“Not Given to Much Wine”

A favorite passage that is used to support the moderate use of alcoholic beverages is 1 Timothy 3:8. One of the qualifications for the office of a Deacon is “not given to much wine.” It appears the wine is not condemned but the quantity of wine consumed. However, abstinence from alcoholic beverages is required of the Eldership (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Tit. 1:7). Is this a sanction of intoxicating wine for Deacons as long as they never become Elders?

It certainly makes no sense to permit drinking of some alcohol for an office where deacons should be aspiring to become Elders. Under the Old Law, priests were not even permitted to be present in the tabernacle if they have drunk an intoxicating drink. If they were inebriated in the temple the penalty was death (Lev. 10:9). The purpose for that statute was to provide the people with the ability to distinguish between the holy and the unholy (Lev. 10:10). Using the same reasoning, it seems strange to think that someone in the position of a Deacon would have to be considered unholy if the consumption of alcohol is permitted at all. Given that all Christians are priests under the New Law, the distinction between the holy and the unholy should still be recognized by one’s use of alcohol.

It could also be easily argued that Paul is setting up a double standard if this phrase is an endorsement for the consumption of alcohol. Yet, Paul begins the qualification for Deacons with the acknowledgment that the qualifications between the two offices are similar. He says, Likewise deacons must be…” (1 Tim. 3:8). Since the Bible would never contradict itself, the phrase under consideration obviously does not sanction the use of alcohol.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, in his book entitled, Wine in the Bible, illustrates the absurdity of assuming this phrase condones the drinking of alcohol as follows. “If you are a bishop, you must abstain (nephalios) from wine and not even be near wine (me paroinon – 1 Tim. 3:2-3). If you are a deacon, you may drink wine moderately (me oino pollo – vs. 8). If you are a woman, presumably a deaconess, you must abstain (nephalious – vs. 11) from wine. If you are an aged man, you must abstain (nephalious – Titus 2:2) from wine. If you are an aged woman, you must drink moderately (me oino pollo – Titus 2:3). Now what would happen if a woman happened to be both aged and a deaconess? Would she be abstinent one day and moderate the next?” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p. 250)

The absurdity can also be illustrated by evaluating other similar phrases found elsewhere in the Bible. The most striking passage is Ecclesiastes 7:17. It reads, “Do not be overly wicked…” (NKJV). Does that mean it is all right to be moderately wicked? When Paul said, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…” (Rom. 6:12), does he imply that sin is acceptable as long as it doesn’t control us? When Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world…” (Rom. 12:2), does that mean a little worldliness is acceptable provided conformance hasn’t been reached? Surely, Peter wasn’t implying that the Christians were riotous when he wrote, “Wherein, they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot…” (1 Pet. 4:4; KJV).

The literal translation of the phrase directly from Greek is “not wine to much being addicted” (Marshall, The Interlinear Greek – English New Testament, p.825). The New American Standard Version of the Bible translates it as “not addicted to much wine.” Obviously any amount of addiction is too much. Therefore, we can tell that the phrase in question is using a loose form of speech. The phrase should not be understood as permission to drink but as a prohibition against being intoxicated with any amount of wine.

By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

ABRAHAM: The Father of our Faith

The apostle Paul said “that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7), but what was so special about Abraham and his faith? What kind of faith did Abraham have? How did that faith react in suffering? How did that faith react in failure? How did that faith react in prosperity? How did that faith react in doubting? The only way to know the answer is to look at the life of Abraham, see how his faith reacted to the circumstances of life, and then decide how best to place that kind of faith in our own lives. (“Abraham”)

Abram, as Abraham was called when he is first introduced to us in the Bible, was born and raised in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. (Gen. 11:26-32) Ur was “the capital city of the Sumerians, one of the oldest civilisations [sic] in Mesopotamia.” (Keller, p. 20) Archaeologists have also uncovered many useful pieces of information about the metropolis of Ur of the time of Abram. For example, Ur was a very pagan city containing at least five major temples in its sacred precinct, the largest of which was dedicated to the moon-god. (Keller, pp. 13-14, cf. Josh. 24: 2, 14-15) Despite the greatness of the city, the Bible says that Abram’s father took his family and left Ur to go to Canaan, but stopped at the city of Haran. (Gen. 11:31)

