Category Archives: Theology

“By” or “Through”: That’s the Question (An Examination of John 1:3)

Introduction

Tuesday morning, after a cup of coffee with some great, godly men in our community, I was standing out in the parking lot of a local restaurant discussing the morning’s plans. It was during this short conversation that the subject matter briefly switched to that of Bible translations.

There we were, standing by the cab of a pickup truck when one of these men – a great friend to our family and church – said something akin to the following:

“The reason I will only use the King James Bible can be illustrated by the change in one word, and that word is found in the first chapter of John. There, the King James Version says, ‘all things were made by Jesus,’ but every other version – every single one – changes that word ‘by’ to ‘through.’ I have a problem with that. As I see it, there’s a big difference between ‘by’ and ‘through.’ Either everything was made by Jesus, or it wasn’t.” (Again, this was not an exact quote, but close.)

Therefore, it might take more than the average 500-word blog post to unpack, but I want to address this apparent conflict between “by” and “through” as found in John 1:3.

Doing the Research

You know, the last thing one should do when confronted with an unknown is say to the one making the assertion, “Nuh uh!” Right after my friend said what he did about every other translation of the Bible changing “by” to “through,” I pulled out my iPhone and pulled up BlueLetterBible.com.

Seeing what I was doing, the gentleman goaded me a little and said with a slight chuckle, “You gotta look that one up, don’t ya?” I grinned as I nodded…the subject changed back to hardware for about 30 seconds…then we went our separate ways.

But I did look it up. It wasn’t difficult to do, either. The Bible-study tools we have access to in an instant, even on our smartphones, are literally mind-blowing. At no other time in history have we had so much knowledge available so quickly right in the palms of our hands. Therefore, it didn’t take more than a few seconds to learn that my friend’s assertions were spot on… The KJV was actually the only one to render John 1:3 with a “by,” not a “through.”

For example:

  • John 1:3 (KJV) – All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  • (NKJV) – All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
  • (NIV) – Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
  • (ESV) – All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  • (CSB) – All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

Yes, I did my research, and what I found was that my friend’s assertion was true: every other translation of the Bible changed the word “by” to “through.” However, my research wasn’t complete; it was time to consult the original languages.

It’s All Greek

Like I said above, the study tools we have these days are amazing, and there’s really no good excuse for any Bible student to claim ignorance. For example, if all one had was access to one online tool such as BlueLetterBible.com, then what used to take hours of study could be done in mere moments. Then if you add to that all the other free websites available, including what’s available from online libraries, and then throw in some relatively inexpensive (but voluminous) programs like Logos, oh… my… goodness! It’s hard to comprehend how blessed we are!

So, when it became obvious that “by” had been replaced by “through,” I decided to take the next logical step and look up the source of the translations in question: the original Greek word, διά (dē-ä’).

It may sound unbelievable to you, but there are still people out there who think Jesus spoke Elizabethan English. However, the Bible was not originally written in the language of Shakespeare. In actuality, John 1:3 was written in Greek, so “by” and “through” are only translations of the Greek word διά (Strong’s G1223).

The next question should then be: “What does dia mean?”

Grab Your Concordance

Well, every Bible student should have a Strong’s Concordance in his personal library, even if his library only consisted of a Bible and one other book. Therefore, let’s take a look at Strong’s and see what we find.

G1223: διά diá, dee-ah’; a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; through (in very wide applications, local, causal, or occasional):—after, always, among, at, to avoid, because of (that), briefly, by, for (cause) … fore, from, in, by occasion of, of, by reason of, for sake, that, thereby, therefore, × though, through(-out), to, wherefore, with (-in).

According to Strong’s Concordance, dia is a word that denotes “the channel of an act; through…” Therefore, is it really an act of theological sabotage to translate John 1:3 with through instead of by?

Is it possible that Jesus was the One through whom God the Father made all things?

You see, it is not heresy to say that the Father made all that is through Jesus, the Word of God. No, it is actually MORE theologically sound and true to Jesus’ own words to say that He was the agency or “channel” of creation, rather than the one acting unilaterally in creation. Why do I say this? Consider the actual words of Jesus as recorded by John…

  • John 4:34 (KJV) – Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.
  • John 5:19 (KJV) – Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
  • John 6:38 (KJV) – For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

If Jesus had acted alone and created all things by Himself, then His own words would expose a critical inconsistency. The fact seems to be that even though Jesus was and is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, He still had to act in accordance with the will of the Father, and therefore saying “all things were created through Him” is more theologically consistent with the nature of the Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead.

