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5 tough questions

God’s Word
Are there errors in the Bible?

My Harvard professor said Exodus 37:17-24, which describes sevenfold lamps, was in error because such lamps did not exist in Moses’ time. Later I took part in an archaeological expedition in Dothan in Israel and watched workmen uncover a sevenfold lamp dating from 1400 B.C., right from Moses’ time.

Critics once said the Hittites never existed because the Greeks and Egyptians didn’t mention them. Then a whole Hittite civilization was discovered. The Greeks and Egyptians did mention them but got the name so twisted no one recognized it. The Bible had it right.

That did not satisfy the critics. They said, “That may be true, but the Horites are fiction.” Others said Sargon never existed. Some even said King David never existed. But Horites were proved to be the same as Hurrians. Sargon’s palace has been excavated. Recently, an ancient inscription was discovered that mentions David’s name and kingdom.

Again and again the Bible has been proved true. It is the critics who are in error due to their unbelief and insufficient knowledge.

Other supposed errors include chronological difficulties caused because the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used different systems of measuring time or dating. One cause of apparent contradictions is that one passage may use round numbers; another may give the exact figure, depending on the purpose of the writer.

Most of the errors critics talk about are copyists’ errors. Because the books of the Bible were copied by hand it was easy to make spelling mistakes, misread a word, or leave out a word or a line. By comparing the many ancient copies that have been discovered, scholars can determine the original reading in the vast majority of cases. Those cases where we can’t be sure are mostly differences in spelling or word order. None of them affects the teachings of the Bible in any way.

The Bible is a wonderful revelation of God and His plan. It will not lead us astray.

— Stanley M. Horton is distinguished professor emeritus of Bible and theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Mo.

What is the unpardonable sin?

In Matthew 12:31,32 the Lord Jesus declared that blasphemy or speaking profanely against the Holy Spirit is the sin for which there was neither forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come. Thus, whoever is guilty of committing such a sin is “subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:29, NKJV).

It is vital that we understand the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s plan of salvation in order to grasp the Savior’s meaning of how one sins against the Holy Spirit. Only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit can a person know conviction of sin (John 16:8), be drawn to God (John 6:44; Revelation 22:17), and receive a revelation of Christ’s saving work on the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14).

Those who deliberately reject the only means by which God’s grace is mediated to lost sinners remove themselves from the only source of pardon provided by divine mercy.

When Christ is willfully rejected, the Scripture states, “There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). Such a sin is called unpardonable because the basis for pardon has been rejected.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is described as “insulting the Spirit of grace” (see Hebrews 10:29). For when a person with full understanding of what he or she is doing “tramples the Son of God underfoot, and counts the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing,” the Holy Spirit is denied the opportunity to administer the grace and pardon of Christ.

Regarding the unpardonable sin, J. Oswald Sanders wrote in his Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel: “These things should be noted: (1) It is a calculated sin, not one of impulse. (2) It is a sin of knowledge, not ignorance, but a sin against spiritual knowledge and light (Hebrews 10:26,32). (3) It is not an isolated act but a habitual attitude. (4) It is a sin of the heart, not merely of the intellect or the tongue. (5) It is a sin of finality — complete rejection of Christ.” The harsh term blasphemy indicates a deliberate and godless rejection of the saving power and grace of God.

Unfortunately, the devil has led some people to believe they have committed the unpardonable sin. People who are fearful they have committed such a sin would do well to heed the words of William Barclay: “The person who cannot have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit is the person who fears he/she has, for the sin against the Holy Spirit can be truly described as the loss of all sense of sin” (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, p. 50).

— James K. Bridges is former general treasurer of the Assemblies of God.

When someone has wronged you, is it all right to get even?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV).

If you had the chance, whom would you get even with?

The phrase “Don’t get mad — get even” suggests we ought to aggressively match injury with injury. Maybe you’ve been trying to get even with someone. You’re more than angry; your anger thrives on action.

Consider this teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount regarding how His followers are to seek a righteousness exceeding that of the religious legalists of His day (and ours). It’s a righteousness that moves past outer actions into inner intents.

Jesus counsels against resisting an evil person. He tells us to turn the other cheek, to give our overcoat as well as our shirt, to go a second mile and to lend to one who asks. Really. How practical is this? And what exactly is Jesus asking?

Limitation of vengeance
First, we must understand the limitations the Old Testament placed on vengeance. If someone knocked your eye or tooth out, you couldn’t knock his or her head off in retaliation. The limitation of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was an imposition of mercy for the offender. It meant they would get as good as they gave, but no more.

In seeking your own vengeance, start with the Old Testament precept. You do not have a right to impose greater suffering than was imposed on you.

Jesus builds from that fundamental limitation on vengeance to point us to a far higher ideal.

If you are right-handed (which the common person of Jesus’ day was), how do you strike another person on the right cheek? Do a phantom practice. You’ll discover that you do it with a backhand slap. Jesus is asking, “How will you respond to insult?”

We must not take His statements out of context — including the one “Don’t resist an evil person.” Jesus here is not throwing away the power of the government to arrest, prosecute and convict felons. He himself resisted evil. He twice cleansed the temple, read the riot act to the hypocrites and prevented the stoning of a woman taken in adultery. The key in Jesus’ life was that He never allowed personal revenge or hatred to dwell in His heart.

