Posted in Doctrine, Expository, New Testament

And So All Israel Shall Be Saved

The religious doctrine of “premillennialism” entails the notion that after the Lord comes back to the earth, the Jews as a nation will be converted by the gospel. They base this contention, at least in part, on a misunderstanding of Romans 11:26 where the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” is found. To understand that expression in its context, one has to familiarize himself with the context. Otherwise, the expression becomes by misconstruction a conclusion that is not intended.

In the context, Paul is developing the idea that God has used both Jews and Gentiles historically in such a way as to make the gospel accessible to all men. The gospel first went to the Jews (Acts 2) in harmony with what the Lord had predicted in Acts 1:8. Jesus had told the woman at the well that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22). The Jews were the first ones to enter the church, and so were the ones from whom the gospel later was provided to non-Jews. Paul affirms in Romans 11 that he hoped that by preaching to the Gentiles, that his Jewish kinfolk would be moved to jealousy and so come to understand the gospel. My father, Roy Deaver, points out in his good commentary, Romans—God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, that the jealousy to which the Jews were moved was a jealousy with regard to their own Jewish law. That is, the divine strategy was that when Paul preached to Gentiles, Jews would be so jealous of their law that they would be moved to investigate it further so as to disprove what Paul and others were preaching. If they had honest and good hearts, by their jealous search of their Scriptures, they could come to understand the gospel. In Beroea we later find some noble Jews willing to search the Scriptures to see if the gospel was in harmony with the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:11). In Romans 11:11-15, Paul shows that the gospel reached the Gentiles by means of the falling of the Jews. We see this strategy demonstrated in Acts 13:46 at Antioch of Pisidia. Luke informs us that when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what Paul preached (13:45). “And Paul and Barnabas said, It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and just yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” This is the very strategy that Paul is discussing in Romans 11. He is showing that by means of the rejection of the gospel on the part of some Jews, the gospel then went to the Gentiles. Gentiles are represented in Romans 11 as a wild olive tree (11:17), and the Jews are represented as a good olive tree (11:24). Paul says that Jewish branches were broken off and wild Gentile branches were grafted in. If natural branches (Jews) came to faith, then they could be grafted back into the good olive tree. No one had to be lost; all could be saved. But salvation came by faith. Unbelief was not a condition in which a person (either Jew or Gentile) had to remain (20-24). And God had so arranged history so as to make the gospel accessible to all Jews and all Gentiles so that all could be saved (11:32). It was a remarkable divine scheme which evoked the great doxology that Paul by the Spirit provides in Romans 11:33-36.

Back in verse 25 Paul said, “a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” The rejection of the gospel by some Jews provided the historical circumstance in which the gospel then went to the Gentiles. Paul was even “an apostle of Gentiles,” and he hoped that by this Gentile ministry he could provoke Jews to jealousy that would motivate them to come to faith and be saved (11:13-14). The Jews could come back to the gospel if they would, and Paul so hoped. In fact, he desperately desired that they would (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1-3). But we also remember that he desired the salvation of all Gentiles as well as all Jews, while knowing that only some would be saved (1Corinthians 9:19-23). In Romans 11:25 Paul warns Gentile brethren against arrogance with regard to their salvation. They came into the church because of “the hardening in part” that befell Israel “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” And then he said, “and so all Israel shall be saved.” Notice, in the text we find in verses 25-26 (1) Israel, and then (2) all Israel.

Now, as before stated, premillennialism affirms that verse 26 declares that the time is coming when all of the ethnic Jews will be converted by the gospel following the Lord’s return (which they also wrongly declare will be a return to the earth to live on it). No passage says Jesus will ever set foot on earth again. Not one! And Romans 11 does not teach the universal salvation of the Jews at some future time. But let us proceed.

In my father’s commentary on Romans, he makes the point that the Greek word for our English word “so” in Romans 11:26 is an adverb (p. 414). The passage means that in the same manner by which the Gentiles were saved, all Israel would be saved. The word “so” is not a conclusion reached regarding numbers, but rather a word showing that Jews and Gentiles had to enter the kingdom in the same way or manner if they entered at all.

