There is a well-known phrase that goes back to Saint Vincent of Lerins (died AD 445) that goes as follows: “In Essentials unity, in Non-Essentials liberty, and in all things Charity.” And, in principle, the idea is a good thing. Confessing Christians are commanded in scripture to treat one another with love — ἀγάπη (agape) even. Those who cannot or who will not act with love toward other Christians are not really Christians in the first place (1 John 3:14-15). Further, there are plenty of areas in which we might disagree with Christian brothers (the application of this verse or the interpretation of that passage) and no essential piece of theology is altered. I remember the first time that I preached the “Parable of the Steward of Unrighteousness” (Luke 16:1-13). At the time, I was in seminary still and looked up 17 different commentaries on the parable and each commentator approached the text differently. Go figure…
The real problem with this phrase of St. Vincent is not the latter two clauses, but the initial clause. What defines the “Essentials of the Faith.” Or perhaps, to use more Biblical phraseology, what defines the “Faith once and for all time delivered to the saints.” What points of doctrine are we compelled to be united on lest the Christian faith be lost and we fall into outright heresy? This is a somewhat more hotly debated question.
Some theologians tend toward a more minimalistic approach — if we can all agree on the Apostles’ Creed, we can claim that we are Christians. Yet, Mormons would claim to hold to the Apostles’ Creed and even most mainstream denominations would identify the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints as a cult and not as a Christian denomination. Why is that? It is because the LDS church has redefined some of the terminology to suit their theological views.
Others have suggested that the four so-called Ecumenical Creeds together form this Essential view (Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Athenasian Creed, and the Christological Statement of Chalcedon). These four certainly draw us much closer to the answer and add some much-needed definitions to the terminology of the Apostles’ Creed. Yet, the Pope would affirm these four Creeds and most protestants would argue that the Pope is in serious error and many of us (particularly in the Reformed school of thought) would argue that the Pope is an antichrist.
So, where do we go next? While the next logical step is to appeal to the Confessions of the Church, we must be reminded that the purpose of a Confession is to clarify distinctions between Christian bodies, so confessions unapologetically cover things that may not fall into the realm of “Essentials.” So, that still leaves us asking the question, “Where is our starting point when it comes to Essentials?”
The answer has to fall back to looking at the Bible — the sixty-six books that comprise the Old and New Testaments. But, we need to go a little further than that. We ought to clarify that it is these books, treated as the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, consisting and treated as a unified whole, not a collection of disparate books gathered by the church. When the Scriptures become our starting point and our only rule for faith and practice, we now have a substantial basis upon which essentials can be distinguished.
The Bible is also the only place where we can know the Gospel. Gospel, of course, is a word that is used rather broadly — it refers to the four books that begin the New Testament and it also refers to the message of salvation we might would use in evangelism. In its most basic sense, though, the word means “Good News” and the Gospel (in that sense) is the whole of the Bible as the Bible contains the good news of God’s redemption of man throughout history. Beginning to end, it is the only place where we can discover the good news of the forgiveness of sins and a hope for eternal life. That is our Essential — everything else we hold flows out of this one book.
“clinging to the Word of Life, that I will be satisfied in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor did I labor in vain.”
Much can be said from these words of Paul, but I want to focus first on the initial words which follow the statement in the previous verse. What is the way in which we live our lives in a way that is blameless and pure? The answer is that we must do so clinging to the Word of Life. It is the Bible that provides us with every standard by which we may know the life we are to strive to live. It is the Bible that gives us wisdom and discernment for the decisions we make. And it is the Bible that records all of the promises of God that will give us the courage to live the way we are called to live…that is if we trust the Bible.
But Paul doesn’t simply say for us to trust the Bible. He says we are to cling to it like one might cling to the edge of a great cliff lest we fall to our doom on the valley floor below. This clinging is a life or death clinging. These scriptures for us are our very life (Deuteronomy 32:47). For we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). And it is not only our calling to live by them, but to speak of this word to others at every opportunity and no matter the cost (Acts 5:20).
Yet, how many professing Christians reject this word that God gives to us…or at least pick and choose that which they want to follow and that which they wish to ignore. Selective hearing does not an obedient follower make.
Thus, friends, set the Word of God before you, which is God’s Word of Life. Do so in all things and in every way. Let it guide your steps and do not deviate to the right or to the left from that which it instructs and commands. Let the Word of God guide your speech and your attitudes as well as your reasoning. Do not let any idea into your life except through the sieve of the Scriptures. It will always prove faithful and reliable…cling to it for it is your very life.
“Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”
What a powerful statement! Jesus lays out two great truths for us in this little statement…first, that it is by the means of the Truth that we should be sanctified and that the Word of God (Scripture) is Truth. Yet, we need to lay out some definitions here to make sure we understand the depth of this statement.
The first question we really need to ask is what does the word “sanctify” mean. In Greek, the term sanctify is the word, aJgia/zw (hagiazw), which is related to the term a¢gioß (hagios), meaning “holy” or “set apart for sacred use.” The Hebrew equivalent to this term is vwødDq (qadosh); God regularly sets apart his people (Leviticus 19:2, 20:26), his priests (Leviticus 21:8), and implements or items of worship (Leviticus 27:30,32) as hÎwhyÅl v®døq (qodesh layahweh)—“Holy to the Lord.” Thus, getting back to aJgia/zw (hagiazw), sanctification is the process by which God makes us holy as He is holy. It is a process by which he refines us as by fire (1 Peter 1:6-7), scraping off the dross and refining us for his work here in this world and to be ultimately purified as we are prepared to enter into his eternal presence in glory.
Thus, if we are sanctified in Truth and the scriptures are the revelation of God’s word, then how are we sanctified in the Bible? To begin with, let us state up front that the efforts of man in this area avail him nothing if not indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not talking here about those who do not have new life, but he is talking about the born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Also, it should be noted that Jesus did speak many other words and do many other things than are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), so some would argue that the Bible is not synonymous with God’s Word. While there is some truth to that claim, it is clear that the Bible is the only revelation of God that has been written down and preserved for us through the ages (through the superintending of the Holy Spirit). Certainly, there are many texts that claim divine or apostolic authorship as well as prophetic authorship, but these texts have clearly been shown to be much later additions, written under pseudonyms, and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. It has become popular in this age to drag out these texts and create false theologies based on them, but such is the work of false teachers whose condemnation was designated and written about long ago (Jude 4). Look to the fruit of such teachers (Matthew 7:15-20) and who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus Christ (Jude 4 again). The second century church fathers refuted them when they were writing, we should heed their warnings and not stumble into the errors of these charlatans.
As we move, then, back to the Bible—God’s revealed word and the source of all Truth, then how is it that the Bible is a tool in our sanctification? John Calvin made the argument that there are three purposes to the moral law as it is contained in scripture—the first was simply to set before us a moral code so that we can live together in society without killing one another. Simply spoken, how different our world would be if every human being on our planet lived by those ten basic commandments! Secondly, the Ten Commandments are designed to teach us our inability to live a holy life before the Lord. The simple fact is that try as we may, we cannot keep the commandments of God and thus as we survey the world around us, it is filled with idolatry, crime, adultery, greed, lust, etc… Thus, the law teaches us we need a savior to redeem us from our wicked state. Then finally comes the third use of the Law, which is as a tool of sanctification (what Jesus is talking about here) not for all mankind, but for the believer. As we seek to live according to the Moral Law of God out of a desire to honor our Redeemer and God, we grow more and more like the one who fulfilled that law for us, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that if we love him, we will demonstrate that love in obedience to his commands (John 14:15). In addition, in the great commission, Jesus commands the Apostles to go out and make disciples. What are the marks of a true disciple? First, they have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, secondly, they have been taught to obey “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Thus, we can infer that it is not just the Moral Law that believers are to seek to obey, but all of God’s word as he lays it out before us. This is not to suggest that we are to obey all of the sacramental laws of the Old Testament, Jesus has fulfilled them for us once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10) nor is it to mean that the civil laws of the Old Testament are to be applied as they were applied in the Old Testament—Jesus himself forgave sins punishable by death (John 8:11)—such laws were given for a people who were structured into a Theocratic kingdom, now we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) and thus have a priestly function while living within the nations of others (just as the Levites did in Israel and just as Abraham did while living as an alien in Canaan). We can certainly glean some moral principles from these case laws in the Old Testament, but their application is a moral guide and not civil law.
The heart at what Jesus is getting at, though, is that we must be taking God’s word and applying it to every area of our lives if we are to grow like him. How do we do this, though, if we are not immersing ourselves in our Bibles and studying it—recognizing it as Truth? What does it say about our hearts if we go to the Bible, yet it does not change us? In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), being changed—transformed even—into the image of Christ through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2)—and how is that renewal to take place? It takes place through the application of God’s word to every area of our lives—indeed, as our Lord prayed, we are sanctified according to his Word. Christian, pursue that end.
One of the things we talk a lot about in church circles is the authority of scripture—that it is given by God and is designed to instruct us in every area of life. One of the terms that we use when we speak of why the scriptures are authoritative is the term “inerrant.” But I have found that while we often throw that term around, a lot of times, people aren’t entirely sure what the term means.
