Justification by “Steadfast Reliance”?

In reading Romans 4, I noticed that it explains the kind of faith that is counted for righteousness (that justifies). Romans 4:17b-21 describes the faith of Abraham. The verses that follow then state that this is why Abraham was justified and that we can be justified through the same sort of faith. Verses 17b-21 also tie closely to other NT passages that help us understand faith.

Here is the text of 17b-21 (NASB)

in the presence of Him whom he believed, that is, God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that do not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your [s]descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

The word “waver” (diakrino) points us to James 1. We are to bring our requests to God in faith without wavering. James describes the one who wavers as like a wave of the sea, and as double minded and unstable. Faithful Abraham, by contrast, was assured that God could perform him promise even though both Abraham and Sarah were dead in terms of reproductive ability. Faith steadfastly relies on God. (Let us be thankful, though, that Jesus can work with faith the size of a grain of mustard seed and can help our unbelief.)

When Paul references God’s ability to give life to the dead and call into being the things that do not exist (4:17). He likely refers not only to Isaac’s conception and birth, but also to the time when Abraham received him back alive from the altar of sacrifice. Hebrews 11 describes the role of faith in both incidents. Sarah received the ability to conceive seed because she considered God to be faithful and relied on his promise. (Note: the beautiful reminder that Sarah’s faith was involved in the promise to Abraham.) God called into being that which did not exist. Abraham offered up Isaac, the son whom God had promised would make him a father of many nations, because he believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Faith steadfastly relies on God.

Romans 4:22 attributes Abraham’s justification to this steadfast reliance on God: “Wherefore (dio) it was counted to him for righteousness.” This is to teach us, Paul says, that all who similarly rely on God who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead can be justified, just like Abraham who relied on the fact that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

Discussions of the nature of faith can quickly become contentious. Is faith purely passive? Or is active? How sharply should we distinguish between faith itself and the things that are done by faith? Is that even a helpful distinction? Without wading into a philosophical-psychological-theological morass we can observe a few things based on how the NT handles the story of Abraham. Romans says Abraham was justified by faith in God’s promise that he would become the father of many nations. Hebrews says he offered up his son “by faith” (pistei, dative case). James connects the dots. James says that Abraham’s faith was completed when he put Isaac on the altar and that this fulfilled the earlier statement (before Isaac was born) about Abraham’s faith being counted for righteousness. On this basis, James asserts that a person is justified by works. He does not mean that one can be justified by keeping Torah or by any supposed method of putting God in his debt. He is referring to the actions that complete one’s steadfast reliance on God.

For some practical direction for our own faith, consider the words of Hebrews 10:32-39. This is the preface to the famous “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. Paul calls them to remember the difficult days when they were first enlightened. They are to remember the suffering and hardship, the mockery of others, their fellowship with those who suffered, their willingness to lose their property because of their confidence in better things to come. They are to remember this and not throw away their confidence. They need endurance to continue this path, “that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised.” The Lord is coming and the one who righteous from faith (justified by faith) will live. The one who “shrinks back” will not experience the pleasure of the Lord, but rather destruction. The readers are urged to remember their past and continue steadfastly in living out their identity as people of faith.

The choice before us is between shrinking back in fear or laziness and pressing on in faith running the race before us with steadfastness. Let us present our mustard seeds, and let us pray “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

Bible Essays

Choosing Translations for Bible Study

{The original version of this post appeared on Anabaptist Perspectives.}

I discuss these ideas with Kyle Stoltzfus and Reagan Schrock in this podcast.

A preacher should have as much money in his library as in his pickup truck, or so says a pastoral advisor to my church. Those charged to regularly teach the scriptures need good tools for study. So do the rest of us. Not all of us will spend thousands of dollars on commentaries or devote years of our lives to studying the Greek and Hebrew languages in which the scripture was written. But, as Christians, we all must be students of the Word.

Fortunately, the most important tools for Bible Study are inexpensive and easy to obtain, at least for English speakers. The tools I have in mind are the Bible itself, in its multiple translations into our native language. Bible translations can be a confusing subject. There is an alphabet suit of different translations available like the ASV, CEV, ESV, KJV, NAB, NEB, RSV ….and the list goes on! What we should remember is that this represents an embarrassment of riches for English speakers. In this article I focus, not on choosing a bible for primary use like public reading and memorizing, but rather on assembling a small collection of translations for study purposes.

Choosing a set of translations for Bible study

Bible apps make it easy to compare many translations of a given verse. This is helpful, but I still advise getting two or three translations in print. You will become familiar with these select translations, and it will be easier to pore over passages, or to read extensively, with a book in front of you. If you don’t own at least two or three translations in print, what should you purchase to build your library? If you have several translations and want to add a few more, how do you know what translations will best complement your existing collection?

