Posted in Doctrine

Abusing Cornelius

Members of the Lord’s church have in Bible class abused Cornelius time and time again. And, too, he undergoes false accusation as well in sermons. How many times have you listened to someone trying to explain (1) how Cornelius received the Holy Spirit while (2) being a sinner? Imagine, the Holy Spirit entering the heart of someone presently practicing sin and thus bound for hell!

It is absurd. Cornelius was no sinner. How many times does Luke have to describe Cornelius for us until we finally admit his righteousness? See Acts 10: 2, 4, 15, 22, 28, 31, 35. Luke made seven attempts to describe Cornelius for us so that we would see that he was a righteous Gentile when the gospel reached him. How could he be? He was answerable to God through “Gentile-ism” or “Patriarchy” or “moral law-ism” (Romans 2:14-15). Remember the then Bible (law of Moses) had been given to Jews only (Psalm 147:19-20). The Gentiles up into the first century were answerable to God through moral law only. Had Cornelius died the day before Peter came to his house, he would have been bound for glory. Cornelius was a righteous Gentile just as much as Abraham in his own day had been.

Yes, but an objector replies that I am forgetting that Peter preached to him words whereby he would be saved (Acts 11:14). Indeed, but the salvation he received is not what most of us have taken it to be. He was saved in that he was delivered from “Patriarchy” which no longer for him would be operative as the divinely arranged system of religion for his people. Brother A. J. Freed, like most of us in the past, did not understand Holy Spirit baptism, but he did understand Cornelius’ condition. He correctly denied that Cornelius was an alien sinner, and he wrote, “He is told words by which he is saved from the sinking ship of patriarchy” (Sermons, Chapel Talks, and Debates). Amen! When the apostles, following Peter’s explanation of what happened at the house of Cornelius, concluded, “Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), that was a summation statement regarding the general condition of the Gentile camp which was usually one of sin (cf. Acts 17:30-31). It was not a description of Cornelius, his household, nor his friends. This is proved by Luke’s description of Cornelius and by the fact that Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15; 15:8). The first Gentiles to enter the kingdom were already living up to their spiritual obligations before the gospel reached them. Therefore, they were in a clean spiritual condition which allowed the Holy Spirit to enter them. After that they submitted to water baptism (Acts 10:47-48), but it was not for remission of sins in their case. It was, however, as per the words of Jesus in John 3:3-5, an absolute requirement (as was Holy Spirit baptism) to kingdom entry!

If, dear reader, you think I am abusing the word “saved” as applied to Cornelius (Acts 11:14), remember that we have to consider biblical words in their contextual use. Noah’s family was also “saved,” and it was even a salvation through water, but it was not salvation from sin (1 Peter 3:20). According to Paul, the unbelieving mate is “sanctified” in the believing mate, but the sanctification has nothing to do with the unbeliever’s salvation (1 Corinthians 7:15). We cannot impose a presupposed definition gleaned from other contexts onto a word in its own context that forbids the application of the presupposed definition. We have sadly done this in Acts 11:14, and abused Cornelius unmercifully!

Posted in By Mac Deaver, Christianity and Culture, Doctrine

What are we to do?

Several months ago I wrote an article entitled “Can A Church Cancel Services During A National Emergency?” (available here). I discussed at that time ten points:

  • Each of us is under obligation to preserve his own life.
  • While a person’s own self-preservation is inherent in nature and obligated in Scripture, it has never been the ultimate obligation.
  • God has established the implementation of authority within three realms of responsibility: the home, the state, and the church.
  • If government requires what God disallows, or if government prohibits what God demands, all men should obey God rather than man.
  • Human government is to be viewed as a minister of God.
  • Just as personal and domestic conditions may vary, just so in the state conditions may vary, too.
  • God does not view all situations in the same way.
  • God treats disruption differently than He treats routine.
  • God manages His world including the use of disease that has entered it.
  • The nature of emergency may obscure the clarity of one’s obligation.

I supported my conclusion by two arguments that I won’t repeat here. What I want to do here is to respond to two points that some writers have made in their criticism that religious services ought to be closed for a while. Remember that my article was written to establish the point that in an emergency such as we have found ourselves in with the Coronavirus, that government has a right and obligation to protect its citizens, and that Christians have the obligation to submit to civil authority.