Now, please think about the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 and compare it with the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22. Read both passages very carefully, and then consider the following argument:


  • If the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 means that all ethnic Jews would in the future at some point be saved, then the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 means that all men would be saved.
  • But, it is false that the expression “so also in Christ shall all be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 means that all men would in the future be saved (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:23).
  • Therefore, it is false that the expression “and so all Israel shall be saved” in Romans 11:26 means that all ethnic Jews would in the future at some point be saved.

Also, please consider that it is contextually possible that in Romans 11:26, when Paul uses the expression “all Israel,” he is not referring to ethnic Jews but rather to all the members of the church. Remember, back in Romans 2:14-15, Paul pointed out that Jews and Gentiles in days prior to the gospel system would be judged based on their laws. The Jews would be judged by the law of Moses, and the Gentiles would be judged by the moral law. And he pointed out that by means of the gospel, there was a new definition of an Israelite. A Jew, under the gospel, is not one by outward sign but by inward condition (Romans 2:28-29). And in Romans 9:6 he says, “they are not all Israel that are of Israel.” In other words, the church of the Lord constitutes spiritual Israel. Furthermore, in Galatians 6:16, Paul plainly identifies the church as “the Israel of God.”

So, it seems to me that it is possible in Romans 11:26 after referring to “Israel” in verse 25, Paul may well be referring to the church as a whole in verse 26. That is, all who come into the kingdom come in the same way, and this group constitutes “all Israel.” It would be similar (though not parallel) to what he had done earlier in chapter eight. In speaking of the suffering experienced in this world, Paul spoke of (1) the creation, and (2) the whole creation (8:19, 22). In context, “the creation” seems to refer to the church, and “the whole creation” would then refer to all of mankind. My father has an excellent discussion of this point in his commentary (pp. 280-283). Here in Romans 11:25-26 Paul refers to (1) “Israel” and then to (2) “all Israel.”

Let me make one further additional observation. If “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 implies the universal salvation of the Jews, then the “fulness of the Gentiles” would imply the universal salvation of the Gentiles. And if Romans 11:25-26 implies a time in which all the Gentiles and all the Jews will be saved, then we would ask, “Why didn’t that occur following the coming of the Lord the first time when the gospel was preached throughout the whole world? If there could be no guarantee of such a universal result following the Lord’s incarnation, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to the Father’s right hand (John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 2:33), his dispatching of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Acts 2:1-4, 33), the apostolic preaching throughout the whole world with the accompaniment of miracles (Mark 16:19-20; Colossians 1:23), then how could there be a guarantee of such a universal result in some alleged future time since God has always desired the salvation of all men (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4)?

Posted in Doctrine, Elders/Deacons, Marriage, New Testament

The Husband of One Wife

In 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 Paul says that any man who is to be appointed to the eldership is to be “the husband of one wife.” In Paul’s first letter to Timothy and in his letter to Titus he gives important information regarding the required qualifications of these at the time of their appointment, and he briefly points out their duty. Under the heading of their personal qualifications, we find three classifications of their credentials. We have qualifications regarding (1) attitude/character, (2) domestic considerations, and (3) ability/experience. To Timothy and to Titus Paul briefly cites their duty as being to take care of the church (1 Tim. 3:5) and to exhort and to convict (Titus 3:9).

The qualification that I want to address in this article appears in the title. The requirement itself shows that an elder (1) must be a man, (2) must be a married man, and (3) must be a man married to one wife.

Over the years as brethren have attempted to select and appoint elders in various places, the question arose time and again as to whether or not a divorced man met the qualification of having one wife. Evidently, some brethren were not sure if a divorced man could serve as an elder, since he had put away one wife according to Matthew 19:9 and had married another. They were not calling into question his marriage, but they were wondering about whether the Lord intended for a divorced man to serve as a shepherd of a congregation.

