Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why Was Jesus a Carpenter?

This is a question you probably haven't thought too much about.  If we give it some thought, however, I believe the reasons Jesus was a carpenter might teach us something.

There's a very good reason you didn't think about it.  Its barely talked about by Christians, and its barely written about by gospel writers.  The fact is only mentioned.  But for almost two decades Jesus was a carpenter as His profession.  He spent more time building houses than preaching, healing, prophesying and saving the whole world from sin.  That could be because He is Son of God, and He could do all of the latter with ease.  Being the world's Savior is no problem, considering who He is.  Let us think a little, while we're at it, why Jesus was a carpenter.

Joseph was a carpenter.  It certainly is no coincidence that Joseph, being the earthly adoptive father of Jesus, was a carpenter, and Jesus was a carpenter.  There is something to the fact that Jesus chose to do what his earthly father did.  I can come up with three general reasons a person does what their father does as a profession.  1) A person really loves the profession of their father.  2) A person does not have the ability to venture outside of the family business; either doesn't have the courage, or the know-how, or the means.  3) A person is indifferent to their profession, and chooses to do what their father does as a sort of default profession.  In other words, venturing outside of the family business is too much of a bother and not worth the trouble.  Which of the three do you think describes Jesus?  We can say pretty certainly that Jesus could have done anything He wanted to.  He did not choose to not venture outside the family business for lack of ability; He is the Son of God, afterall.  And I think its very unlikely that Jesus was passionate about carpentry.  No where in the gospels does He speak about it.  His apostles only mention it once.  There doesn't seem to be much passion about carpentry; and why would there be, when you have to compare it to changing water into wine?  That leaves indifference as the final option, and I believe this is the reason Jesus was a carpenter.  He was indifferent to His choice of profession.

You may wonder why I'm writing about this, but there really is something to learn from this.  I already said that Jesus was probably indifferent to His choice of profession.  In other words, He didn't care what He did, so He simply did what His father did.  Why does that matter?  Well, it is the opposite of almost everybody today.  Think about the average person in America.  How often do you hear people talk about what they "want to do with their life"?  The implication is always some kind of profession.  Do I want to be a painter, a plumber, or a pilot?  Do I want to push a pencil, wear a hardhat, or enlist in the Navy?  That sort of thing.  To so many people, it seems the most important thing in life is profession.  But was His profession the most important thing in Jesus' life?  Of course not.  Quite the opposite.  His profession was very far down the list; so hardly important, it got only one verse (Mark 6:3) in the New Testament.  As Christians, what does this teach us?  To not be like the world.  The world puts emphasis on "what you do".  It is the world that tries to demean your life to the level of profession, as if you have nothing more important to be ambitious for.  Really, think about it: how pathetic is it for a person's highest ambition to be a certain profession?  I don't mean to insult anyone, and I'm sorry if it comes across that way.  But we really must understand just how unimportant a job or profession is.  The apostles hardly ever talked about what they did to sustain themselves.  Paul built tents, and it certainly wasn't because Paul loved tents.  He only built tents to provide himself with income, and he provided himself with income because he really wanted to be spreading the gospel.  So Paul might have said, in response to the question, "what do you do?", "I build tents, but that's not what I really do.  What I really do is spread the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus, and build churches all over the Roman Empire."

Now, someone might say, "what if God decided to have Joseph be a carpenter, and so He really did choose to be a carpenter afterall."  That very well could be the case.  Jesus might have been indifferent to His profession and simply did what Joseph did, but since God is in control of everything, including the profession of Joseph, God may have predestined the fact that Jesus was a carpenter.  What then could be the reason for Jesus being a carpenter and not something else?  Let your imagination run wild.  I can't give a definite answer as to why God might have specifically chosen carpentry.  I've done a little carpentry, and I don't see anything special about it.  However, I do see good reason in God choosing a profession that was common, dirty, and hard work.  Jesus is the man that we can all relate to.  What good would it be if Jesus was a lawyer?  How easy is it to relate to lawyers?  Or if Jesus was one of the religious elite, or even a member of the Sanhedrin, how would that jive with His teaching of an upside-down world - the first will be last, and the last will be first?  Jesus blessed the poor.  He blessed the meek.  And His being a carpenter, both poor and meek Himself, was a blessing to the poor, the meek, the common man.  His teaching is the kind of teaching that can only be given by a humble carpenter.  Imagine a wealthy and powerful Pharisee saying, "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your reward" (Luke 6:24).  Or, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).  That just would not work; it would make Jesus a hypocrite.  And could you imagine Jesus calling out the Pharisees and teachers of the law, like He did in Matthew 23, if He were of a similar status as them?  Certainly not.  There is much to be said of the fact that Jesus came as a humble carpenter.  And you might draw some analogies there too.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Psalm 72