A Dose of Commentary

I learned a long time ago that commentaries can be very useful if used properly; I go to them after I have already read the Scripture and done all the exegesis I can do with the study tools at hand. Therefore, it was only after I did the above study that I consulted several scholarly commentaries. For the benefit of this discussion and for your edification, allow me to share the following directly from the sources.

The New American Commentary: John 1-11

The preposition dia (“through”), used in connection with creation here, should not be taken to mean that the Logos is essentially inferior to God, as the Arians argued. But the early Christians, in attempting to discuss simultaneously the work of both the Father and the Son in creation, sometimes tried to hold both together through the use of two prepositions. The Father’s activity was linked with the preposition ek, which carries the sense of “origin,” and the Son’s activity was linked with the preposition dia, which carries the sense of “mediation” (e.g., the early Christian creedal statement in 1 Cor 8:6; also see Heb 1:2 for the use of dia).

The Pulpit Commentary: St. John (Vol. 1)

In asserting that the Logos is he or that through whom all things were made, the writer does not lower the dignity of the Logos by regarding him merely as the οργανον of the Father, because the same preposition is used of the relation of the Father to the world or to his servants (Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:1; Heb. 2:10). Elsewhere St. Paul powerfully affirms the same application of διά (1 Cor. 8:6) to Christ’s part in the Creation, reserving for the One God, the Father, the preposition ἐκ. From God and by or through God are all things, still “all things” derive their existence “through” the activity, the will, the thought, of the Logos.

Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent)

By Him (διʼ αὐτοῦ). Lit., through him. The preposition dia is generally used to denote the working of God through some secondary agency, as διὰ τοῦ προφήτου, through the prophet (Matt. 1:22, on which see note).* It is the preposition by which the relation of Christ to creation is usually expressed (see 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), though it is occasionally used of the Father (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 11:36, and Gal. 1:1, where it is used of both). Hence, as Godet remarks, it “does not lower the Word to the rank of a simple instrument,” but merely implies a different relation to creation on the part of the Father and the Son.

Again, it would seem to me that it is more theologically sound to translate John 1:3 the way all the other translations do it as opposed to the KJV.

Right or Wrong?

But after all that has been said, was the King James Version’s translators wrong in their use of the word by instead of through? Actually, no.

You see, the whole reason we have newer translations of the Bible is because the English language changes over time. Some words have different meanings today than they used to, and that is why we rarely speak of wearing our “gay clothing” to church, or “fetch[ing] a compass” as we travel (Num. 34:5).

At the time the KJV translators did their work, the meaning of “by” was probably more nuanced than today and would have been understood by the reader of the day to have the same depth of meaning as “through.” However, for the modern reader, by implies more of a literal meaning. For example, if my daughter made a wooden elephant figurine, and if you asked who made it, I could answer, “It was made BY Haley.” If we applied the same meaning to the “by” in John 1:3, then we would literally be on the road to heresy, for Jesus did not act unilaterally (own His own), but by the will of the Father (John 5:19).

So, by may have been the best word for the verse in the 17th-19th centuries, but through better conveys the Truth to those in the 21st.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, the translators of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible were men of superior capability. I dare say that finding modern scholars and intellects with similar credentials would be exceedingly difficult. Therefore, because they did such a great work, it would be wise to consider their words when debating the heart of this discussion.

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place … Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue (the modern, common way of speaking), the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with…”

“For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free…?”

 – from: “The Translators to the Reader,” a prefix attached to the original 1611 edition.

It really boils down to this: What does the Bible really say? Sometimes we have to set aside our preconceived notions in order to honestly exegete Scripture. The last thing we want to do is let a literary bias lend support to a faulty theology, even if our intentions are noble.

Ultimately, though, Jesus is the Door “through” whom we must enter; there is no other Way to the Father. If a translation can’t make that clear, then we have a problem.

So, let me say “Thanks” to my friend. Without his comment, I’d never walked down this rabbit trail 😉 

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Do You Hate to Sin?

I hate it when I sin.

Some people hate to get caught, but I wasn’t caught. No one saw or heard or anything – only God.

I hate it when I sin because of the feeling it leaves, the drain on emotions, and the sense of powerlessness that leads to feelings of failure, defeat.

I hate it when I sin because I knew better! I knew better! It’s not like I didn’t know the consequences. It wasn’t like this was something I’d never before encountered. I just walked right into the sin and just committed it, just like it was the natural thing to do.

Oh, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? Nature. That battle between the redeemed and the unredeemed, the spirit and the flesh. How I look forward to the day when this tent in which I dwell is redeemed, also!