To be “inerrant” means far more than something has no errors in it. When I was in school, I regularly had “error-free” mathematics tests; when I was in seminary, many of my Hebrew vocabulary tests were found to be “error-free,” but none of these were inerrant. The word inerrant means not only that something has no errors, but that it is incapable of making an error. The Oxford American Dictionary defines “inerrant” as “incapable of being wrong.” One writer described the inerrancy of the scriptures in this way: “They are exempt from the liability to mistake.”
So why do we ascribe such a nature to the scriptures? To begin with, they are God’s word, and if God is incapable of making a mistake, then his word also must be incapable of making a mistake—remembering that those who wrote down God’s word were “moved along by the Spirit” as a ship is blown by the wind filling its sails (2 Peter 1:21). In the language of the Apostle Paul, scripture is exhaled by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and thus is the source of all training and guidance for the believer. These are God’s words and not man’s and thus we ought to expect them to carry the authority and attributes of God’s character and not man’s character.
It is granted that there are many these days that doubt the inerrancy of scripture. For some, it is a plain matter of unbelief. For others it is misinformation or not having studied the evidence. For others it is the fear that if one acknowledges these words to be the inerrant word of God then one must submit one’s life to scripture’s authority and demands, and such is true. Regardless of the reason that people doubt, Scripture has withstood every test and challenge that has been leveled at it.
There is one other thing that is worth noting about such a book as we have. Not only are the scriptures our only guide for faith and life, but they are the only book to guide us as we go to our deaths. The Bible shows us Jesus Christ, our need for him as a redeemer, and his promise that if we trust in him in life, confessing him with our lips and believing in him in our hearts, he will confess us before the Father and guarantee us eternal life in paradise. For the one who is facing death, this is the kind of knowledge that brings peace and enables them to leave this world with grace and not fear. It is no wonder that the Scriptures are what most people ask to have read to them on their deathbeds, and not Shakespeare or Coleridge. The Bible is the one book that transcends death because it was written by a God who died and rose again—promising that he would do the same for us.
Some initial thoughts as to some Biblical principles that ought to shape the way Christian schools and Christian teachers order their classrooms. These thoughts are not meant as exhaustive, but instead are meant to be a Biblical foundation upon which a philosophy of Christian education can be built.
1. The interaction with students, from instruction to discipline, must be built on the principle that students bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and though that image was twisted and deformed as a result of the fall through the entrance of sin and death (Romans 5:12), the image of God was not lost in the fall (Genesis 9:6). Thus, a large part of the role of Christian education is that of “straightening” the fallen person—helping to restore the person in such a way that they accurately reflect the image of God. As Christ is the perfect reflection of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), it is into the image modeled for us by Christ that we seek to direct the transformation of our students. The life and well-being of the child is seen by scripture in a special way (Psalm 127:3; Matthew 19:14; Mark 9:42). How we handle sin in the classroom as well as education in the classroom must be seen in this context, and teachers are to understand that they are to be held to a higher standard than others (James 3:1).
2. Education is a divinely ordained responsibility of parents, but particularly that of the Father as the covenant head of the household (Ephesians 6:4; Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:7, 20-21; 11:19; 32:46; Psalm 78:5; 2 Timothy 1:5). It is also noted in scripture that the Levitical priests were to come alongside of the parents for the purpose of educating their children (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Judges 13:8; 1 Samuel 12:23; Ezekiel 44:23; 2 Chronicles 15:3) as part of the larger covenantal community of believers (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Matthew 2:6; Romans 9:25; 2 Corinthians 6:16). There are also occasions where others within the covenant community who had particular gifts and skills were gifted to teach (Exodus 35:34). While it is recognized that God’s people can learn things from non-believers (1 Kings 5:6; Acts 7:22), the Bible presents teaching as an activity to be undertaken by the covenant community. Though the Levitical Priesthood has fallen away and been replaced by Christ (Hebrews 7), all believers are now priests (1 Peter 2:9; Isaiah 66:20-21) and thus responsible to fulfill the Levitical functions which are not a part of the sacrificial system as that role has been fulfilled by Christ alone (Hebrews 10:10-14). Hence, Christian parents must not only seek to oversee the education of their children, but they also have a Biblical mandate that the education of their children is done by Christians, and not by non-believers. In turn, teachers must be mindful that they are serving as proxies for the student’s parents, not as replacements and are to instruct in such a fashion as to honor the parents for whom they are acting.
3. The teacher must understand that the Biblical end of education is to equip the students to obedience to God’s commands so that their days may be long in the land (Deuteronomy 5:33; 11:9). Hence, children are also commanded to honor their parents (which implies an honoring of their instruction) so that their days may be long in the land (Exodus 20:12). The Biblical idiom of “living long” does not so much refer to long physical life in the land as it refers to the life and essential health of the covenantal community of the faithful in the land which God had given them. This language, though, is later applied to the church (Ephesians 6:3) under the auspices of living faithfully in the world. To accomplish this, teaching is to include the law for righteous living (Exodus 24:12; 2 Kings 17:27) and also instruction in more mundane areas (2 Samuel 1:8; Exodus 35:25; Isaiah 28:23-29). In addition, scripture mandates the teaching of the history of God’s acts (Exodus 12:14; 2 Samuel 1:18; Psalm 66:5). Thus, teaching that is scriptural (and hence mandated to be done within the community of faith) is teaching that covers every discipline of life and is designed so that the believer may walk in reverence and obedience to the commands of God (Deuteronomy 14:22; Micah 4:2; 1 Peter 1:16). The implication of this marks Christian teaching as being something distinct from secular (the Greek model) education. For the heathen, religion and faith have no bearing on one’s thinking, philosophy, or ordinary life; for the Christian, knowledge of God lived out in faith is everything—there is no aspect of life that religion is not meant to touch and inform. Hence, the Christian classroom needs to reflect that principle.
4. Discipline is a God-given tool by which education is furthered (Hebrews 12:5-11; Psalm 50:16-23; Proverbs 12:1; 13:24; Revelation 3:19). It is designed to keep children from vicious teachings and error, to suppress feelings of bitterness of students who have been wronged, to punish wrongdoing, and to show the repulsive nature of sin and the pains that are associated with it. Said discipline should be non-preferential and balanced to suit the infraction. Discipline also should not be designed to break, humiliate, or discourage the child from a pursuit of a God-honoring life. It should be firm, but delivered with a spirit of kindness and not vengeance or anger. Ultimately discipline should build up not only the student being disciplined, but the entire class as well. Finally, once discipline is administered, the student is to be considered as justified as to the law of the classroom and should be reinstated to the covenantal community of the class in question without lingering reminders of said sin.
A few final thoughts about the childhood education that Jesus would have received:
- Synagogue schools were funded by the parents of the children attending. The education of poor students was funded by donations given in the temple or at Sabbath worship.
- Teachers were salaried by the synagogue and were not allowed to accept money from wealthy families lest favoritism be given.
- Teachers were forbidden from losing their patience with students for not understanding concepts, but were expected to be able to make them plain to all.
- Kindness was encouraged and schools used the strap in discipline, not the rod.
- Parents were prohibited from sending their children to schools in other communities for the purpose of eliminating rivalries and to maintain the educational level of the town.
- Leviticus was the first book taught to children (particularly Leviticus 1-8).
- Other passages of scripture that were found in Children’s primers were: the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41); the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118); and The Creation and Flood narratives (Genesis 1-11).
- To the Jew, the study of scripture was of greater importance than any other study they could pursue. The culture considered it profane to even learn a trade apart from a study of the scriptures. The study of trades did not replace scriptural study, but flowed out of scriptural study.
Part of a Traditional Jewish Morning Prayer:
“These are the things of which man eats the fruit of the world, but their possession continues for the next world: to honor the father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and the study of the law, which is equivalent to them all.”
Here is a visual history of English Bibles and their historical/philosophical family trees. Note that these studies are works in progress as they were begun a number of years ago and as new translations of the Bible are always being developed.