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!  (verse 1 ESV)

The question here is, who is the king, who is the royal son?  It would be easy to assume that Solomon is speaking of himself.  Yet if he is speaking of himself, he sounds a little arrogant.  But if he is speaking of another, and perhaps one more noble than himself, then he has good reason to write it down in a psalm.  Look at what he says, and consider if he could be speaking of himself.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!  Psalm 72:8 (ESV)

Is Solomon asking that God give him dominion over all the earth?  That seems really presumptuous of him, and yet Solomon never tried to rule over all the earth.  He did not even know the extent of all the earth.  And never did his kingdom come close to ruling the entire earth.  Consider a couple more verses.

Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!  May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day!  Psalm 72:15 (ESV)

May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun!  May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!  Psalm 72:17 (ESV)

Was prayer made for Solomon continually?  I really doubt it.  Have all nations called him blessed?  Certainly not.  Its not hard to see, Solomon was not speaking of himself when he wrote these verses.  Then who?  That's not hard to see either; he was speaking of the great King, that is, Christ Jesus.  He was speaking of the "royal son", whose rule will last forever and ever.  Many times the Bible speaks of the eternal nature of Messiah's kingdom (eg. Isaiah 9:7, Psalm 45:6-7, Psalm 2:7-8).  It can be concluded then, that this psalm speaks of the rule of Jesus the Messiah.  It gives us great insight into how He shall rule.  The book of Revelation states that Jesus will rule in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and His rule will be absolute over all the nations of the earth.  There with Jesus, the saints who will be martyred in the tribulation period will rule as well.  So how does King Jesus rule?

May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!  Psalm 72:2 (ESV)

Solomon is speaking to God the Father, and the "he" is God the Son.  All people are God's possession, so no matter who Jesus rules over, it can be said that He rules over God's people.  When Solomon says "May he", this is not just a hope or a prayer.  It is much more of a prophecy.  It is an axiomatic prayer.  He is praying for something that will certainly come to pass, so that his prayer is actually a prophecy.  Jesus actually will rule over God's people with righteousness, and He actually will extend justice to God's poor.  You can see the same thing in Luke 6:20 when Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!  Psalm 72:3 (ESV)

This implies that there will be righteousness in Jesus' kingdom, and there will be prosperity.  Prosperity is actually dependent on righteousness, if you consider it well.  No kingdom, nation or society can be prosperous when people lie, cheat, steal, harm, or act foolishly.  Vice leads to poverty.  But a kingdom of righteousness will naturally be prosperous.  Lets read on.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!  Psalm 72:4 (ESV)

Crushing the oppressor implies freedom.  Defending the cause of the poor implies equality.  In Jesus' kingdom no one will be left behind.  The children of the needy will be delivered.  The tears of those who mourn wiped away, and their reason for mourning taken away.  Those who would oppress other people by greed or deceit or cruelty, they are done away with, or maybe themselves oppressed by Jesus.  Whatever the case may be, the oppressor cannot oppress in Jesus' kingdom.  There is freedom and dignity for all people, big or small.

In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!  Psalm 72:7 (ESV)

His kingdom will be peaceful.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  And in His kingdom, the righteous do well.  No longer will the unscrupulous succeed by their schemes, which so often happens in this world.  In this world it seems that the most greedy, cruel and dishonest are the ones that rise to power and prominence.  Not so in Jesus' kingdom.  Those who rise to prominence will be the most righteous among the people.  And all the people will be glad, because they see that those in charge are wise and good, and in everything do good.

May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!  Psalm 72:11 (ESV)

He is the King of kings.  His rule over the world will be absolute.  As said earlier, those kings set before him will be the most righteous among the people, and they will gladly bow down and worship Jesus.  And the nations will gladly serve Him, because serving Jesus is a joy and not a burden.  As He so truthfully spoke, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  The people on earth at that time will not begrudge service to Jesus, because they will see the peace, the righteousness, the freedom, equality, prosperity, and all the good things in the kingdom of Jesus.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.  Psalm 72:14 (ESV)

Abortion?  Forget it!  The thought of it won't even exist in Jesus' kingdom.  The blood of all people will be precious in His sight.  This is why there is peace in His kingdom.  This is why the needy are taken care of.  He redeems the people from violence, and delivers them from oppression.