I hate it when I sin!

But you may be asking, “Aren’t you a pastor? Aren’t you supposed to be a spiritual and religious leader? How can you be talking about ‘sin’ like this? Won’t it hurt your reputation?”

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

The Truth is in me. I’m not perfect, just forgiven.

And that’s really why I hate it when I sin; it’s because I know I’m forgiven! Yes, I’m already forgiven! I’ve been saved, justified, reborn, adopted, and have received the righteousness of Christ…and I know a little about what it took for that to happen…

“Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear

It took the Cross! It took Calvary! It took Jesus bearing my griefs…carrying my sorrows…being stricken and smitten of God…being afflicted…being wounded for MY transgressions…being bruised for MY iniquities…accepting MY chastisement…and taking MY stripes so that I could walk away free (see Isaiah 53:4-5).

He – Jesus – did all that for me…all because of my sin…because He loves me (Romans 5:8).

But you may ask: “If you know you are already forgiven, then what keeps you from going out and sinning all you want?”

Two reasons. First, my “want to” has been changed. Second, it’s like the Apostle Paul said it: the love of Christ constraineth me (2 Corinthians 5:14). The thought of His love for me…what it took to redeem me from sin…to purchase my salvation…what He endured on that cross…the scourging He willingly accepted…it’s like ropes wrapped around me, binding me, “constraining” me.

Nevertheless, there are times when I sin. And I hate it. Romans 7:15-25 just about sums it up.

I thank God that where my sin did abound, grace…OH! What a word!…did much more abound (Romans 5:20)!

Then you may ask: “Well, if there’s more grace than there is sin to forgive, why not just keep sinning so that grace may ‘abound’ even more?”

Read Romans 6, is all I can say.

If you sin just because you can…there’s probably something major you’ve missed along the way. Maybe there’s nothing “constraining” you.

I hate it when I sin.


God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:10-13 CSB

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Manipulating the Manna

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in America, I have been studying Exodus 16 and Numbers 11:6-8 for this Sunday morning’s sermon. Over the next few days, I would like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned.

When you have a spare moment, please read these passages (Exodus 15:22-23; Exodus 16; and Numbers 11, particularly verses 6-8) in order to become more familiar with the text from which I am gathering my thoughts.


Manna

After the children of Israel were freed from slavery in Egypt, it took only three days for some of them to start complaining. After only six weeks of freedom from bondage, the whole Israelite camp was “murmuring” against Moses – actually, against God.

Even after all God had accomplished for them, the Israelites were somehow afraid that the One who kept them from all the plagues that befell their slavemasters, the One who had just parted the Red Sea, could not take care of them in the wilderness. Right from the beginning, they began to complain, up until the point where they began wishing they were back in bondage eating the food of slaves.

As you can read in the text, even though God had already done so much, and even though His people were faithless and idolatrous (because covetousness is the same as idolatry – see Ephesians 5:5), the Lord God was faithful to keep His own covenant and miraculously provided food from heaven – manna.

Nevertheless, even though what God provided them was sufficient to meet their needs, over time they once again began to remember with fondness the foods of Egypt. Therefore, as they became weary of the manna – as miraculous as it was – they sought ways to change it, to manipulate it, and to shape it into something akin to what they missed from the years of their captivity.

Manipulating the Gospel

Do we not do the same thing today with the simple, yet wholly-sufficient gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it not sweet and pleasant enough?

When we are forgetful (forgetful of God’s mercy and grace); when we allow discontent to develop in our hearts; when we take our eyes off God; when we doubt His promises and provision; when we selectively remember the variety of lustful pleasures in Egypt that have tainted our palate; the simple, pure, wholesome things of God lose their appeal, leading us to mix and mash the “manna” with things that suit our particular tastes.

Unfortunately, all we end up with is something no one will find palatable or satisfying.

 


In my next post, I will share with you some actual statistics I uncovered regarding the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. Hint: You’ll need a “boxcar” to walk away with it.

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Solas In the Sole

‘O Sole Mio

When I am driving my school bus, alone and no children to listen, I sometimes sing aloud certain songs to keep me alert. Sometimes I sing songs I know well, and other times I make up lyrics to fill in the gaps for songs I know little of.

One particular song is “‘O Sole Mio,” or “It’s Now Or Never.” I will usually sing to myself and use the words interchangeably, adding in what I know of the chorus of “It’s Now Or Never,” then make up the rest from there. The whole idea is to sing loudly, operatically, in order to keep the blood and oxygen flowing, but sometimes my own lyrics crack me up, especially when I expand on the sexually predatorial characteristics of Elvis’ version.