Of all the translations on the market, many fall into families, or natural groupings. You want to aim for a balanced collection by choosing Bibles from various groupings. One family of translations consists of those that derive from King James Version of 1611. This includes the NASB, the ESV, the NKJV, and NRSV as well as the older RSV, RV, and ASV and a host of other minor translations. (Don’t worry, the table below imposes some order on this confusing alphabet soup!) While these translations will vary among themselves, it is helpful to compare them to another translation that is not a derivative of the familiar KJV.

Another grouping of English translations is those done by Evangelical scholars. The ESV, NIV, CSB, NET, NLT and others reflect the biblical scholarship of the modern Evangelical community. On the one hand Evangelicals are generally committed to a high view of scripture and to understanding scripture in line with historic Christian orthodoxy. This makes careful translations by Evangelicals a good choice for studying the Bible. On the other hand, even the most careful translations are inevitably affected by how the translators understand scripture and its teachings. For this reason, we do well to include translations from other branches of the Christian church and other scholarly communities.

The following table marks out four quadrants based on these two ways of grouping bible translations. The top left lists versions which derive from the KJV and have been translated by Evangelical scholars. The top right lists translations derived from the KJV, but not reflecting modern Evangelical scholarship. The bottom left represents other translations done by Evangelical scholars. The bottom right lists some other modern translations. At a minimum you should own at least one translation from each row and at least one from each column. Ideally your study collection would include one from each quadrant.

It is helpful to own at least translation from each row and at least one from each column. Ideally your study collection would include one from each quadrant.

Notes on the Apocrypha and the Septuagint

You should have a copy of the Apocrypha. Most contemporary Anabaptists don’t consider it part of the Bible, but reading the Apocrypha provides an important background for understanding the New Testament, and you will frequently see it referenced by earlier Christian writers.  Most translations in the right-hand column are available with editions that include the Apocrypha.1 (For two contrasting perspectives on the Apocrypha see the Anabaptist Perspectives Episodes by David Bercot and Stephen Russell.)     

It is also helpful to have a translation of the Old Testament derived from the Septuagint. Before the time of Christ, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. The New Testament, itself of course written in Greek, often quotes the Greek Septuagint. Several English translations of the Septuagint are available and adding one to your tool kit is not a bad idea. (Learn more about the Septuagint in this episode from Anabaptist Perspectives.)

Notes on Translation Issues

One reason to study from multiple translations is so that we don’t blindly follow the quirks of any given translations. Diversity is protection. Nonetheless, a basic understanding of some differences among translations can be helpful. I will offer a few comments here that might stir you to further research.

Gender Language in the Bible: Should translations be “gender-neutral.”

This is a touchy one. Until the last few decades, the English language allowed free use of the “generic masculine.” Pronouns like “he” and “his”, and even the word “man”, could be used to refer to a person of unknown gender. In many cases a phrase like “any man” would mean, not “any adult male,” but simply “any person.”  For better or for worse, the English language has shifted, and we can no longer say “a man” when we mean “a human.” Even using “he” or “him” when a person of either gender could be in view is a real stretch in today’s English. Translations of the last few decades have found various ways to deal with issues of gendered language. In many passages the solutions are quite simple. Other passages bring more complicated issues. For two different ways of dealing with gender issues compare the preface to the ESV with the preface to the NIV. If you take the time to read these prefaces you will also find valuable perspective on how these two translations handle the two issues discussed next.

New Testament Manuscripts

The word “manuscript” means hand copy. Thus, when we talk about Greek manuscripts we are referring to handwritten copies of all or part of the New Testament. Manuscripts date from the days of the early church all the way up to the Reformation era when they were replaced by printed texts of the New Testament. Naturally, hand copied texts incorporate slightly different variations, not only in spelling and punctuation, but also in wording. Many of these variant readings cannot be translated into English and many which can be translated do not affect the sense of the passage. However, some variant readings are more significant and involve whole verses, or in two cases, paragraphs.

Today, the most common printed text of the New Testament is known alternatively as the NA28 or UBS5. This text was compiled by carefully comparing readings from the manuscripts we have, with special emphasis on the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament. Almost all recent bible translations follow the basic pattern of the NA28 when it comes to which variant readings from the manuscripts they choose to follow. The one major exception is the NKJV which attempts to translate the exact manuscript readings which underlie the King James Version of 1611. The NKJV provides extensive notes, that allow readers to compare its textual basis to standard editions of the text of the Greek New Testament.

The Role of Paraphrase

Be careful of translations that rely on paraphrase. I don’t have in mind the “functional equivalence” employed to various degrees by all translations, but rather renderings that prioritize what the translator thinks a passage means over precise attention to what it says. Outright paraphrases like The Message, I regard as more of a commentary than a Bible.