May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!  Psalm 72:16 (ESV)

Not only will there be abundance, as this verse clearly states, but people will "blossom" in the cities.  Exactly what that means, you could probably interpret it different ways.  It certainly means that the population will grow, and there will be no lack of people.  Thankfully, all unborn babies will be protected and will come to see the light of day.  As to what else it might mean, it probably means that people will grow in skill, in art, in beauty and knowledge, so that not only will the cities be filled with people, but the cities will become glorious as well.  Imagine the most glorious city on earth today, then multiply that by 10; that is quite possibly the meaning of this verse.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Psalm 72:18 (ESV)

Indeed.  Only God can make this a reality.  I believe this psalm describes the wonderful kingdom of our Lord and Savior during that thousand year period.  And what is more amazing, its only a prefigure of the New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem.  I doubt words can adequately describe the New Jerusalem.  I pray to see you there!  Amen and God bless.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


He is the man on the cross.
He is the uplifted bronze serpent of healing.
He is the ram crowned with thorns, who took our place.
He is the silent sheep before His shearers.
He is our payment for sin.
He is the Sun of Righteousness, whose wings stop the bleeding.
He is Healer.
He is Moses' staff that made a way through the sea.
He is Jacob's Ladder.
He is the way to God.
He is in the fire with three faithful Jews.
He is Protector.
He is the ark that saves us from the flood.
He is our Refuge.
He is the Rock that killed Goliath.
He is Hero.
He is the Captain that calms the sea.
He is the Bread of Life.
He is the Rock that poured forth life-giving water.
He is the source of life.
He is the invitation to heaven.
He is the Hope of all nations.
He is the Ebenezer Stone.
He is the Cornerstone.
He is the Branch of Joshua.
He is the Root of Jesse.
He is Good Teacher.
He is the source of holiness.
He is our righteousness.
He is Perfecter.
He is the pattern we must follow.
He is the truth we must learn.
He is the humble servant that invites children into His presence.
He is caring and loving.
He is the Comfort to those who mourn.
He is our Sympathizer.
He is the believer's hiding place.
He is Good Shepherd.
He is the resurrection.
He is the Firstborn of all the sons of God.
He is Rabbi.
He is Savior.
He is the solid foundation.
He is a just Judge.
He is the eternal Word of God.
He is Love.
He is Light.
He is Wisdom.
He is the Bright Morning Star.
He is Alpha and Omega.
He is First and Last.
He is Beginning and End.
He is God of gods.
He is King of kings.
He is Lord of lords.
He is 'God with us'.
He is High Priest. 
He is our Intercessor.
He is Friend.
He is Brother.
He is Son of Man.
He is Son of God.
He is faithful and true.
He is the Lion of Judah.
He is Lamb of God.
He is the plumb line.
He is the True Vine.
He is the Star of David.
He is the original Superman.
He is Prince of Peace.
He is the River of Peace.
He is Bridegroom to the awaiting.
He is Jesus.
Even before Abraham was born, He IS.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Veil Was Torn

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  Matthew 27:51 (ESV)

In the temple, and in the original tabernacle, there was an inner room called the Holy of Holies.  This is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  This symbolized heaven itself.  And between the Holy of Holies - the Most Holy Place - and the Holy Place there was a curtain.  This was the divider between God and the people of Israel.  No one was allowed into the Holy of Holies, except for the high priest, and he could only go in there on the Day of Atonement.  This was once a year, a day set apart for the high priest to offer sacrifice and make atonement for Israel's sins.

When Jesus died on the cross the curtain, also called the veil, was torn completely top to bottom.  This meant the divider between the people and God had been destroyed.  This symbolized Christ opening the way to God.  But the events of Jesus' death and resurrection, His ascension and the day of Pentecost all have a certain order.  And that order has significance.  First He died on the cross.  Second He rose from the dead.  Third He ascended into heaven.  Fourth the Holy Spirit came down.  The high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies after he had made a sacrifice.  Jesus made the perfect sacrifice, and this allowed Him to enter the real Holy of Holies - heaven itself.  So after He rose from the dead and appeared to people for 40 days, He ascended into heaven.  And when He ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father in heaven, He could intercede on behalf of His disciples.  It is no coincidence then, that Pentecost followed the ascension.  Christ sent the Holy Spirit to His believers.