Credit: Wikipedia

Actually, the older (1898) Neopolitan song has nothing to do with the English-language hit recorded by Elvis Presley in 1960. ‘O sole mio actually translates into “my sunshine,” while It’s now or never translates into: “I’m so turned on by your looks that we should have a one-night-stand…I’m outa here come daylight.”

So why am I telling you this? I’m glad you asked.

Sole is the Italian word for “sun.” Luce del sole is Italian for “sunlight.” So, by way of a totally unrelated personal story, I want to segue into something that should be important to us all… I want to shine some luce del sole on the Solas 🙂

Yes, it’s Reformation Sunday (Reformation Day is Oct. 31st). It’s time for the Solas’ day in the sole!

The Five Solas

Sola is the Latin word for “alone,” and for a practically 500 years non-Catholics (such as myself) have held five particular “solas” near and dear to our theological hearts.

1. Sola scriptura: “Scripture alone”
2. Sola fide: “faith alone”
3. Sola gratia: “grace alone”
4. Solo Christo: “Christ alone”
5. Soli Deo gloria: “to the glory of God alone”

What do they mean? Well, nothing Elvis Presley was singing about, that’s for sure. The following can be found on a great website whose link is already on my sidebar, GotQuestions.org.

Sola scriptura emphasizes the Bible alone as the source of authority for Christians. By saying, “Scripture alone,” the Reformers rejected both the divine authority of the Roman Catholic Pope and confidence in sacred tradition. Only the Bible was “inspired by God” (2 Peter 1:20-21) and “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Anything taught by the Pope or in tradition that contradicted the Bible was to be rejected. Sola scriptura also fueled the translation of the Bible into German, French, English, and other languages, and prompted Bible teaching in the common languages of the day, rather than in Latin.

Sola fide emphasizes salvation as a free gift. The Roman Catholic Church of the time emphasized the use of indulgences (donating money) to buy status with God. Good works, including baptism, were seen as required for salvation. Sola fide stated that salvation is a free gift to all who accept it by faith (John 3:16). Salvation is not based on human effort or good deeds (Ephesians 2:9).

Sola gratia emphasizes grace as the reason for our salvation. In other words, salvation comes from what God has done rather than what we do. Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Solo Christo (sometimes listed as Solus Christus, “through Christ alone”) emphasizes the role of Jesus in salvation. The Roman Catholic tradition had placed church leaders such as priests in the role of intercessor between the laity and God. Reformers emphasized Jesus’ role as our “high priest” who intercedes on our behalf before the Father. Hebrews 4:15 teaches, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus is the One who offers access to God, not a human spiritual leader.

Soli Deo gloria emphasizes the glory of God as the goal of life. Rather than striving to please church leaders, keep a list of rules, or guard our own interests, our goal is to glorify the Lord. The idea of soli Deo gloria is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The five solas of the Protestant Reformation offered a strong corrective to the faulty practices and beliefs of the time, and they remain relevant today. We are called to focus on Scripture, accept salvation by grace through faith, magnify Christ, and live for God’s glory.  © Copyright 2002-2017 Got Questions Ministries

Never heard of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation before today? Well, I hope this shed some sunlight – luce del sole – on them for you 😉

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My Testimony (by David Fuller)

Guest Post by: David Fuller (Non-Cessationist)


As a follow-up to my previous post, Tongues And The Church Today, I thought it would be relevant to share my personal testimony, because I think I understand the perspective of those who view the Pentecostal movement as something strange, and maybe even regard it with some suspicion. I grew up Baptist. My parents and grandparents are Baptists, we attended a Baptist church, and I attended Baptist schools from 4th grade on. I’m extremely grateful for the upbringing which God provided me. Baptists tend to be sticklers when it comes to the Word of God, which unfortunately can, and did, lead to the errors of legalism, but it also basically meant that I spent my all of my developmental years in Bible school, resulting in my mind being inundated with God’s Word to the point that it became inextricably woven into every aspect of my thinking. I was also taught to use the skills of critical thinking as did the Bereans in the book of Acts, who “searched the scriptures, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Spiritual gifts, however, is one area my teachers tended to shy away from. Generally, if someone was talking about speaking in tongues, it was because they were debunking Pentecostal teaching.