Objection One:

It has been suggested that we should just go ahead with our services as usual and let the sick stay at home from services as has been our normal policy. Furthermore, the idea has been presented that we should not cancel services because spiritual welfare is more important than physical welfare. But I suggest that to argue in such fashion is self-contradictory. Why? It is because the spiritual welfare of any sick person who stays home from services with our approval is also equally more important than is his own physical welfare. In other words, the truth that one’s spiritual welfare is more important than is his physical welfare applies with equal application to the sick who already stays at home as normal policy. So, (1) to approve one sick person’s staying at home (as normal policy would dictate) with the approval of the rest of the congregation, and (2) to disapprove the rest of us staying at home (closing the services) for health purposes on the basis that the spiritual is more important than the physical makes no sense. The principle that the spiritual is more important than the physical applies equally to a sick person staying home already with approval or the rest of us staying home with disapproval. If there is legitimate criticism of the right of an eldership to suspend services temporarily for health reasons, it has to be based on some other route of argumentation.

Objection Two:

It has been stated that religious services should not be closed because the government does not run the church. Yes, it is true that the government does not run the church, but we Christians do submit to it in other ways anyway! The government does not run marriage. God does. And yet we must go to the government to get a marriage license. We do submit to government requirement regarding marriage because the New Testament obligates us to do so. And yet, as we do this, we still clearly understand that God rules marriage—not the state. So, to argue against service closure on the basis that the state does not rule the church is a misguided effort.

Remember that our former article and this one have to do with a temporary and emergency situation. It is not a discussion of submission to governmental decree to close services either as (1) a permanently required condition or as (2) a punitive measure. If the government requires permanent closure of public religious services and enforces such, then we will all of necessity become worshipers “underground” (or prisoners who will be unable to congregate as usual in governmental custody) or in private. If government forces the shutdown of public religious services as punishment, we will be forced to congregate in private so as to continue our services. I know that we have brethren right now in a Muslim controlled area of the world who have to worship in secret. May God help them, and may God help Christians everywhere to be faithful in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Posted in Church History, Doctrine

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
Posted in By Mac Deaver, Doctrine, Uncategorized

How could we miss it so badly?

What we in the churches of Christ have done to Acts 1:5-8 is almost unbelievable. Of course, we simply accepted what was handed down from a generation of brethren who had been taught wrongly on the passage as well. And we thought the way we handled the passage was true to Bible teaching on the Holy Spirit in other passages, and our inherited view kept us from endorsing modern day miracles. It is hard to imagine now in the year 2020 that we could miss the correct interpretation of that passage so terribly.

How did we miss it so horrendously? (1) We took the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be miraculous and temporary, and (2) we took the “great commission” to be permanent and obligatory! And each interpretation is wrong.

Since the words of Jesus to Nicodemus were spoken in John 3:3-5, there has been only one way into the kingdom. I have had debate opponents admit this. Well, how did the first entrants enter the kingdom? If you look at Acts 1 and 2, you will find that the first disciples including the apostles entered the kingdom having already been baptized with John’s water only baptism for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 7:29-30) when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). How did the apostles enter the kingdom in Acts 2? They had already been baptized in water for the remission of their sins which is baptism into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12, 16; Acts 19:15). But they did not enter the kingdom until they were baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4), which is baptism into the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). Their kingdom entry entailed baptism in both water and Holy Spirit which is the one baptism of John 3:3-5 and Ephesians 4:5. If you and I entered the kingdom, we came in just as the apostles did. There has never been any other way into it. Their water only baptism was not enough to propel them into the church. When we concluded that Holy Spirit immersion was a miracle, we made a horrible mistake! The Greek grammar of Acts 1:8 shows that the power came “after” the coming of the Spirit, so that it did not come (1) before the Spirit came, and neither did it come (2) at the same time that the Spirit came.