I. Greeting (1:1-2)
II. God in his Grace is raising you out of your sin to salvation (1:3-12)
1. God has given us new birth to a greater inheritance (1:3-5)
2. God will keep that inheritance while you are being sanctified through
3. The joy of that salvation in your hearts and in the hearts of those who have
pointed to Christ from old (1:8-12)
III. Therefore, be holy for God is holy (1:13-25)
1. Live your life obediently and in anticipation of what is coming (1:13-16)
2. God has redeemed you by the blood of Jesus Christ (1:17-21)
3. God has purified you through his imperishable word (1:22-25)
IV. Therefore, live your lives to reflect God’s good work in you (2:1-3:22)
1. Rid yourself of sinful ways and nourish yourself on spiritual things (2: 1-3)
2. God has made you a holy nation, built on the Living foundation stone of Jesus
3. Live in submission to authorities outside of the home (2:13-25)
4. Live in submission to authorities inside of the home (3:1-7)
5. Living submissively in spite of persecution brings you blessing and the
persecutor shame (3:8-17)
6. Look to your baptism as a reminder of Christ’s past work and its eventual
V. Therefore, since Christ was persecuted, expect to be persecuted yourselves (4:1-19)
1. Misery loves company and will seek to drag you down into their sin (4:1-6)
2. Yet, judgment is coming, so be prepared (4:7-11)
3. Do not be surprised by your sufferings, but take joy in them (4:12-19)
VI. Closing remarks to church leaders (5:1-11)
1. Be good shepherds, modeling your service on Christ, the Chief Shepherd
2. Live humble lives (5:5-7)
3. Resist the enemy in faith and persevere until the end (5:8-11)
VII. Personal remarks and closing blessing (5:12-14)
I. Greeting (1:1-2)
II. God’s Call on the life of a Christian and the Christian’s response (1:3-11)
1. God’s calling His people to glory (1:3-4)
2. The Christian’s response to God’s call (1:5-11)
a. progression of faith to love (1:5-7)
b. work to grow in grace (1:8-11)
III. Purpose (1:12-15)
IV. Defense of Apostolic and Scriptural authority (1:16-21)
1. Defense of Apostolic authority (1:16-18)
2. Defense of Scriptural authority (1:19-21)
VI. Warnings against false teachers (2:1-22)
1. Warning of their imminent arrival (2:1-3)
2. Warnings from history and God’s Faithfulness through history (2:4-10)
a. the fall of the angels (2:4)
b. the fall of the ancient world and salvation of Noah’s family (2:5)
c. the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah and salvation of Lot’s family (2:6-8)
d. reminder of God’s competence in saving his people from trial (2:9-10)
3. Description of the false teachers (2:11-17)
4. Warning about the road these teachers travel along (2:18-22)
V. The second coming of Christ, the imminent judgment of ungodly, and the new
heavens and the new earth (3:1-13)
1. Have confidence in Christ’s promise to return (3:1-9)
2. Have confidence that Judgment is coming (3:10-12)
3. Have confidence in the remaking of heaven and earth (3:13)
VI. Closing exhortation (3:14-18)
All translations are interpretations. This is for two reasons. First is that English grammar is different than Greek or Hebrew grammar. A truly literal word for word translation would prove extraordinarily difficult to read. Secondly, in Greek and Hebrew, as with English, words often carry a variety of meanings depending on the context in which they are used.
Translators must make the decision as to what English words best represent the original text and they must write the grammar in such a way that the translation reflects the grammatical emphasis of the original. In doing so, it is impossible to translate without being influenced by your religious biases. The other challenge that you face in translation is in how you express a first century idea in twenty-first century language. This depends on how well you understand not only both cultures but also in understanding the context that surrounds the text.
And, you must also have an understanding of the Bible as a whole. God planned out history in intimate detail, and he wrote his scriptures and preserved them for his people. Thus, how we interpret scripture ought to reflect God’s decisive hand in its creation but also the consistency and inerrancy that belongs to his written word. That being said, there are Three general philosophies behind Bible translation: Formal Equivalence, Dynamic Equivalence, and Paraphrasing.
Formal Equivalence: This is as close to a literal translation as you will find. The philosophy is to translate the original text on a word for word basis into contemporary language. The main advantage of this approach is that it gives you a more accurate word for word correspondence with the original text. This makes word studies, where you trace a particular word’s usage through the Bible, more straightforward. The drawback is that the language can often become fairly wooden and awkward to read.
There is another issue regarding formal equivalence translations that is hotly debated as to whether it is a strength or a weakness. Because the English language is often vague and sometimes less precise than the Greek and Hebrew languages, sometimes a literal translation on a word for word basis leaves important theological concepts open to the reader’s interpretation. These concepts are usually clear in the original text, but become less clear when translated on a word for word basis into the English. Formal equivalence tries to minimize the translator’s interpretation of the text.
Dynamic Equivalence: The response to the problem of ambiguity within formal equivalence translations is dynamic equivalence. Rather than translating on a word for word basis, dynamic equivalence translates on a thought for thought or a concept for concept basis. This does involve more interpretation of the original text, but often can deliver a reading that is closer to the original intent. This translation often provides a more fluid reading of the text, but it does sacrifice a degree of precision when it comes to word studies.
Paraphrase: Sometimes called “free translation,” this mode of Bible translation is hotly debated. A paraphrase is the converting of the original text, or for most paraphrases, as translation, into your own words. Oftentimes this kind of translation can be very approachable for pleasure reading, but is not precise enough to do serious Bible study. Also, this kind of translation involves a great degree of interpretation, and depending on the translator’s biases, biblical doctrines may be obscured or given undue weight.
Obviously, these are very broad categories and they allow a great deal of overlapping. It is probably most accurate to picture these definitions on a chart with formal equivalence on one end and paraphrasing on the other, with dynamic equivalence being a middle ground. Each translation, then would fall somewhere on the chart, leaning toward one of the definitions, but being influenced by the others.
Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, all three have their value. Formal equivalence translations are often best for serious Bible study, but dynamic equivalence is better for more casual reading and public reading of scripture. It is far more accessible both to younger people and to new Christians. While paraphrases are not my particular cup of tea, many find that they are quite good for pleasure reading. It just must be cautioned that a more technical translation of the Bible should be accessible for worship and study.
Regardless of your translation philosophy, the end goal is the same. We want the word of God to be read and understood by the people of God. People have different educational backgrounds and are at different levels of faith when they go to pick up this wonderful book. As Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God to salvation.” If the word of God is to be brought to bear on the lives of God’s people, it must be understood. Different translations for different seasons in different people’s lives is the reason that we have so many versions to choose from when we go the Bible book store.
This is a major hotbed of debate within evangelical circles, particularly since the new revision of the New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), has gone this route. Most evangelicals consider this move to be a sell-out to the liberal feminist movement, but some hotly argue that it better reflects current language usage. Currently, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), the Revised English Bible (REB), The New Century Version (NCV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the New Living Translation (NLT) are the translations that have opted toward gender neutral language.
The philosophy behind gender neutral translations is that the use of the masculine “he” as a generic term to refer to both male and females is no longer the commonly accepted usage in the English language. The solution that they propose is to make the language plural. “He” becomes “they” and “his” becomes “their.” References that are specific to a particular person are left alone, only the general references are changed. Admittedly, there is a move within the liberal community to incorporate gender neutral language to refer to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the above translations mentioned as gender neutral have adopted this philosophy.
The danger of pluralizing the language is important to discuss. In some instances, the change is quite harmless. For example, James 1:26 reads in the NIV:
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
In the TNIV, it reads:
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. “
Yet, in many cases, the gender neutral language either obscures doctrine or the personal nature of salvation, allowing for a reading that is more acceptable to the Roman Catholic church.
For example, John 14:23 reads:
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (RSV)
Yet, the NRSV reads:
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
This may seem to be a slight change given the overall intention is that this verse is addressed to both men and women, yet it has profound implications. First, Jesus did not speak in plurals, he spoke in singulars. He wanted to make a point of emphasizing the personal nature of salvation. Salvation is an individual thing, not a corporate thing as the Roman Catholic church would teach. Jesus did not generically die for every believer, he died for each believer, and pluralizing the language obscures this important fact.
Making the pronouns plural also obscures many of the Old Testament prophesies about Jesus. For example:
“He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (Psalm 34:20, RSV)
The gender inclusive version renders this verse:
“He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.” (Psalm 34:20, NRSV)
This completely obscures the messianic prophesy that David is making in this psalm.
At times, changing the singular to plural completely changes the meaning of the verse. For example, Psalm 19:12a is changed from “who can discern his errors” (NIV) to “who can discern their errors” (TNIV). At first glance, with this verse entirely out of context, this change does not seem too threatening. Yet, when you realize that the preceding verses of Psalm 19 are dealing with the perfection of God’s law. Verse 12 is taking that law and then applying it to the individual, as Paul does in Romans, to remind us that we cannot know our errors without God’s good and perfect laws. Yet, the TNIV, when “he” is translated “their” shifts the meaning of the verse to look as if God’s laws are the ones that have errors. The TNIV reads like this:
“The Law of the Lord is perfect…,The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy…, the precepts of the Lord are right…, the commands of the Lord are radiant…, they are more precious than gold…, who can discern their errors.” (Psalm 19: 7-12, TNIV)
Oftentimes, the word “man” is simply omitted. In verses where the text reads “men and brethren,” the TNIV simply omits the term “man” altogether. Also, of the 61 times that the term “Saint” is used in the New Testament, the TNIV has omitted 53 altogether in favor of “God’s people.” The term saint carries connotations of holiness and being set apart. It is a term of endearment given to the saved people of God. The change does two things. First of all, it reduces changes the emphasis from personal salvation to a corporate sense, as the Roman Catholic church likes to teach. Secondly, it emphasizes the Roman Catholic belief that “sainthood” is only for a privileged few.
Our salvation comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not membership within the church. The church is a sacred institution because individuals who make up the body of Christ are saved and sanctified by the work of Christ. Christ did not die to save an institution, but to save a people who gather together as part of an institution. As Martin Luther cried out, we are saved by grace and grace alone! There is no coincidence that the gender neutral translations are accepted by the Roman Catholic church, for these gender neutral translations obscure many of the holy doctrines that the protestants fought and died to proclaim.
There are nearly 2000 citations that evangelical scholars have addressed showing the dangers of gender neutral translations. In terms of casual reading, these changes may or may not be particularly noticeable, but for serious Bible study, they are a definite stumbling block. We need to hold translators to the highest standards of translations and be very careful of the biases that they bring to the table of interpretation. We also ought to ask ourselves, has the English language really changed that much as to make terms like “mankind,” that use the masculine in an inclusive way, offensive to the average person? Personally, I don’t think so.
