instructions to his young protégé, Timothy, to carry on preaching the gospel and caring for the Churches of God in Paul’s absence. Paul knows his time is very short and that he had almost finished his apostolic work. The bottom line was that he had “kept the faith” (2 Timothy 2:6-7).

Fighting and Running

Verses 7 and 8 are based figuratively on athletic competition, like the Olympics today, that was popular in the Greek and Roman Empires, including in the city of Corinth. In verse 7, Paul declares: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV). The image he portrays is that of the first-century boxer in fierce combat. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible describes this combat: “Boxing (1 Corinthians 9:26–27), one of the most popular Greek competitions, was violent. Boxers’ leather gloves protected most of their forearms but left the fingers bare. A still more violent version was a form of combat known as the pankration, which mixed boxing with wrestling. Its only rules were against gouging the eyes of one’s adversary and biting” (Tecarta Bible App). Of course, Paul meant he had fought a fierce spiritual battle.

In the next phrase, Paul declared he had finished his course, referring to a foot racecourse. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines this Greek word for course: “dromos (G1408), properly, ‘a running, a race’ (from edramon, ‘to run’), hence, metaphorically, denotes ‘a career, course of occupation, or of life,’ viewed in a special aspect, Acts 13:25; Acts 20:24; 2 Timothy 4:7” (e-Sword 13.0). Earlier, Paul stated he desired to finish his course with joy (Acts 20:24).

Competing for the Crown

The reward for finishing first in a contest was a crown. The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible defines it as: “A wreath (Greek stephanos, not the kingly diadēma) was awarded for first place in a race (v. 7), like a gold medal today” (Tecarta Bible App). The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains these material crowns: “Victors’ crowns at Greek competitions were wreaths: wild olive for the Olympics and pine or withered celery for the Isthmian Games” (Tecarta Bible App). David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary suggests how this Greek word likely brought back a painful memory to Paul: “Before Paul was a Christian he supervised the execution of the first martyr and then began to kill as many other Christians as he could. But now at the end of his life he was ready to receive a crown – a stephanos. It is likely that he remembered the name of the first martyr, who died at Paul’s own hands: Stephanos (Stephen)” (e-Sword 13.0).

Various crowns are assured Christians in the New Testament, as described by The Defender’s Study Bible: “This is one of the crowns symbolizing rewards for faithful service, which Christ will award at His judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 3:14). These include: ‘an incorruptible [crown]’ (1 Corinthians 9:25), the ‘crown of rejoicing’ (1 Thessalonians 2:19), ‘the crown of life’ (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), and ‘a crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5:4)” (e-Sword 13.0).

But the one Paul mentions in our focus verse is the crown of righteousness. This phrase has been understood with different senses as explained by the NIV Study Bible: “He could be referring to (1) a crown given as a reward for a righteous life, (2) a crown consisting of righteousness or (3) a crown given righteously (justly) by the righteous Judge” (Tecarta Bible App). Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible connects Christ the Righteous Judge with a judge in Roman games: “He alludes here to the brabeus, or umpire in the Grecian games, whose office it was to declare the victor, and to give the crown” (e-Sword 13.0).

Only one winner?

Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible comments that only one person won the prize in these games: “At the Grecian games, but one could obtain the prize; 1 Corinthians 9:24. All the rest who contended in those games, no matter how numerous they were, or how skillfully they contended, or how much effort they made, were of course subjected to the mortification of a failure, and to all the ill-feeling and envy to which such a failure might give rise” (e-Sword 13.0). By contrast, in the Christian “athletic games,” all potentially could be awarded, as Barnes continues: “No matter how numerous the competitors, or how worthy any one of them may be, or how pre-eminent above his brethren, yet all may obtain the prize … No one is excluded because another is successful; no one fails of the reward because another obtains it. Who, then, would not make an effort to win the immortal crown” (Ibid.)?

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible explains Christ’s reasoning why all could receive this prize: “Here is a reward, but it is a reward not of debt but of grace; for it is by the grace of God that even an apostle is fitted for glory. And this reward is common to the faithful; it is given, not only to apostles, but to all them that love his appearing. This crown is laid up – it is in view, but not in possession” (e-Sword 13.0). The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable describe the proper attitude for receiving such a reward: “An expectation of reward is also a recognition of God’s grace. Those who anticipate reward will not be able to boast, ‘Look at my accomplishments.’ They should be able to offer praise to God by saying, ‘Thank you, Lord, for what you have produced in me.’ The very expectation of reward is an acknowledgment of God’s grace'” (e-Sword 13.0).

Love His Appearing

In verse 8, the words that day have a special significance as explained by the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible: “A time of final reckoning, for good or ill. See 1:12,18; see also note on 1:12. Jesus spoke of ‘that day’ over a dozen times, both as judgment (Luke 21:34) and as a joyful time of reward (Luke 6:23) and reunion with Christ (Matt 26:29)” (Tecarta Bible App).

Receiving such a reward by all Christians is dependent on their loving His appearing, as explained by The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable: “This reward (victor’s crown, Gr. stephanos) will go to all Christians like Paul who, by the way they lived, demonstrated a longing for the Lord’s return. Not all Christians are anxious for the Lord to return since some know they need to change their way of living” (e-Sword 13.0).

Sir W. Robertson Nicoll’s The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts portrays various attitudes Christians may express towards the prospect of Jesus’ return: “There are four attitudes of mind in which we may stand respecting the ‘appearing’ of Christ. By far the worst is ‘indifference’; and that indifference may be either the dullness of ignorance, or the apathy or the deadness of the moral feelings. The next state is, ‘fear’. There is always something very good when there is ‘fear’. It requires faith to ‘fear’. But above ‘fear’ is ‘hope’. ‘Hope’ is expectation with desire: knowledge enough to be able to anticipate and grace enough to be able to wish it And here the ladder is generally cut off; but God carries it one step higher—’love’. ‘Love’ is as much above ‘hope’ as ‘hope’ is above ‘fear’—for ‘hope’ may be selfish, ‘love’ cannot be; ‘hope’ may be for what a person gives, ‘love’ must be for the person himself” (e-Sword 13.0). 

Christians are to prepare for Jesus’ return. They need to examine themselves regarding their attitude to Jesus’ coming, as expressed in these four different attitudes from our previous quotation. Christians should examine themselves in springtime before Passover, but they also should examine themselves in autumn before the Festival of Trumpets. In this festival season, absorb and meditate upon these words from the apostle John: “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).

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.

Digging Deeper: Fire Shut Up In My Bones

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

Estimated Reading Time: 7 min., 56 sec.

Did you know that when God commands a man to preach His message, he feels compelled to comply?

Even when he tries to refrain from doing so, he senses an overwhelming urgency to deliver the message regardless of the consequences. Jeremiah was one such prophet who, because of his suffering for preaching God’s word, tried to restrain himself from doing so but found he could no longer hold back. Today’s Digging Deeper considers this compulsion of God’s chosen men who speak for Him.