In my judgment, the problem arises simply because the passage is taken out of its historical context. That is, some brethren in my lifetime were looking at the “one wife” requirement from the viewpoint of the condition of the church in our time as opposed to the condition of the church in Paul’s time. Now what do I mean?

As I have discussed in other places, the problem is the failure of recognizing the existence and significance of the “transition era” as men were being divinely transported from prior obligation to current obligation. Before Pentecost, Gentiles had been allowed to have multiple wives. Abraham had a wife and one concubine, and following Sarah’s death, he had another concubine (Gen. 16, 17; 25:6). Isaac had one wife (Gen. 25:20). Both men were non-Jews. They preceded Judaism. Jacob—or Israel—was the head of the Jewish nation. His sons became the heads of tribes that composed that nation. And, in Judaism, men were allowed to have more than one wife.

When the church was established on Pentecost of Acts 2, Jews were present from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5). And, as already declared, under Jewish law men had been allowed to have more than one wife. Jacob (Israel) had four wives (two free women and two bond-servants or concubines according to Gen. 29 and 30). Polygamy was allowed by the law of Moses. Polygamy is not to be confused with divorce and divorce law (Deut. 24). Men could marry several times and never be involved in even one divorce. In this article we are concerned with polygamy and not divorce. Polygamy was NOT a violation of moral law as such. It was certainly not the ideal marriage arrangement as God demonstrated with Adam and Eve, and as he explained to the Jews through Malachi (Gen. 2:18-25; Mal. 2:14-15), but it was divinely approved in the first two divine systems of accountability arranged by God. Neither Abraham nor Jacob were immoral men because of their polygamy (cf. Matt. 8:11).

And this has a definite bearing on “the husband of one wife” requirement for elders per Paul’s remarks in First Timothy and Titus. It is so because at Pentecost of Acts 2 when the church was established, Jews and proselytes from all the nations were present. And all of those men had lived in a system that allowed them to be married by God to more than one wife. If any man present on Pentecost was in violation of God’s marriage law for the Jews, then he would stand in need of repenting of that unlawful relationship. But our point just here is that if polygamists were present on Pentecost, their polygamy as such was not something for which they were blameworthy or divinely condemned. In fact, if they were in authorized marriages, it was because God had joined them (Matt. 19:6). And whosoever God had joined together under an earlier arrangement (Gentile-ism and Judaism) were not to be put asunder.

The historic condition of the time when the church was first established called for the requirement of the “one wife” rule for the eldership. The divine allowance for polygamy was on its way out as the gospel was preached to all men. And while men with several wives could certainly be faithful Christians if God had joined them to their wives in earlier days while they were still amenable to their prior obligations in Gentile-ism and Judaism, the situation in the “transition era” was changing. And as the gospel became accessible to men, they became amenable to it. And they learned that from then on, marriage was to be monogamous without any polygamy whatever. Paul would come to write in about 57 A.D., “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband”(1 Cor. 7:2). This was going to be the permanent and perpetual marriage policy under the law of Christ.

So, while for a while men in the first century church could have more than one wife (if these marriages were contracted under the previous divine systems), God stipulated that such men could not serve as elders, however. They were caught up in a unique situation as they moved in their own human accountability from one divine system to another. And the law of Christ was a higher law than that of moral law in Gentile-ism, and it was higher than the law of Moses. So, there was nothing wrong with the men and women caught in this situation where their polygamy was allowed. It was just that the gospel of Christ was God’s final law to be imposed, and it was to be imposed on all men, and it was a law of higher requirement that that demanded in the previous systems.

And the more restricted requirement of monogamy was to be the permanent marriage law for all men under the law of Christ for all time. God would not, then, allow elders in polygamy to lead his people, many of whom or most of whom in the first century were in better marriage relationships than polygamy allowed. The elders were to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). But how could that work if elders were in polygamy (with polygamy being inferior to monogamy) and if some, many, or most of their flock were not? If the gospel was in process of bringing an end to the practice of polygamy, it was not something to be encouraged. If monogamy is the superior relationship (and it is), and if polygamy was about to run out of allotted time, then the marriages of elders in polygamy could not provide an example to the flock as far as their domestic situation would allow.

