Course Spotlight: Faith and Healing

In the Bible, we see that faith and healing often go hand in hand. But as we read examples of healing, we see that faith takes on a different role in different scenarios. Take a look at this outline to identify these scenarios!

Course Spotlight From The Life, Ministry, and Teachings of Jesus Christ: (Unit 2) The Galilean Ministry

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.

Course Spotlight: The Sign of Jonah

Christ’s miracles were amazing signs of God’s power and ministry. His works testified of Him (John 14:11). To the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus showed signs of healing the blind and cleansing the lepers—which the Messiah was prophesied to do (Isaiah 61:1). Yet Christ said that the primary sign to identify Him as the Messiah would be “the sign of Jonah.”

What was the sign of Jonah—and what does it have to do with us today?

Course Spotlight From The Life, Teachings, and Ministry of Jesus Christ: (Unit 3) The Judean Ministry

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.

Course Spotlight: Lessons from Kingdom Parables

There is much to be gleaned from Christ’s parables in Matthew 13 regarding the Kingdom of God. Christ spoke in parables, not so that the people would understand, but so they would not understand (Matthew 13:11-15). It was only given to a few to know what they mean at this time: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:43).

Course Spotlight From The Life, Ministry, and Teachings of Jesus Christ: (Unit 2) The Galilean Ministry

Course Spotlight: Joel’s Prophecy

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

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

Course Spotlight From God’s Feast Days: Pentecost

Course Spotlight: By Prayer and Fasting

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

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

Digging Deeper: Who is Reverend?

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

Estimated Reading Time: 8 min

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

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

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

The meaning of reverend

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

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

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

Terrible and to be feared

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

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

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

A title fit only for God

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

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

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

Related to a covenant relationship

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

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

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

Kenneth Frank headshot

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

Course Spotlight: How to Pray When You Are Discouraged

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

Course Spotlight From Tools for Christian Growth: Prayer

Digging Deeper: Are you a Christian?

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

Estimated reading time: 8 min., 42 sec.

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

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

And the disciples were called Christians…

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

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

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

The meaning of “Christian”

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

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

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

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

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

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

To suffer as a Christian

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

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

The price of following Christ

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

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

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

Kenneth Frank headshot

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