Too, in our wrong handling of Acts 1:5-8, we concluded that the so-called “great commission” (to distinguish it from the “limited commission” of Matthew 10) was permanent and obligatory. Our false conception of the passage has over many years created (1) imbalanced preaching, (2) a great sense of spiritual insecurity, and (3) guilt-evangelism! Elsewhere on this site is an article, “The Great Commission Has Been Fulfilled,” that provides in-depth analysis of this point. The “great commission” was an assignment given to the apostles only (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47), divinely managed to its completion (Acts 16:6-10; Colossians 1:6, 23), and entailed inspired preaching and miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13). This was God’s way of changing human amenability once and for all. The Gentiles were brought out from under their obligation to moral law only (cf. Romans 2:14-15; Acts 10), and the Jews were brought out from under their obligation to the Mosaic law which legally had died at the cross (Colossians 2:14). The announcement of (1) the passing of past obligation and (1) the creation of new obligation to Christ was made over a period of thirty years. The apostles and other brethren were involved, but only the apostles were given the specific assignment to see that the gospel went throughout the world. No other Christian ever evangelized because an apostle told him that he, too, was under the assignment of the “great commission”. While many helped in the work, only the apostles would stand before God as responsible to see that that assignment was carried out. The apostles alone were Christ’s ambassadors, a select group, who had been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20; 12:12; Acts 10:40-43; 22:15; 26:16).

If we today were successful in carrying the gospel to every creature in the world, we still would not be “fulfilling” the “great commission” because we cannot now accomplish what its completion in the first century did. All men by it were made answerable to Christ (Acts 17:30-31). All men still are, whether we preach or not. Today our evangelism in based on the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40) rather than the “great commission.”

Posted in Apologetics, By Weylan Deaver, Doctrine, Uncategorized

Deaver-Rodriguez Debate Now Available To View

This four-night debate is about how the Holy Spirit helps the faithful Christian. It was held at the building of the Fort Sam Houston church of Christ in San Antonio in July 2019.

Joshua Rodriguez (Fremont, California) affirmed: “According to the scriptures, the Holy Spirit only indirectly influences the heart of the faithful Christian.”

Mac Deaver (Sheffield, Texas) affirmed: “According to the scriptures, the Holy Spirit directly influences the heart of the faithful Christian.”

All eight hours are available to view for free at this link.

Posted in By Glenn Jobe, Doctrine

Who is the one who is sick and is healed in James 5:14-16?

By Glenn A. Jobe

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:14-16, NKJV).

Introduction:

The question before us is how do we go about identifying the one who James says is sick and is healed after prayer is offered on his behalf. Two prominent views are offered. James has in mind either a person who is sick physically or is sick spiritually. In order to answer this question we will look at three lines of evidence: (1) the words that James chooses to use, (2) the immediate context, and (3) what other New Testament scriptures may shed light on the subject.

WHAT DID JAMES MEAN BY “SICK”?

Two different Greek words are translated “sick” in James 5:14-15. The first word employed by James is the most common word for “sick” (astheneō) in the New Testament which, as a verb, occurs 36 times and another 24 times as a noun (asthenia). Most often astheneō and asthenia refer to physical illnesses, but not always. Sometimes they refer to spiritual weaknesses.

The Spirit helps saints in prayer with their weakness or infirmity (asthenia) (Rom. 8:26), for they know not how to pray as they ought and the Spirit makes intercessions.

In 1 Corinthians 2:3 Paul said that he was with the Corinthians in weakness (asthenia):  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” Yet he received his strength and power from God (2:5). A popular view of 1 Corinthians 2:3 is that “weakness” refers to physical sickness which resulted in Paul’s being “in fear, and in much trembling.” If so, we might have the same situation here as in James 5:14-15 where the first “sick” (asthenia) refers to physical illness (5:14) and the second “sick” (kamnō) refers to a spiritual condition. However, I rather think that the three words in 1 Corinthians 3:2 form a triad, each expressing a condition of its own: weakness, fear, trembling. Jesus taught that we are to support the weak (asthenia) (Acts 20:35) which is followed by the axiom, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Saints may be weak in their spiritual constitution for they may be weak in faith (Rom. 14:1,2), may be caused to stumble, or “be made weak” (Rom. 14:21). See also 1 Corinthians 8:9-12. On the other hand, Abraham was not weak (astheneō) in faith (Rom. 4:19).