So, “the husband of one wife” requirement of an elder does not mean that a man scripturally divorced per Matthew 19:9 and scripturally remarried would not qualify for the eldership. In my judgment, that is not in the purview of the restriction. If a man has put away his wife for fornication and has scripturally married another, then he has only one wife. It is the same with a widower. A man scripturally married but whose wife has died certainly has a scriptural right to another marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8-9). And his second marriage does not mean he now has two wives. He still has only one. The same is true regarding scriptural divorce and remarriage.

Finally, it is interesting that in 1 Timothy 5:9 the topic of marriage surfaces again, and this time Paul discusses the “enrolled widow.” This is not to be confused with Paul’s discussion of widows who simply need help. The enrolled widow needs help, but she is enrolled to work for the church. And the widow whom the church can enroll has to meet certain qualifications including the fact that she is a woman who has been the wife of one man. “Having been” or “having become” is a perfect participle which indicates completed action with a resulting state of being. She has been and remains in that condition. Here Paul in context shows that the widow to be enrolled is not to be a woman who has already shown her desire to marry again. Younger widows are not to be enrolled to work for the church. They need to marry again (v. 11-14). But the widow to be enrolled must be at least sixty years old and when widowed remained in that state. Paul could have used the same language in 1 Timothy 3 for the elder that he used for the enrolled widow in 1 Timothy 5, but he did not. So, in the selection of elders, we need not be more restrictive than the language of Paul necessitates.

Whether a divorced man and a widower who has married again would want to serve or ought to serve, and whether or not a congregation might want either man to serve as an elder are other considerations. But the fact that he is required to be “the husband of one wife” or an “of one wife husband” is not a requirement, in my judgment, with which he is out of harmony.

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, Expository, New Testament, Salvation

Baptism In One Spirit Per 1 Corinthians 12:13

Last Sunday, I listened to a faithful gospel preacher as he misinterpreted this passage. Sadly, I misinterpreted this passage most of my preaching life. It was all because I failed to understand that Holy Spirit baptism entailed no miracle whatever! As you, I was taught that there are three measures of the Spirit among men (while there actually are none—John 3:34), and that baptism in Spirit was a miracle. But this was all wrong, so sadly wrong, and these mistakes affected all of our biblical interpretation of passages that mentioned the Spirit and his relationship to us.

Think about the words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were made to drink of one Spirit.” Please go immediately to Galatians 3:26-29 for the language of Paul there. And please return to John 7:37-39 immediately for the language there. Do you see concept and language connection?

But, because (1) we all knew there was only one baptism, and because (2) we all knew that water was for the remission of sins, we concluded that we must “interpret” 1 Corinthians 12:13 to mean that we were baptized “by” the Holy Spirit (usually taken to mean by the teaching of the Holy Spirit). How many times have you heard this “interpretation”? We were told that we were baptized in water in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit. My, my! This was an honest but ignorant and unintentional interpretive mistake that we made. But most of us made it. Think! Is there any other passage in the New Testament that supports the claim that the Spirit is an AGENT who baptizes anyone? No! However, we do have passages that claim that JESUS HIMSELF would be the agent who baptized in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Interestingly, Luke in describing the difference between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism, says that John baptized “with” water, using the dative case of the word “water.” However, he used the preposition “in” (Gr. en) when he said that Jesus would baptize “in” Holy Spirit. Now, we do not reject water as the element in the first baptism on the basis that the proper translation is “with water” rather than “in water.” Do we? No, we do not. Secondly, John said that Jesus would baptize not “with” the Holy Spirit but “in” the Holy Spirit! So, we allow “with” to mean “in” but in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we force “in” to mean “by,” and the only reason we did this was because we took baptism “in” Spirit to mean a miraculous baptism! We were trying, in our ignorance, to be logically consistent.