This philosophy is not restricted to the liberal left, but is even sneaking into more respectable circles. Thomas Oden, the general editor of the highly acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures wrote in his book on pastoral theology, “taking special note of the maternally nurturing images associated with the third person of the Holy trinity in its classical, orthodox, ecumenical formulation, I will speak of the Holy Spirit in the feminine …” See: Oden, Thomas. Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. San Francisco: Harper, 1972. It is worth noting, that the ancient texts not only refer to the Holy Spirit in masculine terms, but there are a number of times that the personal pronoun “he” is used to refer to the Holy Spirit. Yet, as I mentioned above, theological interpretations will enter into any Bible translation. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
There are a plethora of different Bible translations available for the Christian to choose from. Some are better and some are worse. All come from a devout desire to make the written word of God accessible to people of all cultures, languages, and walks of life. This is not meant to be an exhaustive overview, but is meant to be more of a snapshot of the available options.
The Revised Version of 1881 and the American Standard Version of 1901: With new archaeological and linguistic evidence available, it was deemed appropriate that the King James Version be revised and reworked. This lead to two versions being published: the Revised and the American Standard Versions in England and America respectively. These reflected both more modern speech and the most current linguistic scholarship of the day.
Scofield Bible: In 1909, Cyrus Scofield published the King James Version of the Bible with his own footnotes much in the same way as the earlier Geneva Bible had done. Scofield was a Congregationalist pastor but had been ordained in the Southern Presbyterian church (although he never served a Presbyterian congregation). Scofield was a dispensationalist in this theology, which set him apart from the Covenantal theology of his Reformed heritage. This becomes quite apparent when you begin to study his notes on the Second Coming of Christ. It is important that the Christian be aware of his biases before committing to the use of his notes. Regardless of your theological bias, Scofield’s theology has had a tremendous influence on the American church. His influence is can especially be seen in the Southern Baptist church and in the literature of the Moody Bible Institute.
Moffat Bible: Scottish theologian and Oxford professor, James Moffat completed his translation of the Bible in 1924. He also served as editor of a New Testament commentary series that utilized his translation. His translation never became widely circulated, but copies still turn up from time to time. While Moffat was not always orthodox in his thinking, his translation often grasps the literary intent as well as the meaning of the poetic books of the Old Testament.
Revised Standard Version: In 1952, the American Standard Version was revised in a somewhat less literal, but more readable form. The intent of this translation was to provide a more ecumenical translation that would be acceptable to Catholics and Protestants alike. The RSV and the later revision in 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, are probably the most widely used texts in mainline Protestant denominations.
New American Standard Bible: Another revision of the American Standard Version is the New American Standard Bible, published in 1960. This is probably the most literal translation of the original texts available today. It is the result of the work of 58 evangelical scholars from a variety of denominations so carries a good balance of literal translation as well as keeping doctrinal intent sound. This is one of the best study Bibles available today.
Amplified Bible: Because many words carry wider connotations in the original languages than in the English translation, in 1965, scholars were led to create the Amplified Bible. This translation includes in italics the various synonymous words that the original word implies. Readers then can insert one or more of these words to hopefully better convey the original intent of the text. While it can be awkward to read for personal edification and study, it has been often used by revival preachers who want greater emphasis on particular words in the texts from which they are preaching.
Today’s English Version (Good News Bible): In 1966, the American Bible Society published a new translation in contemporary English. This version intentionally uses colloquial language in its translation. In 1991 it was revised to become the Contemporary English Version. The CEV similarly uses colloquialisms and is written on about a 5th grade level to make it accessible to a broader audience.
New English Bible: This 1970 translation done in England carried a heavy British flavor. Its revision, the Revised English Bible, in 1989 removed many of these idioms, but still kept an English flair. It is a popular translation for public reading as it keeps much of the traditional poetic flair of the older King James Version.
Living Bible: In 1971, the American Standard Version was paraphrased to create the Living Bible. The New Living translation, published in 1996, was not a paraphrase, but a new translation although it kept much of the readability of its predecessor.
New International Version: In 1978, the New International Version was published which has turned out to be one of the most popular translations amongst evangelical Christians. It maintains a good balance between readability and technical accuracy. The latest revision of the NIV, Today’s New International Version, published in 2002, has created a stir in the evangelical churches who were loyal to it because it went to a gender neutral translation (see above).
Readers Digest Condensed Version: While this translation, published in 1982, sounds somewhat humorous to more mature Christians, this translation was headed up by Bruce Metzger, a respected Bible scholar, with the intent of making the scriptures more accessible to un-churched people. Better than half a million copies were sold of this translation, but leaves open questions as to the dangers that abound when you edit and condense the word of God.
New King James Version: Another 1982 publication was more well received than the Readers Digest Version. The New King James Version offers more contemporary language than the Earlier King James Version.
International Children’s Bible: This translation of 1986 was the result of the collaboration of translators that worked on the New American Standard Bible, The New King James Version, and the New International Version of the Bible. Their plan was to create a translation that is specifically designed for use by children. It is written on a third grade educational level and uses short sentences with easily understood language. Its revision, the New Century Version of 1991 was marketed more for adults, but kept the third grade reading level.
The Message: In 1993, Eugene Peterson published his own New Testament. While this is technically a new translation of the Ancient Greek, stylistically it is closer to a paraphrase as many thoughts are added to convey the meaning of the text and it is written to read like a novel. Peterson also dropped the verse notations from his translation which makes serious Bible Study more challenging. Many Christians enjoy reading this translation casually, but it is not meant to be a primary Bible for study and worship.
Holman Christian Standard Bible: Published in 2000, this English translation was commissioned by the Southern Baptist Publishing House and was produced by a team of 90 scholars from a variety of denominations. This translation tries to balance Formal and Dynamic Equivalence methods to create a readable but literal translation.
English Standard Version: Published in 2001, the ESV is an evangelical revision of the RSV. Its design was to provide an essentially literal translation without the “woodenness” that is found in many literal translations. Its language has much of the fluidity of the NIV, but it proves to be much more accurate in its translation. While it is an excellent Bible for study, it can be daunting particularly for younger Christians as it is written on an eleventh grade reading level.
Foreign Language Translations
With a vision to place a Bible in their native language in the hands of every man woman and child on the planet, groups like the Wycliffe Bible Translation Society are working at a feverish pace. Currently, there are complete Bible Translations in better than 500 languages worldwide as well as Bible tracts, which contain portions of scripture, in more than 2000 different languages. And the process continues. In some cases, translators must go into a region and create a written language for the culture before translation can even begin. It is a long and arduous process, but with the aide of computer communication and database technology, the missionaries that God has called into his service are spreading God’s written word even to the most remote regions.
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Admittedly, the flood of translations can be confusing and misleading at times. Yet, we are privileged to live in a culture where reliable translations are available to us as we have the resources to study more than one translation if we choose. All too often we take this privilege for granted. Don’t. Rather, as you are mourning the flood of less than perfect translations, pray for those who are diligently seeking to provide a complete Bible for cultures who have none. And pray that those translations, as well as the English translations that we are presented with, would be faithful to the wonderful God we serve.
The specific Bible that you choose for Bible study should be a good one, but the particular version that you choose is less important than that you fill your life with God’s word. There is no excuse for the Christian to be ignorant as to the scriptures, but many professed evangelical Christians are. Find a translation that you can understand and perhaps a reliable commentary (I recommend starting with Matthew Henry) to help you through tricky verses and to enrich your study. Then read it, study it, and fall in love with it.
What do we mean when we speak of the Perspicuity of Scripture?
While there are certainly many areas of scripture that are difficult to interpret and to understand, given that the Bible was given to all people throughout history, not to just a select few, and given that the Bible was given for the edification of people of every age and level of intelligence and education, not just those trained as theologians, in matters of salvation, the scriptures are clear enough that all can understand what God has communicated, particularly with respect to the question of salvation. The church fell into grave error in the medieval period when it argued that the scriptures were too difficult for any but the clergy to understand and thus restricted the Bible into the hands of the educated elite of the church. This is contrary to the Biblical testimony of the early church, where the gospel was proclaimed and the command to study scripture was given to all believers. The Bible is clear on the question of what sin is, the fallen state of man, the reality that man needs a redeemer, the fact that Jesus came and paid the penalty for sin for those who come to him in faith, and that if we yearn for redemption, we must flee to Christ. The Bible is also clear in terms of the explanation of what the life of the believer should look like in terms of moral behavior and good works. These things, even a young child or one with the least amount of education can understand and thus the scriptures should be read and studied by all who call themselves believers in Jesus Christ. This does not ignore that there are difficult passages of scripture; such passages should be labored over and assistance sought from reliable theologians and commentaries should be sought, but the last thing one should do is to flee from them.
What do we mean when we state that the Bible is infallible as well as being inerrant?