Pentecost can be seen as a symbol for regeneration.  The Holy Spirit came, and those there were born again.  This is another reason Pentecost followed His death and resurrection.  It might have made just as much sense to send the Holy Spirit at the beginning of His ministry, in the mind of many people.  But that would have been out of order in God's plan.  You see, the temple has to be purified before the Holy Spirit would enter.  And the body of a believer is called the temple of the Holy Spirit.  So without Christ's death on the cross, the body is not cleansed of sin, and the Holy Spirit will not enter.  First a person believes in Christ, receives forgiveness for sins, then the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer.

Because of Christ's death on the cross, the veil was torn.  No longer does sin separate man and God, because Christ cleansed us of our sins.  Or at least we have the opportunity to be cleansed of those sins, if we believe in Him.  And we can receive the Holy Spirit, and be born again, all because of Jesus.  This is the Gospel.  This is the Good News.  And its incredibly good news.  Let me tell you what it means in practical terms.  First, it means you can live forever in heavenly bliss.  But more immediate than that, all things are possible with God.  Before the Gospel - before Christ's death on the cross - you could not be with God.  There was a veil between man and God, but that veil is gone.  So now you can be with God.  And there is no end to hope when God is present.  No one, no matter who they are, where they are, or how bad things are, is in a hopeless situation.  God can turn anything around.  Jesus came and He healed blind, deaf, mute, crippled, lepers, bleeders, demon-possessed, and even raised people from the dead.  If Jesus can raise people from the dead, He can improve you for sure.  Everything is elastic; everything can change.  Have faith, trust in God.  The mind is elastic; people can improve their intelligence, and people can worsen their intelligence, even without supernatural means.  The body is elastic; a person's health can improve or worsen, even without supernatural means.  The character is elastic; a person can become better or worse.  And while the supernatural is not always needed to improve in these areas, the supernatural is always there with God.  All things are possible with God.  So I plead with you, all you need to do is seek God.  Have faith in Christ.  Pray to Him.  Seek to know Him.  Read His word.  He will give you good things, because He is the Good Father.  And your life, no matter how desperate you are, can become infinitely better.  There is no such thing as a hopeless situation with God.  If you don't believe me, spend enough time to find out for yourself.  As the Scripture says, taste and see that the Lord is good.  He truly is!  The veil was torn, and you don't have to think your situation is hopeless, because Christ made a way to God, and God can restore all things. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sanhedrin Stones

There are two members of the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin mentioned in the biblical gospels.  Joseph of Arimethea is one.  Nicodemus is the other.  These two stand as a testimony to the truthfulness of the gospel accounts.  The unbelievers are always claiming that the gospels were made up stories, or contained made up stories.  They have to, because there are many miracles recorded in the gospels.  In their worldview, which denies anything supernatural, miracles cannot happen.  But I'll show you how Joseph and Nicodemus testify to the truthfulness of these gospel accounts.

There are three pillars (premises) that this argument is built on.  One is the early dating of the gospel accounts.  Even liberal scholars date the gospels within the first century.  At the very latest, the early part of the second century.  More reasonable scholars date them to about the middle of the first century.  I won't discuss the methods of dating ancient literature, but if you question whether the gospels were really written within a hundred years of the events they record, do your own research.  The second pillar is the fact that many people believed in Christianity, and the gospel accounts, in Judea and surrounding areas.  There were believers in Rome even by AD 63.  There were believers throughout the whole Roman Empire by the end of the first century, and they were willing to be persecuted and give their lives for what they believed.  The third pillar is what is actually written in the gospel accounts themselves.  The same argument I'm making here, using Joseph and Nicodemus as examples, can be made of a number of people and events in the gospels.  For simplicity sake, I'm going to focus exclusively on these two members of the Sanhedrin.