Too, in Matthew’s rendering of the account, in both references to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, he uses the same preposition, “in” (Gr. en). Whatever John was doing with water, Jesus would do with Spirit. If John immersed people “in” water, then Jesus would immerse people “in” Spirit. There is no getting around this. John in his preaching used both water and Spirit as elements. John and Jesus were both agents! We must be fair with the text. Ephesians 5:26 is no help in trying to get around what Matthew says that John did. Paul in Ephesians 5:26 says that Jesus cleansed us by “the washing of the water with the word.” But “the word” is applied to cleansing, and not to regeneration. And they are not the same. So, the passage does not support the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 that the Holy Spirit “baptizes” us through his teaching in his word!

Also, if Jesus in John 3:3-5 said that a person must be born of both water and Spirit, and if to be born of water means to be baptized in water, then just so does to be born of Spirit mean to be baptized in Spirit.

My good friend, Glenn Jobe taught me several years ago that Acts 1:8 proves that there is no miracle in Holy Spirit baptism. The verb “is come” is an aorist participle which indicates action antecedent to that of the main verb, “shall receive.” That is, the power which would enable the apostles to be the Lord’s “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” came after their reception of their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The power did not come before nor at the same time as but AFTER the baptism! The KJV is helpful in its translation: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” We have correctly taught that salvation follows baptism in water as Mark 16:16 teaches. The passage says that the one believing and being baptized shall be saved. Both “believing” and “being baptized” are aorist participles which indicate action prior to that of the main verb, “shall be saved.” It is an aorist participle in Acts 1:8!

Furthermore, while water baptism in the book of Acts is always connected to remission of sins, baptism in Holy Spirit is not. It follows forgiveness rather than to provide it. It is the regeneration of which Paul speaks in Titus 3:5-6. Only a forgiven man can then be given spiritual life! But, think about it: when we were baptized in water, we had to come up out of and leave the water. Water is not the church! When we came up from the water, we were already in the Holy Spirit, and remained in him! Jesus had immersed us in Spirit while we were being immersed in water. This is how and why it can correctly be said that we arise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) because life was given us while we were under the water following forgiveness! But we remained in Spirit after we left the water. Following our immersion in water, we came up from it while remaining in Spirit! We are, Paul says, “in Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Being in Spirit is being in the non-personal but spiritual body of Christ (Romans 8:1; Colossians1:18). And just as with regard to any physical human birth, our spiritual birth entails two elements (John 3:3-5). And remember, before Paul mentioned our baptism in Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13, he had already reminded the brethren at Corinth that the Jews had been baptized unto Moses by being baptized in two elements (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, New Testament

We Have Overlooked the Transition Era

It is unfortunate and somewhat strange that we have as a people, generally speaking, overlooked the transition period that began with John (Luke 16:16) and ended when the gospel was made available to the whole world (Colossians 1:6, 23). We have studied the book of Acts as though the events were transpiring today.

When we look at the world today, we see sinners. And we see sinners that are amenable to the gospel of Christ. But we study the book of Acts as though the world of the first century was like our world today. And this is a colossal interpretive blunder that our brotherhood has made for years.

The world of the first century entailed four classes of people: righteous Jews, unrighteous Jews, righteous Gentiles, and unrighteous Gentiles none of whom were amenable to the gospel of Christ before Pentecost of Acts 2. When I was growing up, brethren usually believed that all Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost and that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10. This was another almost unbelievable error! It is certainly true that some Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost. It is even true that some Jews became amenable to John’s baptism prior to Pentecost (Luke 16:16; Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:1-12). It is not true that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10, even though it certainly is true that some of them did when Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, his household, and his friends who lived near him.

God had a way for Jews and Gentiles to be saved prior to Acts 2! What we usually called “Patriarchy” (Gentile-ism) and Judaism were God’s divine arrangements for both classes of men whereby they could be saved prior to divine amenability change (Romans 2:14-15). That means that the book of Acts covers history when the gospel, for the first time, goes to Jews and Gentiles. Some of the Jews were good people, and some were not. Some of the Gentiles were good people, and some were not. If the good Jews and good Gentiles had died in the first century prior to the gospel’s being made available to them, they would have gone to paradise.

