What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Overall, how do we, as Christians, perceive time? Every day we are witnesses to its progression. Daylight comes and passes, and night arrives only to be followed by daylight again. We can look at a clock and see that its hands are moving. But how - in what manner - is time moving?
As a culture, the Greeks have become known as a people sensitive to the rhythms of time, and this, though written by Solomon, a Hebrew, is a decidedly Greek view of life and of time's movement. This perception of life and time - their acute awareness of things like the perpetual ebb and flow of tides, the continuous cycle of the four seasons, and the constant repetition of weather patterns - became a major building block of Greek philosophy, leading them to develop the concept that time is cyclical.
They concluded that man's life is lived within a series of continuous, changeless recurrences. To them, time works like a wheel turning on an axis, and the events that mark time's progress repeat themselves endlessly. They believed that nothing could be done about it because such events will happen eternally. Thus, a person is born, lives his life on a stage, and when his part is done, he exits. Such belief inexorably leads to a fatalistic view of life.
Notice verse 8 especially. The Soncino Commentary opines that Solomon is saying that this inescapable repetition in life is such weariness that he lacked the words to describe it aptly. Despite what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 1, the general Hebrew outlook is decidedly different. The Hebrew concept of time greatly benefited from God's revelation. In Jude 14-15, the apostle quotes an Old Testament personality, Enoch, whose pre-flood prophecy deflected Hebrew thought about time in a far different direction:
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." (Jude 14-15)
This quotation shows that the Hebrews who believed God knew that time was headed on a very different path from the Greek view. Events do not just happen in a vacuum; they are moving in a definite direction. Enoch is warning that a time is coming when men will have to answer for what they have done during their lifetimes.
Even so, he is nowhere near the earliest indicator that time and the events within it are moving in a specific direction. Notice Genesis 3:14-15:
So the LORD God said to the serpent; "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."
God had revealed Himself to the Hebrew descendants of Abraham, and some among them, like Moses, believed what He said. Thus, they knew that time was not cyclical, as the Greeks perceived it, but linear: The Creator is moving time and all that happens within it in a definite direction.
The prophet Amos receives credit for giving that "sometime" a general title, or at least the term is first used within his prophecy. He called it the "Day of the Lord." Generally, he appears to mean the time when God will intervene with a strong hand in the affairs of this world - an act that is definitely not repetitious.
However, it remained for the Christian church to define time and its right usage for its members. The church's conception of time blends the cyclical concepts of the Greeks and the linear concepts of the Hebrews. It is true that many things in life - things like wars, economic depressions, and political revolutions - do recur in an inexorable manner. Yet, as the New Testament shows, much of this happens as a result of man's self-centered nature. In other words, they do not have to happen, but they do happen because man's choices make them happen. Man continually makes bad choices because his nature is unchangingly anti-God.
Thus, in general, the Christian view is that time indeed contains stressful, repeating cycles, as Solomon describes, yet the New Testament calls these cycles "evil" (Galatians 1:4). However, it also shows that time is moving in a definite direction and that God Himself is orchestrating many of the events within its progress toward the return of Jesus Christ, the Day of the Lord, and the establishment on earth of His Family Kingdom.
This led the church to develop, under the inspiration of Jesus Christ, an overall concept of time management unique to church members. It has its roots in the Old Testament: Isaiah 55:6 urges us to "seek the LORD while He may be found."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part Two): A Foundation
The parable is a series of contrasts between new and old. It contains new and old clothing, new and old wineskins, and new and old wine. Christ's being taken away makes the “newness” possible, and once that “newness” is available, it is wholly incompatible with the old.
Jesus begins with an example of old and new garments: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.” In Scripture, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, garments or clothing are common symbols of righteousness. After Adam and Eve sinned, they tried to cover themselves with something they made with their own hands (Genesis 3:7). Instead, God gave them tunics made of skin (verse 21), requiring the life of an animal, representing the Lamb of God giving His life to cover sin.
