What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Genesis 6:9 is one of these misunderstood verses that has spawned doctrinal error. Some have used this verse to justify their belief in their racial superiority, and others have wielded it to break up mixed-race marriages and exclude believers of other races from the church. These false doctrines are based upon a misunderstanding of the English translation and the Hebrew text behind it.
At first glance, Genesis 6:9 seems straightforward: "These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (KJV). However, the phrase "perfect in his generations" has been interpreted to mean that Noah was racially pure, that is, all of his ancestors had been of the same racial stock, making Noah the only "perfect" human being of his generation. Some have deduced from this that racial purity was a determining factor—along with the fact that he "was a just man"—in God's choice of Noah to build the ark and then replenish the earth on the other side of the Flood.
In a mind susceptible to prejudice, this misinterpretation can lead to simple condescension toward or even to outright rejection of whole races as somehow "subhuman." From this have sprung extreme movements such as Aryanism, white supremacy, and Identity cults, all of which preach racial purity and combine it with various levels of isolation and/or segregation, persecution, and militancy. Even in the church, where "there is neither Greek nor Jew" (Colossians 3:11), it can cause distrust, marginalization, and respect of persons, disrupting fellowship and destroying unity.
Unfortunately, the New King James Version (NKJV) fails to correct the translation of Genesis 6:9, although its marginal note on the word "perfect" offers two alternative renderings. The NJKV translators, like their colleagues who worked on other modern translations of God's Word, should have made the change in the text itself to remove all question.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Perfect In His Generations'
The following quotation is from the Pentecost Study Material, assembled by Dr. Charles V. Dorothy during and following the 1974 study by the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), which provided the paper to its ministry:
Some brethren are concerned over the alleged "arbitrary" decision, especially since Joshua 5:10-11 seems to show the Israelites counted that Pentecost from Sunday, the High Day within Unleavened Bread. More study is needed and more is being done. (p. 73; emphasis his)
It appears that Dr. Dorothy was sensitive to some people's skepticism, otherwise why did he emphasize "seems"? Did he draw attention to the word because he felt that the doctrinal committee was banking on something vague, assuming some points, and reaching a conclusion it could not fully justify?
Joshua 5 is where the majority of the disagreement begins. Joshua 4:19 records that the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River on the tenth day of the first month. Joshua 5:1-9 leads a reader to conclude that the Israelite males were probably circumcised beginning on the eleventh day. But even this may be an assumption because Joshua 5:10-11 does not say that Israel kept Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. In other words, it could have been lawfully kept in the second month (Numbers 9), although this scenario is less likely.
At no time or place in Scripture does God designate what month or day of the week this date fell upon that year. In fact, researchers are unable to give an absolute answer even to what year Israel entered the land. We always end up with calculated guesses. Should we build an important spiritual doctrine on a guess?
It is not this article's purpose to prove whether the Wavesheaf offering took place in the first or second month, only that Joshua 5 does not prove that the Israelites offered one at all. If they did not make one, it absolutely destroys the assumptions of a first day of Unleavened Bread Wavesheaf ceremony, since Joshua 5:10-11 is the source used to "support" this deviation.
So where is the authority from God's Word that Israel's observance of Passover that year was on a weekly Sabbath and that Wavesheaf Day was the next day, a Sunday, the first day of Unleavened Bread, a high-holy-day Sabbath? What positively, absolutely, biblically affirmed events are these conclusions based upon?
Notice that, thus far, the chapter makes:
1. No mention of an altar.
2. No mention of a priest.
3. No mention of the offerings God commanded to accompany the waving of the sheaf (Leviticus 23:12-13).
4. No mention whatever of a harvest.
5. No mention of the waving of the sheaf.
Interestingly, God mentions the circumcisions (which had not been performed during the wilderness journey), yet He makes no mention of what would have been the first altar, first sacrificial offerings, and first formal service in the Promised Land. It would also have been the first waving of the sheaf in the land.
However, Joshua 5:11 does say, "They ate the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day." There is nothing wrong with this statement unless one claims that the Israelites had to wave Canaanite-grown grain before God for acceptance before they could eat it. Do the ceremonial instructions give them permission to do this? Do the wavesheaf instructions require that they do this?
The answer to both questions is "No." In fact, such a wavesheaf is strictly forbidden. Exodus 23:16 says this in direct reference to Pentecost: "The Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field" (emphasis ours throughout). The offering had to be made of something the Israelites had sown by their own labors! Pentecost ends the harvest begun on Wavesheaf Day. Therefore, the same "you have sown" qualification applies to Wavesheaf Day as to Pentecost.
