James: A transitional primer to begin to point Jewish people to the fulfillment of the law, Jesus (Proverbs of the New Testament)

This is a partial draft version of an article I am writing on James. It is not yet finished, but has enough information in it so far that it can be valuable as is until I can finish it.


I have been thinking about the book of James for a long time. Specifically I attended a translation workshop on the book, helped Mixtec speakers translate it into Tezoatlán Mixtec and Ayutla Mixtec of Mexico and have checked the book as a consultant in several other Mexican languages. All the preparation, exegesis, study, translating, checking, etc. brought about having a number of questions about the book and its purpose. The most basic issue, and a key to resolving many of the other questions and translating the book accurately, is trying to determine who James’ intended audience is.

Some of the answers to this question of the target audience, and the ways this has affected how I understand the rest of the book is significantly different than many commentaries I studied, and very different than most sermons people have heard.

Some of the things I discovered, deducted, are so different that some may say, “What? That is not right! That is not how I understand the book, or that portion of the book!”  I only ask that you keep an open mind as I set forth the things I have discovered as a result of helping to translate James into a different language, seeking to understand the logic and purpose of the book, and also what I have gleaned from further studies and several different authors. If in the end you do not agree with my conclusions, that is of course fine, I just ask that you consider the book from this unique perspective.

Who is James writing to?

As mentioned, a key to understanding the book of James is trying to determine who he is writing to. Who is his audience? After much study, it was determined that most likely his principle audience is Jews, as he states from the very beginning in 1:1: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” Literally he says he is speaking to Jewish people.

However, some have taken this phrase as his way of speaking of the “new” Israel, with Christians as the people God has now chosen as His special people. Adding to this interpretation, they say, is that at James’ time, there were not twelve tribes of Israel. Ten had been carried away to Assyria around 720 BC, and only two confirmed tribes are left. However, the fact that James adds, “scattered among the nations” could cover even some people from the “lost” tribes, some of which, though living far away, may retain some of the Jewishness, and who are still heirs in a special way of the promise God made to Abraham. To dismiss the possibility that James is actually focusing on other Jewish people, and changing his words so that his words are directed to the new spiritual Israel seems to be a stretch. So let us see what significance James’ words have if we assume that he is speaking to his fellow Jewish people, and focusing his letter on their Jewishness, and not necessarily aiming everything at Christians, specially Christian gentiles.

James can be viewed as a transition primer, or a bridge from being a “good” Jew to leading them to faith in Jesus. He treats the most basic parts of faith in God, obeying God and living as God taught. James is taking on the misguided idea that just because they are Jews, they are God’s people and saved, without regard to how they live. Like Jesus said in John: “Don’t think that since you are descendants of Abraham, that you will escape.” He wants the listeners to live like God wants, like their ancestors had taught them, without overly focusing on Jesus. Yet!

To get their lives right according to what their Jewish faith teaches, he wants to start with the right foundation. James sets the firm foundation: to follow the two greatest commandments, just as Jesus taught them: “To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”  It would be nice to see James, part 2, where one might expect that he would get to the main point, writing more directly so that they will realize that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that is in the Old Testament, and guide them to give their lives to Him. Then they would understand, as Hebrews explains, and as Paul shows with many OT prophesies, that Jesus is the only way to become right with God. In fact, if would be more logical if James came before Hebrews in the New Testament. James prepares them to have a closer relationship with God, to obey Him and to love Him and others, then Hebrews goes “straight to the chase” about how Jesus is the whole point of the Old Testament. James essentially wants them to be like the Bereans, to search the Scriptures and find that Jesus is the truth, the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

James focuses on their Jewishness like Jesus did

To help understand the form in which James presents his advice and teaching in this book, and to reinforce the idea that it is directed primarily to Jews, consider how Jesus taught his Jewish audience, what things he focused on and said, several which have been already mentioned. Consider especially how Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, people who were sometimes proud, hypocritical and did not always show love to others, issues James is dealing with in this book. Or how John the Baptist spoke to his Jewish audience, or even Peter in Acts, talking to the Jewish people.  In James, while some or even many are Christians, he is not focusing on this, he is focusing on their Jewishness, just a Jesus did with the people He spoke to.  James is rebuking the people for actions and attitudes which are very similar to the ones Jesus was concerned with.

Hypocrisy: Say you believe in God but no follow His commands

Mat. 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Examples in James and/or Proverbs)

Mark 7:6-8: He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.

Showing preference

Mat. 23:6: they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues”;

Luke 14:8-10: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.”

Luke 14:12-14: “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Add a few corresponding examples of verses from James.


Related to this question of who James is directing his letter to is the concept of “brothers”, a word he uses at least fifteen times in this short book. (1:2a: Consider it pure joy, my brothers,”)  As a translation consultant, I check what are known as backtranslations, where someone from a minority language translates the text of the revised and checked translation of a Scripture book “back” into Spanish. For example, a translation in Mixtec may say, “Kúꞌu̱ nda̱ꞌo ini Ndios saꞌa̱ ña̱yuu ndéi ña̱yuú yóꞌo”, and the backtranslation would be: “God loves very much the people of this world.”  I have seen a number of backtranslation of “brothers” which say, “brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus.” Now this would be okay if it was a letter written by Paul to Gentile Christians, but, is it okay for the book of James which I posit was written to Jewish people, many of whom where not Christians, or at  the very least, immature Christians with extremely limited knowledge of Jesus?

It was very common for letters written from a Jewish writer to other Jews to use the term “brothers.” In the New Testament, when one of the apostles is speaking to a group of fellow Jews, it is common to use brothers. In Acts, Peter uses this kind of relational vocative a number of times, for example: Acts 2:14: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem”, 2:22: “Men of Israel”, 2:29: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried”, in 3:12 “People of Israel….” 3:17: “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” 4:8: “Rulers and elders of the people!”

While it is true that brothers is also used in Acts to refer as “Christian” brothers, fellow believers, in the context of James, it seems more appropriate to assume that he is writing mainly to fellow Jews, his people, his brothers (and sisters). James, in Acts 15:13 addresses the Jewish assembly with the following way: “Brothers, listen to me.”

Paul is an interesting case in Acts, for many times he knows that he has a mixed audience, speaking to both Jews and Gentiles. In 14:16, in the synagogue, he starts out saying: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!” Then in vs. 26: “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles,”. Then as he comes to his “climax” he combines them all by saying, “Therefore, my brothers,”. In Acts 22:1, as he is about to share his testimony in Jerusalem to mainly Jews, he starts out saying: “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” And in 23:1, defending himself before the Jewish council: “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” Finally in 28:17: Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers,”.

Paul speaks mainly to the Gentiles in the majority of his letters, with a focus on confronting false teachings, many which come from the Judiazers, and trying to build up the church to maturity. Romans is usually the book many point to where Paul seems to have a mixed audience in mind, trying to explain what God did through Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles, with some sections an obvious message to the Jews, and others to the Gentiles. 

At least three of the non-Pauline books also focus their message in on the Jews. Hebrews speaks directly to Jews, but more directly than James, explaining, like Paul, that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Jewish laws and prophecies. 1 and 2 Peter is similar, speaking encouragement to Jewish Christians who are suffering.

Paul compared to James

In considering how the audience and themes James is focusing on is very different than the issues Paul was addressing, it is valuable to discuss Paul’s message to the Gentiles, since James, as has been noted, is not focusing on the Gentiles, but the Jews. Paul has a two part program when speaking to the Gentiles. First and foremost is to present Jesus as the only way to God, God’s way to become right with Him, the perfect sacrifice for sin who died in our place. While we were yet sinners He died for us. He reconciles us to God, He is our righteousness, the fulfillment of all the OT prophecies. He is the foundation, the most basic part of the message. The only faith that leads us to God and eternal life is in Jesus. Trust in Him!

However, Paul is dealing mostly with Gentiles whose whole life have been the complete opposite of doing God’s will, a lifestyle of abandonment to sin and mostly ignorance or disdain for what God commands. Paul knows they need a transformation of the heart and mind, not only to put their trust and faith in Jesus but also the power to live a life pleasing to God. He knows and teaches that this is only possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Because of the radical change needed from their old life to their new life, they also are in desperate need of solid teaching on how to live. Throughout Paul’s letters he has at least twelve lists of three or more sins that his experience with the Gentile people he has ministered to need the most correction. Every such list except for one includes at least three sexual sins (deals with sex in James?) , and they all also include many relational sins, how to get along, especially when you have new immature congregations that include both Jews and Gentiles, a significant clash of cultures and backgrounds.

This all is complicated by the Judiaizers, who, also knowing how “pagan” the Gentiles are, thinking that Jesus is not enough, are trying to change their “religion”, from pagan to Jewish proselytes, which include a lot of outward rules and laws like circumcision, food regulations, celebrating the Jewish festivals, etc. They are basically treating Jesus as an add-on to making the Gentiles into Jews.  Paul rejects this, of course, proclaiming that Jesus is the one and only way to God, and instead of trying to change their lives by changing their religion, he sets out intensely teaching them, “Now that we have faith in Jesus, how then shall we live via the power of the Holy Spirit?” Thus the 12+ lists of the predominate sins he sees them dealing with as he goes from place to place and new church to new church.

James is coming at this from a different perspective. The main people he is writing to, Jews, are the heirs of God’s promises. They have the background of God’s laws and for the most part know how He wants them to live. However, because of some of the factors mentioned earlier, they have drifted away from His perfect law and instructions, be it because of the flesh or Gentile, worldly influence. So he is asking the people to come back to God, to rebuild that foundation that their people have had since Abraham, and as they do this, they will see the need of Jesus. Not Jesus as an add-on to the law, but as the fulfillment of the law, the One the law has been pointing to the whole time. They of course will also need the Holy Spirit to make them new creatures like everyone else, but James writes as though they do have an excellent foundation from which to start from, and if they understand  it correctly, it will help lead them to Jesus, both for salvation, and also for a transformed life.

James is very different than other New Testament books

To show even more some of the differences between James, Paul and other (Gentile-directed) letters in the New Testament, below is a chart of some key words used in a number of NT books of similar size, specifically the keyterms Jesus, Christ and Gospel. The number count is based on the occurrences in the more literal King James version:

Book (KJV)JesusChristGospel
1 Thes18166
1 Tim15171
1 Peter11274

As noted in the chart, the Jesus and Christ are only found twice in the book of James, and both times together. 1:1: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” And 2:1: My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Note that many other words Paul regularly uses are not in this book. As mentioned, Hebrews is different in that there is little dispute it is written primarily to Jews, as is the case with 1-2 Peter. But even in these writings, the primary audience is obviously Christians who are suffering, not Jews and their particular issues.

What are the causes of the problems James addresses?