Of the translations on my chart above, I would call attention to the excessive use of paraphrase in the NLT. The approach of the NLT means that the theological beliefs of the translators come through rather clearly. To illustrate, let’s compare two verses in the NIV and NLT.

Whether or not you agree with the theology reflected in the NLT in these two passages, I am concerned that the wording prejudges interpretation in a way that the NIV and other major translations do not. 

NIV:  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,

NLT: So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away.

2 Peter 1:10

Theology shows through. For the translators of the NLT, confirming our calling and election does not appear to mean taking steps to safeguard ourselves from the real danger of falling away from God, but rather “proving” that we are among the elect (who God would never allow to fall away).

NIV: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

NLT: And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

It is not hard to miss the NLT’s emphasis that true Christians cannot, ultimately, fall away from God’s salvation. To do this, the NLT pulls in wording from Ephesians 1:13-14, and applies a particular interpretation to that wording.

NIV: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

CSB: In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14


What should we take away from these notes on Bible translation? Sorting out the advantages and disadvantages of various versions is tricky. Most of us will naturally end up with one translation for our primary use in reading, memorizing, and teaching. The concerns I raised about paraphrases in the NLT means I can’t recommend that translation for your primary use. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the NLT in your Bible study tool kit; it can definitely be helpful. Just be aware of the issues. Don’t let the NLT (or any other translation) be the only Bible you read.

Bible Study Guides

Messiah: Head Over All Things

[Notes and Resources for A Sunday School class I Teach]

I pray… that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints.

Paul, apostle of Messiah Jesus

Unit One: The Gospel and Salvation

Introduction and Ephesians 1

This study guide was developed for youth Sunday School at my home church. The assignment was “Biblical Distinctives: The gospel and salvation, separation from the world, and the head covering.”

I use Ephesians as the primary text since it integrates the themes of gospel, salvation, separation, and headship.

The Gospel and our salvation is based on the victory and kingship of Messiah, who has brought us redemption as the forgiveness of our sins.

  • Christ (Messiah) is now reigning, and we share that reign.
  • The Spirit “seals” us as Messiah’s people and is the first installment (arrabon) of the inheritance.
  • The riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints astound—the Kingdom of God in full.

Believers are set apart as saints in light and do not partner with deeds of darkness.

Christ is head of the church and of everything. Any other application of headship must be understood in that light.

  1. Running course assignment: Read or listen to the entire letter at one time or at least in one day. Do this at least twice over the course of the study in at least two translations.
  2. Read Ephesians 1 and identify as many descriptors of separation, salvation, gospel, and headship as you can.
  3. Paul prays that they may have wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ so that they can grasp what three things? (Ephesians 1: 17-19)

Before God, After God Ephesians 2

Ephesians chapter two divides nicely into parallel situations which powerfully describe life before the gospel, what God did (the gospel), and life after the gospel. In class we will fill out this table. Creating or filling out your own is a powerful way to observe key themes in Galatians.

Ephesians 2:1-10Ephesians 2:11-22
But God…

The Spirit and the Inheritance


  • Read Ephesians with an eye to the twin themes of Spirit and inheritance and how the are related.
  • How does the Spirit bring Jesus’s kingship to bear?

Central to the gospel of our salvation is our king, the Christ. He brings marvelous gifts, the Spirit and (now partially) the inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).

The Spirit serves as God’s identifying seal, which marks believers. The Spirit also brings Jesus’ kingship to bear among his people. It is the first installment of the kingdom which is to be our inheritance.

Already/Not Yet

Is God’s kingdom already here or is it still in the future? Are we saved now, or will we be saved at the second coming of Christ? The Christian life is pervaded by what scholars call the “Already/Not Yet” or “Inaugurated eschatology.” The final hope, that which is to come in the eschaton, is already partly realized or actual. Another way to say this is that the future has invaded the present.

AlreadyNot Yet
First InstallmentInheritance
SpiritInherit the Kingdom
The Already / Not yet in Ephesians 1
  • Ephesians 1:13-14
  • Ephesians 4:30
  • Ephesians 5:18-19

How does the choosing and predestination in Ephesians 1:4-5 and Ephesians 1:11 relate to the Spirit’s role as seal and down payment of the inheritance?

One theological angle would run roughly as follows: God picked out certain specific persons before creation, and independently of anything he might know about their future choices and chose these people to be his saints. He predestined these specific people to be his adopted children manifesting his glory. The sealing with the Holy Spirit functions as a guarantee that this position of sainthood and sonship cannot ever be undone. (This would correspond to the traditional Calvinist points of unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints.) The NLT, in questionable paraphrase, embeds this understanding in their rendering of Ephesians 4:30 “Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved.”