Our focus verse comes from Jeremiah’s experience: “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay [stop, hold back](Jeremiah 20:9 KJV throughout). Later in his book, Jeremiah states, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29 KJV). Fire and a hammer are two of several metaphors for God’s word used in Scripture.

Not of their own will

The NET Bible Notes explain the phrase “speak…in his name” from Jeremiah 20:9: “This idiom occurs in passages where someone functions as the messenger under the authority of another. See Exodus 5:23; Deuteronomy 18:19, 29:20; Jeremiah 14:14” (e-Sword 13.0). God had called Jeremiah at a young age and sent him to preach to the House of Judah before the final collapse of this kingdom to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 1:4-10). In Jeremiah 1:9, God put His words into Jeremiah’s mouth to proclaim to others. When God’s word becomes a part of a person’s inner life, that person is never the same again. That person has been given precious, divine truth that must be shared with others (Jeremiah 26:2).

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges describes what God’s prophets experienced: “These vv. shew us that the prophets did not speak of their own will. It was an influence which they could not resist that urged them forward, in spite of the certain ills that should follow to themselves. ‘Here there rings out clearly the prophet’s unfaltering certainty of the real inspiration which is the source of all his message.’ Pe. Cp. Jeremiah 23:29; so Amos 3:8 and 1 Corinthians 9:16″ (e-Sword 13.0).

Discouraged yet conflicted

When Jeremiah acquiesced to begin preaching after he was first called, he did not receive the kind of response he expected and hoped for. By Jeremiah chapter 20, he had been preaching for some time but was receiving little positive response. From king to pauper, Jeremiah’s message fell on deaf ears. People spoke back to him, threatened him, imprisoned him, and even lowered him into a slime pit to die. He became very discouraged and challenged God about why He had sent him when so few, if any, were willing to heed and respond positively to his message. The Dake Annotated Reference Bible summarizes Jeremiah’s debate with God in Jeremiah 20:

“Tenfold Complaint Of Jeremiah:

  1. Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived (Jer 20:7).
  2. You are stronger than I, and You have prevailed.
  3. I was in derision daily.
  4. Everyone mocks me.
  5. Since I spake, I cried out violence and spoil (Jer 20:8).
  6. God’s word was made a reproach to me, and a derision daily.
  7. I determined not to speak the word of the Lord anymore in His name; but it was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I could not keep from speaking out (Jer 20:9).
  8. I heard the defaming of many (Jer 20:10).
  9. Fear was on every side.
  10. All my familiars [intimate friends] watched for me to quit speaking, thinking they would prevail against me and get revenge” (Bible Analyzer

The Common Man’s Reference Bible Notes explains Jeremiah’s internal debate: “This account reveals the mental conflicts of Jeremiah during the conflicts with the apostate priests and people. Jeremiah desired to quit because he was upset with the LORD (Jonah 4:9). Everyone was against Jeremiah and they wanted him to quit or slip up (1Cor 4:9). At this time Jeremiah was against himself, but God called him to this work. Jeremiah had memorized much Scripture and the words of God burned inside his heart. When a man has the word hid in his heart, he cannot be silent (Prov 21:28). It is not the beliefs, fundamentals, message, or principles, but the words that motivate a man to preach (Psa 12:6-7; Acts 4:31; Col 3:16)” (Bible Analyzer

The tremendous battle in the heart

The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series describes further this struggle in Jeremiah’s mind: “A tremendous battle rages in the heart and mind of this sensitive man of God. On the one hand he wanted to resign his ministry and retreat to the peaceful and quiet life at Anathoth. He could not bear to face the prospect of continued ridicule and opposition. He wanted to forget all about his recent unpleasant experiences and never preach another sermon again. On the other hand his heart was burdened with a sense of prophetic obligation and divine mission. The fire of God’s wrath against sin burns fiercely within him. He tries to hold it back but cannot. He becomes utterly exhausted from trying to fight his compulsion to preach. In spite of himself he must follow the divine call, he must resume his ministry (Jeremiah 20:9)” (e-Sword 13.0).

Once Jeremiah realized his precipitous mistake in trying to resist speaking God’s word, he realizes he has no choice but to do so, as explained by Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible:

I wilt not make mention of him – I will renounce the prophetic office, and return to my house.

As a burning fire shut up in my bones – He felt stings of conscience for the hasty and disobedient resolution he had formed; he felt ashamed of his own weakness, that did not confide in the promise and strength of God; and God’s word was in him as a strongly raging fire, and he was obliged to deliver it, in order to get rid of the tortures which he felt from suppressing the solemn message which God had given. It is as dangerous to refuse to go when called, as it is to run without a call”.

(e-Sword 13.0)

Another prophet, Amos, expressed his compulsion to proclaim God’s word faithfully: “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8). In the New Testament era, the apostles Peter and John said: “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The apostle Paul too sensed his absolute necessity to preach God’s word: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” (1 Corithians 9:16-17).

The Defender’s Study Bible explains what compelled these servants of God: “The Word of God simply cannot be quenched for one who truly loves God and understands what God’s Word has done for him and what it means for the world. Even though that man is the object of reproach and derision because of it (Jeremiah 20:8), he must proclaim it to others in whatever way he can” (e-Sword 13.0).

The message must be proclaimed

Sometimes God’s people tire of proclaiming God’s word because, seemingly, it is without many positive responses. Ger de Koning’s Commentary on the Whole Bible offers food for thought: “We may also be overcome by the feeling that we no longer want to continue our service, that we no longer want to think about the LORD. After all, there is no point to it all. But then, like Jeremiah, we will still have no choice but to continue because we are inwardly convinced of the truth. The heart is burning, even though we are disappointed with the results of our service. When we see the state of corruption and the judgment that threatens, we cannot help but speak God’s words” (BibleTime 3.0.1).

These personal examples should move those whom God has called today to continue to proclaim the gospel to the world. It desperately needs to hear God’s word. We must proclaim it, or else God will hold us accountable (Ezekiel 33:1-9). God will strengthen us despite much opposition. In the end, if we are faithful, we will hear these words from our Savior: “…Well done, good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:23).

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.

Digging Deeper: God is Watching Us

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

Estimated Reading Time: 8 min., 54 sec.

Did you know that God observes everything on our blue-green gem of a planet floating in the blackness of space?

He sees it all – the good, the bad, the miraculous, the appalling, the beautiful, and the ugly. Many live as if He does not exist, or if He does, as though He is unobservant of the goings-on here below. This Digging Deeper highlights a proverb that demonstrates God’s observing eyes over this miracle planet of life that humankind is threatening to destroy.

The music world lost a singer/songwriter and guitarist last week whose career was vaulted by her recording of a song composed by Julie Gold entitled “From A Distance.” Nanci Griffith had a long musical career whose recordings transpired genres including folk and country music. Many people prefer her beautiful rendition of this song in which the words of the chorus are “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us – from a distance.” The aspirational theme of the song imagines what the world could be if only humankind lived in peace and harmony with God, itself, and the natural world. Instead, it suffers from war, disease, deprivation, hatred, and chaos because of global sinfulness.

