Baptism in the Early Church

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

In my online class about the history of the Christian church to 1500, I had to write a blog that chased a “rabbit trail” related to the history of the earliest church. The topic I chose to pursue was baptism in the early church. What is the function of baptism? Who may be baptized? Based on Acts 2:37-41 and other New Testament texts, I concluded that in the early church, baptism was for professing believers who exercised repentance and faith. It was thus the “initiation rite” into the Church. I’ve posted that “Rabbit Trail” below (with minor corrections and clarifications) in the hopes that it would edify us as believers.

Baptism was the integral initiation rite of the early Christian church. The Apostles baptized new converts, who subsequently baptized succeeding generations of Christian converts, on the basis of Jesus’ command, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, to the Eleven: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Greek word translated “baptizing” means “dipping or immersing,” i.e., in water (Thayer and Smith, “Greek Lexicon entry for Baptizo“). After their own special baptism in the Holy Spirit by tongues of fire (Acts 2:3-4), the disciples began water-baptizing all new converts to Christianity.

The Apostles baptized the first converts almost immediately after they had been baptized by the Holy Spirit through fire. After Peter’s sermon following that event, the audience members

were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)

Thus, the apostles initiated these three thousand converts into the Christian faith by baptizing them. However, this passage raises two questions:

  1. What is the function of baptism?
  2. Who may be baptized?

This passage raises the first question, “What is the function of baptism?”, because of the ambiguous phrase in verse 38: “be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins.” Is Peter teaching that baptism results in forgiveness of sins? Noted Bible expositor John MacArthur in a sermon on the text in question remarked concerning this phrase, “The Word of God does not teach baptismal salvation. It does not teach that you’re to be baptized to be saved. It’s simply indicated here that they were to be baptized in response to what had happened in their life as a public confession of their new union with Christ.” He continued, “For the Jews who had openly rejected the Lord, [Peter commanded] not only repentance but baptism, that they might identify publicly with Christ. And he knew the biggest stumbling block to their discipleship was the fear of persecution, and so he makes that the standard because he wants them to get over the one hurdle that will really keep him from coming to Christ.”

Since Peter is not teaching that baptism results in forgiveness of sins, what is the function of baptism? Other passages in the New Testament reveal what function the initiation rite of baptism served in the early church. Peter later gave a clear meaning of baptism in 1 Peter 3:21, in which he said, “Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Water baptism, “a removal of dirt from the body,” does not save, does not forgive sins; rather, God forgives a person’s sins when they “appeal to God for a good conscience,” in repentance and faith in “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Water baptism, then, symbolizes this spiritual reality of forgiven sins. As Paul wrote in Colossians 2:11-12, “In him [Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Regeneration, God’s gift of resurrection life to a sinner whereby he or she exercises saving faith in and repentance toward Jesus Christ, is the spiritual baptism (John 3:5, alluding to Ezekiel 36:25-27) of which subsequent physical baptism is a symbol.

To summarize the answer to the first question that Acts 2:37-41 poses, early Christians viewed baptism as a symbol of the convert’s new life in Jesus Christ. Water baptism was not a saving rite but a rite of initiation into the Christian community in which the convert publicly acknowledged his or her faith in Jesus Christ and committed to following him and fellowshipping with fellow Christians (see also 1 Timothy  6:12).

The second question Acts 2:37-41 raises is “Who may be baptized?” Peter said, “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” If baptism was the rite of initiation for new converts, was Peter allowing here the baptism of converts’ children? Arguing against paedobaptism, Stephen J. Wellum writes,

Often Baptists [and other credobaptists] are charged with not appreciating the place of their children in the covenant community. Not only does this charge miss the mark in fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the new covenant community, but it also runs the danger of what is truly imperative–to call all people, including our children, to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that the promise of the new covenant age becomes ours, for the promise is not only for us, but for our children and “for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). (pp. 169-170 in Believer’s Baptism, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright, B&H Academic, 2007)

“Everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” in Acts 2:39 thus qualifies not only “all who are far off” but also “you” and “your children.”

Matt Waymeyer in his book, A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptismagrees with Wellum’s exegesis of Acts 2:39:

In Acts 2:39, Peter identifies three groups of individuals who are the recipients of this promise: (a) “you,” (b) “your children,” and (c) “all who are far off.” But Peter doesn’t stop there. Instead, he qualifies all three groups with the clause, “as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” In other words, to how many of you has God promised the Holy Spirit? As many as the Lord shall call to Himself. To how many of your children has God promised the Holy Spirit? As many as the Lord shall call to Himself. To how many of those who are far off has God promised the Holy Spirit? As many as the Lord shall call to Himself. God has promised to give the Holy Spirit to those whom He effectually calls and draws to Himself in salvation.