Contrary to this Calvinist interpretation of Ephesians, many believers insist that humans (at least those who have heard the gospel) have a genuine option as to whether or not they will be among God’s chosen ones, that all humans have the ability to resist and reject the grace of God, and that (tragically) some saints fail to persevere to the end. These views are supported by common sense readings of the stories, invitations, and warnings of scripture. For example, Ephesians 5:37 tells us bluntly that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the kingdom of God. It does so in the context of warning us not to participate in sin and not to grieve the Spirit. It seems most natural to see this as a warning, that those who have received the first installment of the kingdom can nonetheless fail to receive the inheritance at the last judgement.

Much wrestling could be done with these questions, but first we should focus our attention on the emphases of this letter. Ephesians 1:13-14 is a good place to start. I quote first the ESV.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

emphasis mine

The bolded words above are not necessarily inaccurate, but they lend themselves to misunderstanding. It is easy to think that “sealed” means “finalized” and “guarantee” means that there is absolutely no possibility of failing to obtain the inheritance. These are interpretations that could be argued for, but they don’t capture the basic imagery of the passage.

The ancient seal was created by stamping wax with a distinctive mark to produce an imprint reflecting whose seal it was. The NIV captures this imagery nicely “you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

As regards the “guarantee,” the ESV footnote gives more helpful terminology, “down payment.” A down payment is an initial part of the total to be paid. Many interpreters see a special significance here. What we have with the Spirit now is a small piece that is of the same kind and part of the full inheritance to come.

The Spirit then both marks the saints as God’s people and offers them the first fruits of God’s reign.

  • God in his power and purpose will manifest his glorious inheritance in his holy ones. Jesus will fill all things in every way.
  • God has co-enlivened us, co-raised us, and co-seated us with Christ. He has given the Spirit which is his seal set upon us and the initial payment of the kingdom we are to inherit.
  • We are summoned by his grace to walk by faith and so experience and participate in Jesus’ present rule.
  1. Will I devote attention to God’s purpose to bring all things and all people together in Christ, feasting my soul on the magnificence of his reign?
  2. Will I resist discouragement over gospel suffering and pray for God’s glory in the daily life and global scope of the church?
  3. Will I make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit by humbly, gently, patiently bearing with all saints with whom I interact?
  4. Will I allow the Spirits work in me as a “supporting ligament” to build up the body in love and truth toward the unity that comes with maturity?
  5. Will I honor and receive what the Spirit supplies through each “supporting ligament?”
  6. Will I take off the “old human” and put on the “new human?”
  7. Will I grieve God’s Holy Spirit or be an imitator of God?
  8. Will I stand against evil spiritual forces with truth, righteousness, the gospel of Jesus’ peace, faith, deliverance, and what God says?
  9. Will I in God’s Spirit commit all things to God, and persevere on behalf of all saints, especially those who proclaim the gospel?

Filling All Things: The King and His Body

God gave Jesus as head over all things to the assembly, which is Jesus’ body and the fullness of him who fills all things in every way.

Paul, Apostle of Messiah Jesus

We are used to thinking in terms of a good heaven, unspoiled by evil, and an earth in which the struggle takes place. But the book of Revelation gives us an entirely different view. Satan’s abode was in heaven, until he was cast down, not directly by his sin, but by the Lamb’s victory. Therefore heaven no less than earth has been corrupted by evil. …The chief forces of evil are heavenly creatures.

González and González, Vision at Patmos, 108–9

The New Testament depicts Satan basically as an adversary or slanderer. This means more than personal temptation. Simply put, he is called the “evil one”1. Granted, he is a personal being, a deceiver and tempter who appeals to our conscience. But more importantly, he opposes God’s kingdom in heaven and on earth (Rev 12:4; cf. Dan. 8:10), exercises his rule on earth through earthly rulers (Rev. 13:2-4, Thess. 2:3-4, 9-10), and erects heavenly structures of his own which parody those established by the Father in the opening chapters of Genesis and carried forward to Revelation.  
The point is that in the biblical worldview, in addition to being personal, Satan’s domain has a spiritual or heavenly structure. Biblical writers take up shorthand words like rulers, principalities, powers, authorities, thrones, lordships, and dominions to name and describe these beings and the heavenly relations among them. But by heavenly, I do not mean unearthly. Heavenly structures are discernable as they find corresponding form on earth. World rulers, local authorities, bad managers, and the occasional minister, participating in the structures erected by Satan, themselves become demonic. But they are not the source of the demonic. 