What I had gathered from the teaching I received, was that the gifts of the Spirit today consists of God bestowing on various people a supernaturally inspired disposition toward a particular virtue or area of service to the body. Since the Bible says that tongues and prophecy would one day cease, this was believed to have already occurred, assuming that “when that which is perfect is come” refers to the completion of the New Testament writings, and the compilation of the scriptures into a single volume, an interpretation which I think is debatable, since we still “see through a glass, darkly”, and not “face to face”. (1 Corinthians 13:8 – 12)

My earliest memories include being read the Bible and taught the gospel story. The first time I remember being consciously aware of God is when a man from a gospel group singing at our church prayed the prayer of salvation with me, and explained what it means to be saved, and be forever in God’s mighty hand. I was seven, I hadn’t actually asked to be saved, and I didn’t completely understand at the time, but I remember that encounter like it was an hour ago, and I don’t remember anything else around it. I believe now it was God’s way of personally introducing Himself to me. Knowing my understanding was incomplete at the time, when I was thirteen I asked my father to pray with me again, just to be sure it was my decision.

When I was 19, I worked at a dept store. One day a guy asked me where the men’s section was, and then asked if I was a Christian, and I said yes. He asked when I got saved, and when I told him I was young, he said, “Oh, your one of those.” He had met the Lord about a year prior, and proceeded to talk with joyful exuberance about how wonderful it was to know the Lord, and he felt sorry for those who had been saved so long they didn’t seem to share his excitement. I never saw him again, but I couldn’t help seeing his point, because I knew that my Christian life was more about believing the right doctrines, and keeping the right rules. It was not the experience of wonder and irrepressible joy that he seemed to exude, and that bothered me, so I began to pray about it. I wondered, should I feel that way? Was he just acting like a typical new believer, and some maturity would temper him down eventually?

Not long after, a coworker at the same store invited me to a young adults bible study group, hosted by a couple from a local Assembly of God congregation. I went, and got to know them, and began attending their church. Of course, I was all questions. What’s it like? How does it happen? Do you go into a trance? Do you know what language it is? What’s the point of it? Etc, etc. All I could squeeze out of them were dreamy looks and vague sounding descriptions of sublime feelings. I was prayed over a few times, and laid hands on, and even anointed with oil. I was told to just let go, that I might feel my tongue begin to move around in my mouth, as if it wanted to say something, and to just let it flow and trust God. I didn’t feel anything like that, or anything at all, really, but I tried anyway, tried to make the kind of sounds they were making, but I felt silly because I knew that’s all I was doing. I wanted answers.

So I checked out their church library, where I found a book called, “A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism”, by Don Basham. It was precisely what I had been looking for. The author, having traveled and spoken extensively, had naturally been confronted with all sorts of questions, and had compiled them into what was essentially a FAQ on tongues and Holy Spirit Baptism. The book was organized into several sections, with each question being a chapter heading, followed by an answer/explanation with pertinent scriptural and historical precedents, and designed so you didn’t have to read it in order. Near the end of the book, he had included a short prayer as a guide for requesting and receiving the Baptism.

I took the book home and perused it, starting with the questions I was most interested in, until I had read most of it. The section with the prayer had something similar to a plan of salvation series of steps, which included the author’s suggestion to read or re-read a particular previous section and look up the scriptures referenced. Now, I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted answers. Consequently, what had begun as a growing sense that something important was lacking in my relationship with God, had merged with my curiosity about spiritual gifts, and the result was a kind of science experiment. I was not looking for vague answers supported by verses that were used out of context, or dubiously interpreted to fit a preset conclusion. I had never desired the gift of tongues or any second experience. I wanted two things. I wanted to be closer to the Lord – to know Him better, love Him more and trust Him more; and I wanted to know, as certainly as it was possible to know, whether God still poured out His Spirit in this way today, since a closer relationship with Him seemed the obvious result, if He still did that.

I feel it’s important to note, that though my new friends were quick to encourage all to seek the Baptism and the gifts, and I was inquiring about them, I was not seeking these. I was seeking the Lord. I was ready to receive whatever His answer was. If it turned out that tongues was not part of His plan for me, I was completely fine with that. That would just mean that I could put the issue to rest for myself, continue asking Him to draw me closer by whatever means appropriate, and not worry that here was some form of intimacy with my Lord that I was missing out on due to pride or ignorance.

Since I had already read the suggested chapter, and looked up all the referenced scriptures, I was at first inclined to skip this step. Then I decided, if nothing happens here, I’m not going to be left forever wondering if it was because of some step I was too proud or lazy to take. So I sat on my bed, alone in my room at my parent’s house, as the night crept into the wee hours of morning, and re-read the chapter, as well as the entire Bible chapter in which each referenced verse was located. Then I prayed.