Our focus verse is: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3 KJV throughout). Ger de Koning’s Commentary on the Whole Bible contrasts these two groups of people: “The evil people are both the great sinners and the friendly people who live decently, but none of them allow God into their lives. They are both those who openly sin and those who secretly sin. God wants them to become aware that He sees them, so that they may repent. The good people are in themselves also sinners, but they do good because they have acknowledged to be sinners. They live from a good relationship with God. That relationship has become good by their confession of sins and their faith in the forgiveness of those sins by God” (BibleTime 3.0.1).

His eyes run to and fro

We will consider a few parallel cross-references. Bible reference works, both printed and electronic, make it convenient to perform such side studies. One cross-reference is especially pertinent in the light of recent world events. This was spoken by God during the reign of King Asa of Judah: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars. ” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Proverbs has a good deal to say about God’s overview of humankind, as illustrated by The ESV Study Bible: “The eyes of the LORD is a major theme in Proverbs: the Lord knows the actions and hearts of all, so he is neither pleased with nor fooled by one who offers sacrifices while continuing in the way of wickedness (cf. vv. 8–9, 11, 26, 29)” (Tecarta Bible App). Some may think they can appease God by their “religious” activities like monetary gifts to charities, hoping God will overlook their habitual sinfulness. God is not so easily fooled.

The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series declares that God is a perfect witness when it asserts: “Since He beholds both the evil and the good, God is not human, for human beings tend to see only the evil of their enemies and critics and to by-pass the evil in their friends and close relatives” (e-Sword 13.). Our problem is that we cannot read people’s hearts (minds) like God can. This proverb explains how observant the Almighty is: “Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men”? (Proverbs 15:11 KJV). We cannot hide anything from Him.

Beholding with a loving eye

Sometimes parents inform misbehaving children that God is watching them. To a point, this may remind children of what is expected of them by God. On the other hand, parents need balance, as explained by the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 3: “Beholding. Better, ‘keeping watch.’ Sometimes children are given the impression that God watches them in order to find cause for blame; but our heavenly Father watches with the pitiful, loving eye of One who knows the frailty of our nature (see Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 33:13; 90:8; 103:13-14″ (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977, p. 999). The cross-references from Psalms listed here are heart-warming: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

The Hebrew word translated beholding has a colorful usage in the Old Testament, as explained by The Holman KJV Study Bible: “The Hebrew word for beholding or being vigilant implies that proper action will be taken with regard to what is observed. It is used of the capable wife who watches over her household (31:27), of the watchman in Ezekiel who is obligated to sound the alarm (Ezek. 33:6), and of God Himself who watches and judges the nations (Ps. 66:7)” (Tecarta Bible App). The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges adds further: “The word is commonly used of a watchman (1 Samuel 14:16; 2 Samuel 13:34;18:24), and calls up the figure of the Almighty observing, as it were, from His lofty watch-tower in heaven all the doings of the dwellers upon earth.” (e-Sword 13.0).

Seeing the good and evil

Proverbs 15:3 not only alarms the wicked but encourages the faithful, as explained by The NKJ Study Bible: “That the eyes of the LORD are in every place watching everything chills those who do evil and comforts those who submit to Him (see Ecclesiastes 12:14)” (Tecarta Bible App). The cross-reference verse they offer is pertinent to our study: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14 KJV). Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible assures God’s people: “The wicked shall not go unpunished, nor the righteous unrewarded, for God has his eye upon both and knows their true character; this speaks as much comfort to saints as terror to sinners” (e-Sword 13.0).

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible describes our focus verse’s instructional balance: “And if the consideration that his eye is in every place, have a tendency to appal those whose hearts are not right before him, and who seek for privacy, that they may commit iniquity; yet the other consideration, that his providence is everywhere, has a great tendency to encourage the upright, and all who may be in perilous or distressing circumstances” (e-Sword 13.).

God is extremely patient with human behavior, but there is a limit to His patience, as explained by Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: “Beholding the evil and the good.—Waiting till the iniquity of the one is full (Genesis 15:16), watching to aid the other (Psalm 34:15,17)” (e-Sword 13.0). When some cross the line of no return in their evil, God will act – but within His overall plan. By contrast, the cross-references in this source from Psalms offer strong encouragement to God’s faithful people going through extreme troubles:

“The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)

“The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17)

He sees and will act

Suffering people sometimes wonder if God truly sees what is happening here below. Joseph Parker’s The People’s Bible assures them: “Such words are at once a comfort and a terror. The universe would be but an infinite darkness were it not for the assurance that the eyes of the Lord watch every throbbing heart, every thought, every purpose, every action of the multitudinous life of men” (e-Sword 13.). God is watching and He will act on His own timetable. In the meantime, His people must continue to trust Him to rescue them.

God not only sees all, but He also knows our thoughts. Another cross-reference reminds us: “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psalm 139:1-2). Joseph S. Exell’s The Preachers Complete Homiletical Commentary explains these verses: “God is the one potentate and judge who can claim a perfect knowledge of all His subjects from personal acquaintance with each individual. Not one is lost in the crowd; each one stands before Him as distinctly as if He were the only creature in the universe” (e-Sword 13.). Now that is personal attention!

The righteous may be assured that, though God bears long with them in their suffering while they continually cry unto Him (Luke 18:7), He will finally act and reward them accordingly. Daniel Whedon’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments explains that God beholds the evil and the good in order: ” …  as is implied, to judge accurately of their character and conduct, and to reward and punish accordingly. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (e-Sword 13.0). The Bible reference this source just summarized was spoken by Abraham to God as He was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). God is fair and can be trusted to fairly punish the wicked and reward the righteous for the “eyes of the LORD are in every place…”

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.

Digging Deeper: The Chemarims

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

Estimated Reading Time: 8 min., 19 sec.

Did you know that in ancient Israel a mysterious group of religious officials known as Chemarims served in God’s sanctuary and at pagan shrines?

Some authorities suggest they were attired in black robes. Historically, black robes have been associated with clergy in the Christian world. The Catholic order, the Jesuits, was referred to as “Black Robes” by native peoples in the Americas during colonization. This Digging Deeper explores this unfamiliar term Chemarims to discover something about who they were and why they were referred to by this name.

The word Chemarims appears only once in our King James Bible. Here is the verse:

(Zephaniah 1:4) “I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the name of the Chemarims with the priests.” Notice that this worship is associated with the god Baal. This verse describes two groups of religious leaders, as explained by The New English Translation Notes: “The first word (כְּמָרִים, kemarim) refers to idolatrous priests in its two other appearances in the OT (2 Kings 23:5, Hosea 10:5), while the second word (כֹּהֲנִים, kohanim) is the normal term for ‘priest’ and is used of both legitimate and illegitimate priests in the OT” (e-Sword 13.0).