Weakness or infirmity (asthenia) was also associated with the Old Testament High Priest (Heb. 4:15) who nevertheless could “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness” (asthenia) (Heb. 5:2).

Noteworthy is that James makes no mention of physical sickness elsewhere in the book. Prior to James 5, there is no allusion to the issue of physical sickness. Thus there are many New Testament references to “sickness,” “infirmity”, or “weakness” that refer to a spiritual condition and not to a physical one. The subject and the immediate context must determine what is intended.

The second word employed by James for “sick” is kamnō which appears only in James 5:15, Hebrews 12:3, and Revelation 2:3. In Hebrews 12:3 kamnō is rendered “weary”: “ For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” The NASB, MLB (Berkeley Version) and ASV also read “weary.” The NEB has “faint”, SEB “get tired.” I found no translation that translates this word “sick” in Hebrews 12:3, though sick is considered a secondary meaning according to Arndt and Gingrich (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature). Revelation 2:3 is rendered “fainted” in the KJV, but “weary” in the NKJV, ASV and NASB: “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” This is in perfect harmony with James 5! So, the primary meaning of kamnō is weary or faint. This is the meaning in Hebrews 12:3 and most certainly it has the same meaning in James 5.

James writes to saints who had become weary and discouraged while their faith was being tried. This theme begins in the second verse of the book and continues through to the end of James: 2  My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3  knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (Jas. 1:2-4). Verse 3 is the key verse in the book: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James’ message is that saints will be tried but they are not to lose heart.

The testing of faith is the theme of the book as is evident when one considers a simple outline of the book (prepared by Jackie M. Stearsman [June 1977]).

  1. Faith is Tempered and Tested by Trials and Temptations (1:2-18).
  2. Faith Is Tested by the Word of God (1:19-27).
  3. Faith Is Tested by Social Classifications in Society (2:1-13).
  4. Faith Is Tested by Works (2:14-26).
  5. Faith Is Tested by the Use of the Tongue (3:1-18).
  6. Faith Is Tested by the World (4:1—5:12).
  7. Faith Is Tested by Suffering, Joy, “Sickness” (i.e., weariness; GAJ), Sin, and Compassion for an Erring Brother (5:13-20).

The other word that is at times rendered “sick” in the New Testament (but not in James) is sunechō which describes a situation more in the sense of being held by something (12 times it appears).

WHAT DID JAMES MEAN BY “HEALED”?

The second word for our consideration is “healed” (iaomai) which also can be understood from either a physical or spiritual context. Passages that reflect a physical understanding are obvious and numerous.

Among many scriptures that have a spiritual or emotional meaning to the word include the following: (1) Matthew 13:15 – “‘For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’” This quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 is repeated in Acts 28:27. (2) Jesus was sent to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18). (3) Peter summarized Jesus ministry by noting that Jesus healed those who were oppressed (Acts 10:38). (4) Hebrews 12:12-13 expresses the need to restore spiritual vitality. (5) We are healed (from sin) by Jesus’ stripes (1 Pet. 2:24).

At the conclusion of this study we will see that the context of James 5:14-16 demands a spiritual healing of the sick.

WHAT DOES THE REMOTE CONTEXT TEACH?

As one considers the immediate context of James 5, he notices that some obvious difficulties arise if sickness and healing are physical in nature. The usual explanation among us is that during the early days of the church, when miracles were still operative, that if one called upon the elders of the church, prayer and the anointing of oil healed the physically ill. Yet, note carefully the text: 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

The words that are underlined in the above text should expose the obvious problem if “sick” assumes the physically sick. James does not say that the sick might be healed or even improve; he says the sick will be healed, be saved and be forgiven. At times during the Lord’s public ministry Jesus’ own apostles could not perform miracles due to their own lack of faith (e.g. the epileptic boy of Matt. 17:14-21).

