Tag Archives: Jon Mitchell

Lessons From The Conversions Of The Samaritans And John’s Disciples — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: May/June, 2019)

Seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” were set before the apostles by the assembly of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. Out of the thousands of followers in the holy city, these seven were set apart to be put over the “duty” of “serving tables,” making sure that no Hellenistic widows “were being neglected in the daily distribution” of food. After prayer, the apostles “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6). Considered by many today to be during this infancy stage of the church the prototypes for the deacons who would later come, these seven men were instrumental in helping keep peace in the first church of Christ in the history of Christianity as it faced its first internal problem on scriptural record.

Two of these seven men were Stephen and Philip. Stephen would immediately be cited by Luke as the first disciple outside of the apostles who “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (v. 8). By the end of chapter 7, he would meet a violent end at the hands of the enemies of Christ for his preaching of the gospel, including a man named Saul of Tarsus who held his murderer’s coats and went on to “ravage” the church, dragging male and female followers of Christ from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). Stephen’s martyrdom prompted “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 2). And yet…the gospel was not silenced. The disciples fleeing persecution still “went about preaching the word” (v. 4). Philip was among them.

He “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (v. 5). His preaching received great attention from the Samaritan crowds as they heard him “and saw the signs that he did,” such as the exorcism of unclean spirits and the healing of the paralyzed and lame (v. 7).

Luke then informs us of Simon, a known magician in that area whom the people likened to the power of God and had a great following due to amazing the crowds with his magic (vs. 9-11). Yet in spite of his former fame, the Samaritans “believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and “were baptized, both men and women” (v. 12). Simon himself believed and was baptized, afterwards continuing on with Philip and being amazed as he saw “signs and great miracles performed” (v. 13).

When the apostles in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God,” Peter and John made the journey there and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 14-15). The reason they did this as stated by Luke was this: “For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16). As they had done with Philip, Stephen, and the rest of the seven earlier in chapter 6, these two apostles “laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This prompted Simon the magician, upon observing that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands,” to offer them money with the plea, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 18-19). This prompted Peter to rebuke him for thinking he “could obtain the gift of God with money” (v. 20). He indicted Simon’s heart as not being “right before God,” and urged him to repent and pray that God would possibly forgive the intent of his heart (vs. 21-23). Simon in turned asked Peter to pray for him (v. 24).

There are several points worthy of note in Luke’s account of the Samaritans’ conversions. Perhaps most relevant to the Christian is Peter’s directive to Simon to repent and pray that God would forgive him of his sin (v. 22). Simon’s earlier conversion was spoken of as genuine (v. 13). Thus, we learn that a saved soul can in fact still sin in such a way as to be in danger of condemnation (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10; Heb. 10:26-31). Yet, we also learn that God’s forgiveness is still readily available to the Christian who sins if they continually repent and pray for forgiveness (v. 22; cf. 1 John 1:7-9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).

The Samaritans’ conversions also teach us something important about miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit. The apostles had made the trip to Samaria after hearing of the Samaritans’ baptisms for the specific purpose of praying for them and laying their hands on them in order for them to receive the Spirit (vs. 14-17). Simon himself saw that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (vs. 18-19). This is significant because it teaches us how some early Christians were given miraculous spiritual gifts.

I call your attention back to Stephen, Philip, and the rest of the seven chosen from the Jerusalem church to be over the feeding of the widows (Acts 6:1-6). In order to be chosen for this work, they had to have already been “full of the Spirit” (vs. 3, 5a). This had occurred when they had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38), a promise made to all whom God would call through the gospel (Acts 2:39; 5:32; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14). Yet notice that there is no mention of them — or anyone else other than the apostles — performing any miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands upon them (v. 6). Only then do we read of disciples other than the apostles performing miracles, particularly Stephen (v. 8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7). The rest of the New Testament teaches this also (cf. Acts 19:6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6). Interestingly, the description of the Spirit “falling” upon people as is mentioned in the case of the Samaritans (8:16) is used in Scripture only in reference to people receiving miraculous power (10:44-46; 11:15; cf. 2:1-4). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that while the Samaritans upon their baptism had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised in Acts 2:38-39, the Spirit had not yet “fallen” upon them resulting in giving them miraculous gifts and would not do so until the apostles had laid their hands upon them (Acts 8:14-17).

This is relevant to answering the question of whether miracles take place today. Paul had prophesied that the miraculous spiritual gifts he had described to Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-11) would cease “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). “Perfect” (teleios) refers to that which is complete or mature and is used elsewhere to refer to the New Testament (Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:25). Historically, within a few years of the New Testament’s completion all of the apostles, as well as all those on whom they laid their hands and gave miraculous spiritual gifts, were deceased. Thus, no human being has been given miraculous power from God today. Such has been the case for almost two thousand years.

One final lesson of importance can be learned from the Samaritans’ conversion, but to fully grasp it would do us good to first examine another conversion in Acts: that of John’s twelve disciples (Acts 19:1-7). By this time Saul of Tarsus had been converted to Christianity and had become the apostle Paul. During his missionary travels, he found some disciple in Ephesus (v. 1). These disciples informed Paul that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), prompting him to ask about their baptism (v. 3; cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). They informed him that they had been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v. 3). Apparently they, like Apollos during this same time period (Acts 18:25), were only familiar with the baptism of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. And just as Aquila and Priscilla had taken Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” concerning baptism (Acts 18:26), Paul likewise taught them the difference between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus before baptizing them in Jesus’ name and bestowing upon them miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of his hands (19:4-6).

There is much this episode can teach us about baptism (literally immersion in the Greek). For one, there were similarities and yet also distinct differences between John’s immersion and the immersion in the name of Christ commanded after Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were correlated with repentance (Acts 19:4; Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were done in water (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39). Yet John’s immersion was commanded by him during the time before Christ died, whereas the immersion in the name of Christ is baptism “into His death” (Rom. 6:3), thus making John’s baptism not able to meet that spiritual goal since it was commanded before Christ died.

This brings to mind the fact that immersion in Jesus’ name — the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 — is done for more reasons than just the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Remember, John’s baptism was also for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), yet Paul still considered it lacking and thus “re-baptized” those twelve men. Since many ask the often legitimate question of “Should I be baptized again?”, it would be good to review all the purposes given in scripture for baptism in Jesus’ name.