Why did the family choose to leave the city of Ur? Were they looking for a better life? Perhaps they were looking to become rich. The Bible does not leave us guessing. God later tells Abram, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans . . . .”(Gen. 15:7, NASB) God had moved the family to go to Canaan, but they stopped and settled in Haran. God had a plan for Abram, but Abram’s family became and obstacle to the plan by remaining outside of Canaan. So the first challenge to Abram’s faith in God would be whether he would stay with his family in relative safety and security or whether he would follow God into unknown places.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’” (Gen. 12:1, NASB) God has set the stage for this first test by telling Abram to leave everything. When one wants to follow God, all earthly entanglements have to be shed. “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him . . . .”(Gen. 12:4, NASB) Abram’s faith is seen in his action: he “went forth” as he had been told. “His obedience and trust in the God who has called him are exemplary.” (LaSor, p. 49) All faith requires obedient action. “Abraham’s faith is perhaps best seen in his ready obedience whenever called by God.” (Wiseman, “Abraham”) “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8; cf. Jas. 1:26)

When Abram reaches this new land which God promised to him, he builds an altar and calls on the name of the LORD. (Gen. 12:5-9) Throughout the Bible there are examples of people calling on the name of the LORD. (e.g., Gen. 4:26, Joel 2:32; Acts 22:16, Rom. 10:13) When someone calls on the name of the LORD, they are either establishing, maintaining, or restoring a relationship with God. Specifically, such a call “denotes the claiming of God’s protection”. (NBD, “Call”, p. 159) Abram has trusted in the Lord and has acted on that faith; now he claims of God the protection God had promised. Abram and God are in a relationship with mutual requirements.

Does faith mean that Abram never again sinned (disobeyed God)? No. Problems soon arise in Abram’s new relationship with God. There is a famine in the land to which God had sent Abram. (Gen. 12:10) Abram’s lack of faith is seen in that instead of calling on God and relying on His protection, Abram decides to leave the promised land and find a new place in Egypt. When Abram arrives in Egypt his faith weakens farther for instead of relying on God’s promise to bless him, Abram lies and has Sarai lie about their relationship. (Gen. 12:11-16) “Abraham . . . [is] to be condemned for [his] complicity in lying, no matter how noble a motive [he] may have had, or how much truth the lie contained.” (Kaiser, p. 120) Eventually it is the pagan Pharaoh that rebukes Abram on behalf of God. (Gen. 12:17-20)

Does that mean Abram is not a good model for faith? Certainly not. Consider how Abram reacted to the rebuke. He leaves Egypt and returns to where he was supposed to be in Canaan. (Gen. 13: 1) When Abram got back to where he had earlier built an altar, “Abram called on the name of the LORD.” (Gen. 13:4) He restored his relationship with God and placed himself again under God’s protection. The faith of which Abraham is our father, is a faith that turns back to God in sincere repentance after times of wandering apart from God.

Since Abraham’s faith did not mean he was sinless, someone might think instead that his faith meant that he had absolutely no doubts in God’s promises. A little farther along in his life, Abram still has no child and he asks God how He will keep His promise. (Gen. 15:2-3) God responds by yet again promising Abram many descendants from his own body. (Gen. 15:4-5) “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6, NASB) Notice yet again that since God “reckoned” Abram’s faith as righteousness, it shows that Abram was not righteous (sinless) on his own (cf. Rom. 4:1-5). But does it mean that Abram no longer had any doubts about God’s promise? No, look at what the passage says immediately after God promises the land again to Abram, “He said ‘O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?’” (Gen. 15:8, NASB) Abram still has doubts and needs assurance in spite of the fact that he believes God. He knows that God can keep His promise, but he also knows that he is not a perfect follower (as seen already in the Egypt incident). Can Abram be sure the promise will be fulfilled even if he should again sin. So God patiently makes a covenant with Abram in a form that Abram could understand: a Chaldean covenant (Rodgers, p. 26) And God made this covenant unilateral meaning that “the responsibility for its fulfillment would rest totally on God.” (Rodgers, p.26; cf. Kaiser, pp. 129-130) From here on Abram accepts God’s promise without doubt, God will fulfill it because He must. In like manner our faith like Abraham’s must accept, in spite of any lingering doubts, that God will fulfill His promises.