Who were the Chermarims?

The English word Chemarims is related to the Hebrew word (komer), which appears in two other verses also associated with heathen worship:

(Hosea 10:5)  “The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests [komer] thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it.”

(2 Kings 23:5) “And he [King Josiah] put down the idolatrous priests [komer], whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.”

Good King Josiah rid his land of these idolatrous priests (2 Kings 23:5). The NIV Study Bible, concerning Zephaniah 1:4-6, states that this passage: “Seems to indicate that Zephaniah’s main ministry took place before 621 bc, since the practices condemned here were abolished in Josiah’s reforms (see 2 Kings 23:4-16 and notes). Perhaps Zephaniah’s message was partly instrumental in motivating King Josiah to undertake his reforms (cf. 2 Chronicles 34:1-7)” (Tecarta Bible App). Josiah was one of the best kings of the House of Judah. His spiritual reformation of cleansing his empire of paganism is an epic Old Testament story.

Those in black robes

Several older sources associate the Chemarims with those who were attired in black robes. For example, The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature by John McClintock and James Strong declares: “According to Gesenius (Thes Hebrews p. 693), the corresponding Syriac word signifies ‘a priest in general; but this, as well as other Syriac words relating to divine worship, is restricted by the Hebrews to idol-worship. As to the etymology, the singular form כֹּמֶר, ko´mer, is properly blackness, sadness, and concretely, one who goes about in black, in mourning, hence an ascetic, a priest'” (e-Sword 13.0).

Then, relating this to Christian history, this source continues: “The priests who officiated in the service of the golden calves at Dan and Bethel were called chemarim (see the other passages referred to). Even to this day the Jews retain the word, and apply it in derision to Christian ministers, on account of their black robes” (e-Sword 13.). John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible describes some clergy today even more particularly: “The word is used now by the Jews for Popish monks that live in cloisters; and Elias Levita (m) thinks these here are so called from their living in such like recluse places” (Ibid.).

An older work from the 1600s by John Trapp called A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments is even more pointed when it refers to these religious leaders as “Baal’s chimney chaplains” and then asserts: “The Vulgate rendereth it  Aedituos, underlings to the other priests: Elias in Tisby, saith they were such as were shut up in cloisters, Chemarim Atrati they are called, either from their black garments, or because they were smutched with burning incense, or from the brandmarks they had superstitiously set upon their bodies, or because of their pretended fiery zeal and fervency in their religion, such as are the Sacrifici Seraphici among the Papists, who falsely and foolishly call them the lights of the world, sc. to light them into utter darkness” (e-Sword 13.0). We are not used to such bold declarative statements today!

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible in its comment on 2 Kings 23:5 goes even further with this challenging thought: “Probably they were an order made by the idolatrous kings of Judah, and called kemarim, from כמר  camar, which signifies to be scorched, shriveled together, made dark, or black, because their business was constantly to attend sacrificial fires, and probably they were [wore] black garments; hence the Jews in derision call Christian ministers kemarim, because of their black clothes and garments. Why we should imitate, in our sacerdotal dress, those priests of Baal, is strange to think and hard to tell” (e-Sword 13.0).  That is certainly something for current clergy to consider seriously!

A Commentary on the Holy Bible by Thomas Coke also relates the word to black robes: “Bishop Patrick thinks, that they were so called from being clothed in black; for the Egyptians, as well as many other pagan nations, made use of black garments when they sacrificed to the infernal deities: in opposition to which, the Jewish priests were clothed in white at their sacrifices” (e-Sword 13.0).

Uncertain etymology

However, not all sources associate Chemarims with black robes. A comparatively newer source, The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, edited by Merrill C. Tenney, declares the word’s uncertainty: “Its etymology is uncertain, none of those suggested being widely accepted … However, in the OT it is used only of the priests of idols or foreign gods, thus with an unfavorable sense” (Regency Reference Library, 1976, p. 786).

Another reference work, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’s article on Chemarims, also expresses its uncertain meaning: “The question of the root idea of the word remains unsettled. The traditional supposition, which finds some support even among modern scholars, is that the verbal form means ‘to be black,’ the priests being supposed to have been clad in black. But it is doubtful whether the root had this meaning. Another conjecture takes the root to mean ‘to be sad,’ the priest being a man of a sad countenance, an ascetic” (e-Sword 13.).

This source then adds this further explanation: “It is at all events probable that the priests, both in Israel and in the surrounding nations, employed white vestments, rather than black, when in the performance of their official functions. According to the Mishna, Middōth, verse 4, a Levitical priest who had become disqualified for service put on black garments and departed, while the others put on white garments and went in and ministered. The reference to the Baal worship in 2 Kings 10:22 seems more congruous with this view; hence, probably blackrobed priests (Chemarim) of Baal and the unfaithful priests of Yahweh shall be cut off together. G. A. Smith (BTP, II, 56) reads ‘the priestlings with the priests'” (e-Sword 13.0).

Let the Bible interpret itself

As you can see, the original meaning of Chemarims is still not fully understood. However, whatever is meant, our English Bible defines it sufficiently using English words. Notice that in all three instances of the Hebrew word komer, the Bible has given its definition as idolatrous priests. This is an important principle of Bible study: search for a particular English word with an English concordance of the Bible to find other verses that explain its meaning. This way, the Bible interprets the Bible.

Another useful study tool is to look up the original Hebrew or Aramaic word for the Old Testament or the original Greek word for the New Testament and perform searches in concordances for these original languages. Today, this process is very fast and convenient using electronic Bible study tools available for various devices. However, beware of lexicon definitions. Some of the classic original language lexicons were produced by men who gave definitions for original words of the Bible by quoting non-biblical dictionaries, literature, or other sources. Instead, rely on the word of God to defines its own words.

Whatever its origin and definition, Chemarims described men who were illegitimate religious leaders at different times of ancient Israel’s history. God’s true servants have continually been challenged by imposters and dangerous religious opponents since the beginning of human history. It behooves diligent and truth-seeking servants of God to discern between those who speak God’s word faithfully from those who speak deceptions. Christians must “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 KJV).

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.

Digging Deeper: Mutual Submission

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

Estimated Reading Time: 8 min., 40 sec.

Did you know that Scripture teaches that Christians are to submit to one another in the fear of God?

Our age has become increasingly skeptical of authority figures. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some are losing patience with mask and distance mandates and recommendations from local officials. Regrettably, this reluctance to comply can endanger others’ lives. What Scriptural admonition guides believers during this crisis? This Digging Deeper considers the words of the apostle Paul to offer a reassuring perspective for observant Christians.

Our focus verse is: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21 KJV throughout). On the domestic scene, some Bible-reading husbands occasionally recite verse 22 from Paul that wives are to submit to their husbands in order to persuade their wives to surrender to their wishes. What they may not have realized is that the previous verse (v. 21) is God’s command to every Christian to submit one to another in the fear of God – i.e., as an act of respect for the authority of God. Have you ever noticed how you can read a Scriptural section and yet its significance does not fully register on your mind?