By forbidding you to return an insulting blow, Jesus is not teaching, “Let criminals do whatever they want.” He’s talking to you about your heart. Will you return an insult with insult, or with love? Is your object to get even or win over the offender to Christ?

Again, we must be careful to avoid an overly simplistic view of “throwing in the cloak” when someone has demanded the less expensive tunic. Jesus himself commended the widow who persistently pressed a crooked judge for justice (Luke 18:1-7).

Jesus teaches that legal redress can never be simply for personal vengeance or profit. If you are contemplating taking someone to court, examine your motive. Is it for personal vengeance or profit? If so, take the opposite tack: Throw in the towel.

A Roman soldier could compel a subject to go one mile. Simon of Cyrene, for example, was forced to carry the cross of Jesus. How he must have resented that at the time.

You may resent being forced to do something. But is it possible that the cross you’re asked to carry will instead become a mark of honor rather than a badge of burden?

Jesus wants us to be cheerful rather than resentful disciples. He doesn’t justify slavery by saying, “Go the second mile,” or unwholesomely fulfilling the sick personality of a domineering person’s constant demands. He is telling us to provide service gladly rather than doing our duty with grim resentment.

Giving to one who asks requires common sense. Jesus would not tell you to give a loaded gun to a toddler who asks, or a butcher knife to a requesting madman. Neither is He approving the social irresponsibility of squandering. He is saying we are responsible, like the Good Samaritan, for the people in our path with genuine need whom we have the power to help.

What’s the upshot of this? Jesus is not introducing a new legal or economic system. His purpose is not to generalize on problems. He is concerned with specifics: you and me. How do we cope with insult? How do we respond when someone tries to take something from us? What’s our reaction to people who compel us to do things (not immoral things) against our will? How do we respond to others with needs?

If you want to establish man’s cause, an eye for an eye is the answer. If you want to establish God’s cause, then reconciliation rather than revenge is the answer.

— George O. Wood is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Why doesn’t the Bible tell us more about it?

Don’t you wish the Bible told us more about heaven?

I do.

The apostle John was given a brief vision of that celestial city while he was a prisoner on Patmos. The Book of Revelation gives details: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).

No tears. The hurts, the partings, the sorrows that engulf this planet will all have been removed. Nothing will make you cry in heaven.

No death. No more bereaved standing beside open caskets. No more funeral processions slowly driving to cemeteries. The Grim Reaper will not be allowed access to the Holy City.

No sorrow. No more pain. Nothing in heaven will mar your life.

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). All of us need to feel we have a place. No matter what you do or where you live, it’s a terrible sensation to feel out of place — that you don’t belong. In heaven you will be needed; you will be wanted; you will be enjoyed by others. Every day will be unmarred and untainted.

Heaven will be a place of activity. Our activities will keep us occupied throughout all eternity. We will serve the Lord, doing His will and bidding throughout the universe. Revelation 20 says we shall reign over the Earth — the new one God has created for the redeemed.

One of our main activities in heaven will be worship. John saw Christians around the heavenly throne praising the Lord, their voices a Niagara of sound. There are 14 songs in Revelation. Some will be sung by angels, but most will be sung by those of us who are now home.

And there will be eternal rest. Rest simply means there will be nothing in heaven to sap our strength, drain our energies or diffuse our minds.

Heaven is a place beyond all human understanding or comprehension. I would not miss it for anything.

— Dan Betzer is pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Fla.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

My godly mother was beaten and left for dead by a young prison parolee. Mother lived five more years, faithfully praying for the man’s salvation. Many asked, “Why would God allow such a good woman to suffer such a bad thing?”

God has not given one simple answer that will satisfy everyone, but His Word has given us all we need to know in order to live victoriously (2 Peter 1:3,4). Being all-powerful and all-loving, He absolutely works all things for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Christians are subject to common calamities. If God protected His children from all storms, disappointments, poverty and plagues, people would be tempted to serve Him for selfish reasons, as Satan falsely accused Job of doing (Job 1:10,11). Good people have no insurance against physical death; even innocent children and babies die. Heartbroken loved ones can be comforted by God’s promise that He sometimes takes the righteous one away “from the evil to come” (Isaiah 57:1, KJV).

When believers sow to the flesh, they reap bad consequences. Galatians 6:7 was written to Christians. God chastens His children (Hebrews 12:5) to correct wrong attitudes and prevent sin. Paul suffered a painful infirmity, a “messenger of Satan,” to keep him from pride (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Fiery trials come to purify our faith (1 Peter 1:7). Tribulation is essential to perseverance, and these produce character, the only thing we can take with us into heaven for eternity (Romans 5:3,4). As believers, we share in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). The same world that hated Him hates us (John 15:18-21); all who are godly will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). The sufferings of Christ abound in good people so they can know the comfort God gives. Then — and only then — are they prepared to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).

God’s final answer to these questions is the Cross. Jesus used the ultimate “bad thing” to crush the serpent’s head (Colossians 2:15; Genesis 3:15). Soon God’s people will be in the only place in the universe that is totally free of all bad things; all who follow Satan will have lost all that is good forever.

— Opal Reddin was distinguished professor emeritus of Bible and theology at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

From 50 Tough Questions: Relevant Answers for Today’s Concerns compiled and edited by Hal Donaldson and Ken Horn (Springfield, Mo.: Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and Gospel Publishing House, 2002). Available through Gospel Publishing House.

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