However, having faith in His promises did not keep Abram from trying to help along the fulfillment of the promise. Sarai gives her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine in order to have a son through her. (Kaiser, p. 121) Although a son was born through Hagar, God makes it clear to Abraham (for God changed his name) that He does not need anyone’s help to keep His promises. (Gen. 17:17-22) Again Abraham had done the wrong thing. He did not turn away from God as he had earlier by going to Egypt, rather he had tried to help God keep His promise. (Kaiser, p.121) Sometimes we might try to figure out how to help God keep his promises, but God does not need our help. God told Abraham to let Him worry about keeping His own promises. And with faith Abraham was able to stop trying to anticipate how God wanted the promise fulfilled.

Yet sometimes it seems there is no earthly way possible for God to keep His promises. Does fear that promises may not be kept excuse us from having faith in God? Consider that after Abraham had the promised child, Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Was that a reasonable demand? Did faith require obedience to demands man might consider unreasonable? Did faith require obedience to a command which might negate a promise of God? Here was God testing Abraham “to know his heart and to see if he would obey and fear the Lord who gave him the son he loved so dearly.” (Kaiser, p. 124) In chapter 22 of Genesis, we finally see the culmination of the faith of which Abraham is the father. “Abraham can meet the test in only one way – total and complete faith in the God who promised him Isaac and fulfilled the promise when it was beyond human means. Abraham meets the test.” (LaSor, p.49) He did what God asked. No more failures, no more doubts, no more trying to anticipate God. Abraham simply obeyed. “His faith rested in a belief in God’s ability, if need be, to raise his son from the dead (Gen 22:12, 18; Heb. 11:19).” (Wiseman, “Abraham”)

Abraham finally learned the lesson of faith. “In hope against hope he believed . . . being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:18, 23) Abraham’s faith is one we are called to emulate. “As a true believer, he struggled successfully with doubt, found comfort and strength in prayer, and met life’s greatest challenges by acting on the conviction that God’s Word is trustworthy, to be believed, and to be obeyed.” (“Abraham”) He is an example to us, not that we should imitate his weaknesses, but rather that despite our own weaknesses we might believe that God is able to perform what He has promised to us. As Abraham’s faith began with believing things he had not seen (the land, a son), our faith is also called to begin with believing what we have not seen, “as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”. (Rom. 4:24)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

“Abraham.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Kaiser, Walter, Jr., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. Revised ed. New York: Bantam, 1980.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

Wiseman, D. J. “Abraham.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

 

Slip-Slidng Away

When changes occur, it is common for those who bring in new ideas to reinterpret past events to prove that their ideas are really what people thought and wanted all along. Even when the changes are recent and people still remember what life was like before the changes, they just put a spin on the old ideas.

There is a whole generation who have now lived in a United States where abortion has always been legal, where most married couples get divorced, and where homosexuality is prominently discussed. Is it a wonder that young people just assume it was always like this; or if it wasn’t like this, life must have been worse? For example, I frequently read that the era before no-fault divorces was a time when many women were trapped in abusive relationships. Human nature doesn’t change (Ecclesiastes 1:10). I doubt there where more abusive husbands in the past than there are today. Yet, history is redefined. What occurs today is assumed to be better than the past. Rightly did Solomon sorrowfully say, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after” (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

It is a fact that most of the churches who wear the name “Church of Christ” hold a liberal view of the Scriptures. Liberalism is a philosophical approach to law, whether we talk about constitutional law or the law of Christ. A liberal advocates a free approach to law. Anything is allowed that the law doesn’t specifically restrict, and even then, the law is interpreted so as to give the least restraint possible. The majority of churches of Christ refer to themselves as “mainstream” churches. They will attack those who hold more conservative beliefs as being too restrictive; using terms such as “pharisaical” or “anti” to address conservative-minded Christians. At the same time, they will attack those who take liberalities further than they desire to go. The Max Lucados and Rubel Shellys of the world are too liberal in their view.

