bible literacy


Bible illiteracy: Fewer and fewer people are acquainted with most basic stories and truths of Scripture

bible illiteracy


What can we do to increase general Bible knowledge (biblical literacy) for ourselves, from within our congregations and among our unchurched friends and neighbors? Of course, we can encourage people to get a Bible and then to read it. (It should be a good modern translation that is easy to read.) But I’m certainly open to additional ideas. Leave them in your comments below.

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how God saves us


Critique of video: “What must I do to be saved?”

This beautifully produced and plain-talking presentation in answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” is impressive and teaches a lot of truth.

Nevertheless it has at least four flaws.

1) Its most significant and glaring flaw is that It does not give the Savior enough credit for salvation. I listened for 22 minutes before I heard Jesus called “Savior” for the first time. There is something wrong with a presentation of the gospel that does not begin with Jesus Christ, end with Jesus Christ, and talk about Jesus all the way through. Everything a sinner “does” is in relation to and in response to what the sinner’s Savior has done.

Also it’s a personal matter: You are responding, not just to a plan of salvation that God dreamed up in eternity past. You are responding to a Savior. If you do not respond, you are not just rejecting a plan; you are rejecting Him – yes, even insulting Him.

2) In “step two,” believe, the speaker suggested that in order to be saved one must believe in the one body, the church, for salvation is only in that one body. This is making the gospel the good news of Christ’s church and almost suggesting that the church is a co-Savior. No! Being incorporated into the body of Christ is a RESULT of salvation, not a means of salvation. We should teach people about the one church Christ died to save, but we should not tell them it is the way they become saved.

3) Under “step four,” confession, the speaker talked about the eunuch’s confession (Acts 8:37). This confession is not found in any Greek manuscripts earlier than the 6th century. Among the later manuscripts that have it there are two versions of the confession. The King James Version has it because Erasmus added it based on only the marginal reading of one manuscript.

This confession, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God,” is not the confession of the primitive church. The original confession that formed the foundation of the Christian movement is the one found in Rom. 10:9 “Jesus is Lord” (see also 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 4:5).

A confession that Jesus is the Son of God tends to be only mental assent to a theological truth (though an important one). A confession that “Jesus is Lord” means not only do I assent to this truth, but I yield allegiance of my heart and life to His control.

4) A similar textual problem is with the use of Revelation 1:5, which was quoted as “to Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” Once more, the word ‘washed’ is found only in the later manuscripts, while the early ones have ‘freed’ (He freed us from our sins). The two Greek words may originally have sounded the same; the difference in spelling is only one letter. If you want to talk about being washed in the blood of the lamb, use Revelation 7:14, where the manuscripts all agree

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Why set aside the “firm results” of modern scholarship on the date of the New Testament?

This is the best summary I have found of conservative scholarship regarding New Testament introductory matters, which are fundamental to a solid Christian theology.

Please let me know of people’s reactions to this if you share it with anyone. –Steve C. Singleton

McCready, Douglas. He Came Down from Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005. 349 pp.

Page 44, footnote 11:

I accept traditional dating and authorship for the New Testament documents because modern critics have not offered what I consider convincing arguments for later dates or against traditional authorship. Claims that the earliest Christians considered pseudepigraphic writings acceptable are arguments from silence and use contemporary pagan and later Christian pseudepigraphic documents to derive a first-century Christian practice.

Because of its significance for Christian apologetics, I consider the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem a key to dating the Synoptics and Hebrews. The Synoptics’ inclusion of Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction and Hebrews’ presentation of Jesus as replacing the temple sacrifice lead me to conclude that if the temple had been destroyed when the books were written, the authors would have used that event in support of their message.

Luke and Acts constitute a two-part account, but Acts ends its account of Paul in Rome without reaching a conclusion. I surmise that this was because Paul had not yet been executed. If I am correct, then Luke must date from the early 60s and Mark and Matthew earlier.

A common argument for dates after 70 is that Jesus’ prophecies of the destruction of the temple in the Synoptics constitute “prophecies after the fact.” Until I am convinced this conclusion is something more than a prejudice against the supernatural and the prophecy it makes possible, I cannot credit the argument. In any event, experts on the first third of the first century tell us Palestine was in such ferment that despite the absence of open rebellion an insightful person could forecast serious trouble ahead.