In addition to forgiveness of sins, the purpose of baptism in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38) is to bring one into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A study of the Greek terminology used in Matthew 28:19 shows this to be the literal meaning of the phrase “in the name of” used in that passage. Obtaining salvation is another purpose of the one baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), one synonymous with forgiveness. Being born again, “of water and the Spirit,” is another purpose of the one baptism in Jesus’ name (John 3:3-5; cf. Acts 2:38; Tit. 3:5).   Participating in the spiritual circumcision as a sign one is part of God’s chosen people in the new covenant is another purpose of the one baptism (Col. 2:11-13; cf. Rom. 2:28-29; James 1:1; Gal. 6:16).

Alluded to earlier, being baptized into Christ and thus into His death via burial in baptism to rise to a new life, causing one to be “clothed” with Christ, is another purpose of the one baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27). Further examination must be given to what it means to be baptized “into Christ” because it gives us the next scriptural purpose of baptism, which is to be baptized into His body (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is called Christ’s body which fills Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Paul goes on to refer to that body as “one body” (Eph. 4:4) before identifying it again as the church of which Jesus is the Savior (Eph. 5:23). Thus, to be baptized “into Christ” means to be baptized “into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)…Christ’s body, His church which fills Him, of which there is only one.

This brings us back to the Samaritans’ baptism as we read that they had first believed the “good news about the kingdom of God” before being baptized (Acts 8:12).   God’s kingdom was prophesied to come during the lifetimes of Jesus’ disciples (Dan. 2:44; Mk. 9:1). When asked about the kingdom, Christ pointed towards the establishment of His church on Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-47). After Pentecost, it was always spoken of as presently existing, with Christians as its inhabitants (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:6, 9). Thus, Christ’s church — His body, the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13) — is the kingdom of God. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His body, His one church, His kingdom.

Paul’s conversion of the twelve disciples of John teaches us much about baptism in Jesus’ name. The Samaritans’ conversion also teaches us about the one baptism, as well as miraculous spiritual gifts and God’s directives on how Christians who sin can still be forgiven. It is my prayer that our study of these conversions, as well as this issue’s study of the conversions in Acts overall, has strengthened your faith and encouraged you to bring the gospel to others.

— Jon

Passing Children Through Fire: My Thoughts on Abortion — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: March/April, 2019)

In the days preceding the writing of this editorial, the New York state assembly with a vote of 92-47 and the state senate with a vote of 38-24 passed a bill that permits late-term abortions to be available to women essentially on demand up to the point of birth. The paradoxically-named Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion, also decriminalized abortion, moving it from New York’s criminal code to the public-health code.

In the days following this atrocity, the state of Virginia tried and so far have failed to make into a law a bill that would have reduced the number of doctors required to sign off on killing the infant and expanded the number of excuses for why a mother could choose at the last minute to ask for an abortion. Kathy Tran, the Virginia state delegate who proposed the bill, explained on video how her bill would allow a fully developed baby to be killed even during labor. Virginia governor Ralph Northam defended the legislation in ways that made it sound like he believed a viable infant could be fully delivered before the doctor and mother decided whether it should be permitted to live.

In the interest of balance, it must be acknowledged that some lawmakers in Tennessee at the time of this writing support legislation to ban abortion once a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Some legislators in Iowa are currently trying to amend Iowa’s constitution to state that the state “does not secure or protect a right to abortion.” Virginia delegate Tran now says she misspoke and has acknowledged that her description of the law would have gone against anti-infanticide laws. It’s also true that the number of women who will bring a baby fully to term only to then kill it during the 40th week is very small.

However, it is only small in comparison to the total number of abortions in the United States. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), 926,000 abortions took place and 1.3 percent — roughly 12,000 — of those were after the 20th week. Guttmacher also reported in 2013 that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” There are currently movements in several states to make abortion legal past the point where the baby could live independent of its mother. According to Tennessee State Representative Sheila K. Butt, eight states now allow abortion at any stage. The United States is currently one of only seven countries worldwide that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks. According to National Review, it’s “unclear how many countries allow abortion at 40 weeks, mid-delivery, but it’s possible that the U.S. and North Korea would be the only members of that club.”

Abortions are legal and widely practiced in America, and our God is very angry about it. I say this because God is our Creator. He formed us while were in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16; Job 31:15). He did not “knit” together a mere chemical activity, cellular growth, or other vague force like pro-abortionists claim the fetus to be. The Hebrew for the “unformed substance” in Psalm 139:16 that God saw has to do with the embryonic state, the first eight weeks after conception. Thus, God knows — and cares — for the infant in the womb long before the mother can even feel life within her. He formed us in the womb, human beings in His own image. Jehovah was and is personally involved in our development while we were inside our mothers. Do you think He is pleased when we go out of our way to destroy the work which He made and for which He cares?

Exodus 21:22-25 gives the answer to that question. God decreed that if a man harmed a pregnant woman who later gave birth and it was proven that any harm came to that unborn child due to the man harming her, that man would pay back wound for wound that was inflicted upon the unborn child. If the unborn baby had died while in the womb and was delivered as a stillborn, that man would pay with his life! “Life for life…” How could God say that if life doesn’t begin until birth like abortion proponents claim? There is life in the womb, before birth. Any taking of that life is an abomination before God. Babies, both while in the womb (Rom. 9:10-13) and after birth (Ezek. 18:1-20), are innocent, and God hates hands “which shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:17).

Thus, the mass killing of innocent life in our nation today which takes place through abortion is an irreverent assault on the unique work which God performs. He hates it not only because it destroys the work of His hands and the life which He gives, but also because of how it destroys that life.

Imagine a vacuum tube with a sharp blade attached to it, sucking the child from the womb and dicing it up into several pieces. Imagine a loop-shaped steel knife which slices the placenta from the walls of the uterus and cuts the baby’s tiny body into pieces. Imagine an instrument very comparable to sharp-toothed plyers, dismembering the baby part by part until all parts are removed from the womb. Imagine a long needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the infants sac where it would inject a solution of concentrated salt which the infant would then breathe in and be poisoned by it as the corrosive effects of the salt burns off the outer layer of the baby’s skin.