As discussed above, the Bible is inerrant, or, in other words, without error. The idea of infallibility takes the premise one step further. When we say that the Bible is infallible, we say that the Bible is incapable of making mistakes, or in practical terms, that the Bible is incapable of leading the believer into error. This is not to say that there have never been students of the Bible that have drifted into error, indeed, the history of the church is filled with those who have done just that. Yet, the reason that they drifted into error is not because they were misled by scripture, but it was because their own sin got in the way of the proper interpretation of scripture. To understand scripture fully, it must be approached in faith and with respect for what it is, and thus guided by the Holy Spirit for its interpretation. Many non-believers have spent their lives studying the Bible and have often provided valuable insights into the text, but they eventually fall into error because they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and as a result, their minds are not illumined by the Holy Spirit. Yet, for those who are born again believers, those who are trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, prayerful study and application of the scriptures will not lead them into error.
In addition, the scriptures are infallible in teaching the way by which men and women must be saved. To put it another way, it is through the writings of scripture, being taught and proclaimed, that people come to know the beauty of Jesus and to experience the wonders of salvation that Jesus wrought. So important was this idea that the Apostle Paul wrote the following words:
Therefore, how are they to call on him of whom they have not believed? And how can they to believe in whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without one preaching? And how can they preach if they have not been sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of the one who proclaims the good news!” But they have not all heard the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what they heard from us?” Therefore, faith comes out of hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)
Thus, the very content of our proclamation of the gospel and of our preaching in the church must always be God’s word. The thoughts and ideas of the pastor can lead one to fall, but God’s word is incapable of doing just that.
There have been different approaches to this concept in the history of the church. The Eastern Orthodox church has largely held that since the early Christian councils were so scripturally based, said councils should be considered to be infallible as well as the scriptures. The difficulty with this view is that there have been many books, creeds, and confessional texts that are deeply based in scripture, but when one argues that infallibility extends from scripture to those writings based on scripture, one enters into subjectivity in terms of what constitutes a document based on scripture. Such a view also places a great deal of weight upon the interpretation of scripture and not upon the scriptures themselves. Invariably, this view will lead you into theological error and toward crediting the minds and the pens of men with honor that God never intended that they be given. Such a position elevates the writings of these church councils to the level of scripture as well, and the dangers of that matter have already been touched upon. While there are many wonderful texts that have been written to guide our studies, we should always be cognizant that they have been written by men and not by God.
The Roman Catholic church has taken a different approach to this as well. They have held that the Pope, as “Christ’s Vicar” on earth is preserved by God from entering into error on matters of the church, faith, and morality. He is said to demonstrate that infallibility when he speaks from “Peter’s Chair,” properly known as speaking ex cathedra. This is built on the assumption that Peter was the first Pope of the church and that through the process of a succession of Popes, the Apostolic authority of Peter was handed down from generation to generation. Again, this makes the error of assuming that men are incapable of failing, something all sinful men can do, no matter the character of the individual. It is only God who is infallible and thus the infallibility of God extends to his divine word alone, not to the words of men. What we do with that word is what opens us up to error.
To what extent is the Bible inspired and thus inerrant? Does the inspiration extend only to the ideas conveyed or to the very words of scripture?
A debate that has been taking place between the Orthodox branches in the church and what is normally called the Neo-Orthodox movement, is over the question of the extent of revelational authority. Another way of phrasing the question is, “Is the Bible the word of God or does the Bible contain the word of God?” This presents a contrast between a view of the inspiration of scripture and the view of the plenary inspiration of scripture.
The Neo-Orthodox movement in the church has held that it is not the words of scripture that contain the inspiration of God, but it is that when those words find themselves to rest upon the ears and the heart of a believer, then, and only then, genuine inspiration takes place. This allows the Neo-Orthodox theologian to not get very hung up by source critical arguments because, after all, it is not the words of scripture that are important; rather, it is the effect that those words have on the believing heart that is important. As one can see, this scheme of understanding revelation becomes extremely subjective and robs the text of any genuine content, for content, according to this view, comes from the hearer’s interpretation of the words. Exegetical theology also becomes nearly impossible, for exegesis becomes about “what this text means to me…” instead of what this text actually says. And though this position can be attributed to Neo-Orthodoxy today, it is not a new sin, but one that can be traced all of the way back to Adam and Eve who doubted God’s word that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit.
In response to this, the Orthodox theologians have taken a strong stand on the plenary (or complete) inspiration of scripture. In other words, every single word of scripture is a result of the inspiration of God. Every noun, every verb, ever preposition, every adjective, every pronoun, ever article is a result of the breathing out of God and thus carries with it the full authority of God himself. This view holds that meaning comes from within the text and not from within the hearer. This view holds that God is a rational and intentional God and that as a result, when he rationally and intentionally communicates with his people, he has a plain and intended purpose and meaning behind what was said. This view holds that the very statements of scripture contain propositional truth given to God’s people so that we might know him and glorify him with our lives. This view holds that while we see the stylistic fingerprint of the human authors within each text, that it is God who is writing through them, using all of their gifts and talents to produce his word, and that word—every word of it—is true and perfectly given and preserved by the Holy Spirit.
There are many in the post-modern world that would contend that words in themselves contain no meaning. They would continue that words are nothing but culturally formatted symbols with which we communicate and that it is the context in which language is used that conveys meaning. On one level, there is a degree of truth to this argument. We have already spoken of the dynamic nature of language as it is used by a culture. Many of our words carry with them very different meanings depending on the context in which they are found. For example, depending on the context, the word “dope” in English could refer to illegal drugs, to someone who is foolish or not intelligent, to gossip that is shared, to a form of varnish used on aircraft, or to lubricant that is used as a sealant. Context, then determines which form of the word you are using. This being said, words in a culture do have a fixed and limited set of meanings. Dope does not also mean dog, cat, and grocery cart; it cannot mean anything we want it to mean. If it could, then language would become meaningless, for “Dope dope doped dope” could then mean, “I need you to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store.” If such use of language were ever to become the case, then, as a culture, we would be returned to the state people found themselves in at the Tower of Babble, when God confused the languages. Culture cannot exist and reproduce itself if language is rendered meaningless.
Yet, even the post-modern thinker, when pressed on the issue, would assert that language does contain meaning, though it pains them to do so. Post-modern thinkers write books for people to read. Certainly in writing a book, the post-modern thinker expects people to understand what he is trying to teach. When a post-modern thinker goes to the bank and asks that his paycheck be deposited in his checking account, certainly he expects the teller to understand what he is saying and he trusts that the money will actually go into his account rather than in some random account. When the post-modern thinker goes to the emergency room in agony because he has kidney stones, when he communicates this to the doctor, he does not expect the doctor to start by examining his knees. When the post-modern thinker goes to a restaurant and orders an expensive meal, the post-modern thinker expects to be served the meal he ordered. Thus words have meanings and any rational person is forced to admit such by the way they use their words in practical situations. And, as God is a rational God, the words that God speaks in scripture are spoken with an expectation that they be understood—and that they be obeyed!
It is important to note that scripture was not given as dictation, squelching the various personalities through whom God wrote. We see stylistic language, artistic structure of texts, and themes that run through the writings of given authors, showing us something of the human nature of the Bible. Exodus 4:14-17 records the calling of Aaron to be Moses’ prophet (also see Exodus 7:1). God would tell Moses what to say, Moses would tell Aaron what to say and Aaron would speak it. The words that the prophet speaks belong to God (or in Aaron’s case, Moses), but the mannerisms, inflections of speech, and personality belong to the prophet. So too with scripture—the words belong to God, but the structure and personality of the writings belong to the prophetic or Apostolic author.
It is worth emphasizing here that only the Orthodox view of plenary inspiration preserves the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture. When the meaning of scripture becomes subjective, the truth of scripture becomes subjective as well. In addition, scripture itself claims to be the word of God, not just to contain God’s word. As the scriptures claim to be inspired in a plenary sense, to claim otherwise is to invalidate the value of scripture as a whole, suggesting that it is nothing more than a book of lies.
If the Bible is incapable of error, to what extent does that infallibility extend, just to theological matters or to all maters to which it speaks?
We have already touched on this idea but it bears repeating. Given that the Bible is written by God, it is impossible for the text to be in error. God is omniscient and as he is the author of the Bible, the Bible reflects his omniscience in all areas. This means that the Bible is inerrant in the history of which it speaks, of the geography of which it speaks, of the science of which it speaks, and of real existence of the miraculous deeds that it records. It is our obligation, when our own understanding seems to contradict the revelation of scripture, to submit our understanding to the revelation that is given. Anything that compromises this view accuses God of being untruthful in his revelation of all things or it denies that scripture is divine revelation altogether and accuses its authors of being charlatans and frauds in the name of religion.
How do we know that the Bible is a unified and complete book in its presentation to us and that it alone contains the written revelation of God for his people?
While the Bible has many human authors through which the text was written, there is one divine author. This is clear by looking at its overall unity. There is not a humanly produced book, wherein multiple authors have contributed over a long span of time, that contains the unity that scripture contains. Not only does the Bible not contradict itself, it also presents a progression of theology that could not have evolved from the imagination of men. Themes and theological concepts are found in their infancy in early Old Testament writings, are developed further in later Old Testament writings, and are found complete within the New Testament—all without contradiction or inconsistency.