Let this mind be in you…

Ephesians 5:21 parallels another passage of Paul to the Philippian brethren: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 KJV). Christ is our role model of submission. He gave up His personal “rights” to become our atoning sacrifice. He submitted to all legitimate authorities of His time – even those who killed Him.

Ephesians 5:21 serves as a “bridge” in this section of the Ephesian epistle. The ESV Study Bible explains: “Verse 21 is transitional, connecting with the previous section and leading to what follows. Submission is illustrated in various family relations in 5:22–33 (wives/husbands), 6:1–4 (children/parents), and 6:5–9 (servants/masters)” (Tecarta Bible App). Paul modifies some traditional first-century codes of behavior, as The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible clarifies: “Household codes instructed male heads of households how to rule wives, children and slaves; while continuing to uphold the call for subordinates to submit, Paul here goes beyond traditional expectations in calling for mutual submission (cf. general Christian servanthood to one another in Mk 10:42–45; Jn 13:14–15; Gal 5:13). This places Paul among the small proportion of ancient thinkers who valued mutual concern and sensitivity” (Tecarta Bible App). Notice how Paul reinterpreted these historical codes for believers.

The meaning of submitting

The word submitting is a keyword, as the ESV Study Bible explains: “Grammatically, ‘submitting’ is a participle in Greek and is dependent on the verb in v. 15. It explains further how to walk in wisdom (vv. 15–21 are one long sentence in Gk.)” (Tecarta Bible App). The NIV Study Bible takes this idea a step further: “The Greek grammar indicates that this mutual submission is associated with the filling of the Spirit in v. 18. The command ‘be filled’ (v. 18) is followed by a series of participles in the Greek: speaking (v. 19), singing (v. 19), making music (v. 19), giving thanks (v. 20) and submitting (v. 21)” (Ibid.). Mutual submission is essential in Christian spiritual wisdom.

The word submitting is expressed very positively, as The NKJ Study Bible notes: “The Greek word for submitting does not refer to being under the absolute control of another but to voluntarily placing oneself under the authority of another” (Tecarta Bible App). The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts by Sir W. Robertson Nicoll adds further: “It is a sacrifice of ourselves. Submission in the Christian sense is an act of strength and not of weakness; a victory and not a defeat; a victory over self, felt and realised” (e-Sword 13.0).

This Christian perspective on submitting is so contrary to unbelieving behavior. Human pride can consider itself autonomous and answerable to oneself alone, which is true of some in free democracies. This verse prohibits pride, egotism, and self-will, as The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains: “The primary point in the spiritual ethics of the Gospel is humiliation; self is dethroned as against God, and consequently as against men. Here the special, but not exclusive, reference is to fellow-Christians” (e-Sword 13.0).

Contrary to the uninformed views of some, Christianity teaches that there are ranks of authority figures to whom Christians must submit. David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary offers historical etymology to the word submitting: “The word submitting here literally means, ‘to be under in rank.’ It is a military word. It speaks of the way that an army is organized among levels of rank. You have Generals and Colonels and Majors and Captains and Sergeants and Privates. There are levels of rank, and you are obligated to respect those in higher rank” (e-Sword 13.0).

Subject to various authorities

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers lists various authorities Christians are to obey: “The strong and frequent emphasis laid in the New Testament on subjection, whether (as in Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) to the civil powers, or (as here, in Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1, and 1 Peter 2:18 to 1 Peter 3:7) to domestic authority, or (as in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 14-15) to ecclesiastical authority, probably indicates some tendency, in the first exuberance of Christian liberty and enthusiasm, to disregard the wholesome restraints, laws, and conventions of outward life. Hence St. Paul’s general caution here, prefatory to the more detailed teaching of subjection which follows” (e-Sword 13.0).

Cross-references reinforce these instructions:

“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 KJV).

“Obey them [church authorities] that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17 KJV).

What makes the difference for Christians is that their submission to these authorities is modeled upon their Savior’s. The Popular Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Philip Schaff, notes: “Such submission is not cringing obsequiousness, which is always selfish; but it is opposed to rudeness, insolence, haughtiness, and kindred manifestations of unchristian temper. The relation to Christ involves humility, and only true humility can produce the submission here required. The example of Christ teaches the same lesson: ‘The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister’ (Mark 10:45)” (e-Sword 13.0).

Submitting with godly fear

The last part of our focus verse, “in the fear of God,” is also critical for understanding. David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary enlightens us: “In the fear of God: This is an important point, because Paul repeats the idea all through the extended section speaking about submission:

  • Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
  • Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ.

The words in the fear of God describe what should be our motive for submitting to one another. We should submit to one other – see ourselves no longer in an individualistic way, but as a unit, as a company or a battalion – out of respect for God the Father and out of respect for Jesus Christ” (e-Sword 13.0).

The Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament by William Burkitt offers this commentary: “Learn hence, That where that noble and divine principle of the fear of God prevaileth in the heart, it will make a man conscientiously careful of his duty towards man: the fear of God in him will have both the force of a motive to quicken him up unto, and also of a rule to guide and direct him in, that submission, which, in obedience to God is due and payable to his neighbours” (BibleTime 3.0.1).

Today’s highlighted passage is critical to the peaceful, loving, and smooth operation of a local church, as Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains: “The general meaning here is, that Christianity does not break up the relations of life, and produce disorder, lawlessness, and insubordination; but that it will confirm every proper authority, and make every just yoke lighter. Infidelity is always disorganizing; Christianity, never” (e-Sword 13.0).

Christianity does not free believers from submissive behavior to due authority but refocuses it as service to God. As a fitting conclusion to our study, Kingcommments by Ger de Koning extends this point further: “We are connected to one another in the body of Christ, and also connected with Him. When we understand that, we would not want to raise ourselves above the other. There will be a healthy ‘fear’ not to dishonor Him with a mind of pride and rebellion. Only when I totally surrender myself to the glory of Christ and when I live with reverence for Him, I will be able to submit myself to the other” (BibleTime 3.0.1).

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.

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.

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.

Digging Deeper: Who Were Concubines?

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

Estimated reading time: 7 min., 26 sec.

Did you know that the word concubine as used in the Old Testament does not bear the same connotation as in modern English?

Today it has a rather negative meaning of a mistress or paramour outside of marriage. However, that was not the meaning of this family institution in Old Testament times. This Digging Deeper investigates the times of the patriarchs, judges, and kings of Israel to better understand who concubines were and what their place in the family was.