How hypocritical is it to find people guilty of crimes for killing infants in gruesome ways outside of the womb…but not if they had hired “doctors” to do pretty much the same thing to those same babies earlier while inside the womb! As we see the video of the applause and smiles on the faces of the New York legislators as they legalize these abominations and as we hear the passionate defense of these murders by women to whom God gave the ability to cherish rather than destroy the lives within them, let us be reminded of Isaiah’s inspired condemnation: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Is. 5:20-21)

Reader, are you outraged by what you just read? Are you sickened? Are you unhappy that you just read of such monstrous acts? I apologize for your unhappiness, but I made the decision to write so plainly about what happens in abortion procedures because so many of us have not truly been told about what happens to a baby when it is aborted. If we are told, it is usually in a way that is extremely edited for content in order not to disgust. This is understandable and necessary in many contexts, but it also results in too many of us looking at the abortions of today in the same way in which we look at the Holocaust of the Jews in the previous century: as a mildly unpleasant historical fact from which we are far removed. If abortion is to stop in this country and in the world, that needs to change. We must hate abortion just as God hates it, and for the same reasons.

What also helps us hate the atrocious deed of abortion like God hates it is when we understand why it happens. James gives us one reason when he said, “You desire and do not have, so you murder…” (James 4:2). What do parents of aborted babies desire that would lead them to murder their children? More financial security? More leisure? More education? More unrestrained sexual activity? More career options? Avoiding a child who may be handicapped? Less hassle for the next 18-25 years?

The statistics imply this. According to the Guttmacher Institute only 0.5% of abortions were done on victims of rape in 2004. 3% were done because of fetal health problems, 4% because of physical health problems, 4% because it “would interfere with education or career,” 7% because of “not mature enough to raise a child,” 8% because the reason “don’t want to be a single mother,” 19% because of “done having children,” 23% due to “can’t afford a baby,” 25% because of “not ready for a child,” and 6% because of “other” reasons. In Florida alone in 2015, .001% of abortions were done to pregnancies from an incestuous relationship and .085% of abortions were done to women who were raped. .065% of abortions were done because the woman’s life was endangered by the pregnancy, 288% because the woman’s physical health was threatened by the pregnancy, .294% because the woman’s psychological health was threatened by the pregnancy, .666% due to a serious fetal abnormality, 6.268% due to social or economic reasons, and 92.330% for “no reason (elective).”

What keeps coming back to my mind is the option of adoption. Statistically, the necessity to take the life of one’s child in the womb in order to necessarily save your own life is so minute, and even then the choice would still be there to put the child’s life before one’s own out of love (John 15:13; Rom. 5:7-8; Eph. 5:2; John 10:11). Adoption is an option for all other cases, including the statistically rare cases of rape and incest in which a mother would understandably not want to keep the child of the monster who had violated her. Since God has provided this clear way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), why is it not used? The only reason left in my mind revolves around what James condemned.

All of us desire things and have goals, but may we work hard to never be so self-absorbed and covetous that we miss out on — or even purposefully kill — the most important things in life (Heb. 13:5)! When we love the world rather than God (1 John 2:15-17), we follow Satan rather than resisting him (Eph. 2:1-3; James 4:7). So let us work to have a heart that deeply submits to God, a heart which reverences His word and works above all worldly self-enhancement (James 4:6). This will help us look at things differently, react differently, want different things, and hate different things…the same things which God wants and which God hates (Rom. 12:1-2).

The only way this righteous change will come to the hearts and minds of the majority of our society is when Christians care as much (no, I say even more) about the souls of the lost surrounding them every day as they do about the lives of the unborn. The actions of politicians who legalize monstrous deeds take place only because they know enough of the electorate either agree with them or are apathetic about what they do. Thus, Christians should not focus more on working to achieve political gains against abortion than we do on evangelistic gains against all sin by converting more souls to be completely committed to Jesus. Should we be silent about abortion? Of course not, but realize that real progress will be made against the evil of abortion only when we talk even more passionately to even more people about the gospel of Jesus Christ than we do about politics and abortion, and prayerfully and continually use the gospel to change their hearts and minds into Christ’s image. Only then will we be rid of the great evil of the murder of millions of children…when our society sees it as God sees it because of the influence of the gospel!

— Jon

Soul-Winning For Jesus: Producing Repentance — Jon Mitchell

Have you ever wondered why David, “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14), never showed any sign of remorse over committing adultery with Bathsheba and his attempted deception and ultimate murder of her husband (2 Sam. 11)? After all, it was David’s faith that motivated him to face the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17), and it was his love for God and compassion for others that kept him from killing Saul, his enemy, when he had the chance (1 Sam. 24, 26). This same man would later showed kindness to the crippled grandson of his slain enemy (2 Sam. 9), and yet a short time after that he would give in to his lustful temptations and sleep with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers, all while giving no sign of feeling guilty about his sins.

Yet, this all changed – apparently in an abrupt manner – when the prophet Nathan called him out on the carpet for his sins with the forceful accusation, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-15). One minute David, blind to the fact that Nathan’s story of the rich man who killed the poor man’s one prized lamb related to his own sin, was indignant over the perceived sins of others. The next minute, after being indicted for his adultery, deception, enticements to drunkenness (cf. Hab. 2:15), and murder, David was confessing his sin against God with the greatest of sorrow and remorse (Ps. 51:1-15). What brought the penitent change of heart?

First, Nathan forcefully brought David’s sins to his attention by directly attributing the sinful actions of the rich man in the parable to the king himself while also warning him of the consequences of his wrongdoing (2 Sam. 12:1-7a, 9-12). Too often, we see others commit sin and naively hope that they will repent without us having to inconvenience ourselves with the potential awkwardness of rebuking and warning them. This shows within us a lack of spirituality (Gal. 6:1) and concern for the well-being of their souls and our own (James 5:19-20; Ezek. 3:17-21). Repentance – and forgiveness itself – will never come without a direct acknowledgement of the wrong done (1 John 1:9) and fear of God’s wrathful punishment (Rom. 2:4-11; Heb. 12:28-29). If we want to bring about a change of heart within the sinner, we must rebuke and warn them lovingly and truthfully (Eph. 4:15; Acts 2:36-37), humbly and gently rather than argumentatively (2 Tim. 2:24-26), and yet sharply if need be (Tit. 1:13). We must also never forget that we ourselves will never truly repent of ourselves without first acknowledging our wrongs with honest and open hearts (Luke 8:15) while having that godly fear (2 Cor. 5:11).