The Israelites had surely labored in harvesting grain in Canaan, but they had not sown what they harvested upon entering the land. It was an incomplete production and therefore not qualified. God could not accept such an offering because it did not meet the qualifications He had laid down for a holy people.
For God to accept such an offering would break the spiritual principle Paul mentions in I Corinthians 3:9: "We are laborers together with God." The Israelites were not part of the cycle of cooperation of purpose between them and God in the production of this particular harvest. It was therefore unacceptable for use as the wavesheaf.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost Revisited (Part Two): Joshua 5
The church was scattered when the doctrines were changed, producing confusion and badly disturbing the doctrinal foundation. But David is reminding us that, in reality, God is still on His throne! He knows what is occurring, and we are not to lose hope. He is testing us to see our reaction is to the destruction of what we thought was so solid. But truth cannot be destroyed! We must still have faith in it. If we do, we will use it despite what is happening around us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 3): Ephesians 4 (A)
From the Day of Pentecost in AD 31 to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70, cultural tensions built steadily within Judea as the church continued to grow in numbers. This period included the significant conversion of Saul of Tarsus by Jesus Christ while Saul journeyed to Damascus (Acts 9). Though many brethren feared him at first, perhaps not trusting that his conversion was sincere, he became one of God's most effective instruments in all of church history for producing unity of doctrine. He played a vital role in helping the church to decide how to address the major doctrinal disagreement reported in Acts 15.
This issue was of such importance to church doctrine and unity that it was decided by the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem. Peter and James, Jesus' flesh-and-blood brother, convened a major conference to bring the two sides together to discuss the matter and reach a decision. Paul and Barnabas were also present because they represented one side of the issue, and many other elders were present, presenting arguments for one side or the other.
Central to the issue was whether non-Israelite converts to Jesus' way of life should undergo circumcision. However, the issue involved more than mere circumcision, despite one side insisting that such a new convert did not qualify for salvation without it. The issue ultimately involved all the ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant religion given by God through Moses, including such things as the place of the Temple, sacrifices, and the priesthood under the New Covenant. This point was critical to the conference because Jesus made abundantly clear that not even one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18).
Several years before, this issue had been broached in an incident in which Jesus gave an ever-so-brief preview that some changes in the worship of God were in order (John 4:6-26). Jesus had journeyed into Samaria and engaged in a conversation about worship with a woman of Sychar at what the locals called “Jacob's Well.” Jesus actively engaged in the conversation by asking her to give Him a drink from the well, a significant deviation from normal Jewish practice. The woman obliged Him but questioned His speaking openly with a Gentile woman.
Their conversation eventually led to proper worship, and from Jesus' answers, the woman perceived that He was a prophet. Recall that circumcision, required since Abraham, was an act of worship required by God.
In His conversation with the woman (John 4:20-26), Jesus clearly signals that some activities involved in the worship of God would change despite having been required practice since at least the time of the building of the Temple by Solomon, a period of about a thousand years. Also within the context is Jesus' hint that the nature of worship would be changing from rote public ceremonies to more heartfelt devotion and personal interaction with God.
The general term “worship” is first and foremost a verb, an action. Worship is motivated by a desire to honor another. In the Bible, this action is almost always directed toward God, though it is directed at times toward others, even fellow humans and false gods. When worshipping the true God, the worshipper is often described as bowing down, in a posture of listening for instruction and ready to obey, or kneeling, all picturing submission to someone of greater authority and seeking to please him. In an overall sense, then, worship portrays submissive service to another of greater power or dignity.
In Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman, He describes the Father as a Spirit, saying that those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. His statement qualifies true worship as being on a higher, purer level than virtually everyone at the time was accustomed to giving. The fact that “Spirit” is first capitalized, identifying a divine Being to be worshipped, and the next time uncapitalized and coupled with “truth” indicates Jesus is signaling a positive change in approach to worship.
Thus, a link exists between the change signaled by Jesus in John 4:23-24 and the higher, different standard the church council enacted in Acts 15 regarding circumcision and baptism.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Four)
1 Thessalonians 5:21
I Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us to "test [prove, KJV] all things," which would include our old notions, and then "hold fast" to the good ones—the ones that pass the test. A mistake many make is to follow tenaciously the instruction of Revelation 3:11 to "hold fast to what we have" while completely ignoring the additional instructions of I Thessalonians 5:21 to test first.