To summarize the answer to the second question, “Who may be baptized?” The earlier-used texts of Colossians 2:11-12 and 1 Peter 3:21, which imply that baptism is for new converts to Christianity who consciously repent, which means to turn away from sin to Christ Jesus in faith, find explicit support in Acts 2:39. Although Acts 2:39 may seem to imply that baptism for infants is acceptable (“for your children,” some of whom may have been infants), in reality, baptism is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” whether adults, children, or people at the far reaches of the globe.

The earliest Church, then, used baptism as a rite of initiation for prospective converts. For a prospective convert to convert to Christianity, the apostles commanded them to evidence their claimed repentance and faith by being willing to receive baptism, to be immersed in water. Nevertheless, this rite was not a saving rite but a rite that symbolized the convert’s prior experience of regeneration. As such, the rite of baptism was reserved for converts who articulated prior faith and repentance. Despite apparent ambiguity in Acts 2:39, baptism was for non-infant converts only, whether adults, children, or foreigners: in short, baptism was for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

1 Timothy 6:3-10 Sermons

January 28, 2013 Leave a comment

In November, it was my pleasure and privilege to preach from 1 Timothy 6 at Calvary. You can listen to my sermon on 1 Timothy 6:3-5, “The Danger of a Different Doctrine,” here. You can listen to my sermon on 1 Timothy 6:6-10, “Godliness vs. Greed,” here.

Sight from Blindness

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, it was my pleasure and privilege to preach John 9 at Calvary Baptist Church in Fayette, AL. In John 9, Jesus gives sight to a man who was born blind. As if that miracle weren’t amazing enough, the physical mirror is but a physical illustration of the even greater miracle God works in people when he gives them spiritual sight, eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Today is Reformation Day, and one early reformer described the Protestant Reformation this way: “Out of darkness, light.” That is a fitting summary for this sermon, as well: God brings people out of darkness into light, but those who remain in darkness face God’s enduring wrath (cf. John 3:36). You can watch the sermon below or on Calvary’s YouTube channelSoli Deo Gloria!

Longman’s Job Reviewed

October 3, 2012 2 comments

Longman III, Tremper. Job. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Baker Academic, 2012.

Tremper Longman III has written an excellent commentary on one of my favorite books of the Bible: Job. This commentary completes the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series (in which series Longman also wrote the Proverbs volume). In his Introduction to Job, Longman helpfully avoids speculations as to the book’s composition history; his task is to interpret the book as it has come down to us. This Longman does ably and thus defends the authority and reliability of the Bible. Longman also structures Job in his Introduction into seven sections: The Prologue (1:1-2:13), Job’s Lament (3:1-26); The Debate Between Job and His Three Friends (4:1-27:23); Job’s Monologue (28:1-31:40); Elihu’s Speech (32:1-37:24); Yahweh’s Speeches and Job’s Responses (38:1-42:6); and Job’s Restoration (42:7-17).

In the commentary proper, Longman provides his own translation of Job’s text. His translation is readable but faithful to the original languages. Before commenting on individual thought units within Job’s chapters, Longman summarized that section’s message. These sections were very helpful in clarifying the progression of thought within individual chapters. Even more helpful are the Theological Implications sections at the end of each commentated section. If not giving direct application, the Theological Implication “reflective essays” at least drew out the broader implications of any given section of Job, oftentimes pointing explicitly to how the New Testament takes the principles espoused in Job and explicates them.

Despite the commentary’s excellence, however, there were a couple of points on which I disagreed with Dr. Longman. As I have written extensively in an earlier post, I believe that Longman is wrong in identifying Job’s accuser as an angel other than the fallen angel, Satan. My other primary disagreement with Longman comes later in the book of Job. In discussing Elihu’s speech of Job 32-37, I believe Longman was, at times, too harsh in his criticism of Elihu. Yes, Elihu was wrong at certain points, but even Job acknowledged that he had “uttered what [he] did not understand” (42:3). Longman never stigmatized Job for his evident shortcomings, but although Elihu is certainly not the titular character, I do not believe him to be deserving of the measure of harshness that Longman dishes out to him.

These two caveats, though, do not prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending Longman’s Job to any teacher or preacher who wants to exposit this book of the Bible. Longman was erudite but evangelical throughout the commentary; he was academic without eschewing pastoral consideration. For this he is to be commended. This is a commentary that I will readily turn to whenever I preach or teach Job. 4 out of 5 stars.

I am grateful to Baker Academic for providing me an advance review copy in return for an honest review.