Secondly, Nathan reminded David of God’s great love for him by listing all the blessings the Creator had bestowed upon the king (2 Sam. 12:7b-8). In Steven Spielberg’s epic World War II drama Saving Private Ryan, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is saved from death by the sacrifice of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and most of his platoon. Decades later, an elderly Ryan looks down at Miller’s grave at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and tearfully confesses that he’s tried to live his life the best he could in order to atone for Miller giving his life for his. Many veterans whose friends have died in battle to save them feel the same way. Yet God gave a much greater sacrifice when he gave his Son up to die a horrendous death on a cross to save us, wretched sinners who were his enemies rather than friends (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-11). Add to this all the wonderful blessings that God gives to us on a daily basis (Matt. 5:45; Jas. 1:17), just as he did with David. When we remember all that God does for us with unselfish and humble hearts, we will be motivated to detest the sin that offends our Savior and repent.

This is true because our humble and honest remembrance of God’s great love, mercy, and numerous blessings on our behalf will bring about godly sorrow, which leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-10). In Spielberg’s movie, the older Ryan breaks down in tears as he approaches Captain Miller’s grave, no doubt due to remembering the great sacrifice that man and others made for him. Likewise, the psalm David wrote after Nathan rebuked him for his sins is filled with remorse and anguish as he remembers the salvation God offers to him (Ps. 51:8, 12, 14). Unlike worldly grief, which leads to spiritual death in hell (2 Cor. 7:10b; cf. Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8) and is selfishly based only on sorrow over the punishment one receives here on earth for one’s sins, godly grief is based on anguish that one committed the sin in the first place due to the great offense it gives to our Savior and King. Only this will truly lead us to repent and thus be saved (2 Cor. 7:10). Do we grieve over our sins, and if so, what kind of sorrow is it? We should examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) so we will know if we need godly sorrow in our lives.

Furthermore, godly sorrow will motivate one to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; cf. Acts 26:20). The thief who has worldly sorrow only over the fact that he got caught and is now being punished will steal again at the first opportunity. However, the thief who has godly sorrow over the fact that he stole in the first place because it grieved his Creator and Savior will now detest the very idea of stealing and thus be motivated to never do it again. As a result of the repentance brought on by their godly sorrow, the Corinthians became very diligent in their strong desire to fearfully and zealously serve God and clear themselves of the guilt of their sins which they now indignantly detested (2 Cor. 7:10-11). Likewise, we never read of David committing adultery or murder again after his repentance over his wrongdoing with Bathsheba and Uriah. In other words, their actions proved that they had truly repented. When we commit to repentance, do our actions prove it? Or are we deceiving ourselves?

Too many in the church today have no idea what true repentance means, or how it is produced. This contributes to the lack of true conversion to Christ among many, the lack of zealous commitment to his cause among more, and the growing immorality and apostasy within the brotherhood. We must go out of our way to teach potential converts the true meaning of repentance and how it is produced before we baptize them, while reminding new converts and ourselves of how true repentance is manifested within our lives. With God’s help, doing so will have a highly positive impact on our own spiritual well-being and that of the church overall.

Jon preaches for the Calhoun Church of Christ in Calhoun, GA. He is the editor of the Carolina Messenger.

Correctly Interpreting The Bible: Authority and the Testaments — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: January/February, 2019)

The editorial in the last issue started a study on whether it is possible to correctly interpret the Bible. It examined the necessity of doing so (Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:9; 2 Tim. 2:15), the false notion that truth is not absolute, the need to heed the entirety of God’s Word (Ps. 119:160), and the benefits of researching the definitions of biblical terms in the original languages when necessary.

We will now continue our study by examining the concept of biblical authority. Jesus was asked about the authority He had to teach His doctrine (Matt. 21:23), a legitimate question even if it was asked with illegitimate motives by the religious leaders. It’s a legitimate question because God tells us to have divine authority in everything we do and say (Col. 3:17). Thus, biblical authority is very important to properly interpreting Scripture. Authority is a foundational precept of Christianity, for without it we have no basis for anything we believe, teach, or practice individually or congregationally.

For example, consider the basic fundamental trait of Christianity which is prayer. We all know Christians pray…but how do we know to whom to pray, for what to pray, or even to pray in the first place? Ultimately, we know to pray (Col. 4:2) to God the Father (Matt. 6:9) about numerous topics (Matt. 6:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; etc.) because God’s Word tells us to do so. If not for the Spirit-inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:19-21), we wouldn’t know how to pray or even to pray to begin with (Rom. 8:26). Thus, we get our authority to pray from God’s Word.

In fact, every divinely pleasing thing we do as Christians is done by authority which comes from Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Paul said that Scripture equips us for “EVERY good work.” That means if there is a work out there which we don’t need Scripture to give us authority to do in some way, it is not a good work as far as God is concerned. Sure, we might think it a good work…but God’s thoughts aren’t ours (Is. 55:8-9; Prov. 14:12). So again the need for biblical authority is apparent.

Yet how do we get that authority? Studying Scripture reveals three ways in which God’s Word gives authority. The first would be through a command, a direct statement of something which can or cannot be done (e.g., John 13:34; Acts 2:38; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 4:3).

Sometimes biblical commands are general in nature, not limited in scope, area, or application. For example, the command to “go” (Matt. 28:19) is general nature and would authorize all methods of transportation in our efforts to evangelize since God did not specify just how we are to “go.”

On the other hand, sometimes biblical commands are specific in nature, like when God specified gopher wood as the type of wood Noah was to use while building the ark (Gen. 6:14). For this reason Noah would have disobeyed God by using pine wood.