Matthew 22:1-13 contains the Parable of the Wedding Garment, whose lesson is that inappropriate clothing will keep a person out of a wedding feast. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” The Pharisees had a righteousness, but Jesus asserts that our righteousness must exceed theirs (Matthew 5:20), meaning that we need to have His righteousness imputed to us, which becomes our new covering, our new garment. As we become one with Him and submit to taking on His image, we have a righteousness that does not come from our works but from God's work in us.
Thus, we have a contrast between man's righteousness and the righteousness of Christ. But, just as it makes no sense to tear off a piece from a new garment to patch an old one, so is it also a futile exercise to try to keep our own righteousness intact and use a little bit of Christ's righteousness to cover a flaw here and there. The two coverings are incompatible—we have to choose one or the other.
The conclusion is that, if a new garment is available, we would be foolish to use it to mend an old, defective one. Because Jesus was taken away, His righteousness is available to us, so we need to discard any thought that our own is suitable. Instead, we must put on His righteousness and be conformed to it so that it fits and covers us appropriately. Clearly, works are involved and required on our part, but without the covering and involvement of Christ, those works would continue to be as filthy rags.
To understand the new and the old, it is important to realize that the “old” could have many applications. It is not just the Old Covenant. In fact, the Pharisees in Jesus' audience did not actually represent the Old Covenant. The system of beliefs and practices that developed into Judaism is not the same thing as the Old Covenant. Certainly, Judaism makes use of the writings of Moses and the prophets, but it also leans heavily on the traditions of Jewish scholars and is infused with Greek philosophy.
The Pharisees, then, were not actually living by the Old Covenant! God intended that covenant to prepare His people for the coming of the Messiah. Everything in the holiness code, the sacrifices, and so forth was intended to point to Christ. Since the Pharisees could not recognize the Object of the Covenant, what they were practicing was not what the pre-incarnate Christ delivered to Moses. They had gotten far off course.
Therefore, the “old” elements in this parable could be any system of belief aside from what became available through Christ.
David C. Grabbe
Clothing, Wineskins, and Wine
2 Corinthians 3:17
Acts 2 records the event of God's pouring out of His Spirit on the church, as well as the accompanying manifestations that testified dramatically that something extraordinary was taking place. Subsequently, the Holy Spirit is a significant theme throughout the rest of Acts, as the gospel was preached and more people were called into the church. The epistles of Paul, Peter, and John likewise feature the Holy Spirit frequently. Yet, for all that is written about it, the Holy Spirit is still commonly misunderstood. Many theologians claim to know what the Holy Spirit is, yet they simultaneously profess it to be an incomprehensible mystery!
Part of the difficulty in understanding God's Spirit comes from the common challenges that arise whenever a text is translated from one language, with all of its nuances, into another. In this case, the Greek word translated as “spirit” is pneuma. E.W. Bullinger, in The Companion Bible, catalogs fourteen different meanings or usages of that one Greek word. It should not be surprising, then, that when Greek texts are concisely translated into English, some of what is intended by pneuma can become clouded.
Further confusion has been introduced by the so-called “early church fathers,” whose writings are often looked to for guidance in understanding early Christian doctrine. They may have been early on the scene, yet they were also influenced by Greek philosophy, Plato in particular. Plato's worldview—one not based on the Bible—promoted a triune godhead or a single god that mysteriously expresses itself in three different persons or personalities. Plato himself developed this view from much older trinities found in the Babylonian mystery religions, as well as Egyptian beliefs.
One of the rarer usages of the word pneuma is “a spirit being,” thus it was not a great leap for early scholars—looking through a lens of pagan concepts—to regard the Holy Spirit as a third God-Being. Because those involved were already inclined to think in terms of a god consisting of three persons, they were able to find “evidence” of such an idea in the Scriptures.
It has been said that heresy crawls in its first generation, it walks in the second, and then it runs. Once the notion of the Holy Spirit being a third person got its start, it walked and then soon sprinted throughout the Western world with such force that now the overwhelming majority of professing Christians take the idea as a given.