Kyle Stoltzfus on Anabaptist Perspectives Essay Interview

Compare this piece from John Piper (text and audio)

  1. Read the following sections of Ephesians: 1:15-23, 2:18-20, 3:8-11, 4:6-16, 6:10-12, 6:18-20.
  2. What is the Kingdom of God? “Heaven” where we go when we die? A millennium between the church age and the final judgement? Whenever people do what God wants them to do?
  3. How do we participate in filling all things?

God’s kingship in (at least) 8 stages:

  • Creation
  • Exodus
  • David
  • Jesus’ Ministry
  • Jesus Death and Resurrection
  • Pentecost
  • The Church in mission and maturity
  • The Inheritance

The Gospel of Peace: Jesus creates one new humanity

One New Humanity

What practical implications do the following scriptures have for living out the church? Choose the best (or least bad) answer.

 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, ...For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, ... the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:14-21)

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians  3:11)

Does the universal church consist of a set of culturally homogeneous groups that exist separately side by side until they finally get to rub shoulders in front of God’s throne at the end of time, or are those cultural boundaries supposed to be transcended on earth at the most local level? 

Anika Fast in Reclaiming Mission

The unity of the Christian fellowship is not a mere matter of theory. It is a reality which must be realized within the brotherhood on the local as well as on the inter-community level. The welcoming hand of the church must reach across all social barriers with the call of the Gospel to include all who repent into the fellowship of the church.

Guy Hershberger, “The Way of the Cross in Human Relations” ch. 22. Quoted in Rebekah Mui “Racism and the Way of the Cross”
What priority do we put on churches reflecting a cross section of the population rather than different churches for different ethnicities?

What was the deep problem with not being part of Israel? Were all non-Israelites damned?

How does God create a new People?

What is the difference between the Law, which had to be  set aside to bridge the cultural divide, and the prohibition of  porneia (sexual immorality) which Gentiles had to embrace as part of the new humanity? How do we distinguish attempts to impose mere culture on others from upholding the culture of the Kingdom that comes from being clothed with Christ?

Eleven o-clock Sunday morning has been famously said to be the most segregated hour in American life. (1950’s and 1960’s) Is that phenomenon of serious concern?

Living as the “Co-enlivened” and “Sealed”

Read and reflect on Ephesians 4:17-32

Reading Questions (look for answers directly in this passage)

  1. Christians are taught in Jesus to do what three things? (Verses 21-24)
  2. What causes the Gentiles to walk the way they do? (6 or so  reasons  in verses 17-19)
  3. Which verse or verses in this section echo Ephesians 1:13-14?

Reflection Questions

  1. How do God’s actions and human actions in this passage relate? How do we cooperate with God? What is cooperating with God like for you?
  2. What specifically, or practically does it mean to “put on the new human?

“What Must I Do to be Saved?”

The Gospel is about what God has done and is doing, and the fact that Jesus is King. It calls for a response from us. We want to be his children, not his enemies. When it comes to the initial entrance to God’s kingdom four words stand out to me in the New Testament.

  1. Faith, believing, trusting, entrusting etc. (pistis and related words). This is the summary of our response to God. This is putting our confidence in Jesus to make everything right, not least our sinful selves. This “putting our confidence in” works out in a variety of forms. It is not us accomplishing something. Nor is it some mere spectator confidence that says “yes Jesus will win”. Faith can be greater or lesser, stronger or weaker. But, Ultimately we will be either faithful or faithless.
  2.  Confess. We often think of confessing our sins, a very necessary thing to do. But we must not forget the fundamental meaning of confession: to say something together, to affirm out loud and in the hearing of others the great truth that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is king. Publicly affirming confidence in Jesus is not to be neglected. Jesus says the one who confesses him before people he will confess  before the Father. The one who denies him before people, he will deny before the Father.
  3. Baptism Saints have wrestled much with how best to think about and practice Christian baptism, but its importance cannot be disputed. Accepting baptism  is a non-negotiable human response to the gospel. It needs emphasized that baptism is received, not something we do ourselves. We can request it, We can accept an invitation to baptism, but we receive it, ultimately from God, mediately through another human. Baptism gives us identity with Christ, his death,  and his body.
  4. Repentance. We think of repentance as turning away from sin. More fundamentally it is a change of mindset. And a change of mindset in biblical thinking is not a mere speculation or spectatorship or mental assent, rather it is a change in what beliefs we life out of. John responded to certain snakes who came requesting baptism that they should bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.

We get our starts in the Christian life in different ways. These four words might look different for different people. Sometimes they are almost instantaneous, other times they happen over a period of years.

  1. How do we encourage someone toward faith and repentance? How do we encourage them to make public confession and to accept baptism?
  2. Do these four words ever stop being important for the Christian life?

Unit Two: Separation from the World

No Partnership with Darkness: Separation from the world in Ephesians

But sexual immorality and all impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints. Ephesians 5:3

This verse gives us New Testament separation from the world in a nutshell.