More importantly than its unified nature are the many claims that the Bible makes of itself being God’s word. Throughout the scriptures there are commands to “write this down” or “speak this to my people” given by God to his prophets and apostles. The Old Testament itself contains more than 600 instances of “and God said” or “thus says the Lord.” That in itself is an occurrence of about once every 35 verses. The New Testament contains numerous direct quotes from Jesus himself, again being God’s speech recorded by the Apostles. The Bible goes as far as to refer to itself as being the very “breath” of God and thus the revelation of God to his people.
To those who would suggest that there are other texts that necessarily supplement the Bible that also contain God’s word, the Bible contains strong warnings that judgment will come upon those who suggest such things. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and told them that anyone who proclaimed a gospel not consistent with that of scripture would be accursed. The consistent witness of every prophet and apostle within the history of the Biblical writings is that these words that are recorded in the scriptures contain the very words of God.
It is worthwhile to spend some time reflecting upon the various names of God, particularly those names given in the Old Testament. In thinking on these names, it is important to reject at the outset of this discussion the theological error of attributing the many names of God to a variety of cultic traditions which were later combined together to form what we know as Old Testament Judaism. These names do not reflect multiple cultic groups, but rather reflect ancient Israel’s attempt to understand the fullness of God’s character from multiple angles. These names are designed to reflect specific character traits of our infinite God, and as God is infinite, so too are the angles in which one may seek to express his character. Just as one needs more than one lens on a camera to take a three-dimensional picture, the multitude of names given to God give us multiple lenses by which we can perceive God’s character and thus have a fuller picture of his character.
Primary Names of God: While there are many names given to our God in scripture, there are five names that are most commonly used in the Old Testament to speak about God:
hwhy (Yahweh): By far the most commonly used name of God is Yahweh (6,828 times in the Old Testament). This is the name that God gave to Moses on Mount Horeb at the burning bush so that Moses could identify God to the Israelites back in Egypt. It is the name that God gave to his people by which we can know him throughout the generations. This name literally means, “I am who I am,” or “I am who I will be.” In other words, it reflects the eternality and self-existence of God’s character. There never was a time when God was not, nor will there ever be a time when God will be, God simply “is.” In the New Testament, the language that refers to God as “the one who was, who is, and is to come” is built on the idea of the covenantal name of Yahweh. In addition to speaking of the eternality of God, the giving of this name also reflects God’s covenantal nature and is often found used in a redemptive context.
~yhiloae (Elohim): This name of God, used 2,602 times in the Old Testament, reflects his strength and power, especially in the context of Creation. Oftentimes, the fact that this name is found in the plural is cited to speak of the plurality of God’s person, yet the plural usage of this name, as discussed above, may also simply be seen as reflecting the idea that God’s might and power are so abundant that it is not suitable to speak of it in the singular. In addition, this name is also understood to represent God as lawgiver in the lives of his people.
yn”doa; (Adonay): The root word for this name of God, found 444 times in the Old Testament, is !Ada” (adon), which simply means “lord” in a very generic sense. Yet, when the y ‘ (ay) ending is added, the term takes on new meaning. This ending elevates the word to a title of exaltation. God is not simply being referred to as Lord, but as the Lord of all Lords, or as the greatest and mightiest Lord that has or ever will exist.
tAab’c. hw”hy> (Yahweh Tsebaoth): God is called “Yahweh of Armies” or “Lord of Hosts” on 242 occasions in the Old Testament. This name is a constant reminder not only of the might that is found in God’s own hand, but that he is the God of hosts of armies. God is the mightiest Emperor in all of the universe, no Czar, no Caesar, no Pharaoh, no King or General can stand against him—God reigns and no other has the might to rival him.
lae (El): This is a more generic name for God that refers to his might and to his power. It is found 200 times on its own in the Old Testament, but is usually found in connection with one of God’s attributes, reflecting that God is the greatest in righteousness, holiness, etc…
Secondary Names of God: There are a number of other names that are given to God that are reflections of some of God’s many perfections. They help us see the fullness of God’s glory, his grace, and his goodness and the abundance of these names is meant to enhance our worship as we see God in the context of these various attributes. As mentioned above, many of these names are composites of the name lae (El) and one of God’s attributes.
yD:v; lae (El Shaddai): This name literally means, “God of the Mountain,” but is often translated as “God on High,” reflecting God’s exalted state resting high above the mountains. It might also be seen as an allusion of our relationship to God, sitting under the mighty shadow of his presence, not unlike the Israelites when they dwelled under the shadow of Sinai.
!Ayl.[, lae (El Elyon): This name means “God Most High,” and is a name that reflects the exalted nature of God himself. Jesus is also referred to as the “Son of the Most High,” which is a direct reference to this divine name.
hn”Wma/ lae (El Emunah): “God of Faithfulness” or “Faithful God.” God is faithful to the ends of the earth, we need to fear him to be whimsical or capricious, but in him lie everlasting stability and faithfulness.
tA[DE lae (El Deoth): “God of Knowledge.” God is all-knowing and omniscient; God knows all things to an infinitely thorough degree. There are no surprises to God and there is nothing is not eternally and intimately known to God on high.
tAlmuG> lae (El Gemuloth) and tAmq’n> lae (El Neqamoth): “God of Recompense” and “God of Vengeance.” God will bring vengeance upon his enemies and upon those who cause harm to his people. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord.
yliyGI tx;m.fi lae (El Simchath Gili): “God of my Jubilation and Exultant Joy”. This is probably one of my favorite, and could even be simply translated as “God of my joy joy” to echo the old children’s song about having God’s joy down in our heart. This title used only once of God expresses the almost uncontainable joy that one feels when he or she comes into the presence of the Lord of their life.
New Testament Names: Though the New Testament does not contain the abundance of names for God as does the Old Testament, several new Testament Names are worth mentioning.
qeo/ß (Theos): This Greek term is the most common name that is used to reference God. It can be applied to refer to any supernatural entity, but within the Greek New Testament, it is most commonly used to refer to the God of the Bible. It is the term from which we get “Theology” and “Theophany.”
Pa/ter (Pater): Normally when we think of God in terms of his Fatherhood, we think in New Testament terms. We think of how, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s household and given the privilege of calling him Father. Yet, we must also recognize that this language is not alien to the Old Testament as well. God is referred to as Father of believers in ancient Israel as well. In addition, as a sign of God’s great mercy, God is also referred to as a “Father to the fatherless.”
uJio/ß (huios): As we move into the New Testament, we find the Trinitarian names of God coming into prominence. And while we will spend time speaking of the many names and titles given to Christ when we deal with the section on Christology, it is important to remember at the onset, that God is Triune and thus the names applied to the Son apply to the Trinitarian Godhead as a whole. God is not Father alone, but he is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in perfect Trinitarian union as discussed above.
a¢gion pneuvma (hagion pneuma): The third member of the Triune God is God the Holy Spirit, again, as we have seen above, who has been spoken of in the Old Testament, but presented with far more clarity in the New Testament. Again, we will discuss the Holy Spirit more fully when we deal with the section on Soteriology, but it is important to mention Him here as we present the names of God.
Kurio/ß (Kurios): This is just as much a name as it is a title. It is the Greek term which is used to translate both hwhy (Yahweh) and yn”doa; (Adonay) from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, its primary usage as a name of God is applied to God the Son, who is Lord of our lives as believers.
∆Emmanouh/l (Emmanouel): Once again, the name “Immanuel” is as much a title as it is a name, and means “God with us.” While this name is most commonly thought of in terms of the naming of Jesus, we must be reminded that this name, like that of Pa/ter (Pater), has Old Testament roots.
While there are many other names of God that we could explore and reflect on, rich names like “Lord of Lords,” “Lord of Kings,” “Lord of the Whole Earth,” and “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the aforementioned names demonstrate for us how these names reflect upon the character of God as a whole. In some ways, looking at these names, like looking at God’s many perfections, is like gazing at a diamond from many different angles. As you turn the diamond, the light catches the different facets from different directions and the gem never ceases to sparkle and gleam in slightly different, but increasingly captivating ways. The deeper we look at God and his perfections, the more deeply we must be drawn into him, the more deeply we must love him, and the more deeply we shall adore him.
Note that the very fact that we have names of God given to us in scripture is just one more affirmation that our God has made himself knowable to his people. Note also that these names do not originate in the ideas that men have about God, but as scripture, they originate with God and come through inspired men who are seeking to describe what God has revealed to them about himself.
Because of the uncertainty of the vowels for the covenantal name of God, many older texts transliterate this name as Jehovah, yet most modern scholarship leans toward Yahweh as the proper pronunciation of God’s covenantal name. Most of our English Bibles will render this name as LORD or LORD (depending on the typeset) to reflect the Jewish tradition of substituting yn”doa; (Adonay, which means “Exalted Lord”) out of reverence for the divine name.
“and to the ones imprisoned—liberation!”
This final clause in Isaiah 61:1 naturally follows the previous statement. With the coming of the Messiah, the chains of bondage to sin are released, they are broken, and the prison cells of death have been opened wide. Indeed, our Lord proclaimed just that message:
“Truly, Truly, I say to you that an hour is coming and is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live.”
The final clause in this verse, which I have translated as “liberation,” is a Hebrew idiom comprised of two similar ideas for release, or delivery from prison: x;Aq-xq;P. (peqach-qoach). The key to remember here is that the language reflects the idea of being released by someone else from something that you could not free yourself of. In other words, it reflects the idea of being liberated and not the idea of escape. Indeed, there are many human bonds and constraints that we may be able to throw off on our own strength, but sin and death are the two things that have bound us as a race in a way that we are helpless against apart from a divine act of liberation. And indeed, dear friends, this is the liberation that is worked by Christ Jesus!