We can theorize of what influences are affecting the people James is speaking to. If they are living where there are synagogues and significant influences of legalism and the type of issues that Jesus faced with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the people may be going “through the motions” of obeying the law and traditions outwardly, but not living for God in their daily lives, their hearts being far from him. The more likely scenario would be that these Jewish people are living among the Gentiles and are drifting away and being corrupted by the Gentiles just as had happened to their ancestors. Could they be falling into idol worship and many of the sins that the Gentiles revel in?

In contrast to Paul, who is speaking to Gentiles who grew up doing these types of sins, and who see nothing wrong in doing them, James is speaking to people who theoretically know how God wants them to live, whose law, assuming most know more or less what it says, prohibit all these sins. But quite possibly, because of Gentile influence and sinful natures, they are dabbling in these pagan sins. The Jews are mostly aware that they are breaking God’s laws when they sin like this, while the Gentiles think it is all normal to live such a life.

As a result, James purpose in writing the book is to lead them back to even the most basic teachings of how God wants them to live and to relate to Him.  Every single verse in James is directly related to his purpose. With the overall goal of eventually bridging this to faith in Jesus.

References from the Old Testament

Like Paul, James also uses references from the Old Testament in his teaching and correction. James, in Acts 15 and writing the letters to the Gentiles, states that: For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” The idea being that at least some of the Gentiles who are converts and God-fearers (i.e. Cornelius) know a fair amount of the Old Testament and so it can be used to teach certain truths about God to them as well as to Jews. I have mentioned all the similarities to Proverbs, James covering similar themes as Proverbs. James also lists a number of Old Testament heroes:

Abraham, someone Paul talks about a lot, in 2:21-23: “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called Godʼs friend.”

Job in 5:11: “You have heard of Jobʼs perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

Elijah in 5:17-18: “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

Rahab in 2:25: “Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.”

Add here a discussion of Proverbs and how it compares to James, or add this info earlier or tie it to the theme section.

Key words: God (20), Lord (14), faith (16), brothers (15), law (10), Wisdom/wise (7) (3:13-18) Tongue, humble/humility pride/proud, Scripture (4), Religion-Paul does not talk this way. Believe (5), truth: (3) Proverbs (7),  bless (3) Proverbs (23), Proverbs fear (25), Proverbs wicked(91), knowledge(40) and James know(6), anger 27:4, 30:33 and James 1:19-20,


Sex, lots in Paul, lots in Proverbs, not in James?


The tongue is mentioned a lot in Proverbs and James. Besides talking a lot about lying, Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life;  opening your mouth can ruin everything.” 15:2: “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.” 15:4: “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” 18:21: “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” 21:23: “Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” 25:23: “As surely as a north wind brings rain, so a gossiping tongue causes anger!

In Proverbs:

Gossip: 11:13, 16:28, 18:8, 20:19, 26:20, 26:22

Lots of verses for: Speak, lips, words, answer

In James

Tongue 3:1-12

Speak: 1:19, 2:12, 4:11

Word: 1:18-23

Wisdom: 3:13-18

God, Lord(95 times in Proverbs, 14 times in Proverbs)

Faith  16X in James,  17X faithful, unfaithful in Proverbs

Love lots in Proverbs, in James, 2X those who love God, 1 love others.

Sin James 9, Prov. 23

Relational problems: i.e. anger, favortism

4:1-2: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” They Humiliate the poor, (“But you have insulted the poor.”) rich mistreat the poor and their workers, condemned and murdered innocent men, Favoritism: ““Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.

4:11 “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.

1:19-20: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

2:1-4: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

3:9: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

3:14-18 “No bitterness and envy in wisdom, peacemakers, impartial, don’t be angry.

Add Proverbs relational problems

Anger in P: (15X) 5:17, 14:4, 15:1, 20:2, 20:16, 21:14, 22:3, 22:24, 27:4, 27:12, 27:13, 29:8, 29:11, 30:33

James 3:2: “To say something stupid is the easiest sin to commit, with the least amount of steps to bring it to fruition, it is almost instant. Every other sin needs a few more steps to bring it to fruition. So that is why if a person can top this almost instant sin, they should be able to stop a sin which takes more steps to complete.”

Law 1:25: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

2:8-9: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

2:10-12: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,”

Judge James (5X should not judge, 5X God is judge) 213 (X2), 4: 11 judgment

Prov. King should judge fairly (3X), Judgment (=discernment) 15X

Humble/humility pride/proud

Boast Pro. (3), James (4X)

Patience/patient both 4-5X

Evil James 10X, Proverbs 45X

Mercy about 4 each

Tomorrow James 4:13 and Prov. 27:1

Prayer Jms. 5:16, Prov. 15:8, 29

Vocatives:: 2:20: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”, 4:4: “You adulterous people“, 4:8: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” 4:13: “Now listen, you who say,” 4:14: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” 5:1: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.”

Proverbs: My son(s), others? 1:22, 8:5 you simple ones, 8:4 To you, O men,

Listen… Both have a number of these!

Works vs. Faith in the eyes of legalistic Jews.  True faith is shown by good works, and also (3:13) true wisdom is shown by good works. James is pulling ideas from Proverbs. Could the Pharisees who became Christians feel proud because of their superior knowledge over the normal Israeli Christians? (3:14). This refers to faith in God, and is very different from Paul’s teaching about saving faith in Jesus.

Shema is a Jewish term for believing in God, this may be the “faith” that he is focusing on, or possibly the faith/trust in God like Abraham had, but not focusing in on faith in Jesus as Savior.

Riches: Proverbs 11:28: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” 18:23 “A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.” 22:1: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” 23:4: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” 23:5: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” 27:24: “riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.” 28:6: “Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.” 28:11: “A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.” 28:20: “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” 30:8: “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Verses of loving God, then verses of loving others

Keith Green wrote a pamphlet called “What so great about the Gospel,” saying that until people realize how sinful they are, they will not see their need of Jesus.  Maybe that is part of what James is doing. We need to see how far we have gotten from God and His law. Once we do that (and this is what he shows in James), then we will realize our great need for Jesus.

Ecclesiastics: The consequences of living a life apart from God

Why is this book in the Bible?

Some ask why the book of Ecclesiastics is even in the Bible? It is kind of depressing in places. But I believe that is the whole point. One way to summarize the book would be to say: “The consequences of living a life apart from God.” If we just live life and take God out of if, some of the things he expresses in the book would be things that we would experience and feel. And we see “God removed” a lot in this world. Even in our own lives, the farther and farther we get away from God, the more we get depressed, the more we focus in on the injustices, the bad. We begin to see life as a burden instead of seeing God in His creation and His glory in so many things.

Ecclesiastics can also be summarized by stating that it presents a worldview of those who ignore God or leave Him out of their lives. We see this so much in our world today. So much hopelessness, suicides, so much bad that is happening in our world. The sentiments echoed in this book are the philosophy and state of mind of so many people. But thank the Lord that we do have a hope. We have a sure firm foundation. As a result, the things that it talks about that bring fear or despair, they will not affect us if we put our faith in Him.

Intro to the book, the author

Ecclesiastics is the Greek name for this book. It is from the Greek, ekklesia, which means church, or assembly, people getting together to worship. The book also refers to the teacher, the leader, the guide, the sage. He is sharing wisdom from a religious perspective.

There is no consensus as to who wrote the book. Most scholars think it was king David’s son who also became king, Solomon, or that the person who wrote it acted like he was Solomon. As is the case for most of the books of the Bible, many theories are put out there as to who wrote it and why. To continue talking about the book, I will assume it was written by Solomon.

If Solomon is the author

1 Kings 3:7-14 is the good place to start: “Now, O LORD my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”

Solomon’s petition, when God asked what he wanted, was for wisdom to govern this people. God is pleased with this request and promises to give him more wisdom than anyone ever has had or ever will have.  Of course it is not the wisdom that God has, it is finite, and it is for a specific purpose. As we read through the book of Ecclesiastics we see that there are times when Solomon wishes he had even more wisdom. That is seen in quite a number of verses, for there are still many, many things that he does not know or understand, and that frustrates him at times. Again, that is true because the wisdom God gave him was for a specific purpose, and not divine, all-knowing wisdom. It was not to the extent, say, that he could answer all the questions God posed to Job in Job 38-41.

We know that despite all this wisdom, there are examples of him doing some very unwise things, such as at the end of his life marrying many foreign women who worship idols. 2 Kings 11:1: Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. 11:4-6: In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; he refused to follow the LORD completely, as his father, David, had done.

Solomon took his eyes off the Lord and put his attention and efforts to the false gods of his wives, and we know that these idols cannot give peace, the kind of peace and comfort that only knowing and serving God can give. Those who turn their back on God can become completely confused. The same thing can happen today as we think of the many false gods of this world that people look to instead of the One True God. These false gods do not satisfy, and can lead people down all kinds of paths that are destructive, and can negatively affect their mental health. We can see that happening to Solomon in this book.

I would like to highlight some of these passages where Solomon is expressing what it is like to life a life without God, without His peace, His joy, His comfort, His hope. He tries to understand the world without considering God, or, as we will see, even at times considering God part of the problem. The “god of this world” can confuse us and make life seem worthless. It is probable that Solomon did not understand much about spiritual warfare, or the role of the devil in this world. It is not talked about too much in the Old Testament, other than Genesis 3, Job 1-2, the passage from Isaiah 14:12, etc. In contrast there are well over one hundred verses or more in the New Testament talking about the god of this world, the prince of this world, the confrontations Jesus had with evil spirits, the power satan has over people (Acts 26:19), the devil, the principalities and the powers, etc. For the most part, the people of the Old Testament did not understand this, thus did not understand why there are so many injustices in this world.

Cycles can be good or depressing depending on your perspective

The book starts out, specifically in 1:4-9, talking about things that, depending on your perspective and heart, can either be amazingly wonderful things that God has created and ordered or really tedious depressing cycles that do not go anywhere or accomplish anything. We can think of these verses as referring to circles. Circles that can be good or depressing depending on your perspective. Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.

“Generations come and go. The sun rises and sets then does it all again the next day. The wind blows south then north, in circles. Rivers run into the sea but it is never full.” How does Solomon view these “marvelous, wonderful” happenings? Wearisome beyond description. Never satisfied. Never content. Repeating itself. All down before! Nothing truly new! This is actually a perspective that some have of this world. Their souls are tainted by all the suffering, injustices and wrong in the world. This is especially true when people leave out God or blame God. Again, this is the main theme of Ecclesiastics. What the world is like, what our life is like, if we leave God out of it all.