Read and reflect on Ephesians 5:1-13

Reading Questions (look for answers directly in this passage)

  1. We should not engage in sexual immorality, greed, or impurity because we are what two things? (verse 3, 8, and maybe a third in verse 1)
  2. What do we do instead of foolish talk, etc? (verse 4)
  3. What is the fruit that results from walking in light? (verse 9)
  4. Why should we not be partners with sexually immoral, impure, or greedy people? (verse 5, 6)
  5. Instead of sharing in the unfruitful works of darkness we should do what? (Verse 11, 13)

Reflection Questions

  1. What do we do when we find in ourselves the sins listed in this passage?
  2. How do we expose (reprove, convict) sins without speaking of them? What is this exposing? What kind of speaking of them do we do or not do?
  3. Does “do not be partners with them” mean that we do not have relationships with sexually immoral, impure, or greedy people?
  4. Can someone enlivened and enthroned by God and sealed with the Spirit as a pledge of the inheritance still revert to being a sexually immoral, impure, or greedy person who will not inherit the kingdom of God?

Money Modesty and Body Modesty

The Four S’s of Separation

  • Special to God
    • Set Apart, Holy, Chosen, Saints, household of God, no idols.
  • Symbols and Signs
    • Old Testament: Sabbath, Circumcision, Blue Fringes, Purification, Dietary Laws, Cleanness, Priestly Consecration
    • New Testament: ??, baptism?, communion?
  • Social
    • Old Testament: Send home pagan wives. Keep foreigners out of the sanctuary for generations.
    • New Testament: Marry in the Lord, Don’t choose fools as your best buddies. Avoid schismatic teachers. Don’t associate with those who claim Christianity but walk in sexual immorality, greed, or slander
  • Sin Avoidance
    • No partnership with sexual immorality, greed, slander, or any other sin

The Concept of Holiness

What is the difference between holiness and righteousness? What kinds of things can be holy but can not be righteous? Pots, pans, and clothing are a few examples. It makes sense to speak of holy garments, but not of righteous garments. The Sabbath day was holy, and to be treated as holy; but the sabbath was not righteous. Righteousness can describe the character, actions, and relationships of persons, divine or human. Holiness can describe persons, but also physical items, offerings, and holidays (holy days).

The core idea of holiness is that something is set apart for a special purpose. It is not “common” but holy and so must be treated with utmost respect. Think of the fence around Mt. Sinai before God spoke, or think of the requirement to wash clothes and abstain from sexual relations in the leadup to the giving of the ten commandments. Think of the “Holy of Holies” in the tabernacle which could only be entered by the high priest once a year. Think of the death penalty for picking up sticks on the Sabbath.

The prophets thunder, however, that such external holiness as this, without righteousness is a vile mockery.  God says, in the words of Isaiah, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” “Bring no more vain offerings.” (Chapter 1) Treating the things of the temple carefully and following the protocols for the Lord’s offering is of no avail when righteousness is lacking, when we rob, steal, extort, oppress etc.

“Saint” and “holy” are the same word (Greek hagios). Most English Bibles render it as holy when used as an adjective (You must be holy), but as saints when it is used to as a plural substantive to name a group of people (the inheritance of the saints).

As with holiness more generally the idea is of being set apart or consecrated for God. The designation saints is not just a statement about the morality or righteousness of believers (though it is that), but a statement of God’s choosing and valuing them as a special group.

Righteousness is moral correctness but it has strong relational dimensions, rightly related to others, and in some cases, especially in the Psalms, comes close to the meaning of loyalty. Justification is often described primarily as right standing with God and that is definitely part of the meaning of justification.

Texts: Exodus 19 and 20 Isaiah 1:1-23

In the Old Testament there is a lot of emphasis on Holiness as cultural distinction, and proper ritual and symbolism However, the Old Testament is also clear such “outward” holiness apart from justice in relationships with others is not acceptable holiness before God.

The New Testament shifts the emphasis even further toward holiness as practicing justice with others before God and greatly reduces the ceremonial aspects of holiness. However, even in the New Testament holiness cannot be reduced to simply practicing justice or morality.

The Blue Fringe Principle or the Doctrine of Affected Dissimilarity

I am not anabaptist but I attend a Mennonite church for the past 6 weeks. The draw I have is the outward look the brethren have is a witness to their faith. The women are obvious. The men can hide it if they want to but the gentlemen in this church don’t. It has been a draw for me and helped me with my concept of a world view versus a biblical view.

Karl Stine commenting on YouTube

What in the World Are We Separate From?

There are two terms in the Greek NT sometimes rendered “world” in our English bibles. One is kosmos “world”, and the other is aionos “age.” In Ephesians 2:3 both terms are piled together “the age of this world”

2 Timothy 4:10 Demas, having loved this present age, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

Ephesians 2:3 You walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.