The Light of the World Gives Light

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Last spring I had the joy of comparing and contrasting John 5 and 9 for my Introduction to the New Testament online class at the University of Alabama, and tomorrow night I’ll have the much greater pleasure to present Jesus as “the light of the world” to the youth who come for our weekly Bible study at Calvary Baptist Church at 6 P.M. What jumps out at me most in this chapter of John’s Gospel is how Jesus is “the light of the world” at the beginning of the chapter, and at the end of the chapter he reveals himself to be the Son of Man who opens and shuts spiritual eyes.

The Saving Light of the World

Jesus has been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (John 7:1-8:59). Jesus has spoken to crowds (7:1-36), Pharisees have tried to arrest him (7:37-52), and Jesus has declared his unique Sonship to God as opposed to his opponent’s true sonship to Satan (8:12-59). Upon Jesus’ inflammatory words at the end of John 8, the crowd listening to him picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus flees.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (9:1-7)

Jesus comes across a blind man and answers his disciples’ question in a rather surprising way. The disciples want to apportion blame for the man’s blindness. Like Job’s three “friends,” Jesus’ twelve disciples believe that physical maladies are a direct result of particular sin, of “either this man or his parents.” They understand that sin brought disease and death into the world, but they do not understand that a physical ailment is not necessarily a direct result of a person’s particular sin. Jesus, however, understands perfectly. This man has been blind from birth “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The disciples see a product of condemning sin; Jesus sees raw material for a God-glorifying miracle.

Jesus reminds his disciples that their mission, his mission, is one of restoration, not retribution. While Jesus is on earth, the disciples must join him “in working the works of him who sent me,” i.e., God the Father. And this unique work that Jesus does while he is on earth is to heal people physically in order to reveal their deeper need for spiritual healing. It is this unique work that Jesus does in giving this blind man sight for the first time in his life. Jesus does not judge the man and condemn him to continued blindness (which itself is a merciful sentence even for the man’s sinful nature irregardless of particular sins); rather, Jesus restores the man. He gives him sight!

The Blind Pharisees

The healed man’s neighbors and people who knew about his previous condition were blind to his healing. They were confused and did not know whether this man was the same man they had seen before (vv. 8-12). To settle the matter, they bring the man to the Pharisees for questioning. As in John 5, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath, and they want to catch Jesus in a sin. In questioning the healed man, the Pharisees become confused within their ranks. They resort to asking the man’s opinion of Jesus, but the man affirms that Jesus is “a prophet”–certainly an answer the Pharisees weren’t wanting (vv. 13-17)!

In desperation, the Pharisees call in the man’s parents for questioning; perhaps the crowd was right that this man hadn’t been healed at all. But the parents are so scared of the Pharisees that they tell them to go back and ask their son again (vv. 18-23).

The Pharisees at this point are desperate and exasperated. They question the healed man for a second time, but they are blind to the simple sight of the healed man: Jesus healed him, and God wouldn’t have allowed a charlatan to do so (vv. 24-34)!

The Judging Son of Man

What the healed man’s parents feared for themselves happens to their son: the Pharisees “cast him out” of the synagogue (v. 34).

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (vv. 35-41)

The blind man, for all his boldness before the Pharisees, had spoken better than he knew. He still didn’t see his deeper spiritual need. And this is why Jesus comes to him a second time. Jesus invites the blind man who can now see him to see him for who he really is: the Son of Man.

Yes, as the Son of Man, Jesus came to save (John 10), but he also came to judge. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind,” Jesus says to the healed man who now trusts Jesus for spiritual healing even as he had trusted Jesus for physical healing. But lo and behold, some Pharisees overhear and are paranoid: are they those with “sight” but who are really blind? Jesus’ answer is a resounding “Yes!” Physical sight ultimately means nothing if one does not have spiritual sight. To use an argument in line with Jesus’ teaching, it is better to enter heaven blind than to enter hell eyes wide open. Indeed, it is the spiritually blind who see their blindness and ask Jesus to heal them of it that Jesus heals. It is those who think they see and consequently spurn the salvation in Jesus Christ alone who will be judged eternally on the Last Day.

This is what strikes me so much about John 9. Jesus is the light of the world. He gives us sight despite our blindness, life despite our death, faith despite our unbelief. It is as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Praise God for the free salvation he has given us despite our sin! Praise God for the free sight he has given us despite our blindness! Praise God for the adoption he has given us despite our previous status as children of the devil and slaves of sin! Praise God! Praise God!

Who Is Job’s Accuser?