It is worth remembering that there is indeed a spirit being striving for equality with the Father and the Son, but that spirit—Satan the Devil—is anything but holy (Isaiah 14:13-14). He has, though, created a place for himself in the minds of millions by guiding Catholic and Protestant doctrine to include a mysterious third spirit being within a three-part godhead, just as the ancient pagan religions held. Yet, that construct is nowhere found in the Hebrew Scriptures, nor is it unambiguously seen in the Greek Scriptures. It is a doctrine that must be read into the Greek text, but doing so only creates contradiction and confusion—neither of which are from God (John 10:35; I Corinthians 14:33).
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Holy Spirit?
1 Peter 5:5
This commandment flew in the face of the Greek culture because, like ours, it glorified self-assertion and aggressiveness. The Greeks worshipped bodily perfection and "wisdom," as they called it, flaunting it before others as a basis on which a relationship would be conducted. Feeling better than, or being seen as better than, others was very important to people in the Greek world.
God commands us to be clothed with humility. Humility is pride's opposite, its antonym. We learn a great deal about humility when we just do the opposite of what the Bible teaches us about pride. Part of the key to understanding humility is in this short phrase "just do"—just do the opposite of pride. True humility is a choice. It is not something that comes naturally. We have to choose to do it.
Peter says that we must "be clothed with humility." We must put on humility just as we put on our clothes. Doing either of these activities is a choice. In this phrase, the apostle is reminiscing about Jesus at His last Passover, when He clothed Himself with an apron and knelt down before His disciples, including Peter, washing their feet as an example of His mind, His attitude, toward them (John 13:1-17). He girded himself and performed this lowly act. He had to put on, choose to practice, humility to do that.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 7)
1 John 2:3-6
This passage helps us understand how we can have the right attitude and emotion in our obedience. We come to know God through the same general process we get to know fellow human beings—by fellowshipping or experiencing life with them.
Around 500 years before Christ, Greek philosophers believed they could come to know God through intellectual reasoning and argument. This idea had a simple premise: that man is curious! They reasoned that it is man's nature to ask questions. Since God made man so, if men asked the right questions and thought them through, they would force God to reveal Himself. The flaw in this is seen in the fruit it produced. Though it supplied a number of right answers, it did not—could not—make men moral beings. Such a process could not change man's nature.
To them, religion became something akin to higher mathematics. It was intense mental activity, yielding intellectual satisfaction but no moral action. Plato and Socrates, for example, saw nothing wrong with homosexuality. The gods of Greek mythology also reflect this immorality, as they had the same weaknesses as human beings.
A few hundred years later, the Greeks pursued becoming one with God through mystery religions. One of their distinctive features was the passion play, which always had the same general theme. A god lived, suffered terribly, died a cruel, unjust death, and then rose to life again. Before being allowed to see the play, an initiate endured a long course of instruction and ascetic discipline. As he progressed in the religion, he was gradually worked into a state of intense expectation.
Then, at the right time, his instructors took him to the passion play, where they orchestrated the environment to heighten the emotional experience: cunning lighting, sensuous music, fragrant incense, and uplifting liturgy. As the story developed, the initiate became so emotionally involved that he identified himself with and believed he shared the god's suffering, victory, and immortality.
But this exercise failed them in coming to know God. Not only did it not change man's nature, but the passion play was also full of lies! The result was not true knowing but feeling. It acted like a religious drug, the effects of which were short-lived. It was an abnormal experience, somewhat like a modern Pentecostal meeting where worshippers pray down the "spirit" and speak in tongues. Such activities are escapes from the realities of ordinary life.
Contrast these Greek methods with the Bible's way of knowing God. Knowledge of God comes, not by speculation or emotionalism, but by God's direct self-revelation. In other words, God Himself initiates our knowing of Him, beginning our relationship by drawing us by His Spirit (John 6:44).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
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