Moreover, Jesus’ prophecy sounds similar to descriptions of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem found in the Old Testament prophets. So even a merely human Jesus could have foretold the destruction of the First Jewish War; if we grant Jesus was as the New Testament writers present him, prophecy would create no barrier nor present a difficulty to dating the Synoptics prior to the war.

Many New Testament scholars caution us that our knowledge of the early church and of the environment it existed in is incomplete. In fact, this knowledge appears sufficiently incomplete that it is risky to offer conclusions about dates of New Testament books on the basis of how things most or must not have been.

Specifically, to say such books as the Pastorals are later than Paul because church organization was too primitive for a date in Paul’s lifetime seems to go beyond the evidence. This is particularly the case when the argument becomes circular in deriving claims about development based on the supposedly late date of the books.

The attempt to portray christology as developing from “low” to “high” has been discredited by the reality that Paul’s christology is no lower than John’s, and the Synoptics are much higher than some critical scholars are willing to admit.

p23 james

The photo is of Papyrus 23, displaying James 1:15-18.


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Jesus vs. Moses: Different way of salvation?jesus-moses

Comment: The Old Testament is now for our learning (Rom 15:4). Its law of works has been nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). We no longer receive forgiveness of sins by its given commands (Heb 9:16). We now live under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21). Simply stated, we are no longer saved in the same manner today (Christ risen) as they were while Christ was alive in the flesh and before He came (OT). —Stephane Maillet, in the FB group, “Undenominational Christianity”

Reply: Stephane, I think we may be more in agreement than it seems. I believe that God has always saved people by grace through faith, even in OT times. The Jews, however, perverted God’s grace system into one of salvation by works (Rom. 9:30-33), which is no salvation at all, since the standard is the perfect holiness of God himself (Lev. 19:2), and no one could live up to that standard.

The Book of Romans indicates this by addressing the theme, “The righteous will live by faith,” quoting Hab. 2:4 in Rom. 1:17. Of course, their link to the sacrifice of Christ (animal sacrifices?) was different than ours (baptism in Jesus’ name).

Paul goes on in Rom. 4 to speak of the righteousness that comes by faith (Gen. 15:6) and true forgiveness (Ps. 32:1-2). We should abandon the comparison of “old law/new law,” for it seems to imply that Jesus is just another lawgiver. He is so much more: He is our Redeemer, our elder brother, and our King. These things Moses never was.

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Surprise! What’s going to happen? Part 7

grave marker

7. Meanwhile, the spirits of those who die enter into an intermediate state, awaiting the resurrection and judgment.[Note 1]

A glimpse at the intermediate state for all the dead

A few New Testament passages reveal to us the state of the dead before the general resurrection.

In His Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus describes the two regions of ‘Hades’ (the unseen realm of the dead) (v. 23) a “great chasm” which no one can cross (v. 26). He also reveals the state of the dead while people (e.g., the rich man’s five brothers – v. 28) remain alive on the earth. Next to Abraham, Lazarus receives great blessings, while in flames the rich man looks on, suffering from an overwhelming thirst.

Because this is a parable and not an historical narrative, we must allow for the use of figurative language. Nevertheless, we should not reject this parable as a source of information about the intermediate state. Would Jesus intentionally mislead us regarding this place that is the focus of so much intense interest?

State of the redeemed dead before resurrection

Recall that in Second Corinthians 5:1–5, Paul speaks of a “state of nakedness” after we put off the “earthly tent” (our perishable bodies) and before we are clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (our resurrection bodies). As Paul anticipates his own death, he confesses he desires to “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” than remaining alive (Phil. 1:23). This conforms to Jesus’ promise to the penitent thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Based on these passages, we conclude that when the redeemed die, their spirits unite with Father and Son in a fellowship that is wonderful, but falls short of the experience in eternity when they have resurrected bodies. They may be aware of what is happening on earth, but without a divine mission or enabling, they are powerless to intervene. During this waiting period, they are blessed, since they “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow after them” (Rev. 14:13).