In 2 Timothy 4:20 we learn that Paul found it necessary to leave one of his traveling companions, Trophimus, in Miletus sick (Acts 20:4). Yet Paul had called for the Ephesian elders to meet him there (Acts 20:17). If for some reason Paul could not heal Trophimus, surely these elders could and would have if they had the ability to do so. But they did not. Apparently those who had the gift of healing (as per Paul) could not utilize the gift as they desired. Yet, the sick who are healed in James 5 are done so unequivocally.

Conclusion:

So what is James telling us about the sick who are healed in relation to elders and prayer?

First, we saw that James explained why trials and temptations have come to the recipients of his epistle. They are for the testing of their faith in order that they develop patience (Jas. 1:2-4).

Second, we saw that faith is tested in at least seven ways (see the outline).

Third, we saw that some saints may be weak and grow weary but the prayer of faith will save the sick (the spiritually despondent) and raise him up.

Fourth, in addition to this (and is often overlooked), IF he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. We need to recognize that a person may be weak in faith and not sin; but then again, if he does, he will be forgiven (guaranteed!).

Fifth, everything in the immediate context (Jas 5:14-16) suggests to us a spiritual malady, not a physical one: (1) suffering, (2) cheerful, (3) sin, (4) forgiveness.

Sixth, the closing verses reinforce this theme: 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20). This is not the introduction of a new subject—it is the conclusion of the present one.

ADDENDUM: WHAT ABOUT THE OIL IN JAMES 5:14?

I thought about mentioning the oil in the article but was trying to focus more on the context to get to the proper hermeneutical approach. One thing that I did not develop was the word “suffering” in verse 13. The word for “suffering” is kakopatheō, and besides here, it is only found in 2 Timothy 2:3, 9 and 4:5 in the New Testament. It is enlightening to read the immediate context of these three verses for it is very similar to that of James 5. The word “suffering”, too, must be considered within the theme of the Book of James.

When it comes to reproaches to the name of Christ, not all suffering is to be considered negative. Saints will view suffering differently, according to the strength of their faith. Obviously one sees the need to pray during suffering. But can suffering be taken cheerfully? Yes, it can for those with strong faith. Paul and Silas were both praying and singing in the jail at Philippi (Acts 16:25). Peter and the other apostles left the Jewish council “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name” (Acts 5:41).

So, what role does oil play in James 5:14? The “healing” and “saving” of the “sick” is not attributed to oil—it is attributed to the prayer of faith, which suggests once again that this is not physical sickness. When has the anointing of oil been the treatment for the physically sick? Cuts, scrapes and burns may be treated with oil (e.g. Luke 10:34) but not sickness.

Elders administered oil to comfort the sufferer. This is the same thought expressed by David in Psalm 23:5, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” God did not anoint David’s head literally with oil. David said the Lord comforted his soul as oil soothes the body. David also suffered wrongfully at the hands of his “enemies.”

So, the practice of elders anointing the sufferer with oil was an expression of well-being and comfort. It is an expression of joy, even as experienced by the apostles in Acts 5:41. Elders in the first century church likely anointed the head of the sufferer with oil literally as they sought to comfort and reassure his troubled soul. Perhaps in our culture the same concern could be expressed in other ways.

Sadly, in our present existence as non-sufferers for the cause of Christ, both the expression and experience of this joy escapes us. I believe James 5:14-15 reveals to us a major function of elders in the church which we have failed to comprehend: elders are to encourage the weak and faint-hearted (cf. 1 Thess. 5:14). When we erroneously ascribe the word “sick” in James 5 to physical ailments, explain that the healing was miraculous, and thus dismiss these verses by declaring that they are non-applicable today, we rob members of the church of a beautiful blessing from their leaders.

Posted in By Mac Deaver, Doctrine, Uncategorized

Other Tongues

By Mac Deaver

In John 8:43 the Lord once asked some of his contemporaries, “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word” (ASV). The footnote shows that the Greek word translated “understand” is actually the word for “know.” The Lord was asking why it was that those who spoke the same language did not know what he was saying. His explanation was that they could not hear his word. That is, though they spoke the same language as he did, they could not grasp the meaning of what he was saying. It was one thing to know the meaning of isolated words; it was another to comprehend the connection of words in sentence construction. In verse 45 he declares why it was that they could not comprehend what he was saying. In their case, it was a perversity of character. Since Jesus was telling the truth and their hearts were not attuned to the reception of it, they were not getting it. And in verse 47, he ascribes their lack of understanding to the fact that they were not “of God.” Dishonesty stood between them and understanding of truth.