This explains Luke’s language in Acts. As the apostles took the gospel to the whole world, they found plenty of sinners for sure. In fact, more of the cases of kingdom entry recorded in Acts were of sinners. However, some cases of kingdom entry entail non-convert cases. That is, these cases were Jews and Gentiles already in a saved condition but who were required to become responsible to the gospel as it reached them. As the gospel reached each man, he was under divine obligation to submit to the truth and enter the kingdom, and every case of kingdom entry in Acts is in complete harmony with the Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5.

It took thirty years of preaching and teaching for all men to become amenable to the gospel of Christ, and no man became amenable to it without God’s making the gospel accessible to him! And that changing amenability required inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:12-13), miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20), and miraculous providence (Acts 16:6-10; 21:10-14). The work of changing amenability began and continued for years prior to the first written New Testament book which appeared in the early 50’s. For about twenty years, the gospel was preached, congregations established, and these congregations were stabilized by miraculous gifts in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The first century world was not like ours when it comes to amenability. The Jews and Gentiles were, as classes of people, amenable to a divinely arranged system of salvation prior to the preaching of the gospel. That is not true today since the gospel once and for all changed human amenability as it was preached to all the world in the first century.

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament

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 Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament, Salvation

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 Expository, New Testament

“Clouds Without Water”

[Note: This piece by Glenn Jobe is especially apropos in light of the recently concluded Deaver-Simons Debate, wherein Simons constantly equated clouds and water in his effort to undermine there being two elements in the Israelites’ baptism in 1 Cor. 10:1-2 (“in the cloud and in the sea”). Simons was driven to affirm “cloud” and “sea” are identical, since he refused to admit two elements in baptism in John 3:5. –Weylan Deaver]


By Glenn A. Jobe

Jude writes of certain men whom he terms “clouds without water” (verse 12). We usually associate clouds with water vapor. What did inspired Jude have in mind when he wrote of clouds without water? Let’s see if we may gain understanding by considering this strange expression within the context of Jude.

Jude states the reason for writing his short epistle: …I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (verse 3). He next explains why his readers must contend earnestly for the faith: For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 4).

Note that Jude tags these false teachers “ungodly men.” “Ungodly” (asebēs, ἀσεβεῖς) means “godless, impious.” Thayer adds, “destitute of reverential awe towards God, contemning God, impious.” W.E. Vine comments, “…without reverence for God, not merely irreligious, but acting in contravention of God’s demands, Rom. 4:5; 5:6; I Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 4:18; 2 Pet. 2:5 (v. 6 in some mss.); 3:7; Jude 4, 15 (twice).”

In the illustrations that follow, Jude takes the reader through the wilderness wanderings, the rebellion of angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, the contention over the body of Moses, the way of Cain and Balaam, and the rebellion of Korah (verses 5-11). Each of these events produces images that are pregnant with meaning in Jewish minds.

In verses 12-18 Jude pictures these ungodly men both by their conduct and by names he assigns to them. Since the title of this article is “Clouds Without Water,” let us list the names that Jude offers. According to Jude these ungodly or godless men are: (1) like brute beasts, (2) spots in your love feasts, (3) clouds without water, (4) late autumn trees without fruit, (5) raging waves of the sea, (6) wandering stars, (7) grumblers, (8) complainers, (9) mockers, and (10) sensual (i.e., fleshly, ψυχικοί; e.g. Jas. 3:15) persons. Jude then concludes the list in verse 19 before he begins his final exhortation in verse 20 with the indictment, “not having the Spirit.” Each of these offenses is the result of the Spirit being absent in these men.

So, what are “clouds without water? Again the language triggers multiple Old Testament images. God appeared to His people in a cloud on several occasions, including throughout the wilderness wanderings (Exod. 13:21; 14:19-20). This is the first illustration Jude offers (verse 5). God was not a cloud but He was in the cloud (Num. 11:25; 12:5). The cloud was the means by which God spoke to Moses face to face (Exod. 33:11; Num. 14:14). Without the actual presence of God on these occasions, the cloud was meaningless to Israelites.