Experience proves that not all that we believe is truth, even if held fast for forty years. We have to test our beliefs continually and rigorously against the only standard that counts—the Bible (Acts 5:29).
Human nature is lazy and takes the easy road at every opportunity. It will rely on human reasoning, the word of others, or tradition rather than do the hard work of studying the Bible and believing what it actually says. Human nature also will not naturally do the humbling work of allowing the Bible and its plain, unambiguous verses to prove matters rather than following humanly devised ideas. The church's history over the last few decades displays the fruits of taking doctrine for granted rather than allowing clear scriptures to guide our understanding of the truth.
Why do people have so many different opinions about what the Bible says? Generally, people come to the Bible with preconceived ideas and latch on to any scripture that seems to prove their belief. At the same time, they will ignore or make light of a clear verse that obviously contradicts their belief.
God can use this as a test to determine the true intents of the heart. Where does one's allegiance really lie? Will a person humbly submit to the clear instructions of God, allowing them to lead him or her to create a true spiritual foundation (Deuteronomy 8:2-3; Psalm 149:4)? Alternatively, will they choose instead to hold on to their preconceptions or other ideas of men—their idols (Revelation 21:8)—desperately grasping at the straws of unclear scriptures to build a shaky foundation?
When doctrinal disputes arise, if a person cannot or will not prove beliefs using clear and unambiguous scriptures, that fact should raise a red flag. Clear scriptures are a solid-rock foundation. Ambiguous scriptures, open to private interpretation, lead to a foundation of sand. Only one of these foundations will stand when storms come (Matthew 7:24-27).
Praying Always (Part One)
1 Timothy 6:20
In Paul's letters to Timothy, he urges the young evangelist in the strongest of terms to stand firm and to hold fast to the doctrine that the apostle had given to him (I Timothy 6:20). Paul needs to warn him because, by about AD 65, the church is already sliding away from the truth that Jesus Christ had entrusted to the apostles.
Why is doctrine so important to God? Why does He not want his people to deviate from what He spoke in His Word? The answer is basic and simple: Deviation from orthodoxy will not produce the right fruit in fulfilling His purpose.
God makes allowances, of course, for minor variations. Not everyone will have the same level of obedience or understanding. Not everyone is equally wise or educated. However, His people will have a strong belief in the doctrines most important and central to His purpose. If these central doctrines are missing, then the deviations that are present will endanger the purpose He is working out.
Perhaps the analogy of following a recipe in the baking of a cake will suffice to show the principles involved in keeping doctrine pure. If in baking a cake, a baker left out certain ingredients, or if he added others that the recipe did not call for, or if he used the right ingredients but in the wrong proportions, it is entirely possible with any of these combinations not even to end up with a cake! Obviously, to produce a perfect cake, one must use the right ingredients in the right proportions.
Though this is certainly an ideal, God wants His people to aim for it because of His purpose. One may never hit such a high target, but that does not relieve one of the burden of striving to develop the right proportion of the right ingredients in every part of life. Ephesians 4:13 says, ". . . till we all come . . . to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
The called of God have a tremendously high purpose and hope: to be gods! The Bible unequivocally states that we are to be like Him, that is, like Jesus Christ (I John 3:2). It follows that the ingredients that produce that potential be as close to perfect as possible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
2 Timothy 2:15-18
In this era of the church, the one that we are living in, we have our own problems with certain doctrinal matters. The first century also had problems with certain doctrines that they had to deal with. The very first bridge that they had to cross had to do with justification—justification by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
This was a new concept, which is why God commissioned the apostle Paul to write so much about justification by faith—not by works, not by earning justification, but by faith in what God said and what Jesus Christ did. This doctrinal instruction takes up much of the books of Romans and Galatians.
The second bridge they had to cross was law and grace. Even today, people like to separate the two, as if a Christian cannot believe in law and grace at the same time. The apostles had to convince the people that law and grace are not opposed to one another, but work in harmony to complete the process of justification and then sanctification. God not only forgives us, but He also gives us gifts by His Spirit by which we can be sanctified unto holiness, the middle part of the process of salvation, which absolutely cannot be left out.
The third thing is the second coming of Christ. As time passed, the pressure mounted and the return of Jesus Christ became increasingly important in the minds of people. It naturally led people to believe that they had plenty of time to overcome, and it seemed to work to cast them adrift. This is why Paul says that the Hebrews were neglecting their salvation.