In like manner, a specific command may itself have a degree of general authority which would open up the use of aids not specifically mentioned in the command but which nonetheless are suitable for carrying out that which is authorized. For example, peruse the instructions God gave to Noah about the construction of the ark and you will see more examples of how specific God was in His requirements (Gen. 6:14-16). However, you will find no mention of God telling Noah to use tools such as hammers, nails, saws, etc. Yet, we know that the ark was not built miraculously in that it took decades to build it (Gen. 6:3). Thus, Noah must have used construction tools to build it, tools which God did not mention in His instructions. Did Noah go beyond what God had authorized? No, because when all was said and done Scripture says twice that Noah “did all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5).

The second way God’s Word gives authority is through approved examples. The divinely inspired Paul taught not only through command, but also by example (Phil. 4:9). In fact, he encouraged others to imitate him and follow his apostolic example (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:1), something which the early church did with all the apostles (Acts 2:42; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9). They did so with good reason, considering that the apostles were inspired by the Spirit of God (Eph. 3:3-5). So when we have an example in Scripture which meets with apostolic approval, we know there is authority for the practice. To illustrate, we meet on the first day of each week to partake of communion because of the example set by the early church with the apostles’ approval (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The third way God’s Word gives authority is through necessary implications. These are neither explicitly stated nor specifically exemplified, but rather are necessarily implied by the clear meaning of the language used by the inspired writers, so much so that one could only logically draw a particular conclusion. Jesus made a necessary implication in His teaching of the existence of the resurrection of the dead to the unbelieving Sadducees (Matt. 22:31). He quoted what God said to Moses at Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:6) about currently being the God of Jewish patriarches who at the time were centuries in their grave (“I AM the God of Abraham…Isaac, and…Jacob”) to necessarily imply that God is not “God of the dead, but of the living,” i.e., that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still existed after their deaths.

We do the same thing, probably without realizing it. For example, we cite John 3:16 as biblical proof that God gave His only begotten Son because He loves all of humanity. Yet the verse doesn’t actually say that. It actually says, “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son…” We necessarily infer that “the world” refers to the entire human population rather than the physical planet because of what is specifically stated in other passages (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). In like manner, students of the New Testament know that there is no specific command which states, “Thou shalt not punch thy wife in the face.” However, none of us would say that spousal abuse is therefore permitted in the New Testament. Why? Because of the necessary implications we make from certain passages (Matt. 7:12; Eph. 5:28-29).

A study on authority and its relationship to correct biblical interpretation would not be complete without examining the differences between the Old and New Testaments (covenants). Unlike the new covenant whose laws apply to everyone (Matt. 28:18), the old covenant applied only to Israel (Deut. 5:1-3), serving as a “guardian” to Israel until Christ came (Gal. 3:24), after which its laws would not longer be applicable (Gal. 3:25; Rom. 7:1-6). Those attempting to obey some of its commands would be obliged to obey them all, and would fall from grace (Gal. 5:3-4). Yet it still has value to the Christian (Rom. 15:4) by instructing us about God (cf. Ps. 19:1; 23) and His interactions with man (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-11).

However, correct biblical interpretation requires recognition that its laws given to Israel which regulated their theology, worship, eating habits, holy days, etc., do not apply to Christians today unless we read of those same regulations within the new covenant. For example, all ten of the commandments given at Mount Sinai are also found in the New Testament except for the one concerning the Sabbath Day. Both Testaments command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:9). Other examples could be cited.

Yet, while we read of Israel worshiping God through animal sacrifices and instrumental music in the Old Testament (Lev. 1; 2 Chr. 29:25-30), we do not read of Christians commanded to worship in the same ways in the New Testament. Rather, Christians are told that Christ is their sacrifice (Heb. 9:26). We are told to sing praises to God while “plucking the instrument” (the literal definition of the Greek word translated “making melody”) of their heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

Interpreting the Bible correctly requires constant study (Ps. 1:2; 1 Tim. 4:13, 15-16). Proper understanding doesn’t come overnight; in fact, continual study will always be required if for no other reason than we will forget some of what we’ve learned (2 Pet. 3:1-2). These two editorials provide only a generalized overview, but it is my hope that they can serve as a good starting point in our efforts to no longer be spiritual children “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14; cf. Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1-2).

— Jon

Is It Possible To Correctly Interpret The Bible? — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: November/December, 2018)

The above question is relevant for many reasons. After all, how one interprets the Bible — more specifically, whether one does so correctly — determines whether one actually obeys the commands and principles within Scripture. That in turn has a direct bearing on one’s salvation (Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:9; 1 John 3:4; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). Since we are commanded to accurately handle Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), then doing so is possible and necessary.

Some believe truth is relative rather than absolute, a notion proven to be erroneous when one thinks about it honestly (cf. Lk. 8:15). The inconsistency of this proposition is shown by simply responding to the person who confidently asserts, “There is no absolute truth,” with the question, “Are you absolutely sure about that?” Still, many believe this misguided notion. A popular rock band from my youth wrote a song which opined, “This is not a black and white world/To be alive, I say that the colors must swirl/And I believe that maybe today/We will all get to appreciate/The beauty of gray.” This post-modernistic idea — the beauty of gray, no black and whites, no absolute truth — is very popular in our society for good reason. After all, the absence of absolute truth results in the absence of an absolute standard of right and wrong…so who are you to tell me if I am wrong for doing whatever it is I want to do?

Hypothetically, anyone could commit adultery with your spouse, murder your child, steal your money, and burn down your house and if you have a problem with that…well, that’s just YOUR definition of truth. The one who did these things would say, “MY definition of truth says it’s okay for do those things. Truth is relative, so we’re both right. Therefore, I will continue to do these things to you, and who are you to do tell me I’m wrong?” This mindset is both ludicrous and also extremely dangerous because chaos is its natural result (Judg. 21:25).

This mindset is even more dangerous when we see that it would make it impossible to correctly interpret Scripture. In a post-modernistic mind every word in the Bible would be subjective, open to multiple interpretations of which all are valid. You believe John 3:16 teaches God gave His Son because He loves the world? Fine, that’s YOUR interpretation. MY interpretation is that God sent Jesus because He did NOT love the world. Truth is relative, so we’re both right and who are you to tell me I’m wrong? Yet to the one who knows about and accepts the existence of absolute truth, a simple reading of John 3:16 shows the above mindset to be absurd because the passage very clearly states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Believe that statement to be absolutely true, and you clearly see the error of any other interpretation.