September 11, 2012 3 comments

I began reading Tremper Longman III’s commentary on Job yesterday, and I am enjoying it very much. He writes an engaging commentary, and I have profited already from his not only scholarly but also, and more importantly, Christian treatment of Job. However, there is something that Longman has proposed in his commentary that I find perhaps overly cautious and consequently inaccurate. In his introduction to Job, Longman indicates that although”many translations give the impression that ‘the accuser’ is Satan, known as ‘the devil’ in the NT, it is best to understand,” Job’s accuser not as Satan but “as a member of God’s assembly,” i.e., a non-fallen angel (52). I have agreed with the vast majority of what Longman has written thus far in what I have read of his commentary, but on this point I must respectfully differ with him. Based on biblical evidence, Job’s accuser is none other than the devil himself.

Longman’s Argument

Longman rightly notes that what the ESV translates as “Satan” (Job 1:6 and following) is, in Hebrew, “hassatan,” literally “the adversary.” However, the presence of this identifier of Job’s accuser as the adversary does not preclude “the idea it is a proper name,” as Longman argues (82). His literal translation of hassatan as “the accuser,” while technically correct, does not rule out the possibility that Job’s accuser is none other than Satan, the devil, himself.

Longman further creates a false dichotomy when he argues, “There is also a theological issue in that it would be strange in the extreme to imagine the devil as a member of the heavenly court and God as having a conversation with his enemy in heaven, not to speak of the problem of the devil convincing God to harm Job,” which God indicates Job’s accuser has done in Job 2:3 (82, 87).

Biblical Evidence Against Longman’s Arguments

The key passage that definitively identifies Satan, the devil, in particular as “the accuser” in general is Revelation 12:1-12, which reads:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Despite the difficulties in interpreting Revelation, three truths relevant to identifying Job’s accuser are clear from this passage:

  1. Satan is “the accuser” of God’s people (v. 10).
  2. Before his permanent expulsion from heaven, Satan “accuses them day and night before our God” (v. 10).
  3. Satan’s final expulsion from heaven occurs sometime after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.

Together these three truths undermine Longman’s insistence that Satan cannot possibly be Job’s accuser because it is “strange in the extreme to imagine the devil as a member of the heavenly court.” Yes, at the time of Job Satan is a fallen angel and not strictly “a member of the heavenly court,” but since the events of Job occur before Christ’s ascension, the earliest possible time at which Satan was permanently expelled from heaven, it is not impossible that Satan is Job’s accuser. When Job was alive, Satan still had access to the heavenly court although he was not a member of it!

Furthermore, “the problem of the devil convincing God to harm Job” is not a problem. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul acknowledges that God “tests our hearts.” Although God “tempts no one,” it is certainly within his rights to test his followers (James 1:13). Indeed, David in Psalm 17:3 addresses God: “You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.” In another event concerning David, there is an interesting and otherwise unexplained relationship among God, Satan, and a human:

Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Sam. 24:1)

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chr. 21:1.

Which account is right? Both. God did not tempt David to sin. He allowed Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of Israel. Joseph provides a helpful perspective for understanding the relationship between God and Satan concerning sin: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it [evil] for good” (Gen. 50:20). What Satan, through Joseph’s brothers, meant for evil, God meant for good. He saved his people from extinction at the hands of a seven-year famine. What Satan meant, in inciting David to sin, God meant for good. God’s anger was justly against the Israelites for their sin (for which sins the Bible does not tell us), and God allowed David’s sin so that his people would seek him and build the temple under the leadership of David’s son, King Solomon (1 Chr. 21:17-19). There is no problem in “the devil convincing God to harm Job.” Inferring from the above evidence, this undoubtedly happened on numerous occasions.

Biblical Evidence That Satan Was Job’s Accuser

Just as Revelation 12:1-12 (especially v. 10) serves as evidence against Longman’s argument, it also serves as evidence that Satan was, in fact, Job’s accuser in Job 1-2. In Revelation 12:10, John identifies Satan as “the accuser of our brothers … day and night before our God,” which means that Satan accuses God’s people to God. In Job 1-2, Satan accuses Job, one of God’s people, to God.

Job is certainly one of God’s people. The author takes pains to present Job as one of God’s people. Job is “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). Longman rightly notes that this language presents Job as a righteous wise man in Proverbial terms (79). Furthermore, Job served as the priest of his family, much like Noah (1:5; see Gen. 8:20). In addition to hinting that Job lived probably sometime before Abraham, this paints Job in the light of later Jewish priests who interceded to God on behalf of others. Indeed, at the end of the book, Job prays over burnt offerings on behalf of his three friends, against whom God’s anger burns for not speaking of him rightly (Job 42:7-9). Since the Bible presents Job as a follower of God, and Satan accuses God’s followers to God, Satan is Job’s accuser.