Chapter three, in one of the best known passages in the book, Solomon reflects on the cycles/circles of a time for everything: a time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

In English many poems rhyme. In Hebrew, one way to get this type of poetic affect is to use parallelism or contrasts. For example, Psalms is full of this, like God being high and lifted up. Two concepts that are practically synonymous. Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus, among others, also uses Hebraic parallelism. In Solomon’s list here, he is using contrasts to form his poetic prose: born/die, plant/harvest, kill/heal, etc. In the following verses he states that while God does make all things beautiful in His time, he concludes in vs. 12-13 that: there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. Solomon is observing the world, and while He knows there is a God, and He has a plan, much of life seems a burden and so people should try and be happy and enjoy themselves. While the theme is living a life without God, at other times it seems like he believes God has ordained to make life difficult, then at others, that fearing God is the best thing.

If Solomon wrote this near the end of his life, then he knew what it was like to be close to God, and what it was like to be far from Him. But if he did come back to God in the end (which even the evilest king Manasseh did, 2 Cron. 33:12-17), then the book of Ecclesiastics could be understood as being written at times from the viewpoint of recognizing God as God, but at other times, what it is like to live a life without taking God into account. At times we see God in a good light, while at others we note a type of fatalism, seeing God as ordaining a rough life and there is nothing we can do about it, as in 3:10: I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. We see quite a lot of bitterness entwined in this book, bitter at God for the way things seem to happen in this world. Despite His wisdom, many times he still just does not get it!

The heavy burden of having too much wisdom

Another thing that jumps out in Ecclesiastics are all the issues that come to his life because of all the wisdom he has. Usually we think of wisdom as only a positive thing, but there can be a lot of bad side-effects of having that much wisdom. Many of these negative aspects of wisdom jumped out to us as we were working on the translation into Mixtec. For example 1:16-18: I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind. The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.

It says he learned everything from wisdom to madness and folly. He was learning not only good amazing things, but also all the awful stuff that there is to be learned. Another way to state this is: “I know all the good, but I also now know all about the evil and vile things of this world.” This is also a dangerous issue that our world is facing today. All the things we are or can be exposed to via television, the internet, video games, social media etc. Shows like “Criminal Minds” and the like expose us to the most awful sides of human nature. Many dark thoughts and ideas enter into our minds. Not to mention many movies, current events and human behavior that the vast majority of people in the past were never openly exposed to. We live in dangerous times, In that aspect, we are probably more “learned”, shall I way “wise” to such a wide array of goings-on than even Solomon. So many things that in the very recent past we could never have even imagined.

Solomon did not always like all this extra wisdom and knowledge that he obtained either, calling it madness and folly. It is like chasing the wind (especially trying to be as wise as God in a positive way). Such wisdom increased his sorrow and grief. As mentioned earlier, his wisdom was for a specific task, to be a good king, and he would never know “everything”, and that became frustrating to him. But not only that, he would learn things that he probably, like many of us, wished he had never been exposed to. As king, he had to judge cases where he learned some of the worst things that people can do. As 1:18 states, he would had rather been in ignorance of these things than to have to consider all the absolutely dark and evil things that people come up with and do.

This lament about having access to all these things probably includes his own pleasure. I have tried everything, had everything a man could possibly want or desire (the most desirable women, riches, power, fame), but none of it truly satisfies (without God). These are some of the negative sides of wisdom, and most likely something that was weighing on him, especially if he looks at it from a human perspective and not God’s. The same thing can happen to us. All these things we are exposed to can weigh us down and depress us. It is hard to escape from it. As king, Solomon was exposed to the best and the worst that the world had to offer. And it obviously negatively affected him as well. One of the most revealing commercials of our culture, and something Solomon faced, is the mantra: “I want it all, and I want it now.” (Even though there was no Dr. Pepper in Solomon’s time.)

The most wise, but still frustrated for all he still does not understand

7:23-25a states: I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. This verse really brings out his frustrations of only having limited wisdom, wisdom in order to be able to do what God called him to do, and not all-encompassing wisdom, say like the wisdom God has. His wisdom was to govern the people, but there were boundaries to this wisdom. He was wiser than any person living at that time or anyone who would ever live, but he probably still knew next to nothing about spiritual warfare, the depths of the human heart, the answers to the questions in Job 38-41, how to understand a woman, etc. This was very frustrating to him. He wanted wisdom and deeper understanding about many things which were not part of his calling.

Wisdom is not the most important thing, it does not fill the “void”

He was trying to understand things which surpassed or were outside the boundaries of the wisdom God had given him. Wisdom in and of itself cannot satisfy. It cannot fill the void. It cannot replace God in ones life.  So as he got farther way from God, especially in the later part of his life, wisdom, pleasure and all the things he had access to could not satisfy him, could not fulfill the deepest longings of his heart. The same with us. We all have that “void” in our life that can only be filled by God.  Most try to fill it with so many different things (both healthy and unhealthy), but in the end, we will only feel hollow until we put God in His rightful place in our lives. There are many things that we will never understand until we are face-to-face with the Lord. Then we will realize that all those things didn’t really matter anyway. The only thing that matters is knowing Him and being with Him.

Fear God, you will be better off (than I have been recently)

Another theme of the book is fearing God, a concept mentioned six times.  8:12: But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off.  If Solomon wrote this book, and he wrote it toward the end of his life, then he knows the difference between a life lived fearing God, and one lived not fearing God. A hollow life that follows idols which would indicate a time in his life when he did not fear God. A time when he got completely off-track, and that kind of life would lead to a doom and gloom attitude and viewpoint. But now, near the end, he seems to have come to his senses to say that those who fear God are better off.

Eternal life

One final theme I will mention (and I am leaving many out) is the concept of eternal life. Many passages in Ecclesiastics give us the impression that Solomon did not have a strong belief in or understanding of eternal life. This seems to be true of much of the Old Testament. They almost never refer to heaven like in the New Testament, the place that you are waiting for that will bring you into the eternal presence of God. There are many verses in the Old Testament about going to Sheol, which does not seem to be a very hopeful place to go. Solomon gives us the idea that you might as well enjoy life here since Sheol is not going to be much fun. 9:3-4: It seems so tragic that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. That is why people are not more careful to be good. Instead, they choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!

If a person lives a life without God, without hope, what do they have to live for? Just enjoy things as much as they can while they are alive? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. This was not only true in the past, but many people in our day feel the same way. In the face of that worldview, may those who know God be a light to show others that there is another way, there is hope, there is something more once we die. Of course we need to continue to reinforce our own faith, to cultivate a strong foundation so that we do not lose hope when things get difficult.

The most important thing: Best to fear God and obey His commands

Solomon ends the book, after talking about a life lived for the most part leaving out God, or a life seeing God as a burden, by saying what one should do. Instead of doing what I did, do this. This could be considered his final conclusion, his main point of the book. Don’t live life like I did for a while, leaving God out of it and doing my own thing. I had access to wisdom, power, riches, fame and all types of pleasure but lost sight of the most important thing. I got bitter in regards to God.  12:13-14: That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. Life can become very depressing if we focus on the evil, the injustices, the questions that fill Psalms, Proverbs and Job where they ask why do the wicked seem to prosper more than the righteous. We can turn our backs on God and get bitter towards him, like what seemingly happened to Solomon. In spite of what we see with our eyes, let us follow this last advice to fear God and follow His commands and not get captured by the snares of the devil and the worthless things of this world.

The rest of the story

In the New Testament we get the rest of the story, of how Jesus came to show us the truth, to fill us with his Holy Spirit and true wisdom. We can be filled with the power to overcome sin, to serve Him and have the blessed assurance of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All the wonderful things we have access to because of what Jesus did for us.

May we never attempt, to any degree, to leave God out of our lives or let any root of bitterness take hold of us. Keep following Him, fearing Him, obeying His commands and guarding all that Jesus and the rest of His followers teach us in the New Testament. In this way we do have access to more wisdom than Solomon if we apply it to our lives and keep God as the most important part and never turn our backs on Him.

No matter what has happened to us, is happening to us or will happen to us, God loves us. Trust Him! (Revised July, 2022)

Joni Erickson was seventeen years old when she dove off a pier in a lake, hit a rock underneath the water, and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. She was a Christian and this shook her faith. As time went on, many Christians prayed for her to be able to walk again. She believed God could do that, but it never happened. Many people communicated to her that her lack of healing was caused by a lack of faith, or hidden sin. She just didn’t believe enough that God would heal her, they said.

Is that what the Bible says about suffering, that if we just believe enough, we can basically “make” God heal us or deliver us from hard times? Did Joni just lack having enough faith?

The following are some examples from the Bible that deal with this subject. The world experiences many problems (like the trails of COVID-19 and many others), and most of us have undoubtedly experienced times of suffering, distress or abuse which we felt we could not bear, so it is an important issue, and generates questions and doubts about God and His love.


When we are in the middle of difficult times we may be able to relate to Jesus’ statement that it is like “a cup of suffering.” He was about to suffer greatly over the next twenty-four hours with the mocking, beating, abuse and inhumane crucifixion. His greatest suffering was revealed when He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All the sins of the world were placed on Him; He died in our place; and, for a short time He was made to be sin.  He became an anathema. While in Gethsemane, Jesus knew what lay ahead, and Mark 14:36 shares how He faced the situation, praying: “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus prayed that those awful coming hours would be taken away. Luke says He was sweating blood, a sign of extreme stress. He returned three times to pray the same thing, and still endured unspeakable suffering.

How should we respond when faced with difficult situations, or when loved ones face hardships?  Jesus’ example was to ask God for deliverance. We may yearn for it, cry for it, plead for it, pray over and over about it, rebuke the devil. We can also search our own heart for unforgiveness or other sins. Jesus was sinless and yet still suffered. But in the end, no matter what, let us, like Jesus, keep loving God, keep seeking His will and never doubt that He loves us.  Jesus told his disciples to prepare for hard times, warning them in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Paul declares in Romans 8:35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” He then goes on to list fifteen things that cannot separate us from His love, ending with: “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This passage makes it clear that no matter what is happening to us (trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword, etc.), no matter what the devil or the world throws at us, God still loves us unconditionally, and He does so because of what Jesus did for us, by enduring that cup of suffering and giving His life to die in our place, restoring our relationship with God

It takes more faith to be faithful and to rest in His love when we are not healed, when we do not receive the miracle, the deliverance. God has promised us His unfailing love, joy, peace, hope, eternal life, His presence (you are not alone!). He does heal! He does do miracles! But how do we respond when it doesn’t happen or “takes too long”?  Will we keep loving and trusting Him no matter what? We may go through a season of doubt, our emotions may scream at us that we do not “feel” peace, nor joy nor hope. Even depression may set in. But in the end, when the hard times come, may we cling to the truth of the Bible. We may not “feel” happy, it will definitely not be “fun”, but we can have a joy that passes all understanding.