Jude calls these godless men “clouds.” But why is their condition tagged “clouds without water”? God’s presence (Spirit) is not in them. They are clouds without God, or as Jude expresses their situation, “having not the Spirit” (verse 19). No living water flows forth from these waterless clouds unto eternal life (John 4:10-14; 7:37-39; cf. Isa. 44:3, 4).

Posted in Expository, New Testament

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).


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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 Expository, New Testament

They Asked Him a Question (Matt. 22:23-33)

By Weylan Deaver

One day Sadducees brought Jesus what they considered an unanswerable dilemma. They might have sprung their trap had they not been in error, and had they been dealing with someone other than Jesus. As it happened, they failed spectacularly and were, themselves, put to silence. It is recorded in Matthew 22:23-33 (also Mark 12, Luke 20).

One hallmark heresy of the Sadducees was denial of the resurrection. They asked Jesus a question stemming from their custom of a dead man’s brother marrying the widow of the deceased in order to raise children to carry on the name of the deceased. They describe a married couple without children. The husband dies and his brother marries the widow, but they have no children. That husband dies and a third brother marries the woman twice widowed. The scenario grows more far-fetched with the telling, with all seven brothers marrying the same woman, all seven dying, followed by the widow’s death. The question for Jesus is: “Whose wife is she in the resurrection?” It would seem the Sadducees have put Jesus in the position either of affirming an absurd marriage of seven husbands to one wife simultaneously on the other side of death, or that some marriage ties survive death while others do not. The other option is to deny the reality of resurrection, which is what the Sadducees did.

Interestingly, their hypothetical could have accomplished the same thing with only two dead husbands instead of seven. But, opposing the Lord, they knew neither where to start nor when to stop. Jesus stopped them in their tracks with his rebuke. He said the Sadducees were wrong. He said they did not know their Bible, and they did not know God’s power. He said marriage does not apply in the resurrection since people will be like angels (i.e. not married).

Then, Jesus took it further by falsifying the Sadducee’s denial of resurrection. When they read in Exodus 3:6 about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they should have understood God as God of the living—not the dead. And, since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died long before God spoke those words to Moses, the Sadducees should have inferred that the spirits of the patriarchs were still alive, and, thus, had no trouble accepting the concept of resurrection from the dead. Consider several observations from this account.

First, Jesus was never silenced by intimidation. He boldly told the Sadducees, “you are wrong” (v. 29). Are we willing to say what needs saying, even in the face of spiritual enemies?

Second, we must know God’s pen and God’s power (v. 29). Ignorance of the Scriptures always puts one in error. People who claim to believe the Bible, but who don’t even understand the Bible, are modern day Sadducees.

Third, marriage is an earth-bound institution (v. 30). Like our mortal bodies, marriage does not survive the grave. The Sadducees mistakenly assumed that, if resurrection were real, things after it must be the same as things before it. They did not anticipate Jesus’ answer: In the resurrection, things are very different. And, that answer destroyed the Sadducees attempted dilemma.

Fourth, Jesus did not compromise God’s truth to fit human error (v. 30). He compared resurrected people to angels, knowing that Sadducees denied angels. Are we ever tempted to tread lightly with certain subjects because we know they are controversial, or might bring us criticism (for example, the Genesis creation account, biblical miracles, marriage-divorce, etc.)? Never let Satan’s fiction make you avoid God’s fact.

Fifth, Jesus had the highest view of Scripture (v. 31). He understood it was the means by which God spoke to the Sadducees, even though they were not born when the Old Testament was being written.

Sixth, the Sadducees ignorance was not for lack of information (v. 31), since God had spoken to them in the Scriptures. They had not reasoned rightly about what God wrote, which allowed them to get in serious error. Their ignorance was inexcusable.