Interestingly, the last few decades have brought a reinterpretation of the views of past brethren. Brethren among the mainstream churches assume that their beliefs are the ones brethren have always held. Thomas B. Warren, in his book “Lectures on Church Cooperation and Orphan Homes” argued “If you can find anyone who taught this before 1955, you will be doing me a favor.” Yes, teachings have changed in the church, but it might surprise you who has changed.

Consider the idea of churches establishing and maintaining homes for the needy. Paul taught, “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (I Timothy 5:16). The primary care of the elderly fell upon their family. The church only cared for a limited set of widows who had no family and who had met strict guidelines (I Timothy 5:3-16).

In 1930, brother A. B. Barret, founder of Abilene Christian College wrote, “Individual Christians, any number, may scripturally engage in any worthwhile work, such as running colleges, papers and orphanages, and other individual Christians may properly assist them in every proper way; but no local congregation should be called upon, as such, to contribute a thing to any such enterprises. Such a call would be out of harmony with the word of the living God. And if any congregation so contributes, it transcends its scriptural prerogatives” (Gospel Advocate, March 13, 1930). Yet, today Abilene Christian College regularly solicits and accepts funding from mainstream congregations across the country.

The following year, brother F. B. Srygley wrote, “These churches were independent of each other and of all other congregations. They were not bound together by any organization under the control of the eldership of any of these churches, neither were they banded together under one board created by any state or national law … there was no discussion among them about how to build and control institutions such as orphanages, homes for the aged, or hospitals for the sick. There is no more authority in the New Testament for the control of such things than there is for control of a farm or health resort. Sometime after the apostles died … men became dissatisfied with this simple organization, which eventually led to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Catholic church then undertook to organize in a way to control schools, hospitals … we now have brethren that should know better trying to find authority for owning and operating such things under the overworked rule of expediency” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). Hence, the debate over church supported institutions did exist prior to 1955, unlike what brother Warren asserted. Since the Gospel Advocate was and remains the popular paper of the mainstream churches, brother Srygley’s comments show that the churches in the 1930s held a conservative view against the use of institutions.

In 1946, Guy N. Woods argued “There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church” (1946 Annual Lesson Commentary, page 338). In 1954, B. C. Goodpasture stated, “The church is all sufficient for the work God intended it to do. It needs no aids or auxiliaries.” Brothers Woods and Goodpasture later changed their position. Today the mainstream churches support a wide variety of organizations, such as orphanages, nursing homes, and schools. A change did occur, but it was away from a conservative view of the authority of the Scriptures.

There has also been a change in how churches supported the work of spreading the gospel. Paul stated, “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:15-16). Other churches joined with the Philippians to support Paul so that Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so” (II Corinthians 11:8-9).

Regarding this simple method of each congregation sending support directly to preachers of the gospel, David Lipscomb wrote in 1874, “The simple congregation can cooperate, help, assist, by each of them doing just what the master commands them … what are usually termed cooperation are really not cooperation of the churches, they are an organization, combinations that do the work of the church … two churches, both working by the same law for accomplishment of the end are cooperation.” The view 125 years ago among the churches was similar to the pattern laid out in the New Testament. Each congregation independently supported preachers of the gospel. That two or more congregations happened to decided to support the same man meant they were cooperating in the spread of the gospel in that area. No further organization was needed.

In 1921, M. C. Kurfees wrote, “Hence, the fact that one church is contributing to sustain a missionary is no reason another church or churches may not do so if one is too poor financially to sustain the work; in such a case, each church maintains its own independence, and sends directly to the support of the missionary in the field” (ACC Lectures, 1920-1921, page 55).