In his book “A Miraculous Life”, Bruce Van Natta tells of speaking on the phone to a lady who had cancer and he was sharing how much God loves her. He then felt God urging him to tell her that God is her Daddy. Bruce does not really like using that term for God, but obeyed. He then felt led to say it several times in a row: “God is your Daddy.” She broke down sobbing. While she was raised to believe in God, she never had a father. As a little girl, she had prayed every day for a daddy, but never got one, so it was really hard for her to believe God really loved her. She now finally realized that God is her Daddy. Oh what manner of love the Father has for us!

We too may have a hard time believing that God is truly loving because of traumatic experiences in the past. Countless prayers may have gone unanswered. We may have had negative experiences with religious people, grown up in a dysfunctional family situation, been physically or sexually abused, had a chronic illness for years, experienced the death of a loved one, or have felt alone and unloved, an outcast for so many years. We see the mess the world is in. These or other difficult experiences may have “soured” us to the idea of God’s love. It may be hard to believe, but He was with us then and He is still here! He never leaves nor forsakes us. Let us consider how Paul dealt with such disappointments in his life. 


Paul is an amazing example of loving God no matter what, and he shows us that there is nothing wrong with wholeheartedly asking God to remove the suffering, to pray about it over and over. What happened to Paul is another instance of where a great pillar of the faith asked for something, pleaded for something, but did not receive the answer he was hoping for.

I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

 Jesus compared His coming trials to “a cup of suffering.” Here Paul calls his “a thorn in the flesh.” We have all had what have felt like thorns in the flesh. Paul asked three times for his thorn to be removed, like Jesus asked three times for the cup to be taken away. In both cases it didn’t happen. Did Paul lack faith? Did God stop loving him? Did he have some hidden sin! No. How did God respond to Paul?

“My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in weakness.” Not the normal response we are usually seeking when we are praying for deliverance. Then Paul says a remarkable thing: “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we have a personal, intimate, alive, loving relationship with God, after the praying, crying and pleading, like Paul, this is where we need to end up. Having a faith that He is there, that He loves me, His grace is sufficient for me. I am not alone.

The New Testament constantly speaks of Paul having this attitude as he serves God. Philippians 4:11-13 proclaims: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Content in whatever circumstance!  What a Biblical standard to follow!  Notice that these “whatever circumstance” verses are the context of the well known vs. 13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Another way of stating this verse is, “By Jesus power/help, I can put up with/endure through anything.” Cold, hot, full, hungry, in prison (as he was when he wrote this letter), free, sick, well, living, dying, rich, poor, homeless, married, single. Whatever is going on in my life, I will keep loving God and know without a doubt that He loves me and will help me through it.

Other “circumstances”

“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”  (2 Cor. 11:24-28)

For Paul, even death is not the worse thing that could happen to him. “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” (Phil. 1:23-24) 

Even if your suffering seems to be leading to your death, keep loving and trusting God. A number of times I visited friends who ended up dying within a month. I went to try and be an encouragement to them and they could not stop trying to encourage me, to be a blessing to me. In each case, I left much more blessed and inspired by them than I was able to bless or encourage them. Their loving relationship with God before the trial was strong and so their faith in God was strong no matter what was happening to them.


In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul declares: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” No matter what we have done, there is forgiveness. Paul had a lot to repent of, his past actions directly leading to the persecution and death of many of Jesus’ followers.  He goes on in wonder: “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” If we have repented, we no longer need to live in guilt. God has wiped the record clean, and He loves us, no matter what we have done.

The disciples

 Eleven of the twelve disciples, tradition says, died as martyrs. The Book of Acts details how much a number of them suffered, just as Jesus said they would. John is the only one who apparently died a natural death. Tradition says he was thrown into a pot of boiling oil, but escaped to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation.

Acts 12:1-5 gives us pause to consider what happened to two of the disciples. “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”

James, the brother of John, whom we read about so much in the Gospels, a man Jesus invested so much of His life to teach and disciple (one of the big three of Peter, James and John), was suddenly killed by Herod. No miraculous deliverance, no instant resurrection. Dead. Then Herod arrested Peter, planning to kill him the next day. But in Peter’s case, God sent an angel and saved him. We see prayer as a pivotal part of that, as well as what we now know about God’s plan for his life. So why is it that God “let” Herod kill James but He intervened to save Peter? Did James lack faith? Did God love him less? Did he have some secret sin? We know Herod was evil, so in essence what happened to James was a consequence of Herod’s sin.

The Old Testament heroes of faith

Of the many Biblical examples of godly people suffering in this world, consider Hebrews 11:35b-40, the chapter which tells us about the heroes of the faith. “But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” This list alone should dispel any notion that suffering is necessarily caused by a lack of faith or the idea that God does not love us when trials are pounding us down.

There is a continual contrast in the Bible between heaven and the world. This world is governed and controlled in so many ways by the devil, who is called the god of this world. Through Jesus we can have victory over the devil. Yet this world is not heaven. Suffering is a part of life. Jesus, Paul and the disciples, the prophets were not exempt from it, and neither are we. Rev. 21:4 says of heaven:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” That infers that tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain are a part of this world. God gives us peace, inner joy, hope, His presence, His love, etc., but being His child does not mean that we will not suffer in this world.

So much of living, dying, suffering, etc., is a mystery. But even that should draw us closer to God, to move us to love Him more, clinging to the fact that He loves us no matter what. Besides, where else can we go? As Peter said to Jesus when He asked if they wanted to leave Him like others: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Joni Erickson eventually turned her suffering and confusion into a life-changing ministry to thousands upon thousands of people, both to those who have a disability and those who do not. As she says, “I would rather be in this chair knowing Him, than on my feet without Him.”

Consider also Mark 4:37-40. Did Jesus send the storm so that He could then calm it? No. Storms are a part of this natural world. How we respond to the storm is the more important question. Will we let the storms blow our trust in God and His love away, or will we cling more closely to Him, whether we live or die. Jesus, who calmed the storm, can calm our fears.

Let us prepare for the storms by keeping a close loving relationship with God at all times, refusing to allow others or our own hearts to question His love for us, and not accusing ourselves or others of lacking faith. To do so would be to question the faith of Jesus, Paul, the disciples, Stephen, who was stoned, the Old Testament heroes of the faith, etc. As we suffer, we can remind ourselves that we are in good company! Let us stand firm as they did, trusting God and being in love with Him no matter what happens.

Is it “Good” Friday or “Bad” Friday?

A plaque in the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born to die.

When I was growing up, I did not understand why it was called “Good” Friday. What I knew of the day were the images, in pictures and words, of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, and all those songs about the blood. So much blood! How is that good?, I wondered. Jesus, who taught so many wonderful things, who did so many miracles, who showed love to so many people, killed on an old rugged cross. To me, it sounded more like “Bad” Friday.

Now, many years later, I understand why it is called “Good” Friday. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus was not a “victim”. In John 10:18 He says, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” He came to die.

But why? That is the sense that it is “Bad” Friday. Jesus , the only sinless One who has or ever will live, executed by sinful men. All the earthly events surrounding His crucifixion show how bad people really are. None of this nonsense that people are basically good. Romans 3:10b-18, quoting the Old Testament, makes this crystal clear: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips.” And it goes on several more verses to paint an even worse picture of our hearts.

During the crucifixion it says that darkness covered the land. Such perfect symbolism for the state of this world.  As the apostle Paul told Agrippa what God commanded him to do: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” It took God becoming flesh and dwelling among us in the person of Jesus to provide a way to bridge the unbridgeable gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness. And to break the incredible grip of deception that Satan has over so many.

As a result, we could call this Bad Friday since it reveals how far our sinful hearts are from God, how impossible it is for us to come anyways near God. That our “kind”, with complete and willful premeditation, condemned and killed the only perfect Being to ever walk this earth.

In fact, it is so bad that God, in the perfect balance of His love and justice, found it necessary that the only way to provide a path to Him was the sacrifice of His only Son. Despite the gut-wrenching pain it was for God to allow people to demean him, mock him, beat him and spill that precious blood of Jesus, Paul explains to us that He did this out of love for us, in Romans 8:31b-32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

It was and still is all about love. On Passover, back in Egypt, the Israeli people put the blood of a lamb on their wooden doorposts so the death angel would pass over them, save them, and provide a way out of their bondage and towards life. In the same way, the blood of the perfect Lamb of God was sacrificed on the wooden posts of the cross, and when God saw it, He now had a just legal reason to provide forgiveness to all who come to Him via Jesus and welcome them into His holy presence to live eternally with Him forever. Love in its most perfect expression.

So while there is a lot of “bad” about this particular Friday, there is also a lot of good, for God makes a way where there was no way, a way of love, for us to find forgiveness and restore our relation with Him.

No one is forcing us to follow him, but as it says in John 3:17-18: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” We are not condemned because we refuse to believe. We are already condemned because of our sin, and what Jesus did provides a ways out from under that condemnation, to not only eternal life, but to a life here on earth where we can be assured that God will never leave us nor forsake us, where we can have a peace that passes all understanding, joy in the midst of  suffering, hope of eternal life, comfort no matter what is happening around us, and so much more. Out of love, God provided a way back to Him through Jesus. The only question that remains is whether we will take it or turn our backs on it and ignore it. We can make it for ourselves a “Good” Friday or a “bad” one.

Saying “please” to God

Ordering God what to do

One thing that has been bothering me for quite some time, listening to a number of Christian songs and quite a bit of preaching from certain, especially TV and online, evangelists is that they spend a lot of time telling God what to do, to the point where it sounds like they are ordering God to do things. “Give me a blessing!” “Heal this person!” “Resolve my financial situation!” “Do a miracle!” Sometimes the way these and many other “demands” are stated, I wonder who is the God and who is the servant. It sounds like God is becoming their servant, waiting and ready to do their bidding.

Just think of it, the Almighty, the all powerful, the all knowing Creator, Who is Eternal and Holy, being treated like He was a peon. I never hear those who talk/preach this way say “please”. This disrespectful way of talking to God is not the way the Bible tells us to talk to Him. “…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6). It is good to ask God for things, to “present our requests” to Him, but not to order Him around. Even Jesus, the night before He was crucified, said, “Not My will, but Your will be done.”

As saved followers of Jesus we have an open door to the presence of God. Many times we are hurting, beaten-down, in despair, deeply concerned about someone or some situation. We can come boldly before God and “present our requests”, to ask, to plead with God, to cry through the night, to quote Scripture of His promises to His people. But at the end of the day, we give ourselves and the situation over to Him. We got it off our chest, the burden off our back, and have given it to Him. And if now we truly trust Him with the situation, well that is one of the biggest benefits of prayer. It is all in His hands now.