Joseph of Arimethea appears in all four of the gospels.  He is a rich Jew, and a member of the Sanhedrin.  He was also a secret follower of Christ.  The gospels record that Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus so he could bury it.  And indeed Joseph did bury Jesus.  Nicodemus, also a member of the Sanhedrin - the ruling Jewish council - accompanied Joseph in burying Jesus.  Nicodemus was also a secret follower of Christ.  We read John 3 the kind of curiosity that Nicodemus had about Christ Jesus.  The reason both of these men were secret disciples of Christ, up until the crucifixion, was a fear of Jews and the Jewish leadership.  Had they come out and acknowledged Jesus as Christ, they would have been ostracized, and would have lost their positions on the Council.  They did come out and acknowledge Jesus as Christ, but only after the crucifixion.  You may wonder, why then?  Matthew records that the Sun was darkened for a period at the time of the crucifixion.  The Roman soldiers crucifying Jesus totally change their opinion of him.  They were mocking him earlier, offering Him wine mixed with gall.  But after the darkness they offer Him pure wine, and believe that He is calling Elijah to save Him.  He wasn't of course, but this shows how the soldiers totally change their demeanor towards Jesus.  The darkness over the land was a supernatural sign, and they knew it.  And as soon as Jesus died there was a great earthquake, and the soldiers said, "Surely He was the Son of God!"  So you can imagine, if the darkness and the earthquake had that affect on the Roman soldiers crucifying Jesus, it would have strengthened the faith of Jesus' closet disciples as well.  Emboldened by the supernatural signs surrounding the crucifixion, Joseph and Nicodemus come out of the closet as disciples of Christ Jesus.

These two present a major problem for those who wish to believe that the gospel accounts were fabricated fiction.  Its not like Joseph and Nicodemus were a couple of no-names.  These were important men.  They were members of the Sanhedrin.  It would be like members of the US Congress.  Jews knew who they were.  Records would have them listed.  They were prominent men; about as prominent as a Jew could get in that day.  And the gospel writers tell us they were members of the Sanhedrin.  So what?  So if the story of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea were a fabrication, how did the fabricators pull it over on the people?  To illustrate the argument, lets go over a number of hypothetical scenarios:Lets suppose Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus never actually existed.  Lets suppose that they were made up figures, and everything about them in the gospel accounts was just made up fiction.  But then, whoever is reading the book of John in the first century, or even in the second century, and comes across these made up characters, that John says were members of the Sanhedrin, could look at the records.  "Were there ever members of the Sanhedrin by those names?"  that person might ask.  And the answer would be no.  At that point the gospels are discredited, the information is passed along, the opponents of Christianity have all the ammo they need, and Christianity has no leg to stand on.  In other words, no one would believe it, and that would be the end of Christianity.  Certainly no one would risk their life to believe it.

Now lets suppose that Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus did exist as members of the Sanhedrin, but the gospel writers fictitiously claimed they were disciples of Jesus, and made up the story of burying Jesus after the crucifixion.  So a person reading the gospel accounts could do the research, find out that there were members of the Sanhedrin by those names.  But at the same time, if anyone is making that claim in the mid part of the first century, Joseph and Nicodemus would come forward themselves and say, "No, none of that is true".  Then the story of them burying Jesus would be discredited, Christianity would be discredited, and that would be the end of it.  If not Joseph and Nicodemus themselves, it could be someone that was close to them, a relative, or other members of the Sanhedrin.  Considering how prominent they would have been, their lives being on a stage, whether they actually did follow Christ or not, it would be pretty evident.  Even a number of years later, it would not be hard to find out whether two members of the Sanhedrin truly were Jesus' disciples or not.  Furthermore, it can be assumed, based on what John records, that Nicodemus and Joseph lost their positions on the Sanhedrin shortly after their coming out as followers of Jesus.  Jesus was just condemned and crucified.  The new sect of His followers was condemned by the ruling parties in Jerusalem.  Jesus had made enemies of both Pharisees and Sadducees, and they were the ones who made up the Sanhedrin.  Its inconceivable that Joseph and Nicodemus could have held their positions long after acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah.  So a review of the records, and a person would expect to find that their positions on the Sanhedrin ended soon after the date of the crucifixion.  If you found a Joseph and a Nicodemus on the Sanhedrin, but they remained on the Sanhedrin several years after the crucifixion was said to have happened, then you would know that something was fishy.  That's just another way to check the story.

Now lets suppose that Joseph and Nicodemus did exist as members of the Sanhedrin, and they did bury the body of Jesus, but that everything else was a fabrication.  The miracles, the darkening of the Sun, the earthquake, those were a fabrication.  Then you have to wonder why Joseph and Nicodemus were disciples.  Why would they risk their position on the Sanhedrin, as well as their riches and their own lives, to claim Jesus as Christ?  Without the miracles that Jesus performed, there is no fuel for their conversion.  There is no reason they would be followers of Jesus.  It is inconceivable how these two contemporaries of Jesus would be followers of Jesus without any miracles to convince them, giving up their positions to do so.