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. also commented on this topic in 1931, “For one church to solicit funds from other churches for general distribution in other fields or places, thus becoming a treasury of other churches … makes a sort of society out of the elders of a local church, and for such there is no scriptural precedent or example” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). That same year, F. B. Srygly wrote, “These elders had no authority to take charge of the missionary money or any other money or means of any church except the one over which they were overseers” (Gospel Advocate, December 3, 1931). The following year H. Leo Boles wrote, “There is no example of two or more churches joining together their funds for the support of the gospel” (Gospel Advocate, November 3, 1932).

We see, then, that the common view in the past agreed with the scriptural pattern. Congregations did not pool their funds, but solely cooperated through common but independent action. Today, the mainstream churches accomplish almost all their support of preachers through sponsoring churches. A preacher finds a congregation to sponsor his work and that congregation then solicits and collects funds for that preacher, which it then sends to that preacher in the form of a salary. Yet, most brethren among the mainstream churches refuse to believe that this was not the way it used to be done.

Changes are also evident in the way preachers were trained to preach the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote the young preacher Timothy exhorting him, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). One of the duties of a preacher is to train preachers for the next generation.

In 1915 J. D. Tant wrote, “He and I agreed that this society was unscriptural. Then I told him the church of Christ has its Bible college society with its president, secretary, treasurer, board of directors, etc. to collect money from churches to teach the gospel and do other good works. Then I asked by what process of reasoning could the digressive missionary society be unscriptural, and our college society be scriptural” (Firm Foundation, June 8, 1915). While it has long been the practice of colleges to accept funding from congregations, it was frequently argued against the practice, even within these same colleges. In 1939 Guy N. Woods argued, “The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sand-bar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is characteristic of the age. This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who effect to see grave danger in the missionary society but scruple not to form organizations for the purpose of caring for orphans, and teaching young men to be gospel preachers” (ACC Lectures, 1939, page 54).

Later, George DeHoff clearly stated, “What is God’s institution to educate and train men in the gospel? Answer: The local church” (Christian Magazine, January 1951). Brother DeHoff’s answer reflects the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16. Christ organized the church to train its members to be mature Christians. Yet today the majority of churches will only accept a preacher who has been trained at a college or preacher-training school run by brethren. Rarely does a local congregation train up preachers. Instead, promising young men are sent somewhere else to be trained.

Finally, let us consider the matter of churches sponsoring recreation for its members. The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians, “What, do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God?” (I Corinthians 11:22).

In 1948 B.C. Goodpasture wrote, “For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It degrades its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not come down to the plain of Ono to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and entertainment, it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hair was cut. Only as the church becomes worldly, as it pillows it head in the lap of Delilah, will it turn from its wanted course to relatively unimportant matters. Imagine Paul selecting and training a group of brethren to compete in the Isthmain games!” (Gospel Advocate, May 20, 1948). Yet today, the mainstream churches frequently fund social meals for its members. They furnish gymnasiums for use by their members. Many congregations sponsor youth sports leagues. Who appears to have changed their view regarding the work of the church?

The brethren quoted in this article are not authorities in the matter of determining what is right or wrong regarding a particular issue. However, their writings prove that these issues were considered and for the most part rejected many years ago. Mainstream churches of Christ have followed a new path. They have walked there for so long that they have forgotten that it wasn’t always this way. They find comfort in the position of the majority instead of searching for the ancient landmarks (Proverbs 22:28).

By Jeffrey W. Hamilton

The Importance of Assembling

First Century Christians lived in a time where their government declared war on Christianity. The assaults on people of faith were not done in secret (Heb. 10:32-34). Lands, homes and property were taken by the governing powers. Preachers were regularly interrogated by civil authorities for speaking the truth about Christ (Acts 5:17-18).

Members of the church did not want to assemble because of the government intrusions (Heb. 10:35-39). It just wasn’t safe going to church. Aquila and Priscilla were forced to leave their home in Rome due to the edict of Claudius (A.D. 49) expelling all Jews from the city (Acts 18:1-2). Apparently, many Christians were likewise caught up in the explosions throughout the Roman Empire as history records the “plundering of their possessions” (Heb. 10:34) assumedly as they fled. Philo accounts how Jews in Alexandria were forced to leave their homes and herded together in the city (In Flaccum 8.56). “Their enemies overran the houses now left empty and began to loot them, dividing up the contents like spoils of war.” The incidence was “accompanied by other acts of public outrage and violence (cf. F. F. Bruce, NICNT: Hebrews, 269). 1 Would we blame these Christians for not attending services given their concerns for their personal welfare?