State of the unredeemed dead before resurrection

Like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, the unredeemed after death are also disembodied spirits held captive in a place of fiery suffering. In Second Peter 2:4 and 9, the apostle warns what will happen to false prophets:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but send them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment . . . —if this is so, then the Lord knows how . . . to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgment.

False prophets receive no special treatment as if they were worse sinners than anyone else. We can safely infer that what happens to them is the fate common to the unredeemed.

By analogy, when police catch a person in the process of committing a crime, they slap on the handcuffs and haul them off to jail where they await their trial. When convicted, they go to prison or are put to death as punishment for their crime. So those who die unredeemed are not free until Judgment Day. They already suffer pain as they await the formal examination of their case in the court of heaven, inevitably resulting in their condemnation and punishment.

By the way, so that no one makes the short jump to conclude that this passage clearly supports the idea of eternal, conscious torment after Judgment Day, Peter goes on to state this about the false prophets:

They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

Once more, we find ambiguity. Is the apostle speaking of the eternal fate of these wicked people or is he saying that they will die physical deaths? The context will allow either interpretation.

What we know for certain, however, is that the unredeemed have no hope for redemption. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:20).

A framework for understanding and experiencing End Times

I hope that this critique of Dispensationalism and explanation of a better alternative creates deep in your heart both a desire to understand more fully what the Bible teaches about our future and even more important, a strong determination to participate and experience the End Times as one of the redeemed. Jesus makes clear that the gospel invitation is for all human beings, when He sends His apostles to teach all nations (Matt. 28:20). The ‘all nations’ of the Great Commission corresponds to the ‘all peoples’ of God’s promise to Abraham: “[A]ll peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3).

Scripture opens wide the “harvest field” by promising, “[E]veryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” by inviting “whosoever” (John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Rev. 22:17), and by extending the promises of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit “for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

Who does God call? Paul replies:

[N]ow He commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.

God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus Christ is still calling for people to become His disciples, telling all of us, “Come, follow Me.” To follow Him means that we come to trust Him with our whole being. This trust involves becoming convinced that His claims are valid, and His demands on us are legitimate (John 8:23–24; 31–32). It involves trusting Him with our will, which is called repentance (1 Thess. 1:8–9). We vocalize our trust in Him, which the Bible calls “the good confession” (Rom. 10:9–11; 1 Tim. 6:13). Trusting Him to cleanse us in a watery reenactment of His saving work at the cross and the empty tomb, we submit to baptism (Gal. 3:26–27; Col. 2:11–15; Acts 22:16). And then, He invites all those who belong to Him as His disciples to “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21), to “walk as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6), both in this world, and into the world to come.

I hope that now, or some day soon, you experience the “new creation,” in breathless anticipation of the time when at the brink of eternity God once more cries out, “Behold! I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5).

1. For an excellent explanation of the intermediate state, see Loraine Boettner, Immortality (Philadelphia, Penn.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1956), 91–104.

Excerpted from my e-book, “Behind ‘Left Behind': The Flawed Bible Interpretation Principles of Dispensationalism and a Biblical Alternative,” available in Kindle and PDF versions here:

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35 Centuries of Praise: Part 5
Q&A on the Hermeneutics of Authority

Q (condensed): If the Bible only “authorizes” singing (and not instrumental music), then where do you get the “authority” to use hymnals, pitch pipes, pews, and indoor baptistries in worship services? If the answer is that they are “aids to worship,” where does the Bible allow for that? Where is your required authorization? If a pitch pipe can be an “aid to worship” for the song service, then why can’t a piano be an “aid to worship” to someone who may need more help in singing?

A: You are asking a good question because it seeks to define what principles of interpretation we should employ when studying the Scriptures. Permit me to explore it with you without trying to provide an exhaustive answer.

If your doctor wrote out a prescription for you to take one Oxycillin pill three times a day, how would you interpret that? Would you say, “He didn’t say not to take Tylenol or Motrin or Dayquil, so I think I will take all four”?

No, his prescription to take one thing excludes alternative medicines – things that are in the same class. But it does NOT exclude water, which you use to wash it down. Water is not an alternative to the Oxycillin, but a means to swallowing it.

Likewise in the case of music, “Sing and make melody in your heart” (Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16) and offering to God as a “sacrifice of praise… the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15) seems to exclude alternative ways of making music but not the means to do the singing (determining which song, what pitch, what tempo, etc.).