But there are other reasons why someone might not understand or comprehend a message, one of which is that the sound of the message may, in fact, be presented in a language that he does not know. That is, the message is completely unintelligible to him because he does not know the words of that language. Each word is merely a sound that signifies nothing to him.

The New Testament doctrine of “tongues” is historically rooted in an event that God had long ago caused. When men refused to scatter on the earth, God confused their language. At the time only one language was being spoken (Gen. 11:1), and the people were not scattering out over the earth. So, in order to motivate human scattering, God made it impossible for some of the people to understand others of them. The details are not provided, but somehow in the power of God, he changed the language comprehension of some of them so that a language barrier now existed. And since humans tend to associate mainly with those with whom they can by words communicate, some people then left the area. This change in language was preceded by changing the relationship between humans and snakes (Gen. 3:15), changing the male-female relationship (Gen. 3:16), and by changing the relationship between man and the sustenance of life (Gen. 3:19). These changes followed the commission of the first sin. Later following the flood, another change took place: the relationship between humans and animals (Gen. 9:1-4).

So, the change in the then immediate language capacity was the latest of the changes that God brought about to position man as he desired him now to be on this earth. This was God’s own way of separating people so that they would “replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28) and not simply stay in the vicinity where they had all been born. Evidently, there were none or few who would on their own at this time adventure out into the great unknown world. So, it was God himself who created the situation in which men could not understand other men. Because of human reluctance to venture out into the world, God created the language barrier between humans. We are not told how many languages were now being comprehended. We can only know that the number was sufficient in God’s eyes to cause the desired scattering.

Notice please that God divided the nations in the earth after the flood (Gen. 10:32). The division of the earth referred to in Genesis 10:25 is not geological; it is ethnological. God would later separate another group from all the rest of humanity, not by language but by a covenant. All of Abram’s descendants were to be distinguishable from the rest of the world. By means of the circumcision covenant that God made with Abram, God created the Hebrew nation (Gen. 17:1-14). Abram was “the Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13). His descendants became known as “Hebrews” (cf. Gen. 39:14).

But our point just here is that all of these changes were initiated by God himself. And the language barrier was only one of the changes he wrought in the earth. And as with all the changes just mentioned, it affected the course of human existence and history for all time. The issue of the language barrier did not need additional divine attention until it was necessary for all men to hear the gospel of Christ. As long as Jews were amenable to God through the law of Moses and as long as the Gentiles were amenable to God through moral law (Rom. 2:14-15), (that is, as long as there was divinely imposed ethnic segregation) there was no necessity of divine intervention regarding the language barrier in any way.

But when the universal religion of Jesus Christ became operative on Pentecost of Acts 2, the stage was now historically set so that eventually all men would become answerable to God through Christ (Acts 17:30-31). Several years passed before the gospel was preached to the first full-blood Gentile (Acts 10), but by the end of the first century, all accountable men then living were answerable to the gospel (Col. 1:23; Mark 14:9; 16:19-20).

But in order to fulfill the mission of taking the gospel to the whole world (Mark 16:15-16), the apostles made use of a gift in order to speak to men whose language they did not know (Acts 2:5-12). Later, when the Holy Spirit deemed it appropriate, other brethren were endowed with this gift as well (1 Cor. 12:4-11).

Since God had changed the structure of human accountability, it was up to God to make the announcement. Men could not be held accountable to a message that they never received since they were already living within the confines of divinely imposed religious responsibility. God had left Gentiles in Gentile-ism and the Jews in Judaism. But now that divinely imposed human amenability would no longer be sufficient in God’s mind to allow humans to any longer retain God’s favor. As the announcement of the change in amenability was made, human accountability changed. And since there were various languages spoken throughout the world, it was necessary (if God wanted the gospel carried throughout the world in a relatively short period of time) that men be able to speak languages that they had not studied and did not know in order to make the announcement known throughout the Roman empire.