In Matthew 24:42, we find that Jesus anticipated this. He really understood human nature. Incidentally, do you want to know what it is that causes people to go to sleep spiritually, so that you can be aware? It is not a hard principle at all to understand. It is having to face so many difficulties, so many pressures, that one becomes weary with facing them. This is a simplification, but it is true. When people have to face so many stresses, they become apathetic and say, "What's the use?" We need to stir ourselves up and recognize that this can happen to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
2 Timothy 2:16-18
The metaphor changes from cutting a road (verse 15) to shooting an arrow at a target. The word of truth, the gospel, is the target. If you shoot an arrow at a target, one of three things will happen: 1) the arrow will hit the bull's-eye; 2) it will go slightly off, left or right, top or bottom, still hitting somewhere within the target area; or 3) it will miss the target completely.
Some Bibles translate verse 18 as "who have swerved" (Revised Standard Version), "wandered away" (New International Version), or "erred" (King James Version) from the truth. None of these translations are complete in capturing the metaphor. When you shoot an arrow, it goes straight, but not necessarily straight at the target! If you watch someone else shoot an arrow, where are your eyes pointing? Do they not follow the arrow to the target? That is the point. The arrow is the teaching that the teacher gives, and no matter how straight he gives it, if he is not aiming directly at the bull's-eye and hitting it, his students eyes will not be on the right goal!
The weight of responsibility is heavy on the minister. Not only is he to give instruction that is plain and clear, he is also to give instruction that is right on target so people do not get distracted by false doctrine. A minister can be perfectly sincere, but if he points his teaching toward the wrong goal, he will miss the target. Fortunately, our God is faithful and makes every effort to turn us toward the right goal.
These metaphors and illustrations show how important doctrine and having the right gospel are. Doctrine forms belief; belief determines action and character. Minimizing the future aspects of the gospel alters our vision of where we are going with our lives. The future aspects of the gospel cannot be demoted in priority to second or third place without seriously compromising our Christian lives since it removes the right goal and deflects people away from the Kingdom of God. When people are deflected from the right goal, the teaching of the gospel changes, and God's creative process begins to wind down and may even stop entirely.
God is concerned about doctrine because it determines what a person is now and will be in the future. As one lives it, it becomes more ingrained in his life and will eventually become indelibly stamped on his character. Then God has a choice, either to give him immortality, or consign him to the Lake of Fire. Regardless of how straight we pursue our objectives in life, if we are aimed at the wrong goal, we cannot produce the kind of life—the character—that God wants in His Kingdom. Correct doctrine is eternally vital!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
2 Peter 2:1
Alarming as II Peter 2:1-3 is, Peter does not define heresy, but he does tell what one heresy is and will be. He also does not tell us here what the source of heresy is either.
Heresy is the translation of the Greek hairesis—meaning literally "choice" or "selection"—which has an interesting secular as well as biblical history. Until its biblical use, it had no evil connotation. Even in the Bible, it is mostly used to refer to a party or a philosophy with which a person had chosen to identify or ally himself. Thus, hairesis is frequently translated "sect." In Acts, Luke applies it to the Sadducees (Acts 5:17) and the Pharisees (Acts 15:5; 26:5). Outsiders also used hairesis in Acts 24:5, 14 and Acts 28:22 to identify the Christian church.
However, when Paul and Peter's writings began circulating, hairesis meant a destructive element within the church that creates division through consciously formed opinions and ideas in disagreement with the orthodox teachings of the apostles. Paul condemns it in Galatians 5:20 as one of "the works of the flesh." Sometimes it is translated "factions" or "party spirit," but regardless of its translation, Paul says that people who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (verse 21)!
In the ordinary course of secular life, heresy was of little consequence; one person's opinion or choice about most things in life is just as good as another's. A person can be given any number of alternatives, any one of which he may be perfectly free to believe. However, in Christianity we are dealing with revelation, with God-given truth, with absolutes. When God's truth comes to men, we either have to accept or reject it. Thus, a heretic is a man who believes what he wishes to believe instead of accepting the truth of God that he ought to believe.
John W. Ritenbaugh
2 Peter 2:1
If "secretly" ("privily") were translated into the closest English synonym, it would have been rendered "smuggle." They smuggle in heresy by cunning deceit. The word literally means "they bring it along side," that is, they present this heresy in such a way as to make it appear favorably with the truth. "Oh, it's just a refinement. We're not really changing anything. You understand that, don't you? We're not really changing it. It's just a refinement, a clarification."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)
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