The existence of the post-modernistic worldview does not mean it is impossible to correctly interpret the Bible. Indeed, those who recognize the existence of absolute truth will find it easier to correctly interpret God’s Word because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). When one has already accepted the existence of absolute truth and then accepts that God’s Word is truth, one is well on their way towards correctly interpreting Scripture.

Yet even then it could still be possible to misinterpret Scripture. One could looks at parts of the Bible to be absolutely true while failing to realize that the entirety of Scripture is truth (Ps. 119:160). This fallacy of thought has led some to dismiss parts of Scripture as myth and other parts of the Bible as not applicable to us today. Yet Scripture says that every word of God is “tested” (Prov. 30:5), meaning both that every word in the Bible has proven to be true (John 17:17) and that it has a reason to be in Scripture, namely to guide us to eternal life and godliness and make us complete and thoroughly equipped for every work God deems good (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Thus, one continues to be on their way to correctly interpreting Scripture by recognizing all of Genesis through Revelation to be true and there to help them grow closer to God and eternal life. This will cause them to accept the biblical account of creation and the biblical record of miracles to be historically factual. They will accept the commands and principles of God within the Bible to be applicable to them and to all men of all cultures and times. Any conclusion that a law or principle found in Scripture would not apply to them personally will be only because Scripture specifically says so (cf. Heb. 8:7-13; 1 Cor. 11:13-16). Any conclusion that certain parts of Scripture are figurative rather than literal in its language will be solely due to evidence found in Scripture rather than one’s own musings and theories (cf. Revelation 1:1’s “signified”). If a certain verse is read that commands one to do a certain thing in order to be saved while other verses command additional things to be done in order to be saved, one will accept the fact that all of those passages need to be obeyed rather than a select few of them (Ps. 119:160; cf. John 3:16; Mark 16:16; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:21).

We must also remember that when we read Scripture we are reading documents written long ago, in a different culture which had different definitions to words which might still be used today. This happens in other contexts. 100 years ago the term gay meant to be happy or joyful; only in recent years has the homosexual movement applied the term to themselves, resulting in gay meaning something else today.

In like manner, God’s Word was written by Spirit-inspired men a long time ago (2 Pet. 1:19-21), completed about two thousand years ago. None of it was written in English. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a smattering of Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. It has since been translated into numerous languages. Even though the translators have generally done an excellent job in conveying the intent of the inspired authors through their translation of the original foreign words, it is still easy for us to read a word in our English Bibles and assume its original definition in the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek of long ago is the same as our modern-day definition of it in English. In most cases that assumption would be correct, but not in every case. In some of those cases, our mistaken assumption would make all the difference in the world in correctly interpreting the will of God and thus have a direct impact on our eternal destiny. An example of what I’m talking about is the biblical term baptize, which is a command from God directly correlated with salvation (1 Pet. 3:21) and which today is defined by many as sprinkling or pouring water onto someone…yet in the original Greek it means to dip someone in water. Thus, to do the former instead of the latter would be to not do what God had originally commanded.

One doesn’t have to be fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek…but we all should take our study of the Bible seriously and, when needed, do research to know for sure what God requires of us. This is why correct interpretation of Scripture is very important. The next editorial will continue this study, Lord willing.            — Jon

More Thoughts On What The Bible Says About Drinking — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: October, 2018)

The editorial from the last issue of the Carolina Messenger started a study on what the Bible says about drinking alcoholic beverages. We looked at the definitions of the Greek words translated “drunkenness” (Gal. 5:21), and “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:10). We examined how the definition of the Greek term translated “get drunk” (Eph. 5:18) — methusko — is an inceptive verb condemning the entire process of becoming drunk. We saw how the Greek word for “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8) — nepho — literally means “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (Vine), “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…” (Strong), and “to be temperate…” (Thayer). We looked at how nepho is the verbal form of nephaleon (“temperate,” 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2), and how an early form of nephaleonnephalios — means “sober: and of drink, without wine, wineless” (Liddell and Scott). Therefore we came to the conclusion that, with the exception of ingesting small amounts of intoxication for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23), our Lord wishes us to abstain from drinking intoxicating beverages, the practice sometimes known as “social drinking.” Several medical authorities and other official reports and statements were cited to show how even the first sips and drinks of alcoholic beverages immediately act upon our brains in an intoxicating fashion. We also studied how the wine which Christ miraculously made from water at the wedding feast (John 2:1-11) was not intoxicating in nature because the Hebrew and Greek terms translated “wine” in the Bible could refer not only to intoxicating beverages (Prov. 20:1) but also to freshly trodden grape juice (Is. 16:10), clusters of grapes which were just gathered (Jer. 40:10), or the grapevine itself (Num. 6:4).

We will now continue our study on what the Bible says about drinking by examining objections commonly made to the aforementioned fact that “wine” in the Bible is defined not only as an intoxicating beverage, but in other contexts fresh grape juice. One such objection is the notion that “wine” in biblical times exclusively indicated a fermented, intoxicating drink. Yet Aristotle (Meteorologica 4.9), Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 1. 27; 5199), and Pliny (Natural History 14.11) all spoke of unfermented wine existing in their time. In Pliny’s case, he talked about a Spanish wine which was called inerticulam, (“inert, not affecting the nerves”); it was also called justius sobriam (“more justly, sober wine”) as well as viribus innoxiam: siquidem temulentiam sola non facit (“harmless to the strength, as of itself it does not cause intoxication”). Columella, a Roman agricultural writer, spoke of this wine being called by the Greeks amethyston (“unintoxicating”), inerticula (“not intoxicating”), innoxia, quod iners habetur in tentandis nervis, quamvis in gustu non sit hebes (“harmless because guiltless of disturbing the nerves, though it was not wanting in flavor”), thus showing that unintoxicating wine was both known and appreciated during biblical times (De Re Rustica 3.2).