In Jesus’ name

Some people will say they can make these demands to God by praying in Jesus’ name. Unfortunately, many people use “in Jesus’ name” like a religious formula. Just say that, and “magically” everything will be OK, and what I told God to do will happen, He “has” to do it. No, that is not the biblical use of Jesus’ name. When we say “in Jesus’ name”, we are speaking of Jesus’ authority and Jesus’ power to overcome and change any situation. (That is how it comes out in Mixtec.) But maybe more importantly, we are giving the situation into Jesus’ hands. It is an acceptance that it is now Jesus’ responsibility, and may He do what He knows is best. It is bowing down to Jesus’ will for the situation. We must never use Jesus’ name as a formula to try and manipulate God to do something. When we say it, may it be because our heart is bowing down to His will, and having done that, we are at peace.

We have authority, just not to command God

This is not to say that we Jesus people do not have the authority to order something done, it is just that it must not be directed toward God. In Mark 9:25, Jesus said this: “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

Jesus gave us the example that we can rebuke evil spirits, diseases and even the wind and the rain. Jude 14 implores us to keep it simple when we do this. We have authority, but the devil still has a lot of power as well: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Besides rebuking sickness, the devil and nature, Jesus even said that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Again, none of these rebukes or commands are directed toward God. We must never try to rebuke God, to order Him around or try to manipulate Him. Remember His promises, come before Him and say please with a humble heart.

Can we, should we “claim” things so that we never suffer or have hard times?

I am also uncomfortable with the modern trend to “claim” things, which to me sounds like another way of trying to manipulate God and trying to force Him to do something. Yes, the Bible is full of promises, but again, God has the ultimate say if such and such a promise applies in this situation, and how things should work out. It is a fact that all the faithful people in the Bible suffered terribly and many died, some dying horrible deaths. Did they lack faith? Why did they not claim their healing or salvation from awful circumstances?

2 Corinthians deals with this question a lot. In 1:8-9 Paul states: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” 4:7-9: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  Note that “we” refers to Paul and his coworkers, as it does in the whole book. And finally in 12:7-10, some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I could go on and on, but one more Paul quote from Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” This last part is so often taken out of context. Paul is saying that he can “put up with”, go through, even “rejoice” no matter the circumstance because Christ gives him strength. In plenty and in want, full or hungry, sick or well, in jail or out, dying or living abundantly. It is all good because Jesus is there helping me.

God’s people in the Bible faced difficulties all the time, and while many were delivered, many others were not. It was not because of a lack of faith. It was and is because we live in a fallen world, where the majority of people are under the deception of the devil, and as such, those who surrender to God through Jesus, who are “not of this world”, are very susceptible to difficult times. This may be hard for some to hear, but it takes much more faith to remain faithful to God in suffering and difficult times, especially if they linger, than the faith needed to experience a miracle. God will never leave us nor forsake us. He always give us His peace, His joy, hope and comfort, no matter what is happening to us.

So much more that could be said about these things, but in summary, let us come humbly before God, presenting our requests to Him, giving our burdens over to Him, acknowledging that He is God and that He will deal with it in His way and timing, which is always perfect. To start out saying “please” and to end saying “thank you,” whatever the outcome. No need to “claim” something before God. He knows. Remember His promise? Yes. Ask for this promise to apply to me or the situation I am concerned about? Yes. Claim it? No. We can pray in Jesus’ name so that Jesus’ perfect will may be done. We can rebuke or command the devil, sickness and even nature, but never God. We can remain faithful no matter how much we or loved ones are suffering or how many difficult times we pass through, because God never changes. He is always with us, and will give us a peace that passes all understanding.

He is worthy!

Why is God worthy of all glory, honor and praise? Is it because He blesses us? Heals us? Provides for us? Makes us happy? Watches over our family? Loves us? While all those things are good, God is worthy because of Who He is.  Revelation 4:11 says: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created  and have their being.” He is worthy because He is God, He is the Creator, regardless of all that is happening to or around us. Yes He loves us and shows it, but no matter how we feel or interpret our circumstances or what’s happening in the world, He is worthy.  May we constantly praise and thank Him because of Who He is. All the other good things that happen are just gravy. It is all about Him, not about us, and He deserves all that we are, complete surrender.

The Bible gives irrefutable testimony that what is written within its pages is true

During the Panorama of the Bible workshop in 2015

During a three week workshop on the Panorama of the Bible I helped lead in 2015, in Spanish, in Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico, we decided to have morning devotionals where we focused on verses where the Bible itself gives a panorama, a summary of its own history. The first verses to come to mind, the most obvious ones, included Nehemiah 9:6-31 as the leaders read the law to the recently returned exiles, and proclaim that that is how they were going to live. In the New Testament, in Acts 7, Stephen gives an amazing summary of Old Testament history, as does the author of Hebrews in chapter 11. The Exodus is talked about so much in the book of Psalms, as well as in the New Testament, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10, plus who can forget all of Jesus’ references to the Old Testament in the Gospels? The more passages we looked for, the more we found.

Then, while teaching an on-line Mexican seminary course in Spanish during the summer of 2021 on the history of the formation of the Bible, I shared an expanded version of how the Bible itself gives incredible testimony that the accounts it contains are true. While I continue to develop this theme, the three topics most relevant to this are:

  • What the Old Testament says about itself
  • What the New Testament says about the Old Testament
  • What the New Testament says about itself

The following are a list of verses from each of these three topics. There are many other verses I could add to each one, but these are the ones which I found very enlightening.

What the Old Testament says about itself

The Old Testament was written by many authors over a very long period of time. It is very significant when an author of the Old Testament refers to past events and history, and recounts it faithfully as it was originally recounted by the original author. How can they do that? This shows, proves that the more recent author had a very old manuscript which was very faithful in recounting the history of Israel.  Some people think that much of the Old Testament was only passed down orally, but there are many, many verses in the Old Testament which say that, not only was the law itself written down and copied, but many other historical facts were written down as well. Here are just a few references to all the writing going on in the Old Testament, keeping a record of their history: Deut. 17:18-19, Deut. 31:26, Joshua 24:26, 1 Sam. 10:25, 2 Cron. 17:9, Jer. 30:2, 36:2-4. All this writing was especially important since following generations sometimes tended to forget all that God had done and commanded, and when some leader found these written documents, and shared them with the people, they returned to following the one true God.

I will give a reference to the passage recounting previous Old Testament history, plus a brief summary of what the passage is about. The reader can look up and read the passage easily enough, so I will not add the whole passage here.

  • Nehemiah. 9:6 al 31 (Creation, Abraham, Moses, the exodus, entering the Promised land, the prophets) See also Nehemiah 1:8-9, 8:9, 14–18; 10:28–39; 13:1–3.
  • Psalm 78, 104, 105, 106, 136 (mostly recounting events from Exodus, entering promised land, or creation)
  • Daniel 9:2: (I was reading the prophet Jeremiah…)
  • Ezequiel 14:14, 20: (Makes references to Noah, Job and Daniel)
  • Judges 11 (Jephthah recounts from the Red Sea to the entrance into the promised land)
  • Deut. 26:5-10 (One of a number of passages where God tells the Israel people how to talk about the Exodus and all that He did to save them.)
  • 2 Sam. 7:22-24: (A quick praise for how God saved them from Egypt.)

The five Books are Moses are treated with great reverence in Joshua 1:7, 8:31; 23:6–8; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 17:37; Hosea 8:12; Daniel 9:11, 13; Ezra 3:2, 4; 1 Chronicles 16:40; 2 Chronicles 17:9; 23:18; 30:5, 18; 31:3; 35:26. No matter how many years have passed from Mount Sinai, they always have copies of the Law of Moses.

Also see 2 Kings 22–23 (They find the law and read it and weep.) 2 Chronicles 34 relates the same story.

Many times the prophets proclaimed that what they are saying was coming directly from God. A few examples: Isaiah 51:16a, 59:21, Jeremiah.1:9, 30:2, 36:2-4, Ezequiel 3:10-11, Micah 3:8.

What the NT says about the OT

A significant question is, How did those who appear in the New Testament know so much about the Old Testament? It is evident that they had access to both Old Testament writings in Hebrew, as well as the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek. Thus they had studied manuscripts which would now be way over two thousand years old. These authors and apostles not only quoted over and over from the Old Testament, but they proclaimed it to be God-breathed Holy Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself makes it clear that what we read in the Old Testament in God’s word, so if we reject the Old Testament accounts, we are basically saying Jesus did not know what He was talking about. Also, it is calculated that there are more than 250 direct, and if we included partial and indirect quotes, close to a thousand quotes from the Old Testament in the New Testament. All books other than Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Esther, and only one quote from Song of Solomon. New Testament authors also focused in on how many Old Testament prophesies Jesus fulfilled, Scriptures which pointed to Him as the promised Savior.

  • 2 Tim. 3:15-16:  (All Scripture {can only refer to the Old Testament} is God-breathed)
  • 2 Peter 1:21: (prophets inspired by the Holy Spirit)
  • Jesus refers to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the burning bush, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jonah, etc. He also quotes from Genesis in Mark 10:6-8: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.”
  • Luke. 24:25-27: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Plus He quotes lots of Old Testament passages: Matthew 4:4, Mark 2:25-26, 7:6-8, 12:26-27, etc.)
  • Acts 7: (Stephen’s summary of the Old Testament)
  • 1 Cor. 10:1-11 (Paul referring to Israel in the wilderness.) (Plus Paul referring to Moses and also Adam (Rom. 5, 1 Cor. 15:22), plus Adam and Eve (1 Tim 2:13-14)
  • James 5:11, 17-18 (Job and Elijah)
  • 1 John 3:11-12 (Cain and Abel)
  • Hebrews 11 (Heroes of the faith)
  • Acts 17:2-3: Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. Paul did this quite a bit in his preaching. Bereans (Acts 17:10-12) checked it out by examining the Scriptures, also in Acts 28:23.

What the NT says about itself

The New Testament writers are continually trying to make the point that what they are writing is true, that they are eye-witnesses to the facts they are conveying in writing.

  • Luke 1:1-4: (the faithful journalist)
  • Juan 20:30-31: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
  • Juan 21: 24-25: This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
  • 1 John 1:1-3a: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,
  • Peter: Acts 2: 22-24 and Acts 10:36-43 (Peter gives a summary of Jesus’ ministry)
  • 2 Pedro 3:16: His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (Here Peter calls Paul’s writings “Scripture”)
  • Paul: 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (not from man, but from God, 1 Thes. 5:27: Colossians 4:16: 1 Cor. 2:12-13, 1 Cor. 7:10-12ª, 1 Cor. 14:37, 1 Cor. 15:3-8

There are many other verses I could share, but this lists makes it abundantly clear that the Scripture itself gives irrefutable testimony that what is written within its pages is true. There are, of course, a multitude other evidences that the Bible is true, many of which I taught in my seminary course. Evidences from archeology, manuscripts which are thousands of years old, and the amazing consistency of these manuscripts, the testimony of non-Biblical historians of the time periods, etc., but I was especially moved by what I have shared here, what the Bible says about itself.