Again, it is important to note that Satan accuses God’s people to God. And since God rules from heaven, these accusations must take place in heaven, in God’s presence. As noted above, the book of Job does not present Satan as one of “the sons of God”; rather, the book of Job distinguishes Satan from the sons of God. And it is as this adversary, as one who seeks to defame God’s people in a desperate attempt to defame their God, who accuses God’s people to him.

Job’s Accuser and Our Accuser

Why does it matter if Satan is Job’s accuser? What does it matter if a fallen angel or a non-fallen angel accuses God’s people to God? The identity of Job’s accuser matters not only because truth matters but also because Job’s accuser is our accuser. This is the import of Revelation 12:10. Job’s accuser is our accuser.

But this is our hope: one day, before Satan inflicts his “great wrath” on the earth, “a loud voice in heaven” will proclaim the glorious news that Satan has been conquered “by the blood of the Lamb” and by “the word of” his people’s “testimony”! Already the Christian is spiritually free from the Satan’s control because of Christ’s triumph over him at the cross, but one day all Christians’ war against Satan and his demonic hordes will finally cease because Christ himself will throw Satan “into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

In addition to the comfort of knowing that Satan will be finally cast out and punished forever, but we Christians have comfort now. Our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus “is at the right hand of God” even now, “interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). Even though Satan may accuse us (perhaps rightly so, unlike in Job’s case![1]), Jesus is already at God’s right hand ready to intercede on our behalf (Heb. 7:25; 9:24).

May we strive as God’s children not to give Satan a reason to accuse us to our Father, and may we take to heart not only that when we sin we have an Advocate for us but also that if we confess sin to God he will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).


[1] Although Job, like everyone, is born a sinner and sins by choice, God insists that Satan “incited me to destroy him without reason” (Job 2:3). It is not that Job is utterly without sin; rather, Satan had attacked Job’s motives for following God, which were above reproach. To put it another way, had Satan brought a specific unrepentant sin before God, God could have afflicted Job for that reason. As it was, Satan attacked Job’s motives in serving God, which God knew to be without sin (see Job 1:22; 2:9). Therefore God is able to say that Satan sought to destroy Job “without reason.”

Exploring the Unexplained by Trent Butler

September 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Exploring the Unexplained: A Practical Guide to the Peculiar People, Places, and Things in the Bible. Trent Butler. Thomas Nelson: 2012. 288 pp. $14.99. Paperback.

Trent Butler is the author of numerous Bible commentaries. He has written commentaries on Joshua (rev. ed. 2012) and Judges (2008) for the Word Biblical Commentary series. He also wrote commentaries on Isaiah, the first six Minor Prophets, and Luke for the Holman Old and New Testament Commentaries series. As such, my expectation for this book, before perusing it, was high. And if I review this book on its own terms, it exceeded expectations.

This book is not just “a practical guide”; properly speaking, it is a dictionary, a dictionary of “the peculiar people, places, and things in the Bible.” Consequently, Butler “skips over the people, places, and things you already know about, and focuses on the things you that you might not understand and sometimes avoid” (9). This Butler does exceedingly well. Particularly in his entry on the Nephilim of Genesis 6, Butler was exceedingly helpful to me:

Children of humans and angels, they appeared on earth when the sons of God, which refers here to fallen angels, gave in to their desire for the daughters of men. … In the New Testament, Nephilim become fallen, sinful angels put in prison by God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). (196-197)

While it is the opinion of this reviewer that “are described as” would be a better phrasing than “become” in the preceding definition, I found this entry and many others to be insightful and illuminating.

By contrast, less helpful to me is the section at the end of each entry entitled “Issue.” As Butler explains, this section’s purpose is fulfilled when his dictionary is used in the following way:

Assign a page of the dictionary to each individual, pair of people, or team. Give them time to read the page and select the term whose “issue” they are most interested in discussing. Let each individual or group lead the participants in a discussion of the issue raised and how that issue applies to their specific location and culture today. (9)

Admittedly, I have not used the book in this manner, but as I read over the issues, some seemed either highly irrelevant to the preceding entry or a mundane topic of discussion. For example, the issue coupled with Yahweh-Tsidkenu (meaning, “Yahweh is our righteousness”) is this: “Do you have a favorite name for our God? In what ways do you use that name?” (156).

This minor reservation aside, this is a book I know I will use in the months and years to come. I am sure it will be a great trove of sources for future Bible Jeopardy questions I pose to the youth during game nights, and I know that this book, in pointing me out “the peculiar people, places, and things” of the Bible, will deepen my knowledge and wonder at God’s Word whenever I return to it.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing me a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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