I prayed, “Lord, if you still do this today, if it’s possible for me to know you the way Paul and the other apostles knew you, then please do this for me. And if you do this, please do it in such a way that there can be no shadow of any kind of a doubt, that it’s YOU doing it, and not some spiritual deception or work of the devil, or something I’m doing and deceiving myself. And if you choose to do this in me, please give me the gift of tongues as the sign by which I will know for sure that Holy Spirit Baptism is what I’m actually experiencing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I asked specifically for tongues, since there is apparently some debate over whether tongues is always the particular manifestation given with the Baptism, and again, I wanted to be as certain as possible. I didn’t want to wonder, did I actually receive the Baptism, only with one of the less obviously observable gifts? I wanted answers, not more questions.

I waited, the clock ticked, and nothing else happened.

Perhaps partly because of my Protestant background, or my own preference for authenticity in people and things, I’ve never had much use for recited prayers, but since the provided example prayer was the only remaining step I had yet to take, and I wanted to leave nothing undone, or any possibility of my own pride or presumption having hindered me, at about 4 in the morning I knelt beside my bed, alone in my room, and began to read the prayer in the book, and make it my own.

As I began to read and pray, my eyes inexplicably filled with tears, so that it became hard to see the page. By the time I was a couple of lines in, I was so choked up it was difficult to even continue, but I was determined to see this completely through, so I read through the river of tears and choked out the rest of the short prayer, and then let myself collapse beside my bed, where I sobbed and wept uncontrollably as if I had forever lost my best friend in the world, until my sides hurt and I could barely breathe. I can remember wondering why I was weeping. I had had bouts of teenage angst and depression before, but I hadn’t been depressed that day. I don’t enjoy crying, or feeling bad, so I reason my way out of it if I can (what am I really upset about? Is it really that bad, or do I just imagine it to be?, and so on). I couldn’t think of anything I was particularly upset about, certainly not anything that would have me holding my sides and wracked with sobbing tears. I remember thinking, “this is ridiculous, what’s wrong with me? I need to get a grip.” But I couldn’t. It was all I could do just to breathe through the tears and snot and choking sobs.

When it wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t take it anymore, I started asking God to help me. I don’t remember the change, or how, or the precise point at which it happened, but my praying changed from English to something else. It was effortless. Nothing at all like before, where I could come up with a few syllables of mimicking gibberish on my own, and knew that I was doing it. This just flowed, as if I were speaking a language I forgot I knew, though I didn’t understand what I was saying. I was still sobbing, but I was filled with joy like I had never felt before. I was aware that I was also still praying, but not with my understanding. At some point it just turned back into English, and I continued speaking to God, praising Jesus in more ways and by more names (all biblical) than I had ever even thought of in one day before, and I knew (can’t explain it) that what I was hearing from my own lips was the interpretation of what I had just spoken in an unknown language. It was beautiful. I remained on my knees praising Jesus, as it changed back and forth between tongues and the English meaning, for I’m not sure how long. I felt as if I would rather just speak in the new language, because it seemed to flow more easily than English, which seemed crude and inadequate by comparison, though the interpreted praises of Christ were themselves sublime, and certainly nothing I was coming up with on my own, either. I was by myself, but I had never felt less alone.

As with my first encounter with God, I remember these details as if it happened yesterday, but my memories of what immediately followed are less clear. At some point, I think, I must have become exhausted and went to sleep. I think the experience took place over an hour or two. The next day I would have been tempted to think it was just a dream, had I not, without even thinking about it, found myself randomly praying in the new language, still without effort, and also without the immediately following interpretations of the night before, which I believe were given to me in response to my desire and requests for certainty and the elimination of doubt, something difficult to achieve in a mind taught to maintain a healthy level of skepticism towards anything not concretely provable.

Barely able to contain my excitement, I told my parents what had happened, and they told me that “we don’t believe that still happens today”, and encouraged me to search the scriptures and seek God, presumably believing that my error would by this means be corrected. Others I tried to tell just looked at me like, ohhh kaaayy, you need help. So I left off trying to tell them about things they weren’t interested in. Since they were already believers, I left them in God’s hands, and cherished the new way He had given me to talk with Him, which I do all the time, everywhere, to this day. At work, home, church, the store, my car, everywhere. Often out loud (not loudly), sometimes not. Nobody ever seems to notice, or maybe they just think I’m talking to myself. I’ve felt the temptation to show it off, but I’ve always sensed that He frowns on that, and anyway, it’s too special to me. It’s a form of intimacy with Him which I prefer not to share with just anyone.