Romans 9: A story of grace that knows no bounds

Almost everything I have heard or read about Romans 9 in theology classes, thick books, sermons, videos, talks, etc., seem to miss the main point. They focus on things that Paul himself was not focusing on. Paul has a main point and a very important sub-point to make in Romans 9-11. While many have “touched” on this, they still seem to fall back into explaining these verses based on their theological point of view and not on the context and what Paul has in mind. Paul has an important point to make about God’s plans for the Jews, but also underlines all this with how He deals with Gentiles.

Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles

Most of us know the basic outline of Romans. After greetings, Paul shares his purpose, his life calling, which is key to understanding the book: 14I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.  16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

My message is for everyone. I am very concerned that my own people, the Jews, hear this Gospel , I hurt that so many reject it, but my main calling is for the Gentiles. Galatians 2:9: “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.” Acts 9:15-16: 15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 22:21: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” Acts 26:17-18: 17I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’  Gal. 1:15-16: 15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man.” There are many other similar verses, but suffice to say that God called Paul to preach to the Gentiles.

Jewish people are God’s chosen people, Gentiles are dogs

But as we know, the Jews had no dealing with Gentiles. John 4:9: The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.). But Jesus broke all those barriers, be it toward the “half-breed” Samaritans or the rest of the Gentiles, including the Good Samaritan, and the man with leprosy. And His final command to His disciples was: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) To everyone!

Acts 10 and 11 share more about God working in the hearts of the new Jewish Jesus believers to let them know that He was calling Gentiles to salvation as well. God has to give a very dramatic vision to Peter to prepare him to accept the invitation to go to Cornelius’ house. Entering that house and eating with them was a big time violation of Jewish laws of the time. But he went, preached, and “while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (10:44-48).  The Jewish folks with Peter could not believe God gave His Spirit to Gentiles!

Then in the following chapter Jewish Jesus followers were not happy with Peter for going to a Gentile’s house and eating, and Peter recounts the experience: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” 18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (11:15-18).

He then repeats practically the same thing during a big conference in Jerusalem, in Acts 15, about what to do with all these Gentiles who are believing in Jesus. “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” 12The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.”(15:7b-12)

In Acts 21: 21 and following, Paul went to Jerusalem and met with the church leaders in Jerusalem. They thanked God for his ministry, but were concerned because many Jewish brethren had believed in Jesus and were still very zealous for the law, and had heard that Paul was teaching people that they did not need to follow the law of Moses, nor need to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. They suggested Paul go to the temple and be part of a ceremony to show that he was living in obedience to the law. But this led to people trying to kill him because of his known relationships with Gentiles. The Romans ended up giving him permission to talk to the crowd to try and calm them down. He shared his testimony and it was going pretty well until he said, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (22:21) How did the Jewish crowd react to this idea that God wants the Gentiles to hear His word? “The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! Heʼs not fit to live!” As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air…..” (22:22-23)

Romans tells us God’s grace and salvation are for everyone, we all desperately need it

Back to Romans, as mentioned, Paul begins by talking about what he talks about in almost all his books. God/Jesus called me to preach to the Gentiles, and lots of them are believing through the preaching of the Gospel, through the power of God.  He then begins at 1:18 to talk about how far from God and sinful the Gentiles are, and you can almost hear the Jewish people, Jesus believers or not, saying Amen! Then from 2:1-3:8 he shares how sinful his people, the Israelites are, and probably not getting as many Amens! from them for saying that. He then summarizes by saying no one is good, no, not one!

But there is hope! 3:21-24: 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” All can be freely justified by grace through Jesus, Jews and Gentiles.  So Paul continues the book talking about what Jesus has done for us all, that salvation is a gift from God, and focuses on the Holy Spirit renewing us and God’s unconditional love for all, Jews and Gentiles. Then we come to chapter 9.

Chapter 9: Jews are rejecting the Gospel, God is showing grace to the Gentiles

Here Paul begins by sharing his deep longing that His Jewish people accept this Gospel, this free gift of grace and salvation through Jesus that he has been talking about the whole book, and also shares his heartbreak that so many are currently rejecting it. Yes, I am called to the Gentiles, but much of my opposition comes from the Jews, even so-called Jewish Jesus believers. It pains him to see his people so opposed to the Gospel, but he mostly understands since he used to be the same way. They need God’s Spirit to remove the veil, to break down the barriers of unbelief, to soften their hard hearts. He says he would even give his life, if by doing that more of his people might be saved. He has hope because God gave them His promises and God always keeps His promises.

In verse 8 Paul begins making the bridge between the salvation God offers to the Jews and also to non-Jews, saying: “In other words, it is not the natural children who are Godʼs children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abrahamʼs offspring.” Jewish people who have the faith of Abraham, which he talked about in chapter four and other books, will be saved. People who are not necessarily circumcised physically but in the heart, a mark showing they are God’s people, a new creation. This is the main point of all of Paul’s preaching here and elsewhere. Gentiles can also be saved, grafted in, become Abraham’s children, because it is all about Jesus!

From this point on, Paul begins using some examples, like Jacob and Esau, and even Pharaoh to show that God can make salvation available to anyone He wants. Some people will have soft hearts, others hard hearts. A lot of doctrines have come from the following verses, but let me state before I go further what I think the point is. God can and will do as He wants. He can offer salvation to one and not to another. God is perfectly just to make the offer of grace and salvation available to the Gentiles. I am a God of love. Yes, I want my chosen people to come to Me, but I also want the Gentiles to come to Me. And if by lavishing grace on them, that helps the Jews to understand My grace, so much the better!

I (God) can have compassion and offer salvation to the Gentiles, I can love them just as much as I have loved you Jewish people

Vs. 15 is another verse which is taken out of this context: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Sounds like election and predestination, right?  No one has any choice. It might sound like that if you filter it through some theological persuasion, but if you read it in context, it means,
I (God) can have compassion and offer salvation to the Gentiles, I can love them just as much as I have loved you Jewish people. I can have mercy on them, give them the Holy Spirit, use them for My glory, just as I have Peter, John, Paul and the other Jewish people.

It is hard for us to understand how this “reckless” offer by God of salvation to the Gentiles, of putting them on equal footing with the Jews, would fly in the face of the Jews of that time. I have prefaced what I am saying here with verses in the Bible of how radical this idea of Gentiles being saved, and having intimate fellowship between them and the Jewish people is. These dirty, evil pagans having fellowship with us, receiving the same promises as us, being saved by grace without even following all our Jewish laws? Impossible! But in Romans 9 Paul is stating that it is not only possible, but it has happened!

Verse 16: “It does not, therefore, depend on manʼs desire or effort, but on Godʼs mercy.” Again, God is a God of mercy and if He wants to save the Gentiles, who cares what you and I think about it. He will do it. This verse, at least in Paul’s mind, does not refer to God just choosing who will be saved and who will not. It means God freely offers salvation to the wretched Gentiles, not because they deserved it, quite the contrary, but because of Who He is.

Verse. 18 is similar to verse 16: “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, many Jews and, yes, Gentiles too, who are very much opposed to the Gospel. Paul explains this somewhat in 2 Cor. 2:15-16: 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” Verse 18 is not some decision that God made in ages past to save some and damn others according to His predestination. It is simply stating the fact that God is now offering His salvation, His mercy and grace to Gentiles in particular, and, as Paul has witnessed over and over, and may even still be somewhat amazed, by seeing Gentiles bowing at the feet of Jesus while his beloved Jewish people not only reject it, but even try to kill him for preaching it.

Verses 19-21 continues in the same vein. God is the potter and we are the clay. How dare we question His calling and acceptance of “pagan” Gentiles who come to the faith? It also deals with the difficult concept of, as I just mentioned, Paul seeing Gentiles accept and Jews reject the grace of God. What is going on?

“Objects of His wrath” become a light to the Jewish people

Verses 22-24 make it even more clear that what I am proposing as Paul’s main point here. “22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

Sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. Throughout the Old Testament, it seems that God loves the Jewish people and hates the Gentiles. Who can forget the OT passages about wiping out entire Gentile towns, even killing women and babies? But from here until well into chapter 11, Paul shows that God does not hate the Gentiles. He has always had a special place in His heart for them, and a plan to save many of them. The “objects of wrath” in verse 22 undoubtedly refers to the Gentiles, showing them great patience. In spite of not giving them any direct promises, of them not being his “chosen people”, despite them being pagans and doing almost everything contrary to His will, He is saving them!

Verse 23 gives us one of His main reasons for this. This is key and one of his main points. God not only loves everyone, but He is also using this boundless grace towards the Gentiles to teach the Jews (the objects of His mercy) a lesson, to show everyone, especially the Jews, how wide, deep and endless is the grace of God. He wants them to think: “Wow, if God can show grace and save these awful Gentiles, then He can surely save us through Jesus. What a wonderful, loving, great God He is!” This is the response from the Jews that God is seeking! God did this throughout the Old Testament, using Gentiles to teach the Jewish people lessons. In this case He wants to provoke their jealousy. Look at this amazing grace the Gentiles are receiving. You Jews need to accept it too!

Verse 24 says that this limitless grace is a sign for not only Jews, but for Gentiles as well. God offers salvation to both of them, and they should be convinced to accept it because of this incredible grace offered to them.

Look closely at the Old Testament: God loves Gentiles

Then verses 25-26: 25As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” 26and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ” This and quite a number of other verses here and near the end chapter 10 explain that God has always had a plan for the Gentiles. They used to be “objects of wrath”, they were not My people, but the time will come when they will be My people. I will love them, they will be called My children, My people. For the Jews of Paul’s time, they would have called this heresy, except that God Himself said it!

After talking again about the remnant and again, how sad it is that so many Jews are rejecting the Gospel, Paul ends the chapter as he continues talking about God’s plan for the Gentiles: 30What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” He again states the theme of chapter 9. What he has been talking about this whole chapter. That the undeserving Gentiles have obtained a righteousness by faith, that is, many have received grace and been saved by putting their faith in Jesus. But the Jews, who keep thinking that they can be saved by trying to keep the law, who are rejecting this offer of limitless grace from God, are not being saved.  They are having a hard time, stumbling over the fact that Jesus saves, not some robotic allegiance to their own laws, many of which were now more their own bad interpretation of the actual Mosaic law.

To further boost his case and to better understand what Paul is trying to say, we must also look at chapters 10 and 11, for the same theme is found in them. He begins again by saying his beloved Jewish people keep rejecting this grace he has talked about in all the previous chapters, and keep trying to be right before God by keeping the law. In doing so they are thumbing their noses at His free gift of grace through Jesus.  Romans 8:33b-34: “It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  As he puts it so beautifully in 10:8b-13: “that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Everyone. You Jews need Him, not the law, to be right with God. So do the Gentiles. Whoever trusts in Him will not be put to shame.