Seventh, Jesus is the master logician (v. 32). The passage he quoted to the Sadducees was Exodus 3:6, where God is described as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Those three patriarchs had been dead for centuries when God spoke those words to Moses from the burning bush. Implied is that those three patriarchs were not dead, but living. If the Sadducees had seen the implication taught in Exodus 3:6, they should have had no trouble with the concept of resurrection.

Eighth, it is possible to be amazed at something heard, without believing it (v. 33). Astonishment at the Lord’s teaching is a good first step, but no substitute for acceptance. God help us avoid the mistakes of the Sadducees.

Posted in Expository, New Testament

John 3:16 – More Than Meets the Eye

By Weylan Deaver

It’s one of the most familiar Bible verses, and often appealed to as the basis of salvation. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV). While so much is packed into so few words, much also remains unstated. Many fail to realize that verse is summation, not explication. It summarizes what God has (love), what God did (gave), what a person does (believes), and what a believer should have (eternal life). What was involved when God “gave his only Son”? The verse has no particulars about the incarnation, the cross, the blood atonement, Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection. You have to go to other passages to flesh out the details of God’s gift. Likewise, “eternal life” is offered “whoever believes,” but details of heaven and of faith’s response are not given. You must go elsewhere for elaboration.

The problem is, many read “whoever believes” (v. 16) and assume it simply means mentally accepting facts about Jesus, and then getting “eternal life.” But, the very context of John 3 proves that “whoever believes” cannot mean salvation by belief only.

Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). If you cannot participate in God’s kingdom, you are not saved. And, no one sees the kingdom who has not been “born again.” This new birth is vital to participation in the kingdom, and the kingdom is vital to salvation. Therefore, whoever believes, if he would have eternal life, must become a believer who has been “born again.”

Jesus added detail to the concept of new birth when he said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Again, none “enter the kingdom” without a new birth consisting of both “water and the Spirit.” Therefore, whoever believes, if he would have eternal life, has to become a believer who has been “born of water and the Spirit.”

Jesus also said, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). Truth demands action, not just mental acceptance. And, while many religious folk act as though “works” is a dirty word unrelated to salvation, Jesus taught otherwise. My works cannot save me, but God’s works do. When I do what God commands, I am doing God’s works, and that is essential to salvation. In fact, Jesus also said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). So, John 3:16 mentions a believer, but does not mention works. But, John 6:29 tells us a true believer is already doing “the work of God” since belief, itself, is called a “work”! Therefore, whoever believes, if he would have eternal life, must be a believer who “does what is true.”

Further we are told, “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized” (John 3:22-23). Why the emphasis on baptism? Because, as Jesus said in v. 5, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Peter stated it, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38]). “Born of water” happens when one is “baptized” in water. Baptism means immersion, and immersion requires “plentiful” water, which is why John was where he was—there was plenty of water. If Jesus connected “water and the Spirit” in being “born again” (v. 5), nobody has the right to disconnect or discount either element. Both are required. Moreover, nobody has the right to redefine baptism (which means immersion) so that it means sprinkling or pouring water, neither of which requires much water. Bible baptism is immersion (physically in water and spiritually in the Holy Spirit). Such is the new birth. Therefore, whoever believes, if he would have eternal life, must be someone who has been immersed in order to be born again.

Finally, note the chapter’s last verse: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Verses 16 and 36 both mention “whoever believes.” But, while obedience is implied in v. 16, obedience is explicitly mentioned in v. 36. Who gets to “see life”? The one who obeys God’s Son. The saved believer is the obedient believer. Believing is obeying, but obedience includes more than just believing.

God can put a summary in a single verse (such as John 3:16), but he never lists everything involved in obedience in any one verse. The only way to know the total requirements is to take all the pertinent passages together. In other words, take the entire New Testament. In our case, we’ve taken several connected truths from John 3, both before and after the words of v. 16. It is a monumental mistake to interpret John 3:16 as teaching salvation by belief alone. But, if belief by itself cannot save, then everything involved in salvation is not listed in John 3:16. And that means you have to go outside John 3:16 to learn what obedience entails.

Belief is a first step since “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Yes, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but benefitting from that love requires continual commitment to Jesus’ commands. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).