1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

John 7:7 The world hates me because I bear witness that its works are evil.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may approve what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God.

1 Corinthians 2:6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but wisdom not of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing,

Teaching about separation from the world often assumes that the audience shares the speaker’s assumptions about what fits into the category of “worldly.” In various contexts this might be alcoholic beverages, blue jeans, cowboy boots, instrumental music, working on Sunday, sporty vehicles, movies, dancing, tv, living in town, driving cars, bowling alleys, theatres, ice rinks, off-roading, atv’s, drinking coffee, celebrating Christmas or any number of other things. This background understanding is convenient for the preacher. He need not make a case against blue jeans or bowling alleys, he can simply talk about separating ourselves from worldly things and trust his audience to fill in the blanks. Of course, this doesn’t work so well when the audience has a quite different impression of what counts as worldly. The approach of this study is not to rely on background assumptions about what counts as worldly, but to work out the idea of separation from Biblical texts.

For a helpful discussion of the abuse of the term “worldly” listen to this episode from In part two, they follow up with their take on what exactly wordliness is.


"Wordliness" has had many definitions in Christian circles. Based on your perception of your church growing up, which of the following were considered worldly?

Min votes count should be 1

Unit Three: Understanding Covered and Uncovered Heads

What is Headship?

Headship and Glory are key themes in Pauls argument concerning covered and uncovered heads in 1 Corinthians 11. So before talking about covered and uncovered heads, we will talk about the relationship between heads and their glory/body.

{discussion of New Testament heads}

Headship versus authority

  1. Does being “head” over someone always entail having authority over them?

  1. Many relations of authority do not involve headship in the robust sense it is used in Ephesians and 1 Corinithians. A mother has authority over her children but she is not their head. Elders in the church have authority over others but they are not the head of the church or of individuals in the church. Christ is the head not just of mankind in general but of every man. Describe what headship involves in addition to having some level of authority

The Main Line of Argument in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

The sister’s veiling is a historic Christian practice which is elaborated in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:1-14. However, few American churches practice it, and the result is that churches that do practice it have generally had to put a lot of emphasis on demonstrating that the scripture indeed teaches it. Bible scholars who do not wish to insist on its practice have come up with various explanations that, they claim, show that Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 was only giving specific advice for a specific situation.

The primary goal of this unit is to push you to wrestle through the details of the passage to reach an understanding of the purpose and meaning of this Christian practice.

The central rationale for covering and uncovering rests on two principles.

  1. Of every man the head is Christ and the head of a woman is the man (=her husband?)
  2. (A) man is the image and glory of God while (a) woman is the glory of man being made from man and on account of man.  (with the clarification that neither is independent of the other in the Lord)

While there is much that is puzzling about this passage it is clear that the physical observance of covering and uncovering is based on those two fundamental realities.


1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25; 5:1-3

1 Timothy 2:8-15

Puzzling Questions

  • Headship head or anatomical head?
    • Verse three lays out three headship relations. We then learn that we should do(or avoid doing) certain things with our anatomical heads because of these headship relations. Label each occurrence of the word “head” after verse three either as “anatomical” or with the appropriate headship head. I.e. there are four possibilities for filling out verse 4 (some of them are obviously incorrect)
      • Every man who prays or prophesies with Christ uncovered dishonors Christ
      • Every man who prays or prophesies with his anatomical head uncovered dishonors Christ
      • Every man who prays or prophesies with Christ uncovered dishonors his anatomical head
      • Every man who prays or prophesies with his anatomical head uncovered dishonors his anatomical head
  • General relationship between men and women versus specific relationship between a husband  and a wife. Which is in focus in this passage? Do single women have a human head?
  • What does it mean to have “authority on ones head”.
    • Most translations take authority here as a reference to covering “a symbol of authority on her head”. What is the authority symbolized here?
      • Her authority (authorization, right) to pray and prophesy?
      • The authority her head has over her?
    • Who are the “angels” ?
      • Human messengers from other churches
      • Godly angels
      • Fallen angels
    • What do the angels have to do with covering?

Common but not particularly compelling objections.

This passage does not teach any covering other than full length hair. What Paul is arguing for is either simply that women continue a cultural practice so as not to offend the sensibilities of those around them or else it is simply a culturally specific way of expressing the more general principle he is really concerned with.

Practical Questions about Covering and Uncovering

[1] Consider this quote from Finny Kuruvilla: “The age at which a woman would begin [to cover her head] would sensibly correspond to the age at which she properly begins to be able to make spiritual exercises such as prayer and prophecy. Parents may choose an earlier age for their daughters for the sake of modesty.” King Jesus Claims His Church. Anchor-Cross Publishing, 2013. p196.