His lavish grace toward Gentiles should lead many Jews to accept His grace

He continues insisting that all people need to hear this message of grace. Both Jews and Gentiles. Someone has to go and tell them all! As we saw in Galatians 2: 9, Paul and his group would focus on the Gentiles, and Peter, John and their group on the Jews. Paul, who is so concerned with the Gentiles, and doing what God wants, keeps talking about the Gentiles here in Romans. He wants all to know, especially the Jews, the heart of God. He ends chapter ten with verses from the OT about Jewish people rejecting God’s message and 20I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me”, referring to the Gentiles.

In the first ten verses of chapter 11 again Paul laments that so many Jews, not only now, but in the past, have rejected this offer from God of love and grace. So many miss the point and are still trying to save themselves through the law. Then beginning in verse 11, he talks about the grafting. Again, the same point he has been making and focusing on since 9:1. God is grafting Gentiles in with the Jews, He is making a bunch of them His people. He offers His grace and salvation to the whole world, to everyone, to whoever. While it pains Paul when Gentiles reject the Gospel, it pains him much more when his Jewish people do.

He continues to make the main argument that while God is saving Gentiles because that is Who He is, He is also saving these Gentiles in a very public way to try and convince the Jewish people that He is a God of grace, that He saves people through Jesus, and that the Jewish people need to stop trusting in their own obedience to the law to save them, but accept His grace.

He ends chapter 11 as he started. God gave the Jewish people His promises, and He always keeps His promises. Therefore He will continue to work in their lives, move in ways they do not understand, and they will one day be saved. This is Paul’s great hope. That they will accept God’s grace the same way as so many Gentiles have. For if God can show such marvelous grace and save Gentiles, He can surely save the Jewish people, the people of His promise. But in the meantime, Jewish brethren, know that God has given His grace to the Gentiles, as He pleased, as He determined, and want to do the same thing to you! He is using the grace given to Gentiles to try and convince you to accept it to. This undeserving grace is the message of not only Romans 9, nor even just 9-11, but basically everything that Paul teaches.


I hope this attempt to put Romans 9 in context helps you to better understand it, and when you see these hard verses, like God loving and having mercy on whom He wants, lavishing grace on those you would least expect it, that you will remember that it ultimately refers to Him being perfectly just to offer salvation to the Gentiles, to show them compassion, just as He has shown grace to the Jews since the time of Abraham. And in His divine way, make the Jewish people jealous for the same amazing grace!

I will end with yet another passage that gives us a lot of insight into Paul’s heart, for both his own people and the Gentiles. It covers most of the issues in Romans 9-11. In Acts 28 many Jewish people met together with Paul in Rome to find more about him and his message. He shares the Gospel with them. Some believe but many do not. He hurts for those who do not, that they are turning their backs on God’s plan for salvation, but says that, while most of his own people reject Jesus, many Gentiles are hearing and believing. As you read this passage, please think of it in the context of what he is saying in Romans 9-11. They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: “ ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this peopleʼs heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “Therefore I want you to know that Godʼs salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:23-28)

Understanding why John wrote the book of 1 John

In Mexico we have translation workshops three to four times a year on either different books of the Bible or different aspects of translation. The workshops are aimed at believers in different villages in Mexico who are translating the Bible into their own language. There are over 300 languages in Mexico and at least 70 translations in process, villages that do not have published Scripture in their own language. People who have the vision to help translate God’s Word for their own people have a number of different avenues to get training to do this long and difficult job, and this training includes attending any of these translation workshops. Over the years I have been involved both in attending these workshops and in helping to teach them. I have also been a translation consultant for a number of years, helping different translation teams to improve their work and impact their people for the glory of God.

From September 14 thru October 2, 2020, I helped teach a workshop on the Epistles of John. We usually hold such workshops “live” in Mexico, but because of the issues surrounding COVID and being unable to meet in-person at a workshop site, this workshop was held on-line, using both the internet meeting program Zoom and a Facebook “group” page, where we posted important information about the books. The workshop included around 20 participants from six different languages.

As a result of the months of preparation for the workshop, I learned a lot of new things about 1 John which I shared with the teams, and I would like to share some of these new insights here. 1 John can teach us a lot about the truth and standing firm with the truth. Something I did not realize before, the book also focuses a lot on believers having an intimate relationship with God, and John uses around twelve distinct phrases to emphasize that. Click https://youtu.be/cqBxEWnymaQ to watch a video presentation of this topic.

Why is John writing as he does, and who are the recipients?

John is thought to be most likely writing from Ephesus, and his recipients would probably include, not only those in Ephesus, but also the other six churches he writes to in the book of Revelation, as well as others. His main reason for writing to them seems to be because of a major heresy, a false teaching that was infiltrating the churches, a teaching that was undermining all the basic truths about Jesus that John and other apostles and faithful servants had shared with those churches. This was mainly Gnosticism, a teaching which declared that all material things, the things of this world, were bad and everything spiritual was good. The name comes from the Greek word gnosis, “to know”, and taught that the most important thing one can do is to obtain a higher level “mystical” knowledge of God. Because of the insistence that everything material is bad, this led to a lot of false teachings about Jesus. The Bible clearly states that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was born Emanuel, God with us, when He was born. He died on the cross and rose again, living His whole life as one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. But the Gnostics rejected all this because they taught that God and material things, the things of this world, do not mix, so it only “appeared” that Jesus had a body. I will talk more about Gnosticism throughout this paper and how John refutes it.

John starts right off debunking Gnostic claims about Jesus

John starts his book taking this issue of Jesus being God and coming in the flesh head on. When John wrote this book around the year 85, he may have been the last living apostle, the last living eye-witness to all that Jesus said and did. So he is not speculating or giving second-hand information. He lived this! He has personal experience with Jesus! He seems so intent on sharing the truth about Jesus that he jumps right into his argument, forgoing all the usual niceties of starting a letter. “That which was from the beginning” is a rather abrupt and unique way to start. John is on a mission to begin making his case as soon as possible. He continues this way through verse 3: “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” John proclaims: I lived with Him for three years! I saw and watched Him! I heard Him teach! I talked with him! I touched His human body! I ate with Him! This is up-close, first-hand, personal knowledge I am proclaiming to you! When he says “that which”, he is referring not only to Jesus, but the message about Jesus, the truth about Jesus, about Who He truly is: God in the flesh, the Word of Life, the Eternal Life.

John starts out his Gospel in a similar way, using the same words: “beginning”, “life”, and “the Word” instead of “that which”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” 1 John begins talking about light in 1:5.

From the very first verses of 1 John, John is beginning to undermine, to refute the false teachings of the Gnostics. Jesus, God in the flesh, was a real person. The idea that he only “appeared” to be a person is a lie! Basically every verse in John either refutes a false teaching about Jesus or affirms a truth about Him, and how to live a life according to God’s commands.

A summary of the Gnostic lies John is refuting

Let us look at the basic lies the Gnostics were teaching at that time, and then examine some of the verses from 1 John which refute these lies. As already mentioned, the false teaching which mostly leads to lies about Jesus is that all material things are bad, that only spiritual things are good, thus the only important thing is to obtain a mystical knowledge of God. According to this, the indication of a true follower of God is not how people live or even what they believe about Jesus, it is all about obtaining this higher level knowledge of God. They were very selfish and proud because they claimed to have obtained this higher knowledge, and all those who hadn’t are lower level followers of God. As we will see in a moment, John talks about the importance of knowing God in his book in at least twelve different verses. Knowing God is not something “mystical” for John, for true knowledge of God shows itself in obeying His commands, something which is completely irrelevant to the Gnostics.

Since the Gnostics believed all material things are evil, this led them to declare that God, who is completely separate from anything material, did not, or could not have created the world. They believed a smaller, demi-god created the world.

This rejection of all things material led to all kinds of strange beliefs about Jesus. He could not have come from God, He was not God’s Son, nor the Christ. He could not have inhabited a human body, He could not have been born as a baby, He could not have died, He does not have a resurrected body, nor can anyone who knows God have a resurrected body. This idea that Jesus came in the flesh as God made no sense to them, it flew in the face of their corrupted logic. God could never inhabit a material body. In 4:2-3 John confronts this lie and makes perfectly clear who Jesus is: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

The idea that He only “appeared” to have a body led to the Gnostics and other groups’ false teaching about what happened when Jesus was baptized. They believed that there was a man named Jesus who lived a normal life for thirty years, then at baptism the Spirit of Christ came upon this person and right before this Jesus person was crucified, this Spirit of Christ left Him. This means that this human Jesus was not God, nor anyone special when he was born, nor as He was growing up. It means that He died as a normal person, not as God, and that was end of this person named Jesus. But John declares that Jesus was born God and that He died as God, concepts that are hard for us to wrap our minds around, and complete nonsense to the Gnostics.

1 John 5:5-7 is one of the places John explains this: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”  While on the surface this seems like a rather strange and complicated argument, it is directly refuting claims made by the Gnostics. Jesus is of God, verse 5 says He is the Son of God. And how do we know for sure that He is the Son of God? Three testify to this: water, blood and the Spirit.  Some commentators think water refers to baptism to confront the false beliefs about baptism and because of the testimony of the Spirit when Jesus was baptized. It is also possible that John is thinking about what he wrote in John 19:34-35, when he is the only Gospel writer to record that Jesus bled water and blood, seeing that as an important detail and fulfilling Scripture: 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesusʼ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” Water and blood together prove that Jesus really died, and died as God in the flesh.

I will also posit here that the reference to water probably also testifies that He was born human. One of the principle evidences John uses to show that Jesus is human is that He was born human, of a woman. And the image he uses for that is water. The 1 John 5 passage is not the only place John uses “water” when referring to birth and seeing it as a testimony that Jesus is both man and God, and accompanying that by emphasizing that the Spirit also gives this testimony. John 3:5-6: “5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The water Jesus is referring to here is birth, the “natural” person, being born like everyone else, flesh giving birth to flesh. And by contrast, to be born again, we need to be born “of the Spirit.”  He uses contrasts continually to get his point across. The other two witnesses in 1 John 5 passage are pretty clear: Blood testifies that He died being the Son of God, the Spirit also testifies to the fact that He is fully human and that He is the Son of God.

The word “truth” appears at least eleven times in the book.  He contrasts that truth with the lies mentioned so far, lies which always diminish who Jesus is. His goal is to proclaim the truth about Jesus, to confront all these lies about Him and to encourage the believers to stand form with the truth. As is the case with the Gnostics, so today there are many false beliefs about Jesus, and they affect how people live, they affect their lives, they affect if and how the Holy Spirit can lead and transform them. When we truly know who Jesus is, know and accept the truth about Him, and have been born again, this will have a direct affect on how we conduct ourselves, how we shall live.