So John, and the other gospel writers, do not shy away from mentioning the most prominent members of Jewish society, involving them in the Passion of Jesus.  That if it were a fabrication, they would easily be discovered and discredited.  They were not discovered, and they were not discredited.  And if there were not some kind of supernatural signs accompanying the life and death of Jesus, there's zero chance two members of the Sanhedrin would risk everything they have to be followers of Jesus.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Determining Doctrine

Where to begin?  I've written a number of blogs where I argue the trustworthiness of the Bible.  I am a Christian.  I am mostly speaking to Christians.  So I start with the assumption that you and I both want to be truly Christian.  But if someone is not convinced about Christianity, there's plenty to read which would convince him.  This note will deal with the question of determining doctrine as a Christian, not the fundamental question of Christianity as the one true religion.  That question I have answered elsewhere, and will continue to answer elsewhere, the Lord willing.

There has to be something which determines our beliefs.  We don't just make up our doctrines as we go.  If we believe that God is real in the first place, and that Christ is the incarnation of God, then we must believe that God has revealed the truth to us.  He has not ignored us and left us on our own, to figure out what is true and what is not.  But rather God has shown us what is true.  The problem is in the reality of Satan, and the fact that Satan is always introducing lies into the world (a fact that is plainly stated in the Bible).  It is because of Satan and his lies that determining doctrine can be such a task.  We must separate fact from fiction, and that's not always easy.  Let us start with the Bible, and the claims surrounding the Bible.

Not every Christian believes that the Bible is the sole rule of Christian doctrine.  Catholics say that the church (RCC) itself determines doctrine.  That it is improper for anyone to interpret the Bible for him or herself.  That the church leadership must interpret the Bible.  This brings me to a fundamental question: What should the rule or standard of Christian doctrine be?  What, or who, should we refer to to know what is true and what is false.  Whatever or whoever that is, it must be from God Himself.  We will have to use our reasoning - that is, God's gift of wisdom - to answer this question.

Catholics today are not the only Catholics that have thought that only the church itself can properly interpret Scripture.  The early Catholics, many of them, thought the same way.  Unity in the church was crucial to them.  There were many heretical sects at that time.  Gnostics, Montanists, Docetists, Ebionites, Arians, etc.  There were many false doctrines trying to get into the church, cause confusion and division.  And this should not surprise us; as I already mentioned, Satan is always spreading his lies.  To protect against these lies, early Christian leaders made sure there was a very clear boundary between the Catholic (universal) Church and all the heretical sects.  The way they thought, if you were not following the teaching of the Catholic bishop, you were not Christian.  And if it was not the Catholic Church, it was not Christianity.  There were strict lines in place.  There was a strict rule of faith.  All of this was founded upon the church leadership.  The glue that held the church together, and the strict boundaries that separated it from the heretics, was because of the church leadership.  That church leadership, in many cases, was taught by the apostles themselves.  Or leaders in the church were taught by men who were taught by the apostles.  Regardless, point is, there was little space between the leadership of the early Catholic Church and the apostles themselves.  Who can blame them for thinking the church leadership had such authority?  If Polycarp was the bishop of your local church, and Polycarp was taught by John the apostle, would you question the teaching of Polycarp?  Of course not.  Whatever Polycarp taught, you would take it to be true Christian doctrine.  So its no wonder that early Christians had such a method of determining doctrine.  The leaders of the church determined the doctrine; and those leaders were not too far removed from the apostles themselves.

The other reasons early Catholics looked to their bishops and elders for guidance is the fact that a canon of the New Testament did not exist at that point.  The books of the New Testament surely did.  And these books played a major role in church life and belief.  There are some early canons that go back to the third century.  But it was not until the end of the fourth century that an official canon was decided on.  And that canon - the 27 books of the New Testament - has since been agreed on by all professing Christians.  There is no debate amongst Christians (except maybe some of the most liberal scholars) what books make up the New Testament.  But for the early Christians this was not the case.  The only thing, to them, that was surely Christian was the church itself, started by the apostles, and the leaders of the church, taught by the apostles.