What’s it like? It’s wonderful! It’s a constant reminder of the reality of His presence and power. There have been times when my rational, practical, skeptical mind has wandered to a place where ideas like armies of horsemen coming out of the sky just seemed ridiculous, and I found it difficult to believe, then I find myself praying in the Spirit, who bears witness with my spirit, that truly “My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song of Solomon 2:16), and doubt flees away. How does it happen? By the power of the Holy Spirit. I can’t give you a scientific explanation. Do I go into a trance state when speaking in tongues? No. I always retain full possession of all my faculties. As I said above, it’s as simple and effortless as normal speech. Sometimes I “stir up the gift that is in me” (2 Timothy 1:6), but I frequently find myself praying in the Spirit when (perhaps because?), God and praying are the furthest things from my mind. Do I know what language it is? No. I have at times thought that it sounded like various different languages, and I’ve often wondered if someone with a different first language happened to hear me might they recognize it? But if anyone has even noticed I wasn’t aware of it. I do get the sense, as I sensed about the interpretations, that as a member of the body of Christ, the Spirit may at times intercede through me for people of various languages, in various places, whom I may never meet in this life. Also, Paul often calls it “speaking in an unknown tongue”, which could also mean unknown to anyone in this world, since he clearly refers to tongues of men, and tongues of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), and it seems reasonable to assume that if uncountable legions of angels were created before humanity, they would likely have their own language or languages. What’s the point of it? When I pray, I want to pray according to His will, and sometimes I don’t know how to pray as I ought, or words become inadequate, but the Spirit searches the deep things of God, and intercedes for us, so when I pray in tongues, I can trust that the Spirit knows how best to communicate my heart to His. (Romans 8:26, 1 Cor 2:10)

I should emphasize that this work of the Spirit in me did not eradicate the law of sin at work in my flesh, any more than His work of regeneration did. We will all receive that gift at the same time, when corruption puts on incorruption, and our last enemy is finally defeated. (Rom 7: 15 – 25, 1 Cor 15:26, 52 -54)

As beautiful as the gift of tongues is, Holy Spirit Baptism is much more than any particular gift you may receive, and obviously the greatest gift of all is the one I was actually seeking all along – an unending, ever growing intimacy with Jesus, the likes of which I had previously only heard about and dreamed of, which does not come from speaking with tongues, but from being filled to overflowing with God’s Holy Spirit. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). What could be more intimate, than to be so closely united with the one you love that words of any kind become almost unnecessary? To know that not one tear escapes my eye, but that He feels the sting of it? And wonder beyond wonders, He shares His feelings with me also. It’s just as Jesus said, “My peace I give unto you”, “that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 14:27, John 15:11). It’s not all roses and rainbows, however. As He bears our grief, and carries our sorrows, we are also called to share in His sufferings, that we may also share in His glory. But empowered by His Spirit, His yoke truly is easy, and His burden is light. (Isaiah 53:4, 1 Peter 4:13, Philippians 3:10 – 11, Matt. 11:30)

While I could wish that those whom God used to draw me closer to Himself had been more knowledgeable or articulate, I now understand the dreamy expressions I sometimes saw when I asked them to explain. If you’ve ever tried to talk with someone who’s madly in love, about the object of their affection, then you might know what I mean. Their hearts had been captivated by Jesus and His amazing love.

And so has mine.

 

P.S. The book mentioned above is still in print, and you can Google it if you want to. Remember, though, the ONLY author who can give you the Holy Spirit, is the Author of our Salvation, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you.

David Fuller


Note: The above post is not a reflection of my personal beliefs. You will be able to read a response in the next post. – The Recovering Legalist

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Worms Need a Savior

We All Do It

There are many people in the world that call right “wrong,” and wrong “right.” As a matter of fact, we all do it, and probably a lot more often than we think.

When is the last time you broke the law and sped down the highway? Did you justify your actions with something like, “They should have never made the speed limit that low.” When is the last time you watched a rated-R movie and condoned the sex or violence as “art” or “entertainment”? Does Philippians 4:8 (whatsoever things are pure…think on these things) ever cross your mind?

Friends of Murderers 

But before you get all depressed and feel like you have no moral high ground, at least you don’t steal from your parents, do you?

The one who robs his father or mother and says, “That’s no sin,” is a companion to a man who destroys. – Proverbs 28:24 HCSB

Simply put, the one who steals from his own mother and father, especially one who thinks there’s nothing wrong with it, lives in the gutter of humanity. He’s no better than a worm.