Others object by claiming that there were no methods of keeping grape juice free from fermentation during biblical times. For example, the removal of moisture from grapes keeps them from fermenting. Columella wrote of drying grapes before the skin was broken and preserving them in that condition in order to produce, even after a considerable period of time, an unfermented beverage after they had been soaked in water, calling it the Roman term passum because the grapes had been spread out in order to dry (De Re Rustica 12. 39). He also wrote of how the Romans had boiled wines by boiling the grapes. The boiling evaporated the water and thus prevented fermentation. Grape juice boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and ethyl alcohol evaporates at 172 degrees Fahrenheit; thus boiling was a great way to expel alcohol from the juice. Additionally, Columella and Pliny also wrote of lining earthen containers with pitch, filling them with fresh juice before sealing them, and then sinking them in water or burying them in the ground in order to prevent air from coming into contact with the juice and causing fermentation (De Re Rustica 120; Natural History 14.11).

Returning our focus to Scripture, the Old Testament says about consumption of intoxicating beverages. The first sin on record in Scripture after the flood was drunkenness, committed, unfortunately, by Noah himself and leading to further sin by his son Ham and the cursing of Canaan by his grandfather (Gen. 9:20-27). Drunkenness also led to the downfall of Lot, another righteous man who had previously stood out as a light among a sin-filled culture only to be taken down by imbibing intoxicating drink and becoming drunk to the point of committing incest with his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). So it should not surprise us that God refers to intoxicating wine and strong drink as “a mocker…a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). We should understand why he attributes “tarry(ing) long over wine” and “go(ing) to try mixed wine” as the cause for those who have woe, sorrow, strife and complaining before telling us not to even look at these intoxicating drinks and warning of the adverse effects they will have on us (Prov. 23:29-35). We should heed his caution that “wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest” (Hab. 2:5) and understand why he pronounced a “woe” upon “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Hab. 2:15-16) … yet another reason why the wine Christ miraculously made for his fellow wedding guests was not intoxicating in nature. These admonitions combined with the direct commands found throughout the New Testament in the Greek terms for “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8) and “do not get drunk” (Eph. 5:18) should make it very clear to all of us that our Lord does not want us drinking alcoholic beverages.

Yet the objections still come. For example, some point to Deuteronomy 14:24-26, which records God telling the Israelites to spend their money on whatever they want, including “wine or strong drink.” The thought is that if God told Israel to spend their money on “wine or strong drink,” then he must have permitted them to be social drinkers. Again, it must be pointed out that “wine” (yayin in Hebrew) is used biblically in both an alcoholic andnon-alcoholic sense depending on the context; since elsewhere in the Old Testament God strongly disapproves of ingesting intoxicating yayin, it is clear that the yayin of the Deuteronomy passage is non-alcoholic in nature. The same can be said for “strong drink.” Just as most today automatically associate intoxicating beverages with the term “wine,” such is even more so the case with “strong drink,” and understandably so. Yet “strong drink” comes from the Hebrew term shekar, and like yayin with “wine” scholars have also acknowledged that shekar can refer to the sweet, either fermented or unfermented, juice of many fruits other than grapes (some of which possibly having a particularly strong taste, thus earning the term “strong drink”). For example, the Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature says shekar “was much broader than ‘strong drink,’” listing other definitions which include “luscious, saccharine drink or sweet syrup, especially sugar or honey of dates, or of the palm-tree; also, by accommodation, occasionally the sweet fruit itself…”, and “date or palm wine in its fresh and unfermented state…” (emphasis mine). Thus, if one is to take the Bible in its entirety (Ps. 119:160a), it is clear that God was not commanding Israel to buy alcoholic wine and alcoholic strong drink, but rather grape juice (“wine,” yayin) and sweet fruit drinks (“strong drink,” shekar).

Another objection is centered around the words of the mother of King Lemuel to her son in which she says, “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7). Clearly the context surrounding verses 6-7 promote the definition of intoxicating beverages, but one must go further to determine if divine support for social drinking is found here. For example, we could look at the previous two verses where his mother says to Lemuel, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (vs. 4-5). The question must be asked as to why God and this obviously wise woman would warn about the dangers of alcoholic consumption for royalty in one sentence and then in  the very next sentence promote alcoholic consumption and its dangerous results for the dying and impoverished. Since the ethyl alcohol within intoxicating drinks is a medically proven toxic poison, why would God tell us to poison the dying and poor in the same book where he provided instruction to prevent early deaths and care for the poor (cf. Prov. 2:18-19; 5:23; 14:21; 17:5)? Why would God promote “drinking our worries away,” an obvious reference to drunkenness? It is clear when one takes into account the entirety of the Bible’s condemnation of the consumption of alcoholic beverages, including in the immediate context of Proverbs 31:6-7, that King Lemuel’s mother is not advocating social drinking. On the contrary, she is emphasizing the warning she had just given her son in verses 4-5. She is basically saying, “When you become king, remember that kings shouldn’t drink. Bad things will happen if you do. You’ll forget important policies and treat your subjects in an unjust way. Look at those out on the street who are dying and poor. With some, their alcoholism got them there and keeps them there by helping them forget their troubles and taking away their motivation to fix themselves. Don’t be like them.”

More could be studied concerning the biblical admonitions against drinking as well as the objections some have to them, but it is our hope that the study produced in this editorial as well as the one in the previous issue will make it clear to the reader that it is not God’s will that they socially drink alcohol. We are called to be lovingly obedient to our God (John 14:15) and an excellent example to our fellow man (Matt. 5:16; 18:6-7; Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 10:32; 1 Pet. 2:12).

It’s simply impossible to do that with a beer or wineglass in your hand.

— Jon

What Does The Bible Say About Drinking? — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: September, 2018)

This is a subject which should be addressed within the body of Christ. My wife once told me about one of her co-workers, a very religious lady, who talked freely of storing six packs of beer in her automobile’s trunk. Some college friends of mine who profess Christianity drink alcoholic beverages socially and defend the practice. Some leaders and teachers in the church also defend the practice or hesitate to see anything wrong with it. Thus, we see a great need for biblical teaching on this subject (Hos. 4:6). In addressing it, my goal is to present the evidence of Scripture to the reader and respectfully and kindly encourage them to have God’s will as their highest priority (Col. 3:17), recognizing that this is a sensitive and controversial subject (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

To my knowledge, all who want to follow the Bible will acknowledge that drunkenness is listed among the works of the flesh which condemn those who practice them as not inheriting God’s kingdom (Gal. 5:19-21). The point of disagreement lies around the question of when one is drunk scripturally. When does God consider someone to be drunk?