However, the Catholic Church has changed.  It was a gradual change.  At first it was the apostles and the churches started by apostles.  There was little structure to it.  The apostles themselves were sent by Christ Himself, so there's no question that they had authority to teach and determine Christian doctrine.  The first churches were founded by the apostles.  They met in each others' homes.  There were no designated meeting places, other than the temple for those in Jerusalem.  They observed Communion.  They sang some songs, prayed.  We don't know if there were any sort of sermons at that point.  We do know that they read letters from the apostles, like Paul's letters, if they had them.  I'm sure they kept these letters, and may have reread them from time to time.  They probably also read from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  In short, there was little order or conformity in the first Christian churches.  The meetings were very simple.  The practices simple.  The baptisms simple.  Everything was pretty much simple, down to earth and practical.  But as time went on, the structure of the church became more of a hierarchy.  The practices of the church became more ornate and complicated.  Things were added, like sermons (homilies).  Practices were made into more of an ordeal, like Baptism and Communion (the Eucharist).  The church gradually moved away from the style of the apostles.  And as time went on, especially after Christianity was legalized and made the official religion in the Roman Empire, the doctrines of the Catholic Church became subtly different than what the apostles taught.  Today the Roman Catholic Church is something that would be unrecognizable to Peter or Paul.  Certainly, neither Peter or Paul had a throne.  None of the apostles did, and none of them would approve of it, since it goes against the teaching of Christ that "all of you are brothers".  Yet the pope has a throne.  The more you study the issue, and the more you question it, you will see that the Roman Catholic Church is not anything like the early Catholic Church, nor was it handed down from the apostles.

So should we determine our doctrine the same way the early Catholics did?  My last paragraph may have already answered that.  But I'll extend the argument.  If the Roman Catholic Church truly were the church that Christ meant when He said, "upon this rock I will build my church", then why are there other Christian churches?  Anything outside of the Catholic Church was called heresy by the early Catholics.  Today there are many churches professing Christianity, and the Roman Catholics will not go so far as to call them heresy.  There are Eastern Orthodox Christians.  There are Protestant Christians.  There are Messianic Jewish Christians.  There are non-denom Christians.  And none of them belong to the Roman Catholic Church, nor do they look to Catholic leadership to determine doctrine.  Yet the Catholic leadership is wishy washy in calling them heretical, especially Eastern Orthodox.  Can we say that all of these other Christian churches are heretical sects?  I do not see any evidence of it.  Sure, there are false doctrines in every one of these groups; none are perfect in everything they believe and practice.  But there is not enough falsehood to call any of them heretical.  If the Roman Catholic Church were truly the church Christ founded, why the split?  If the Roman Catholic Church is God's church, why are there other churches that seem legitimately Christian?  Shouldn't there only be one?  Christ never said anything about founding two or three or three dozen different churches.  Paul spoke specifically of one body of Christ (one church).  This should lead us to question the Catholic claim that they are the church Christ founded.  Furthermore, Christ taught that we would know the false prophets by their fruit.  What is the fruit of the Catholic leadership and doctrine?  Idolatry.  I do not have the space to go into detail here.  But if you look into it, you won't have to go far to find examples of Catholic idolatry.  Its all over the place.  That fact too should force us to question the claim that they are the church Christ founded.

What church did Christ found?  I'll answer this question briefly, since it relates, then move on with the central question of this note.  The church Christ founded was a spiritual church.  There is no official organization on earth that is the Church of Christ.  Rather, the Church of Christ is invisible (its boundaries are not seen), it is in every regenerated believer on earth; it is a spiritual thing, not a physical thing.  That is what Christ meant when He said "I will build my church".

My rule and standard for determining doctrine is the Bible.  Now the Catholics will say that I don't have any right to read or interpret "their" book.  How can I put faith in a collection of books that the Catholic Church canonized, and not put faith in the Catholic Church itself?  As I already said, the Catholic Church today is something different than the Catholic Church of the Council of Carthage (where the NT canon was made official).  But the real basis of my faith in the Bible is Providence.  I do not have to think that those at the Council of Carthage had any special authority to decide the books of the New Testament.  I do not have to accept any concept of Catholic authority to have confidence in the 27 books of the New Testament.  The Bible was given to us by God.  God acted through the members of that council.  The establishment of the New Testament, along with the establishment of the Old Testament, happened by divine Providence.  God is in control of everything.  And did two different Bibles result?  Certainly not.  Even if you want to get into a debate about the Apocrypha, that doesn't even affect the New Testament.  The Apocrypha was not even canonized until much later.  If it deserved to be in the canon, and it were God's will that would be, you would think it would have been canonized with the rest of Scripture.  The early Catholics themselves, including Augustine, Origen and Jerome, did not consider the Apocrypha to be scriptural.  They only considered it to be helpful literature; not divinely inspired Scripture.  All of that aside, there was only one Bible given to us.  Could it have been given to us by anyone other than God?  Do you think God would allow Satan to deceitfully include books that shouldn't be there, or exclude books that should be there?  Do you think God would allow the Bible to be so inadequate for revealing Himself, though His own words are recorded in it, that we must refer to the Roman Catholic Church?  I take it that God gave us the Bible.  The authority of the Bible comes by Providence; the fact that it came to us by God's working throughout history.  There is no need whatsoever to acknowledge any kind of Catholic authority to believe the Bible as the inspired and authoritative word of God.