I personally like the way the New Living Translation puts this proverb:

“Anyone who steals from his father and mother and says, “What’s wrong with that?” is no better than a murderer.”

Oh, but wait! What does the Bible say in 1 John 3:15? It says: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer…” A murderer! Seriously, I can’t stand the scum who would rob his parents and say, “No big deal.” That kind of person needs to be dealt with in the harshest manner. These guys are nothing but gutter-dwelling, scum-sucking worms.

But then again, what the thief, the hater, and the murderer really need is a Savior.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I? 
 – Isaac Watts (“At the Cross”)

 

The only problem is that too many of us are unwilling to admit we are “worms,” too.

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Unity, Liberty, Charity: Disagreeing With Grace


The Way It Should Be

Isn’t it wonderful to have a platform where we can openly discuss the Bible? Isn’t it wonderful to be able to express our thoughts over the web without fear of retribution or imprisonment? Unfortunately, we often misuse the wonderful gifts we’ve been given, the gifts of the internet and our blogs, to bellow out our opinions as we blast our opponents, rarely taking advantage of the freedom we have to show grace, mercy, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

A few days ago we started this discussion of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and its modern relevance to the Church. What I have seen so far, both by way of posts and comments, has truly been encouraging. The series is still young, but I’ve yet to see a single critical, ungracious comment! Everyone who has written has been cordial, even in disagreement. That is the way it should be!

Therefore, before I go any further or get any deeper into the discussion at hand, I feel it best to clarify some things about my personal beliefs. The reason for doing so is to lay the groundwork for any further posts or comments I may write while addressing this particular subject of contention and misunderstanding within the Body of Christ.

Clarifying My Position

First of all, I am happy to say that I have many dear friends who differ with me on the issue of glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Those friends are not only in the Charismatic/Pentecostal branches of Christendom, but even within my own Baptist circles. Therefore, it is not my intention to belittle or demean what they believe, nor is it my wish to harm our relationships by openly disagreeing with certain doctrines they hold dear – they are family, and I love them. No, my sole intention is simply to state what I believe and why I believe it.

To be very honest, there are times when I wonder if it would be best just to leave things as they are and never discuss our differences. For example, some of the most godly and faithful people I know have a different understanding of the passages on which I will expound in a future post: they truly believe that the 4th and 14th verses of 1 Corinthians both affirm and give evidence for the faith to which they hold. Therefore, when they enter into their prayer closets and humbly bow before God in intercession, should their view of secondary or tertiary doctrines be a concern of mine? So what if their persistent, fervent, private prayer leads to ecstatic speech? If they are encouraged in the Faith, and it only leads them to stand stronger in it, why should I care? Honestly, at least they are praying! Lest we forget, right theology does not a prayer warrior make.

Nevertheless, as a minister I am tasked with the responsibility to read the Book distinctly, give the sense, and cause the listener to understand what’s being read (Nehemiah 8:8). As a preacher I am supposed to be “instant in season [and] out of season,” speaking the truth in love, despite the consequence or mood (2 Timothy 4:2). And should I choose to remain silent, never offering a proper treatment of a particular passage, even if doing so would seemingly cause no harm, then my shame would be justified (2 Timothy 2:15). Scripture is not up to “private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20), so it is always appropriate and ultimately edifying to get closer to the interpretation that’s correct.

The second thing I would like to make clear is that I cannot, in good conscience, label myself a total cessationist (i.e., one who believes the spiritual gift of tongues ceased with the apostolic age); there is still room in my understanding of glossolalia for God to work outside my denominational box. However, it is of my opinion that the overwhelming majority of modern-day examples of glossolalia are nothing more than “ecstatic speech” (emotionally-induced language-like sounds). Even without referring back to the directives issued by Paul in1 Corinthians 14:27-33, the average example of glossolalia fails the most simple of linguistic tests, therefore demonstrating that whatever is being spoken may sound like a language, but it isn’t. Then, when one does insert 1 Corinthians 14:27-33 back into the equation, the average Charismatic or Pentecostal worship service becomes incredulous (i.e., ten people running around the sanctuary and speaking in tongues at the same time, all without an interpretation).  Simply put, if glossolalia is a gift still being given, the actual practice of it in public worship is probably extremely rare.

In my next post on this subject I am only going to address one particular verse of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:4. There are obviously several other passages which could be discussed, but for the sake of brevity (as if this post was short), this one verse, viewed in context, will be enough for me – at least for a while.

For the time being, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (Rupertus Meldenius, circa 1627).

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Christian Unity, Christianity, Relationships and Family, Theology