Bible Study Guides

When We Don’t Know Exactly What the Bible Says

This bible is missing verses! Differences between translations reduce our confidence in the Bible!

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken.

Preface to the KJV

Copies of the Bible Differ.

Some believers find this troubling. Some unbelievers think it shows the Bible is untrustworthy. In this study, you will look at various examples of where we don’t know exactly what the Bible says and reflect on the implications. At the end I will give you the KJV preface response to the idea that bibles shouldn’t have footnotes.

Different Differences

Single word changes can make a big difference. One early edition of the KJV infamously read:

Thou shalt commit adultery.

Exodus 20:14
  1. Is this a troubling error?
  2. Is it difficult to determine the true reading of the passage?

What about the following discrepancy? This exists between copies of the KJV and also between various modern translations.

he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.

he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and he went into the city.

Ruth 3:15-16

Scholars are unsure which reading is original. The NIV reads “he” but gives this footnote “Most Hebrew manuscripts; many Hebrew manuscripts, Vulgate and Syriac she.” The NKJV reads “she” but gives this footnote “Many Heb. mss., Syr., Vg. she; MT, LXX, Tg. he.”

  1. Does the variant change the meaning of the passage?
  2. Does it trouble you?

Here is an example showcasing a rare textual footnote in the 1611 KJV.

And when he had taried among them more then ten dayes, hee went downe vnto Cesarea,

And when he had taried among them no more then eight or ten dayes, hee went downe vnto Cesarea,

Acts 25:6 KJV and KJV margin.

The note to the 1611 KJV reads “Or as some copies reade, no more then eight or ten dayes.”

  1. True or False(defend your answer): “If the KJV translators would have chosen the reading mentioned in the margin, that would prove that they did not believe the Word of God, and the translation they produced would be a perversion of the word of God.”

A Maybe more Scary Difference

The previous examples may seem trivial, an easily recognizable typo or minor differences in the details of stories. But the last two are examples of differences in the handwritten copies of scripture (manuscripts) that have come down to us. How you answered the questions above affects how you deal with bigger discrepancies. So let’s jump to one of the biggest.

Some copies of the gospel of Mark end at 16:8 while most include another section known as 16:9-20. Since most copies include this ending section, we might conclude that the copies missing it simply did not get finished. But matters are not quite this simple. For one thing, the manuscripts lacking it are quite early and generally important witnesses to the original text, second there does a exist an alternative ending for the gospel of Mark. Somebody wrote another short passage to write up the gospel of Mark. Third, the ending passage (9-20) is clearly a different section. There is an abrupt stylistic shift from the first part of chapter 16.

Several opinions exist regarding the ending of Mark.

  • Mark originally ended abruptly at 16-8 and two different endings were attached later.
  • The original ending for Mark, was lost and two different endings were attached later (neither of which was original)
  • 9-20 is the original ending of Mark.

Among those who do not think verses 9-20 are part of the original text of Mark, there are two approaches. Some would say that verses 9-20 are not part of scripture because Mark did not write them. Others argue that they were accepted early enough and widely enough that we should treat them as part of scripture, even if they were not part of the original book of Mark.

  1. How does the uncertainty surrounding this passage affect your view of scripture?
  2. How important is figuring out the exact text of scripture in places where there are variants?
    1. Doesn’t matter unless you are a Bible translator.
    2. Of minor importance.
    3. We should do our best, but not be too worried if we are wrong.
    4. Potentially a big deal.
    5. Very important! We must know the exact text everywhere!
  3. What should we teach new believers and children about textual variations? How important is it for everyone to understand the basics of how biblical texts were transmitted?

Wisdom from the KJV Preface

Here is more of the opening quote (abridged). It comes from §16 of the preface to the KJV

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken.
But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point.
For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, yet for all that it cannot be dissembled ((disguised)), that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, it hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness…
Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?

KJV Preface (excerpted, emphasis mine)

Suggested Reading

Vince Beiler on the Hebrew Bible.

The Translator to the Reader (KJV Preface)

Dan Wallace’s comments on “Aren’t the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?”

Dan Wallace’s four way grid for New Testament variants is helpful. Some are viable but not meaningful, some are meaningful but not viable, some are neither viable nor meaningful, and a small percentage are both meaningful and viable. See for example: or this podcast interview:


Phrasing the Bible

I love copy and paste. Even for Bible study. I enjoy “phrasing” passages in a word processor to help me visualize the structure of dense text, like that in the epistles.

I learned the most from William Mounce, who incorporates phrasing into his Graded Reader of Biblical Greek. Steven Brubaker taught me a similar approach in a class at Faith Builders.

I’ve compiled a few pointers of my own and several sample passages.