Through what are we the closest to the apostles?  Through the Roman Catholic Church, or through the Bible?  The Roman Catholic Church may be the product, after many many years, of the early Catholic Church.  But the early Catholic Church became the Catholic Church of the dark ages, then the Catholic Church of the middle ages, and now the Catholic Church of today.  It was passed down, and passed down, and passed down.  What may have started with the apostles, certainly has little to do with the apostles now.  What is closer to the apostles?  A collection of books that were written by them, or a church that was handed down from a church handed down from a church handed down from a church handed down, eventually and so on, a church started by the apostles?  Succession of apostleship, by the way, is found no where in the Bible.  If the apostles believed that their authority as apostles would be handed down through centuries of bishops, they certainly forgot to mention it in all their writings.  Whereas the early Christians were sufficiently close to the apostles by their own Catholic Church leadership, we today are only close to the apostles by the books of the New Testament.  That is the trade-off.  We have something they didn't (a finished Bible).  They had something we don't (church leadership closely associated with the apostles themselves).

So the Bible is the best way of determining doctrine, but how should we interpret the Bible?  By wisdom and understanding.  We must ask God to give us the insight - the Holy Spirit - to know what is meant in Scripture.  As a practical matter, I suggest going to the gospels and reading Christ's words.  You may start in the Old Testament to get the background.  Yet the Old Testament is not so much concerned with Christian doctrine.  To be sure, Christian doctrine does not contradict the teaching of the Old Testament.  Yet the Old Testament can only teach you a few fundamental themes; the rest will have to come from the New Testament.  It is unavoidable, as you try to understand the Bible, that voices are going to be in your ear.  There are many competing doctrines, whose adherents claim to be biblical.  Most are not biblical.  And so, when you read the Bible, you may want to jump right to the heart of the matter.  Paul wrote that the church - that is, the true Christian Church of all ages, founded by Christ Himself, which is spiritual and doesn't consist in any official organization - is built upon the prophets and the apostles, with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone.  The prophets wrote the Old Testament; the apostles wrote the New Testament.  But if you're going to understand either the Old Testament or the New Testament, you better understand the teaching of Christ.  Jesus brings it all together.  Read the Bible through the lens of Jesus' teaching, it makes perfect sense.  But if you read the Bible with all those other voices constantly in your ear, you are almost guaranteed to be confused.  The teaching of Jesus will set many fundamental truths in place.  And these fundamental truths will prevent you from believing at least 90% of the false doctrines out there.  That, right there, is most of the battle already won.

But how do you understand the teaching of Jesus?  As I have already said, you must first ask God for understanding.  As a practical matter, I'll again give a suggestion.  Everything Jesus said has some kind of meaning.  Of course some things, like "show me a denarius", have nothing to do with doctrine, but was just Jesus' interaction with people.  It should not be hard to tell the difference between Jesus teaching and Jesus giving a simple command - "show me a denarius".  Its common sense, really.  As for everything that Jesus taught, every parable he told, there is a meaning to it.  If you do not know the meaning of something Jesus taught, you better not give up until you have discovered its meaning.  You cannot simply pass it by.  Do not ignore it.  Everything Jesus said means something, and it means something important.  So take the time, meditate upon it, read more of Scripture, read some commentary.  Carefully consider what Jesus is saying.  And when you understand what Jesus means, accept it and let it determine your foundational doctrine.  If it contradicts something you already believe, you better throw that old belief away.  So much of what Jesus taught really is fundamental doctrine.  It is essential universal truths.  It lays the foundation for all other beliefs; anything that does not fit on it doesn't belong.  It is the lens through which to read all the rest of Scripture.  By understanding Jesus, you will understand the whole of the Bible.

I think that last statement (I'll proudly stand by it) is a good place to leave you.


About Me

Unimpressive in person. But always praying that these letters I write will be weighty and forceful. I serve the Almighty as a servant of Christ. I strive to conquer hearts and minds with the word of God. I am nothing, but the Holy Spirit living inside me is omnipotent. By Him I can run and not grow weary, or walk and not be faint. All glory and honor be to God and to Jesus the Christ.