The meaning of “concubine”

The words concubine or concubines appear 39 times in 37 verses in the King James Bible – all in the Old Testament. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible explains the derivation of our English word: “We borrow this word from the Latin compound concubina, from con, together, and cubo, to lie, and apply it solely to a woman cohabiting with a man without being legally married” (e-Sword 13.0). However, that is how the word is understood and used now. The first appearance of this English word in our Bible is the mention of Reumah, the concubine of Abraham’s brother, Nahor: “And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah” (Genesis 22:24 KJV throughout).  Understanding the customs of the times will redirect our understanding of this institution from what seems so strange to our Western minds.

The Hebrew word for concubine is pilegesh (pee-leh’-ghesh). The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature by John McClintock and James Strong provides its definition and derivation: “(פִּילֶגֶשׁ, pile’gesh, deriv. uncertain, but apparently connected with the Gr. πάλλαξ [fully in the plur. נָשִׁים פִּילִגְשִׁים, 2 Samuel 15:16; 20:3]; Chald. לְהֵנָה lechenah’, Daniel 5:2-3, 23), denotes in the Bible not a paramour (Gr. παλλακή), but only a female conjugally united to a man in a relation inferior to that of the regular wife (אִשָּׁה)” (e-Sword 13.0). Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible adds: “The Hebrew word is פילגש  pilegesh, which is also a compound term, contracted, according to Parkhurst, from פלג  palag, to divide or share, and נגש  nagash, to approach; because the husband, in the delicate phrase of the Hebrew tongue, approaches the concubine, and shares the bed, etc., of the real wife with her” (Ibid.).

An issue of status

In Western culture, concubine describes a woman who is not a man’s wife but yet lives with him in a sexual relationship. This was not the case in ancient times. A concubine was a culturally lawful wife of lower rank who was not wedded with matrimonial ceremonies and solemnities, being inferior to the first wife who was mistress of the house. John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible explains that she was: “Not an harlot, but a secondary wife, who was under the proper and lawful wife, and a sort of a head servant in the family, and chiefly kept for the procreation of children; which was not thought either unlawful or dishonourable in those times such as was Hagar in Abraham’s family” (e-Sword 13.0). Being servants, concubines had no authority in the family.

Social status was well-defined in ancient times compared to our egalitarian western culture. Dave Miller in his Apologetics Press article Concubines? recently wrote: “In a country where social status and barriers are of minimal concern, it is difficult for us to grasp the magnitude of the chasm that existed between classes in ancient cultures, a chasm that stayed with a person throughout life regardless of advancements along the way.”

What led to the institution of concubinage is explained by Fausset’s Bible Dictionary: “The desire of offspring in the Jew [Israelite] was associated with the hope of the promised Redeemer. This raised concubinage from the character of gross sensuality which ordinarily it represents, especially when a wife was barren. This in some degree palliates, though it does not justify, the concubinage of Nahor, Abraham, and Jacob. The concubine’s children were adopted, as if they were the wife’s own offspring; and the suggestion to the husband often came from the wife herself (Genesis 30). The children were regarded, not as illegitimate, but as a supplementary family to that of the wife.” (e-Sword 13.0). However, The Cambridge Bible for Colleges and Schools’ note on Genesis 22:24 states: “The children of the concubine denote a less intimate tribal relationship than the children of the legal wife” (e-Sword 13.0). These children did not inherit their father’s fortune, though he might provide for them with gifts.

The laws concerning concubines

Polygyny was customary in the east and was tolerated in Old Testament times. The Fausset Bible Dictionary explains: “From the beginning, when man was sinless it was not so; for God made male and female that in marriage ‘they TWAIN should be one flesh’ Matthew 19:4-5, 8)” (e-Sword 13.0). Polygyny was not God’s original intention for humankind. However, the first couple sinned and as Fausset elaborates further: ” … in the course of developing corruption, strayed more and more from the original law, God provisionally sanctioned a code which imposed some checks on the prevalent licentiousness, and exercised His divine prerogative of overruling man’s evil to ultimate good. Such a provisional state was not the best absolutely, but the best under existing circumstances. The enactment was not a license to sin, but a restraint upon existing sin, and a witness against the hardness of man’s heart” (Ibid.).

Smith’s Bible Dictionary comments on who could become a concubine: “A concubine would generally be either

(1) a Hebrew girl bought of her father;

(2) a Gentile captive taken in war;

(3) a foreign slave bought; or

(4) a Canaanitish woman, bond or free.

The rights of the first two were protected by the law, Exodus 21:7; Deuteronomy 21:10-14, but the third was unrecognized and the fourth prohibited. Free Hebrew women also might become concubines” (e-Sword 13.0).

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary notes that concubines were given some protection by law: “The bondmaid or captive was not to be cast away arbitrarily after lust had been gratified (Exodus 21:7-9; Deuteronomy 21:10-11); she was protected by legal restraints whereby she had a kind of secondary marriage relationship to the man. Thus, limits were set within which concubinage was tolerated until ‘the times of this ignorance’ which ‘God winked at’ (Acts 17:30) passed by, and Christ restored the original pure code” (e-Sword 13.0).

In His mercy, God worked with this less-than-ideal situation to mitigate sin. Don Fleming’s Bridgeway Bible Dictionary explains: “Moses introduced laws to protect concubines for much the same reason as he introduced laws to protect slaves. Both slavery and concubinage were wrong, but the practices were so deeply rooted that they could not be removed immediately. However, laws could control them and so start a movement that would lead to their eventual removal (Exodus 21:7-11; Deuteronomy 21:15-17; see also SLAVERY)” (Ibid.).

Not so from the beginning

Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3)! The Bridgeway Bible Dictionary explains their relevance in the age of the Israelite kings: “God warned Israelite kings against glorifying themselves through building large harems, but most kings ignored his warnings (Deuteronomy 17:15-17; 2 Samuel 15:16; 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21; cf. Esther 2:14). People considered the harem to be such a symbol of kingly power, that a new king established his claim to the throne by claiming the former king’s harem (2 Samuel 3:7-8; 12:7-8; 16:20-22; 1 Kings 2:21-22)” (e-Sword 13.0). The People’s Dictionary of the Bible by Edwin W. Rice details succession: ” …the right over those of one monarch, accrued to his successor; so that to seize on any of them was regarded as an overt act of rebellion. 2 Samuel 3:7; 12:8; 1 Kings 2:22; 1 Kings 11:3″ (Ibid.).

Solomon’s wives, which included his secondary wives (concubines), turned his heart away from God by their importation of paganism when he married them to cement alliances with nearby peoples. The Bridgeway Bible Dictionary describes the resulting family discord: “Yet concubines proved to be a source of trouble to Israel’s kings. The presence of so many wives and children in the palace created family conflicts (2 Samuel 3:2-5; 13:20-22; cf. Genesis 21:8-10; Judges 8:31; 9:2-5), and the idols that foreign concubines brought into the palace led believers away from God (1 Kings 11:4)” (e-Sword 13.0).