It is worth pointing out that the language of “liberation” has been used by some in our culture to promote an un-Biblical political theology. “Liberation Theology” as it has been called, takes passages like this and argues that the purpose of Christ’s life and death was to open up avenues for relief from political oppression. This theological model has then been adapted to meet the specific needs of particular groups. Thus, there has been Feminist Liberation Theology, Black Liberation Theology, Hispanic Liberation Theology, etc… And while genuine Christianity lived out does seek to lift people from their oppressed conditions (the abolishment of the slave-trade, for example), this particular theology seeks to reverse the roles, placing the oppressed in a position where they can now oppress their former oppressors.
Not only does this theology blend political Marxism with a mis-interpretation of scripture, but it also departs from the witness of historical Christianity, where believers have regularly sought to evangelize their oppressors. More importantly, it misses the whole point of Christ’s atoning and liberating work. Jesus did not come to serve a political agenda, he came to redeem us from our sins. He did not come to make it possible for us to throw off our earthly oppressors; he came to redeem us from the eternal judgment of God. It misses the point when Jesus says, “blessed are those who have been persecuted in the name of righteousness…” (Matthew 5:10). In addition, does not Peter also teach us that it is of no merit if we suffer for our sin (1 Peter 2:20)? Instead of repaying evil for evil, are we not to repay evil with good (1 Peter 3:8-9)?
Beloved, rejoice in the liberation that you have been given, but understand what Jesus is liberating you from. You are being liberated from sin and death; you are being liberated from the fate of eternal judgment! How much greater and more wonderful is this liberation than anything that men can work in this world! How much more permanent this liberation is! Don’t be fooled, loved ones, by the false teachers that surround you—search the scriptures and guard your heart, for there are many who would lead you astray. Be like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:10-11) and do not follow the lies of those who would manipulate God’s word to serve their own ends.
“For this is no empty word for you, but it is your life. And in this word your days will be made long upon the ground which you are passing over the Jordan to inherit there.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)
“To preach release to the captives…”
In the context of Isaiah’s ministry, this statement would have had a very specific promise, recognizing that at this point in history, the northern Kingdom of Israel has fallen and the people had been taken and scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire. In addition, the southern Kingdom would, within 100 years, fall as well. To those who would hear this prophesy, that would speak of the hope of the return of the people from exile with the advent of the Messiah’s coming. When Jesus spoke these words of his own ministry, the people would have responded in a similar way, not only thinking of the return of the various Jewish people who had been scatted all over the Roman Empire, but also of the lifting of Roman oppression in the Holy Land. Yet, Jesus had an entirely different bondage in view—one that was far more dangerous than the taxation and oversight of the Romans. Jesus was dealing with our bondage to sin.
The language used by Isaiah echoes this great promise that Jesus has come to fulfill. The word that we translate as “release” or “liberty” is the Hebrew word, rArD> (deror), which specifically has in view the release that God commanded in conjunction with the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee (which is where verse 2 picks up—also see Leviticus 25:10). Essentially, God commanded that every 7th year was to be a Sabbath year set aside for himself. During this year the fields would be left fallow, Jewish slaves would be set free, and debts would be considered satisfied. In the Year of Jubilee (every 50th year), even the family lands that had been sold to pay off debts would be returned to their rightful owners for the purpose of preserving the family in the land. It was to be a time of celebration and deliverance from economic and social bondage. Yet, do not miss the purpose of the Year of Jubilee and Sabbatical years, or you will miss what Isaiah is doing by referencing it and you will miss what Jesus is doing by applying it to his own Messianic ministry.
Leviticus 25, a chapter devoted to the release that was to be associated with the Sabbatical Year and with the Year of Jubilee, ends with God’s explanation for instituting these events:
“Because, to me, the sons of Israel are servants;
they are my servants which I brought out of the land of Egypt.
I am Yahweh, your God.”
In other words, God is saying that the reason for these Jubilees is because the people of Israel belong to no one other than to himself. He did not share them with Egypt, but delivered them, and he will not share them with those who would exploit them in their own land. God’s people are God’s servants and a perpetual bondage means that he is forced to share with one who is an illegitimate owner. God brought his people from Egypt to be his own; he is not going to let them go.
Do these words not also ring true with the language of our Lord?
“All that the Father gives me will come to me; I will definitely not cast out.”
“Also I give them eternal life, and they shall never be destroyed; no one will snatch them from my hand.”
Yet, this language echoes even more strongly with the language of the writer of Hebrews:
“Remember those who are bound as ones bound with them; and the ones who are tormented, as they are in the body. Let marriage be precious to all, and the marriage bed be morally pure; for the sexually immoral and adulterous God will judge. Let your lifestyle not be covetous, being content with what is at your disposal. For he has said: “I will never send you back, nor will I ever leave you behind.” Thus we can say with certainty, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:3-6)
Okay, let’s put the puzzle pieces together in light of what the writer of Hebrews teaches. We know from Leviticus that God has delivered his people from their bondage in Egypt for the purpose of making them his own servants. In light of that, God instituted the Sabbatical Year and Year of Jubilee in Israel’s governmental law for the purpose of ensuring that the people would not sink back into bondage. The writer of Hebrews builds on this idea and asks us as Christians to look at several things that will lead us into different kinds of bondage. We are to remember believers who are in actual chains—why? Because God hears the cries of his persecuted people (Exodus 2:23-25). We are to preserve the sanctity of our marriages—why? Because in marriage, one man and one woman are bound covenantally together to the point that they are seen by God as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Thus, this binding must always be a holy one—one that does not detract from the couple’s ability to serve God, but instead aids it (1 Corinthians 7:2-7, 26-28). We are not to defile our marriage bed with sexual immorality or adultery, why? Because not only does this sinful activity ruin the holy nature of the marriage, but it also enslaves the person who entered into such sin to the sin and to the one with whom he or she has committed said immorality and adultery (1 Corinthians 6:16). Our lifestyles must not be covetous (more than just the love of money, but the 10th commandment includes coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, and/or property—Exodus 20:17). Why? Because this places you in bondage to the lust of material things—things that belong to this world, and not to the things of God (1 John 2:15-17). All of these things that the writer of Hebrews mentions are things that binds us in servitude and slavery to things or persons other than being bound in service to God.
Thus, it is in this context that the writer of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “I will never send you back, nor will I ever leave you behind.” While this is likely a reference to Jesus’ promise to his Apostles in John 14:18, it picks up the language of the passages quoted above from John above as well as other promises of Jesus that he will be with us always, even to the end of eternity (Matthew 28:20). All of these statements must be understood in the context of God’s calling of us to be his own. Why will Jesus not allow us to be left behind? Because in being left behind, we are left in bondage to the things of this world, to sin, and ultimately to death. As the Apostle Paul writes:
“You were bought with a price; do not become slaves to men.”
(1 Corinthians 7:23)
So, we return back to Isaiah 61:1 and to Jesus’ proclamation that he is the fulfillment of this prophesy (Luke 4:21). Our Lord came to proclaim, and thus the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, that we are released from our bondage to the world—Egypt has no more claims on us; sin has no more claims on us; the kingdoms of the world can do nothing to us for we are eternally bound to the risen Christ. Oh, beloved, how is it that we so often bind ourselves to the world even in light of this great truth! Loved ones, let us live in service of Christ, for he is our only master—the chains of this world have been loosed, and we have found our freedom in him!
Redeemed how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the lamb;
Redeemed through his infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.
“He has sent me to bind the heart which has been shattered…”
When I read this part of the verse, my mind cannot help but to think back to the promise that was made by God earlier in Isaiah 35:4:
“Say to those whose hearts are hasty; be strong and you must not fear.
Behold, your God of vengeance will come in the recompense of God—
He will come and save you.”
And indeed, now, those whose hearts have caused them to run ahead, chasing after their own plans and dreams instead of chasing after holiness, will find that God, in his might and in his power, will come to save them—save them by sending his Son, Jesus Christ. And Christ will be the one who takes their hearts, as broken, war-torn, and shattered as they are, and bind them back together. Note the power of this great and wonderful promise, Jesus is not simply one to put back together a heart that has been fractured, like a bone that is broken might be set in a splint or a cast, but the Hebrew word used here is derived from the Hebrew verb, rb;v’ (shavar), which means “to shatter.” Any human doctor can mend a fractured bone, but it takes God to mend that which has been shattered beyond recognition. And note that when the Hebrews were speaking about the “heart,” they were not speaking simply in terms of one’s emotional well-being or of one’s passions as we often do; when the Hebrews spoke of the heart, they had in mind the intellect and the personality—that which makes you, you. And this is the work of Christ. Jesus is more than a family counselor or a psychologist helping you to get your emotions in check. And he does more than to nurture bruised egos—Jesus mends lives! And Jesus does far more than mend lives that have been beaten around and bruised by the world, but he mends lives that have been blasted away, shattered, demolished, and utterly crushed, and he restores us whole!