The Hebrew writer records how the early Christians “endured a great fight of afflictions;” became “gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions,” while implying many were mistreated by simple association with other persecuted Christians (Heb. 10:32-33). Philo (Against Flaccus 72, 74, 84-85, 95, 173) and Josephus (Against Apion 1.43) recorded how Jews were subjected to public humiliation and abuse in a theater during an organized massacre (A.D. 38).

Of course, we know how Paul spent many years in prison for his faith (Col. 4:18; Phil. 1:7; Heb. 10:34). We could reminisce of Stephen’s murder (Acts 7:58ff), John the Baptist’s execution (Matt. 14:6-11), or James death under Herod Agrippa (A.D. 43). Not to mention the persecution lead by Saul that left many Christians injured or dead (Acts 22:4-5).

It is in this environment that the Hebrew writer warns the brethren not to forsake assembling (Heb. 10:25). He immediately conjoins such an act to willful sin (Heb. 10:26-31). After which he implores them not to quit their faith after everything they have been through already (Heb. 10:32-39). The act of forsaking the assembling of saints is indicative of one who draws back to perdition (Heb. 10:39). To further encourage the battered brethren, the author of Hebrews sights many examples of people with the kind of faith that doesn’t draw back (Heb. 11). Endurance becomes the theme as the Hebrew writer returns to the hostility present at that time (Heb. 12:1-4). Ultimately, Christ is the perfect example of faith as one “who endured such hostility from sinners.”

Isn’t it strange how our brethren will often water down the importance of assembling? The early Christians went to church knowing it could mean their arrest, torture or humiliation. To be associated with Christians was enough to ruin one’s life. Yet, the book of Hebrews chronicles the explicit commands and exhortations not to throw their faith away by forsaking the assembling. Forsaking church services is a reflection of our faith.

Imagine our brethren on the judgment day telling Christ on the throne that they thought it better to miss the assembling of the saints for any number of reasons. There were sporting events, family socials, overtime at work, minor health complaints, the need to sleep in, etc. What would the early Christians think of those excuses after all they went through? God wouldn’t excuse their desire to forsake church services just because they were being persecuted! God certainly won’t excuse our forsaking church services for any reason within our control.

In the near future, persecution might be added to our list of reasons to forsake. Will we miss the assembling of the saints just because it could cause us to lose our possessions, our dignity or even our life? Christ “laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Is He asking too much when He requires our attendance in worship to Him?

1Daniel H. King, Sr., The Book of Hebrews, Truth Commentaries, Guardian of Truth Foundation, p.351.

By Steve A. Hamilton

shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

 

Water into Wine

Many well-meaning people will point to the miracle where Jesus turns water into wine as their justification to drink alcoholic beverages (Jn. 2:1-11).   They correctly conclude that Christ would not have made wine if He did not approve of its consumption.  However, they err by assuming the wine which Jesus made was fermented.

The generic Greek word for wine (oinos) does not imply either a fermented nor unfermented beverage.  We have already covered this point in many passages in others articles on wine.  We have also emphasized the necessity to determine the meaning of the word wine by considering the context in which the word is found.  The key to determining the inebriating effects of the wine Jesus made from water is found in this manner.

The master of the wedding feast makes an observation that the wine made by Jesus was “good” as compared to the wine being drank which he describes as inferior (Jn. 2:10).  In order to appreciate his statement, we need to know what people in the first century consider good wine versus inferior wine.  Albert Barnes in his New Testament commentary has an excellent discourse on the nature of the good wine.