Dave Miller in his Apologetics Press article, Concubines?, provides us a fitting summary of concubinage: “Nevertheless, awareness of the biblical meaning assigned to the word ‘concubine’ enables the English reader to understand that Bible characters who possessed concubines were not guilty of taking ‘mistresses,’ but were, in fact, married to them—and not merely engaging in extra-marital intimate relations. In any case, the Bible does not sanction the practice of unmarried sexual partners.”

Since Christ’s first coming, concubinage has become illicit. Easton’s Bible Dictionary affirms: “Christianity has restored the sacred institution of marriage to its original character, and concubinage is ranked with the sins of fornication and adultery (Matthew 19:5-9; 1 Corinthians 7:2)” (e-Sword 13.0). God’s ideal marriage remains one man united to one woman as it was in the beginning (Matthew 19:4-5).

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.

Digging Deeper: Almost

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

Estimated reading time: 8 min., 36 sec.

Did you know that the apostle Paul made such a convincing case for Jesus as Messiah through His resurrection from the dead that a Jewish king who heard him said Paul almost convinced him to become a Christian?

The facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection in AD 31 were evident, as this king was aware. Now about AD 59, Paul appealed to Roman and Jewish officials to consider what these things meant. This king nearly surrendered. Today’s Digging Deeper explores this engaging account in the Book of Acts to consider why some veer away from choosing to accept Christ’s offer of salvation.

Here is some essential background to the text in the Book of Acts that we will consider in this study. Following Paul’s three evangelistic journeys throughout the Greco-Roman world, Luke in this section of Acts describes the various hearings Paul had with Roman governors Felix and Festus and the Jewish king Herod Agrippa II. Paul had been falsely accused by Jerusalem Jews who tried to tear him apart in the temple. Roman officials came to his rescue but insisted that he explain himself. For his safety, the Romans moved him to Caesarea Maritima along the coast where he could be kept in state custody until his case could be properly heard. This process went on for about two years. Our primary text describes Paul’s exchange with the Roman governor Festus and Jewish King Herod Agrippa II before he was shipped to Rome to present his case to the Roman emperor.

A compelling exposition

Our primary text records the words of Paul to Agrippa: “For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:26-29 KJV throughout). Dake’s Annotated Bible explains this encounter: “This is to be taken literally, that he [Agrippa] was almost persuaded to embrace Christianity. At least, this is the way that Paul understood it and so answered it in Acts 26:29” (Bible Analyzer 5.4.1 22).

There is a textual matter to consider. Henry Morris’ Defender’s Study Bible provides this background: “Some expositors, because of certain variations in the Greek text here, regard this as a question, or as a sarcastic remark, as though Paul was presumptuous in trying to persuade in a short time such an important man as King Agrippa to become a Christian. However, the majority text, as well as the context, favors the Authorized Version here. If Paul’s exposition could make the Roman governor Felix tremble (Acts 24:25) with terror (literal meaning), he could certainly bring strong persuasion to a man such as Agrippa who was much better instructed than Festus in the Scriptures” (e-Sword 13.0). The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary adds further: “But the apostle’s reply can scarcely suit any but the sense given in our authorized version, which is that adopted by Chrysostom and some of the best scholars since” (Ibid.).

Paul was determined to spread the gospel far and wide, high and low. When he was ordained, Christ prophesied that Paul would stand before kings (Acts 9:15). Herod was one such king. What drove Paul to preach so urgently? He explains in one of his epistles: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Who was Agrippa?

Knowing a little about King Agrippa will help us understand this conversation in historical context. The ESV Study Bible in its note for Acts 25:13 writes of him: “Agrippa the king was Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I (see notes on 12:1; 24:24), and great-grandson of Herod the Great (see note on Matt. 2:1). He ruled over several minor, primarily Gentile territories. The emperor Claudius had conferred on Agrippa II rule over the temple in Jerusalem and the right to appoint the high priest (see Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.222, 223) (Tecarta Bible App). Herod necessarily had an interest in the charges that Paul desecrated the temple.

The NKJ Study Bible for Acts 26:28 offers a probable explanation for Agrippa’s lack of response: “Agrippa realized that Paul was doing more than just defending his faith; he was actually trying to persuade Agrippa to become a follower of Jesus Christ. If Agrippa had told those gathered that he did not believe the prophets, he would have angered the Jews. If he had acknowledged that he did believe the prophets, he would have had to give weight to Paul’s words. Agrippa avoided being maneuvered into an embarrassing corner by sidestepping the issue. The interview was becoming too personal for Agrippa’s comfort, so he ended the dialogue” (Tecarta Bible App). Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible adds this additional point: “He had no particular hostility to Christians; he knew that they were not justly charged with sedition and crime; and he saw the conclusion to which a belief of the prophets inevitably tended. Yet, as in thousands of other cases, he was not quite persuaded to be a Christian” (e-Sword 13.0).

Failing to respond

The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 suggests this explanation for people who do not take action: “Like Agrippa, those who are under deep conviction oftentimes speak and act in an indifferent way, particularly in the presence of unbelieving associates. Though under deep conviction, Agrippa perhaps wished to give those assembled in the procurator’s [Festus’] audience chamber the impression that he thought Paul naive to think a prisoner could convert a king in so short a time, or with so brief an explanation” (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980, p. 441).

What keeps people from surrendering to Christ when intellectually they know they must to be saved? Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible suggests several causes for failing to respond:

“Such persons are deterred from being altogether Christians by the following, among other causes:

  • (a) By the love of sin – the love of sin in general, or some particular sin which they are not willing to abandon;
  • (b) By the fear of shame, persecution, or contempt, if they become Christians;
  • (c) By the temptations of the world – its cares, vanities, and allurements- which are often presented most strongly in just this state of mind;
  • (d) By the love of office, the pride of rank and power, as in the case of Agrippa” (e-Sword 13.0).

Ezekiel faced a similar lack of response in his own day: “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness” (Ezekiel 33:31 KJV). James adds another sobering conclusion: “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was” (James 1:23-24 KJV).

What Agrippa gave up

What had Agrippa almost become? David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary explains: “Acts 26:18 describes five things that happened to Paul when he became a Christian. A Christian has their eyes opened. A Christian has turned from darkness to light. A Christian has turned from the power of Satan to God. A Christian has received forgiveness of sins. And a Christian has an inheritance among those set apart to God” (e-Sword 13.0). How much Agrippa missed!

When Paul said he wished Agrippa was like himself except for his bonds (chains), The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers this dramatic scene: “A speech’s conclusion often included an emotionally rousing climax, here probably including Paul gesturing with his unjust chains. Given ancient analogies, Paul’s right hand may have been chained to a guard’s left hand, with an iron shackle weighing 10 or 15 pounds (4.5 or 6.8 kilograms)” (Tecarta Bible App). We can imagine the emotional appeal Paul made to Agrippa and yet Agrippa did not respond to Paul’s challenge to repent to and turn to Christ in obedient repentance.