A pitchpipe or tuning fork are not alternatives to singing. Neither is a song book. Does this make sense?


NOTE: I have dear friends who disagree with me about all this. I encourage everyone to develop their own convictions and accept brothers or sisters who disagree with yours. We are only fellow servants. “Before their own Master they stand or fall.”

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ds_cover35 Centuries of Praise: Part 4
Five Reasons to Use A cappella Singing Exclusively for Worship

First, a disclaimer: Please take care – Christians, even those who have obvious maturity, disagree about this issue and what we should do in a variety of situations. In view of this, we must all exercise care and wisdom in studying this subject, and apply the principles of Romans 14 to those with whom we disagree: We must allow them to stand or fall “before their own master” – Jesus Christ – and not judge them. The Apostle Paul commands us to “accept one another without passing judgment on controversial matters” (Romans 14:1), but at the same time to develop our own convictions (Rom. 14:16-23).

With regard to music in the covenants, please consider these points:


1. God commanded instrumental music under the Mosaic covenant.

The important verse for establishing this starting point is 2 Chron. 29:25. The verse says that during Hezekiah’s reforms “He stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer [another word for ‘prophet’]; this was commanded by the LORD through His prophets.” A second supporting passage is Ps. 150:3-5, which commands Israel to praise the LORD with eight kinds of instruments: trumpet, harp, lyre, tambourine, strings, flute, cymbals, and resounding cymbals.

2. No such command occurs in the new covenant (New Testament).

When we contrast these passages with Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, and Heb. 13:15, which only command vocal praise, the conclusion seems striking that a change in covenants involved a change in the music of worship. What explains this change?

3. Many elements of worship that were external in the Mosaic covenant have become internal in the new covenant. This includes music.

Commands to perform animal sacrifices under Moses were replaced by the command to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Priestly garments given way to being clothed with Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27). The offering of incense, already likened to prayer under Moses (Ps. 141:2), is replaced by prayer under Christ (Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4). The temple itself under the new covenant becomes the people belonging to Christ as they meet together (1 Cor. 3:16-17) and even the individual bodies of believers (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This pattern of internalizing includes the change from instrumental to vocal music: what used to be done externally (playing a harp or lyre) has now been internalized (plucking the “strings of the heart”).

4. Through its use of symbols from the Mosaic covenant, the visions of the Book of Revelation once more externalize in order to draw out the meaning of worship under the new covenant.

As a prophet, John records the content of his visions and explains the meaning of their symbols. The temple (Rev. 3:12), the priestly garments (Rev. 3:4-5; 5:4; 6:12; 7:13-14; 19:8), the sacrifices (Rev. 6:9-11), the incense (Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4), and the harps (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2) of the Mosaic covenant all serve to demonstrate symbolically that new-covenant worship is holy and acceptable to God when offered from sincere hearts. None of these symbols justifies returning to the external worship of the old covenant, any more than quoting Ps. 66:13 and 15 justifies presenting burnt offerings, fat animals, rams, bulls, and goats as a part of our worship.

5. Introducing instrumental music under the new covenant is no more justifiable than reintroducing vestments, incense, a temple, or animal sacrifices.

It would be returning to the externalized worship of the Mosaic period, not recognizing that God has brought worship to maturity by making it a matter of the heart, not a matter of blood ritual, showy performance, or grand clothes. God wants the devotion of the inner person, and we can show our gratitude to Him for redeeming us by pouring out our prayers, offering our deeds of service, and delivering to Him our songs of praise.

NOTE: I have dear friends who disagree with me about all this. I encourage everyone to develop their own convictions and accept brothers or sisters who disagree with yours. We are only fellow servants. “Before their own Master they stand or fall.”


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35 Centuries of Praise: Part 3
Quotations from church fathers of the first six centuries

Clement of Alexandria (150-ca. 215) – The union of many in one, issuing in the production of divine harmony out of a medley of sounds and division, becomes one symphony following one choir-leader and teacher, the Word, reaching and resting in the same truth, and crying, “Abba, Father.” (Exhortation to the Heathen 9)

Tertullian (ca. 160-225) – Our dinner shows its idea in its name; it is called by the Greek name for love (agape)…. If the motive of the banquet is honest, take the motive as the standard of the other proceedings required by our rule of life. Since it turns on the duty of religion, it allows nothing vile, nothing immodest.