Miraculous divine intervention was utilized in pointing out the places to go to for optimum success (Acts 16:6-10) and in providing the languages that must be utilized but were not by the teachers then known. It was God’s will that the change in amenability be announced within the historical context of divine miraculous involvement. He would not and did not leave matters simply to human decisions and human capacity. The work of taking the gospel to the world was finalized within the time of the miraculous workings of God. That is also the same time period in which he completed his divine book by inspiring the writing of the complete New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 2:12-13).

That book had to be completed before God could withdraw the miraculous element from the earth, just as the preaching of the gospel had to be completely taken into all the world before God could hold all men now answerable to the gospel and judge all men by Christ. Men became amenable to the gospel as the gospel became accessible. They were being called out of two divine systems already in place. Those alive in the first century were being “transitioned” from Gentile-ism and Judaism into a new divinely imposed accountability to the gospel of Christ. Nothing like that historic moment has ever existed again. That is, the time period in which God was relocating Jews and Gentiles under obligation to the gospel was a period of time and a religious situation that could never be duplicated since Gentile-ism and Judaism were divinely replaced by Christianity.

The “tongues” that the Spirit provided were the means of God’s addressing the language barrier that existed then (and which still exists now but without any need for miraculous intervention). God settled for all time the issue of human amenability within a thirty year period (from about 30 A.D. to about 63 A.D.). Everyone had access to God’s announcement of the change of amenability! There was no geographical area on earth inhabited by people that was not contacted.

Tongues” were for a sign to the unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:22). The kind of question raised by the yet unbelievers on Pentecost was no doubt raised time and time again. How is it possible for someone who does not ordinarily speak my language to speak it now (Acts 2:7-8)? The event itself signified that something divine and miraculous was occurring!

Thus, it is clear that “tongues” were languages. The disciples of John on Pentecost of Acts 2 spoke “with other tongues” (v. 4). These tongues were real languages (v. 6). They did not simply utter unintelligible sounds, but languages that were known and spoken by others. Furthermore, by the fact that “tongues” were always subject to rational interpretation, we know that they were sounds that made sense (1 Cor. 14:13).

It should also be observed that in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul discusses the cessation of miraculous gifts (including miraculous tongues), he mentions three specific things that will cease as he compares the cessation of miracles to the permanence of faith, hope, and love. That is, in chapter 13 he is contrasting what is passing away and what remains. The miracles are coming to an end; faith, hope, and love are permanent features of the faithful church. So, in 1 Corinthians 13:8 he declares that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will all come to an end (v. 8), and the gift of prophecy was miraculous (1 Cor. 12:10). He states that tongues shall cease, and miraculous tongue-speaking was another miraculous gift (1 Cor. 12:10). Thirdly, he says that knowledge will cease. This, of course, is knowledge that is miraculous to which reference had already been made (1 Cor. 12:8). Thus interestingly, each of the three items that Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 13:8 has to do with information! Miraculous information will cease being provided, he is saying. In verse 10, when he refers to “when that which is perfect is come,” he is contrasting that perfect or completed information with the partially and miraculously supplied information. When the perfect thing is finally here in its completed form, Paul is saying, then no longer is there a partial thing here. And when the perfect thing is here, there is no longer any need for the miraculous process that had delivered information up to the time of the perfected or completed form. When the perfect thing is come, that which is in part (the partial product) ceases. That is, there is no longer a merely partial thing. It has eventuated into the perfect or the now completed thing.

Finally, let me say a word about the transmission of scripture. God removed the miraculous element from the earth. Scripture would remain as promised (1 Pet. 1:25), but its permanence would obtain through translation. God would not keep scripture here by miraculous intervention. His divine providence would suit the situation so that capable people would be available at the right place and the right time to transmit scripture into languages that were then, as seen by God, now ready for scripture dissemination through them. Today those who are capable of translating scripture and those who have an inherent interest in certain people and places are all entailed in the marvelous providence of God. And neither group, translator or missionary, has access to the first-century gift of tongues.