A challenging thought for our conclusion comes from Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible: “There is no reason to believe that Agrippa ever became fully persuaded to become a Christian. To be almost persuaded to do a thing which we ought to do, and yet not to do it, is the very position of guilt and danger. And it is no wonder that many are brought to this point – the turning-point, the crisis of life – and then lose their anxiety, and die in their sins. May the God of grace keep us from resting in being almost persuaded to be Christians” (e-Sword 13.0)!

If you sense your need to repent before Christ and accept His sacrifice for your sins, we urge you to contact our church office for personal counseling with one of our ministers. Do not be an almost Christian.

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.

Digging Deeper: The Flood in the New Testament

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

Estimated reading time: 8 min., 40 sec.

Did you know that Jesus referenced the great flood of Noah’s day to describe the world’s unrepentant state before His Second Coming?

There are vital lessons for our day from Jesus’ relating this story. Skeptics today question whether this flood ever occurred, stating it was legendary or merely symbolic. Others may accept its reality but challenge whether the flood was universal or only local. There is a direct and conclusive way for Christians to verify the details of this Genesis account: by closely reading the New Testament. This Digging Deeper delves into the New Testament’s reference to this dramatic story to motivate humanity to heed Jesus’ warnings about world conditions before His return.

The first passage that mentions the flood in NT

The great flood of Noah’s day (sometimes referred to as the “Genesis Flood” or “Noah’s Flood”) is mentioned in six New Testament passages. The first is: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:36-39 KJV throughout).

Notice that Jesus affirms that such a flood actually occurred and that it took them all away. This story was quite familiar to His listeners since He did not have to recount the entire drama. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states that the Greek word translated flood is: “kataklusmos (G2627), ‘a deluge’ (Eng., ‘cataclysm’), akin to katakluzo, ‘to inundate,’ 2 Peter 3:6, is used of the ‘flood’ in Noah’s time, Matthew 24:38, 39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:5” (e-Sword 13.0). Noah’s Flood was a cataclysmic deluge of the entire planet. Many Jews of the time thought the flood prefigured the day of judgment to come.

The King James Study Bible comments on these verses: ” … we are given a comparison to the days of Noe (Noah and the Flood), which illustrate and prefigure the condition of humanity at the time of Christ’s return. The last generation, like the one of Noah’s day, is pleasure-oriented and self-gratifying by eating and drinking. The reference to marrying and giving in marriage may refer to carrying on the normal course of life without heeding the impending judgment” (Tecarta Bible App).

As in Noah’s day, people will be unprepared for the destruction to come due to neglecting God’s warnings. R.C.H. Lenski in his Commentary on the New Testament wrote: “In the days preceding the deluge men were wholly unconcerned (ἦσαν with an indefinite subject). They spent the 120 years which God had fixed as the limit of his grace ‘eating (πρώγειν, “to munch,” audible eating, used in John 6:54–58) and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage’ as though no judgment were impending. These are neutral actions that are not sinful in themselves; but they obtain a sinister significance when the total disregard of God’s warnings is observed which underlies this conduct. These men should have repented in sackcloth and in ashes” (Bible Analyzer

The second passage is:

“And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 7:26-27). When He said it “destroyed them all,” Jesus considered it a universal flood since He used it as a historical precedent for massive destruction of the world’s population at His return resulting from open sin. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes: “Ancient Jewish sources depicted Noah’s generation (Ge 6:11–13) and Sodom (Ge 18:20; 19:4–9), sometimes together, as the epitome of evil. The point here is that they thought only of life as usual, and sudden judgment took them by surprise (Ge 7:21–23; 19:24–25)” (Tecarta Bible App).

Sudden destruction will catch most people unprepared at Jesus’ return. R.C.H. Lenski in his Commentary on the New Testament described the people of Noah’s day: “They disregarded absolutely all warning and lived on as though the warnings meant nothing. The four verbs which are without connectives are dramatic, all are imperfect tenses to express customary actions. It is a masterly description of that blind, secure, unbelieving, ungodly generation of Noah’s day, whose successors are with us now and shall fill the world when the Son of man comes” (Bible Analyzer

The third passage is:

“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7). The KJV Study Bible notes: “Noah was asked by God to do in faith things that were incongruous with his former experience. He had never seen rain (Genesis 2:5), and yet God told him to build an ark because of a coming flood (Genesis 6:13–17)” (Tecarta Bible App). The NKJ Study Bible adds further: “Noah had never seen (v. 1) the flood God revealed to him. Yet he believed God in spite of this and heeded His warnings. His faith not only saved him from the deluge but also from God’s judgment, for He became an heir of righteousness” (Ibid.).

The fourth passage is:

“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21). The Holman KJV Study Bible explains: “Noah and his family were saved by water, or brought safely through the floodwaters, whereas the wicked were destroyed (Genesis 7:22-23). Baptism in the NT corresponds to this OT event in that both involve breaks from past lives and a fresh start and entrance into new life” (Tecarta Bible App).

The fifth passage is:

“And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5). The NKJ Study Bible comments: “Noah is called a preacher of righteousness because his righteous life put to shame the immoral lives of his neighbors. Noah’s building of the ark would certainly have given him the opportunity to explain the coming judgment and to invite people to repent and believe in God. But his entreaties fell on deaf ears, just as the truth of Christ’s atonement fell on the deaf ears of the false teachers of Peter’s day. Such indifference and unbelief brought the ungodly of Noah’s world to certain destruction” (Tecarta Bible App).

The sixth and final passage is:

“For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:6). In his Days of Praise article for February 5, 2018, John Morris wrote, “Peter uses extraordinary language. The word ‘overflowed’ in today’s verse translates the mighty Greek word katakluzo, from which we get our word ‘cataclysm’ …In the Greek New Testament, this word is only used to refer to Noah’s Flood (see Matthew 24:38-39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:5) …” This is the word described earlier in this article. The NKJ Study Bible additionally notes: “The scoffing teachers would choose to overlook events such as creation and the Flood. The people of Noah’s time did not believe in Noah’s warning because they had never experienced a flood.” (Tecarta Bible App).

To summarize the importance of the words of Jesus and the New Testament apostles, Henry Morris in his Days of Praise article for January 30, 2018 wrote: “This is what Jesus said, and what He believed, and therefore, those who are truly His disciples must also believe this. The destructive effects of the Flood can still be seen today not only in the biblical record, but also in the abundant evidences of cataclysmic destruction in the rocks and fossil graveyards all over the world. To refuse this evidence, as do many modern intellectuals, can only be because they ‘willingly are ignorant,’ as Peter said in referring to this testimony (2 Peter 3:5).”

Christians need only go back to the New Testament’s affirmation in the first century that the flood was real and globally destructive. Contrary to what some claim, there is ample biblical and geological evidence of a global flood. Faith in the words of Christ Who inspired the New Testament settles the matter satisfactorily for those who claim to be His disciples. Jesus referenced the flood account to warn people not to avoid His call for repentance as people did in the time of Noah. Believers who heed God’s word and respond like Noah will find ” … grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).

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.