We do not take our places at table until we have first tasted prayer to God. Only so much is eaten as satisfies hunger; only so much drunk as meets the needs of the modest. They satisfy themselves only so far as men will who recall that evening during the night they must worship God; they talk as those would who know the Lord listens.

After water for the hands come the lights; and then each, from what he knows of the Holy Scriptures, or from his own heart, is called before the rest to sing to God; so that is a test of how much he has drunk. Prayer in like manner ends the banquet.

Then we break up; but not to form groups for violence nor gangs for disorder, nor outbursts for lust; but to pursue the same care for self-control and chastity, as men who have dined not so much on dinner as on discipline. (Apology 39)

Basil (ca. 330-379) – A psalm is the tranquility of souls, the arbitrator of peace, restraining the disorder and turbulence of thoughts, for it softens the passion of the soul and moderates its unruliness. A psalm forms friendships, unites the divided, mediates between enemies. For who can still consider him an enemy with whom he has sent forth one voice to God? So that the singing of psalms brings love, the greatest of good things, contriving harmony like some bond of union and uniting the people in the symphony of a single choir.

A psalm drives away demons, summons the help of angels, furnishes arms against nightly terrors, and gives respite from daily toil; to little children it is safety, to men in their prime an adornment, to the old a solace, to women their most fitting ornament. It populates the deserts; it brings agreement to the marketplaces.

To novices it is a beginning; to those who are advancing, an increase; to those who are concluding, a confirmation. A psalm is the voice of the Church. It gladdens feast days, it creates the grief which is in accord with God’s will, for a psalm brings a tear even from a heart of stone. A psalm is the work of angels, the ordinance of Heaven, the incense of the Spirit.

Oh, the wise invention of the teacher who devised how we might at the same time sing and learn profitable things, whereby doctrines are somehow more deeply impressed upon the mind. (Homily on the First Psalm 1 & 2).

John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) – [N]othing so arouses the soul, gives it wing, sets it free from the earth… as concordant melody and sacred song composed in rhythm. (On Psalm 41 1).

[No one will] be blamed if he be weakened by old age, or young, or have a harsh voice, or no knowledge at all of numbers [i.e., the theoretical aspects of music]. What is here sought for is a sober mind, an awakened intelligence, a contrite heart, sound reason, and clear conscience. If having these you have entered into God’s sacred choir. You may stand beside David himself.

Augustine (ca. 354-430) – How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the deep chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience. (Confessions 9, 6, 14).

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ds_cover35 Centuries of Praise: Part 2
Creed-like hymns embedded in New Testament

From the first-century Christian songs scholars believe are embedded in New Testament (e.g., Philippians 2:6-11; Ephesians 5:14; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 1:17; etc.), we can infer that the earliest Christian hymns were heavily laden with doctrinal content. Their creed-like wording emphasized the common ground all Christians shared, and singing them served to bind Christians together in unity.

Today’s Christian songs tend to be less doctrinal and more–what? Either focused on praise to God or on encouraging the believer. Nothing wrong with that, but for the most part we seem to have lost this means both of instructing one another on the sine qua non’s of our faith and of reminding each other what we share in Christ.

Nevertheless, we live in an era rich with great hymns that are spiritually enriching, encouraging, and uplifting, with more being written all the time. For this we should be most grateful.

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35 Centuries of Praise: Part 1
Prayer in disguise

All Christian hymns have either a horizontal dimension (instruction, encouragement, or correction), a vertical dimension (prayer or praise), or both.

Hymns or psalms with the vertical dimension are really prayers in disguise. If they also have a horizontal dimension, that suggests that our communal prayers could also have this aspect. (Usually we think of prayer as being vertical only.) This switching back and forth is most obvious in the Psalms.

I think the idea is that God is included as a participant in a conversation his people are having. Some of that conversation is addressed directly to Him, some to His people, and some even even to unbelievers.

Read a psalm (Ps. 32, for example), and ask yourself, “Is this vertical or horizontal?” Then watch for the surprising answer.

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