I am reminded of the story of Humpty Dumpty. Indeed, all of the kings horses and men could do nothing to patch that shattered egg and to restore him to strength. Yet, Christ is far more than a servant of a human king; he is the King of Kings, Son of the Living God and creator of the universe. Indeed, there is no life, no person who is too broken and shattered that he is beyond the ability of our Lord, Jesus Christ to put back together. Yet, there is another difference. When Jesus puts a life back together, he does not simply restore one to health, but he restores one slowly into the image of himself—we are remade not for a fallen world, but Christ’s remaking is designed to prepare us for glory! What a wonderful promise that we find in our great and glorious Lord!
“He is the one who heals a shattered heart;
and the one who binds their sorrows.”
Into Thy gracious hands I fall,
And with the arms of faith embrace;
O King of glory, hear my call!
O raise me, heal me by Thy grace!
“to herald good tidings to the meek”
These words should immediately bring to mind the language of the angels in proclaiming the good news before the shepherds (Luke 2:10). Indeed it was the role of the angels to proclaim the birth of the one who would bring such good news and glad tidings to the world—who would emboss onto the history of mankind the great hope and promise of redemption that would be brought by this Jesus. In Christ, men and women no longer need to live in darkness and fear, but could dwell forever in Christ’s marvelous light. Indeed, there are no better tidings than the reality that God has come into the world to dwell with men, to bear the sins of those whose faith is in him, and to face the mighty wrath of God on behalf of his own. The one who needed no redeeming came to earth, took on flesh to identify with us as his people, and did the mighty work of redemption on behalf of we who needed redeeming, yet could not even begin to do that work on our own.
And it is important to see the way in which this message of good tidings is proclaimed to those who are meek. It’s root is the word rv;B’ (bashar), which means, “to bear good news.” Yet this verb is found in what is called the Piel stem in the Hebrew language. The Piel stem is used in Hebrew to point to a repeated action. In other words, the idea of the good news borne or heralded by Christ is not just a one-time deal, but it is good news that is repeatedly proclaimed in the hearts and in the lives of God’s people. How true this is indeed! The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is news that bears repeating in the lives of those who know him and before the waiting ears of those who do not. How often God’s people need to be reminded of the wonderful good news of the hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
But look at to whom this proclamation is directed. It is directed to the meek or to the poor, depending on your translation. The term that Isaiah uses here is wn”[‘ (anaw), which is related to the word ynI[‘ (ani). Literally, wn”[‘ (anaw) refers to one who is bowed down or dejected, one who has been humiliated and broken under the oppression of outside forces. Its cousin, ynI[‘ (ani), picks up the idea of one who has become poor and afflicted as a result of oppression. It is not to the proud or to the powerful that this message is proclaimed, but to the poor, to those who have suffered under the oppression of the world and under the oppression of sin and who understand that there is no place to look for a redeemer other than to God. This language is reminiscent of the Israelites in Egypt, crying out for God to deliver them from Pharaoh’s hand (Exodus 2:23). And indeed, it is this idea that Jesus picks up on in his Sermon on the Mount when he says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
The proud, the arrogant, the haughty, those trusting in their own strength or righteousness, these are not the marks of those being drawn to God faith (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Indeed, the first step in coming to faith is genuine, heart-felt repentance, and in repentance there is no room for the pride of men. Loved ones, do not picture yourself approaching God with trumpets blaring and shouts of acclamation; do not picture yourself because you have earned an audience with the Almighty King. Understand that we come before him on our knees, pleading forgiveness and mercy, and in His undying grace, to all who come into His presence through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, to them—to us—he has given us eternal life, no longer seeing us as rebels, but adopting us as sons and daughters. Loved ones, oh, what a day of rejoicing that will be!
“See the kind of love that the father has given to us, in order that we might be called children of God; and we are. Because of this, the world does not know us: because it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)
“And as it says in Hosea:
I will call those who are not my people, ‘my people.’
And she who is not beloved, ‘beloved.’
And it will be in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called, “Sons of the Living God.”
“Because Yahweh has anointed me…”
Oh, what an amazing statement this is in itself, that this Messiah is not one anointed by man, but by the covenantal God, Yahweh, himself! How much more significant this becomes when you realize that this construction is only ever used three times in the Old Testament. It is used first in 1 Samuel 10:1 of God’s anointing of Saul, it is used secondly here, of the Messiah, in Isaiah, and thirdly, it is used of Jehu, who destroyed the house of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 22:7). There are many instances where God asks a prophet or a priest to anoint someone as he did with Samuel’s anointing of David—but these are the only instances where Yahweh is said to have anointed.
There are several things that we can learn from this. In each case, this was a kingly anointing. Saul was the very first human king over Israel—Jesus was the last. Saul was rejected by God because he did not execute God’s judgment upon Agag, the king of the Amalekites—one of the great persecutor of Israel. In contrast to Saul, Jehu was anointed king for the express purpose of executing God’s judgment upon the house of Ahaz (Ahaziah) in Judah and upon the house of Ahab in Israel—both kings which promoted pagan idolatry. Of course, Jehu’s downfall is that he did not go far enough in the purging of Israel of its idolatry and wickedness. Christ is the greater fulfillment of that which both Saul and Jehu failed to complete. Jesus is the greater king that not only redeems his people, but also promises complete and final judgment upon God’s enemies—upon all those who would devote themselves to idolatry.
The second thing that we can learn from this is the very nature of the Kingship of the Messiah. The verb, “to anoint” in Hebrew is the word xv;m’ (mashach) and is the very word from which we get the word “Messiah,” literally meaning, “the anointed one.” Not only then, is Isaiah pointing toward the very reality that this promised Messiah will be God himself, but also that he will fulfill the promise that God gave to David, in that a king will be raised up from his household who would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
Thirdly, it is an ever-present reminder of the nature of Jesus’ Kingship. Jesus himself said that he did not come to peace but division (Luke 12:51). John the Baptist describes Jesus as one who comes as with a winnowing fork to separate the wheat from the tares (Matthew 3:12). And what is the purpose of all this division? It is salvation (John 12:47). How is it that both can be true? The wrath of God being poured out upon his enemies is the means by which God saves the world for he brings her to purity only after he has separated the distillates out of her in the refining process. Refinement is done with fire, thus fire is brought by Christ to both redeem and destroy—both go hand in hand. In the case of Saul and Jehu—the destruction of God’s enemies ended their idolatrous influence (at least for a time). In the case of Jesus, the destruction of God’s enemies means a promise of the eternal end to the idolatrous influence of the world upon our lives—oh praise be to God that our Lord would come in this way!
This passage is one that is very familiar to us because of Jesus’ use of it during his first sermon back in his hometown of Nazareth. Notice the unambiguous nature of this statement—“the Spirit of the Lord Most High, Yahweh, is upon me. To begin with, when x;Wr (ruach), which can mean “spirit” or “wind”, is used in construct with the personal name of God (Yahweh) and is used in the terms of being placed upon someone, it is consistently used in terms of God’s power, and that power being placed upon an individual to complete God’s design. It is used of Othniel (Judges 3:10), Samson (Judges 14:6), of David (1 Samuel 16:13), and of Elijah (1 Kings 18:12). Most importantly, it is used of Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22). How this shines light on passages like Colossians 2:9, which speaks of the fullness of God being pleased to dwell in Christ. How so it is that the Spirit rushed on these Old Testament saints in part and for a time, yet came upon Christ in full and remained upon him for eternity. What is more is that same Spirit rushed upon Peter and the other apostles at the time of Pentecost and likewise remained upon him for the length of their ministry. And that same Spirit—the third member of the divine Trinity has shown himself to be pleased to dwell in you and within me both for the purpose of accomplishing God’s work in this world and for the purpose of drawing you and I more closely to himself in intimate fellowship. This is not a change of state for Jesus, but it is a promise. It is a promise that in Christ all of the promises of deliverance that are contained within the words of the Old Testament find their fullness in Christ and in his work. And it is a promise that it is the very Spirit of God that will bring about God’s designs in your life and mine. What a wonderful way for Jesus to announce his ministry to the community that thought they knew him best. Oh, how much greater a sin it was for these townsfolk—those who knew Jesus from childhood—to reject him in the way that they did.
Yet, we must not stop there. It is not only the x;Wr (ruach) of Yahweh, but we are told that this is the x;Wr (ruach) of the yn”doa] (adonay) of Yahweh. The Hebrew word !Ada’ (adon) means lord in the generic sense (much like we would use the word “sir” in English as a term of respect), but when you add the Qamets-yod ending (the “ay” sound), that intensifies the word, which communicates the idea that this Lord is the most high of all Lords—a term never employed of anyone in the Old Testament but God. Finally, we should not neglect to note the covenantal name of God, Yahweh, that is employed in this Statement. We can be left with no doubt of what Isaiah is seeking to communicate within this passage. The messiah of whom he speaks will have the fullness of the covenant God of Israel upon himself—that he is the fullness of God—and that is a statement that can only be made of God. This messiah of whom he speaks will be, and can only be, the covenant God of Israel, having taken on flesh and come to redeem his people. It points to and can only point to Jesus Christ, the very Son of the living God. By declaring that this prophesy was fulfilled in himself as he did before the people in the synagogue of Nazareth, he declared himself to be none less than God in the flesh.