The Greek-English lexicographer W.E. Vine cites “drunkenness” (Gal. 5:21) as methe in the original Greek, defining it as “‘strong drink’…denotes ‘drunkenness, habitual intoxication’… Vine also ascribes the word translated “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:10) to the adjective methusos, defining it as “‘drunken’…used as a noun…in the plural…‘drunkards’…” So far proponents of social drinking completely agree because in their minds there is a difference between consuming one margarita and being drunk. I understand that reasoning, yet also am reminded of God’s warning in Isaiah 55:8-9.

With that warning in mind, note that Vine also cites the verb translated “get drunk” in the command against doing so (Eph. 5:18) as methusko, which “signifies ‘to make drunk, or to grow drunk’…an inceptive verb, marking the process…‘to become intoxicated’…” (emphasis mine). Vine specifically includes in the definition of the verb “get drunk” not only what the proponents of social drinking would call the end result of several drinks (drunkenness), but also the entire process of becoming drunk. Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible defines methusko as “to begin to be softened.” Therefore, the word which the Spirit of God inspired Paul to use in this command against drunkenness would not only condemn the inebriation resulting from a consumed six-pack of beer, but also the entire process one would undergo to reach that state of inebriation (social drinking).

Elsewhere, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul and Peter to command us to be “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8). Paul’s command is part of a contrast between the Christian being of the day and thus awake and sober rather than of the night and sleeping the sleep of drunkenness. Peter’s command is part of a warning to be continually on the lookout for the devil who is always on the prowl like a lion, seeking someone to eat. The Greek word they used which is translated “sober” is nepho, which Vine defines as “to be free from the influence of intoxicants.” Greek authority James Strong defines it as “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…” Joseph Thayer’s second definition of nepho says, “to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect” (emphasis mine). Regarding the term “temperate,” social drinking proponents cite how it is sometimes defined as moderation with regards to consumption of alcohol. As we examine that notion, it is worthy to note that nepho is the verbal form of nephaleon (“temperate,” 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2). Lexicographers Henry Liddell and Robert Scott define nephalios, an early form of nephaleon, as “sober: and of drink, without wine, wineless.” Thus, the promotion of total abstinence from wine in Vine and Strong’s definitions of nepho and Liddell and Scott’s definitions of its derivative of nephalios and nephaleon leads us to conclude that Thayer had in mind the definition of “temperance” found in The New World Dictionary for his definition of nepho: “total abstinence from alcoholic drinks.”

This shows us that by inspiring Paul to use a word which in the Greek meant total abstinence from intoxicating drinks, God’s idea of “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8) is more along the lines of how Alcoholics Anonymous use the word when they ask their members, “Are you sober?” When AA says “sober,” they do not mean, “Does your blood alcohol content meet the legal requirements to operate a vehicle?” Rather, they are asking, “Have you totally abstained from consuming alcoholic beverages?” That is what nepho means in the New Testament, which has this command completely in sync with Ephesians 5:18’s condemnation of methusko, the entire process which would result in methe, drunkenness.

The only divinely approved allowance of the ingestion of any intoxicating beverage would be small amounts for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). There is no comparison between the command to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” and the notion to have a cocktail at dinner or a can or two of beer at the party. Concerning the latter, drunkenness results much sooner than one might think.

Remember that God created us and thus knows our bodies and how they react to social consumption of intoxicating beverages. Dr. Haven Emmerson wrote Alcohol, Its Effects on Man, in which he reported that even the first sips of an alcoholic beverage causes changes in mood or behavior. He cited studies of how the first measurable effects on younger, inexperienced drinkers were detected after half a can of beer, the equivalent to half a cocktail or half a glass of wine, while on adults who are occasional drinkers the first measurable effects were detected after only one beer or cocktail. Toxicologist Clarence Muehlberger wrote an article on drunkenness for the 1959 Encyclopaedia Britannica in which he said, “The higher nerve functions of the forebrain, such as reasoning, judgment, and social restraint are impaired by very low concentrations of alcohol in the blood.” Dr. Donald Gerard wrote in his article “Intoxication and Addiction” in Drinking and Intoxication that “judgment and inhibitions are affected” with “the first few ‘social’ drinks.” The 1971 First Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health reported that even the first few sips of an alcoholic beverage can cause changes in mood or behavior. The American Automobile Association said, “The effects of alcohol begin with the first drink…The first effects are impairment of judgment and reasoning and weakening of self-control and normal inhibitions.”

Yet objections to these clear biblical and biological facts still come. A common one centers around how Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). The wine in question is understandably assumed to be an intoxicating beverage, since that’s what wine is today. Because of this, some have even gone so far as to assume the master of the feast saying that the guests were already drunk by the time Jesus made the good wine (v. 10), defining “good” as “best for getting smashed.” However, in biblical times the terms translated “wine” could refer not only to an intoxicating beverage (Prov. 20:1), but also to the grapevine itself (Num. 6:4), clusters of grape which were just gathered (Jer. 40:10), or freshly trodden grapes (Is. 16:10). Furthermore, Strong defines the master of the feast’s phrase “drunk freely” (methuo) not only as “to drink to intoxication,” but also adds another definition: “drink well.” Liddell and Scott, along with lexicographer Samuel Bloomfield, agree and state that it could refer to the quantity of drinking without necessarily indicating as to whether the drink was intoxicating. Also, Thayer defines the “good” wine (kalos) as “beautiful” and “excellent,” which logically correlates much more to taste or appearance than supposed intoxicating qualities.

Thus, the wine Jesus made was not intoxicating in nature, but rather sweet grape juice. The master of the feast was accordingly saying that normally the best tasting and looking wine was served first with the sub-quality being saved for after the guests had drank well, or all, of the former. To claim otherwise would have Christ making intoxicating wine for guests who had already become tipsy at best (cf. Hab. 2:15). Such does not correspond with Christ’s nature.

More study will be given to this topic in the next editorial. I pray this study will be beneficial to the reader and glorify God.   — Jon