“We should not be deceived by the phrase “good wine.” We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here.  Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as good, or mention that as the best wine, which was harmless or innocent–poculo vini innocentis. The most useful wine — utilissimum vinum– was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine– saluberrimum vinum– was that which had not been adulterated by “the addition of anything to the must or juice.” Pliny expressly says that a “good wine” was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. iv. c. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the “good wine” was stronger than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder. The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape. We use the word wine now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country–always containing a considerable portion of alcohol –not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol added to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take that sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply that sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition.”[i]

The wine that Jesus made was good because it did not ferment.  The fermentation process converts the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol.  If there is no sugar, the flavor is not good.  It is believed that this wedding feast took place months after the vintage.  Fresh grape juice would not be available during this season.  It appears the inferior wine was likely grape juice that was reconstituted with water from must.  However, the wine Jesus provides must have been fresh grape juice.

The Greek word that was used to describe the goodness of the wine that Jesus made is quite revealing.  The common Greek word for good is agathos.  However, the word used by the master of the feast was kalosKalos carries the idea of moral goodness.  The master of the feast was not only talking about the good flavor of the wine; he was also stating the moral goodness of the beverage.  He is implying the wine is non-intoxicating.

Further, it is ludicrous to think that Jesus would in any way encourage or facilitate the means by which people could sin.  Jesus was well aware of the condemnation given to the drinking of intoxicating wine in the Old Law (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35).  He would tempt no one with sin (Jas. 1:13; Matt. 6:13).  However, He made enough wine to get the whole wedding party drunk if it were fermented.  Nor should we overlook the fact that wedding parties had many small children that also drank from the same wine.

[i] Albert Barnes’ Commentary on the Bible.
 
By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

Can Two Non-Christians, Involved in Adultery, Be Baptized?

Question:

I want to hear about your views on this particular topic. There’s this man who is married with kids. He had some problems with his wife — she being aggressive and abusive. He met another woman while he was still married to his wife and had sexual relations with her. He eventually divorced his wife, and now he’s planning to marry this new woman he is currently seeing. These two who are now involved in a relationship are not Christians. The question is: Can these two (admitting that they are in an adulterous relationship) seek forgiveness and be baptized for the remission of their sins and start going to church together serving God?

Answer:

Certainly, these two can seek forgiveness, be baptized for the remission of their sins and serve God the rest of their lives.  That is the only way they will ever obtain salvation.  However, they will not be able to find forgiveness if they continue in their adulterous relationship together.  The reasons are numerous:

  1. The only God-given reason for a divorce is adultery.  “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).  Notice the person who is the one committing the adultery, as stated in your question, is not permitted to marry again.  In your given situation, the man’s wife may divorce him for adultery, but he, being the offender, will always be an adulterer unless he finds repentance.
  2. Baptism removes sins (Acts 2:38). A prerequisite to baptism is repentance. Repentance means “to regret” to “change one’s mind” [Vines Complete Expository Dictionary].  The man in your question will be unable to demonstrate his regret (repentance) for his sinful actions by maintaining the sinful relationship.  A man who takes another person’s money cannot repent unless he returns the money he took.  Likewise, a man who takes another person’s spouse cannot repent unless he returns the spouse he took.
  3. Just because a person desires to repent does not mean they will find it.  Esau was such a person who wanted to repent but wasn’t willing to do what it took to repent.  “For you know that afterward, when he [Esau] wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). The only way this man will find repentance is by having no further relationship with anyone other than his spouse.
  4. Marriage does not remove sin.  Forgiveness is not obtained by changing the civil relationship.  To God, the man who commits adultery and marries another is an adulterer in his new civil relationship (Matthew 19:9).  God only approves of the marriage He binds regardless of the number of civil relationships that person might have in the future (John 4:17-18).  To God, these two are “shacking up.”
  5. Hypothetically speaking, if the man was baptized (assuming he regretted his sinful conduct) and was forgiven at that moment in time, if he ever has sexual relations with another woman other than his wife, even in a newly created civil relationship, he once again has committed the sin of adultery.  It would have been better for him had he never been baptized (Hebrews 10:26-27; II Peter 2:20-22).

I’m sorry to say the man in your question will have to remain unmarried the rest of his life or be reconciled to his wife (I Corinthians 7:10-11).  If he is willing to repent of his adultery, then he could be baptized to have his sins removed (Acts 2:38).

Steve Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net