Gnostics said that they had no sin

This ties into yet another false teaching of the Gnostics, that it does not matter at all how we live, what matters is obtaining this mystical knowledge of God. John begins to deal with this issue in the very first chapter. After using his introduction to proclaim his personal experience of Jesus being truly God in the flesh, he says that if we truly we know God, that He is light, we must also walk in the light, as He has directed us. He then spends the next number of verses talking about those who deny that they sin (people who walk in darkness, in willful ignorance in regards to what God has commanded). How can anyone who knows anything about God and Jesus, and even human life, deny that they sin? The Gnostics! They refused to call anything they did sin, since how they lived was irrelevant. But John proclaims that anyone who says they have not sinned are deceived, do not have the truth in them, and are calling God a liar. Jesus dealt with a similar situation with the Pharisees, who acted and talked like they were very religious, but Jesus said that their hearts were far from God. Even today many people separate, compartmentalize their religious “belief” from how they act in their everyday life, so this is not anything new. 2:4 is the key verse related to this lie: “The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Remain faithful. Do not be led away by the lies and pressure

John is stating over and over to the believers who had thus far remained faithful: Know the truth, know Jesus and who He is, hold tightly onto that and it will have a profound affect on how you live. You can do it because you are of the light, God is in you, you are born of God, you have His Spirit, etc.

Apparently these false teachers came to the churches John is writing to, or maybe even some of the attendees learned these false teachings in other places and began teaching them in the churches. They proclaimed the need to seek and obtain this higher knowledge about God, that all material things are bad, thus undermining the truths about Jesus, probably even redefining what sin was. These false teachings would have lead to a division within the churches, especially as those faithful leaders in charge confronted these lies. The “enlightened” false teachers then led away those they were able to deceive to go and congregate with them elsewhere. In 2:18-19 John bemoans this situation, even calling these false teachers antichrists: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Many people left the congregation. But there is no doubt that they still had some contact with the faithful believers and would continue to try and convince them how wrong they were, and they should also leave and unite with them and seek the true knowledge of God, to renounce material things, and their false beliefs about Jesus and sin, to follow doctrines hatched in the minds of confused men.

It is into this context that John writes his letters. John, who does not make stuff up, but is an eye-witness to all that Jesus was and said. One who could affirm the truth that they had heard from the beginning, and to assure them that this is the true path to pleasing God and to eternal life.

The following is a list of the lies and some of the verse where John refutes them:

1. saying they have no sin (1:6,8,10)

2. saying they know God, but not obeying Him (2:4)

3. denying that Jesus is the Christ (2:22, 5:1, 5:5)

4. denying that Jesus is the Son of God (4:15, 5:5)

5. denying that Jesus came in the flesh (4:2, 2Jn 7)

6. denying that Jesus came by water and the blood  (5:6-9)

7. denying the importance of obeying the commands of God (2:4)

8. not loving one another

9. saying they possess a “higher” knowledge (2:20,27)

10. saying they are guided by the Holy Spirit (4:1)

The if/then construction in 1 John

Another feature of 1 John is that one half of all the verses in the book contain an if/then clause. Just look at chapter 1:6-10: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” All of the if/then constructions in 1 John are John refuting lies the believers are hearing and affirming truths John and other faithful ones had taught them previously. I will put a list of all of the if/then constructions at the end.

Twelve phrases which refer to our intimate relationship with God

A very important thing I learned about 1 John that I had not realized before were all the phrases John uses to talk about our intimate relationship with God. I found that there are at least twelve different ones of these in the book, and they indicate a strong contrast to the selfish doctrine of the Gnostics, their headlong pursuit of this mystical knowledge of God while ignoring who He truly is and ignoring all the things He has commanded us to do. Over and over John proclaims that because of this intimate relationship we have with God. we will be filled with an overwhelming desire to truly know Him and to obey Him. John says that these false teachers say that they know God so deeply, but they really don’t. We are the ones who truly know God, because those who truly know Him will have the desire and the power to obey His commands, to do what pleases Him. In fact, John starts out saying that he is writing all these things so that we all might have fellowship with one another and with God. Koinonia, the first of the twelve relationship phrases John uses, refers to an intimate union, a oneness of heart, a deep fellowship that affects everything that we say and do, and even think.

I will put my list of the twelve relational phrases with a representative verse for each one below, but let me highlight two more of them. Remain (used twelve times) is fundamental because John is writing this to people who are being intimidated and coerced to give up the truth and follow the lies of the Gnostics. John encourages them to remain in God, to remain in the truth that they have been taught from the beginning. Do not stray, do not be deceived. Remain in God!

The other one is born of God. John talks a lot about this in the Gospel of John, that we are his children, not because of physical birth, but a spiritual  birth, a rebirth. He is our Father and we are His children, we are His seed, His desires are in us. 3:9 is a key verse: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” This verse seems almost contradictory because John has already said that those who say they have no sin are liars. Almost every time “sin” appears in John, it is as a participle in Greek, “sinning.” We are still human and may at times sin, but we do not habitually sin, we have the Holy Spirit in us to keep us from that. We also have a different attitude than the Gnostics. They could care less about sin, but those of us who truly know God, when we sin, we will be repentant, we will follow John’s advice and confess our sin, and He will forgive us through what Jesus has done. We must hate sin, and never let if become entrenched in our lives and become accustomed to it.

1. have fellowship with Him koinonia  1:3, 1:6 (2)1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
2. –to know Him2:3, 2:4, 2:5, 2:13, 2:14, 2:29, 3:6, 4:6, 4:7, 4:8, 4:13, 5:20 (12)2:3: We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
3. –He is in you2:5, 2:25, 4:4:  5:20 (4)4:4: You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
4. –remain in the Father and the Son (menei, menete)  2:6, 2:14, 2:24, 2:27, 2:28, 3:6, 3:9, 3:24, 4:12, 4:13, 4:15, 4:16 (12)2:24: See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.
5. –have the love of God in you2:15 (1)2:15: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
6. –Have the annointing of the Holy Spirit2:20, 2:27 (2)2:20:  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
7. –to have the Father/Son2:23, 5:12 (2)5:12: He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
8. –born of God gennaō  2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 5:4, 5:18 (5)3:9: No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.
9. –We are His children3:1, 3:2, :310 (3)3:2: Dear friends, now we are children of God,
10. Mutual love  3:1, 3:16, 3:17, 4:9,  4:10, 4:11, 4:12,  4:16 4:17-19, 5:2, 5:3 (12)4:19: We love because he first loved us.
11. –We shall be like Him3:2b (1)3:3: But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
12. –We are from God3:10, 4:2, 4:4, 4:6, 5:19 (5)4:4: We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

In conclusion, John is sharing a lot of basic truths about Jesus, is refuting the lies of the Gnostics and encouraging the believers to stand firm with the truth and to live out their intimate relationship with God. John is a primer from an eye-witness of what is the truth, and how then shall we live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because we are born of Him, because He is in us, and we “have” Him and remain in Him, we will want to follow Him and desire to do what pleases Him. Those who have been deceived and are following false teachings have none of these things.

Two final thoughts. Near the end of John 5, he speaks of the “sin that leads to death.” There have been many ideas and speculations about what sin that may be. I posit that based on all that John has said, and the Gnostic lies he has confronted, that the sin that leads to death is accepting all these lies about Jesus: That He did not come in the flesh, that He is not the Son of God, that He is not the Christ, etc., and as we have seen, these false beliefs lead to a life of sin and selfishness. In a real sense the Gnostics are seeking to know a completely different God. Since the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, and since these lies reject the testimony of the Spirit, we can also posit that we could summarize the “sin that leads to death” as blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but with the idea of blaspheming Him by denying the truths about Jesus that John has presented here.

John ends the book as abruptly as he started it. 5:21: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” Why is he talking about idols? Here I posit that the Gnostic conception of God is not at all like how the true God is, and that Gnosticism is in itself idol worship, the warped idea of men about how to “know” God. John’s plea to keep themselves from idols is a plea to keep themselves from the lies of Gnosticism, from a selfish concept of God (and Jesus) that is nothing at all like the true God.

The following is a list of all the verses in 1 John which contain the if/then construction or idea:

1 Jn.If (105-50)ButThenOther benefits/problems
1:6we claim to have fellowship with Himwalk in the darknesswe lieand do not live by the truth
1:7we walk in the light as He is in the light,we have fellowship with one anotherand the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.
1:8we claim to be without sin,we deceive ourselvesand the truth is not in us.
1:9we confess our sins,He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sinsand purify us from all unrighteousness
1:10we claim we have not sinned,we make Him out to be a liarand His word has no place in our lives.
2:3if we obey His commands.*We know that we have come to know Him
2:4The man who says, “I know him,”but does not do what He commandsis a liarand the truth is not in him.
2:5But if anyone obeys His word,Godʼs love is truly made complete in him
2:6Whoever claims to live in Himmust walk as Jesus did.
2:9Anyone who claims to be in the lightbut hates his brotheris still in the darkness.
2:10Whoever loves his brotherlives in the light,and there is nothing in him to make him stumble
2:11But whoever hates his brotheris in the darkness and walks around in the darkness;he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
2:15bIf anyone loves the world,the love of the Father is not in him.
2:19For if they had belonged to us,they would have remained with us;but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
2:22If someone denies that Jesus is the Christhe is a liar and antichristfor he denies the Father and the Son.
2:23If you deny the Sonyou do not have the Father
2:23If you acknowledge the Sonyou have the Father
2:24If what you have heard from the beginning remains in youyou also will remain in the Son and in the Father.

Others: 3:6, 3:7-10 3:14-16, 3:17, 3:19-21, 3:24, 4:2-3, 4:6, 4:7-8, 4:11-12, 4:13, 4:15-16: 4:20-21, 5:1-5, 5:9-10, 5:12, 5:14-16ª, 5:18

The testimony of water, blood and the Spirit (Understanding 1 John 5: 5-10)

1 John 5:5-10: 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

What is all this about water and blood?  Even after reading commentaries, the best answer I could come up with was that possibly John here is thinking about what he wrote in John 19:34-35, when he is the only Gospel writer to record that Jesus bled water and blood, seeing that as an important detail and fulfilling Scripture: 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesusʼ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

This is important because it shows that Jesus really died as a human, but how else does it tie in with what John is saying here in particular and his overall theme of the book?  It is all about Jesus! He is the Son of God, the Word who became flesh! The reference to water several times in this 1 John 5 passage does not just refer to the fact that Jesus really died (and was not just unconsciousness), but it also testifies that He was born human. The blood testifies that He died human, the Spirit also testifies to the fact that He is fully human, that He came in the flesh, and ultimately that He is the Son of God.

This is basic to what John is saying because a heresy being taught to the believers at that time was that mystical knowledge is the way to true spirituality, and that all things material, especially flesh is bad (Gnosticism).  So if Jesus is/was God, He would have had nothing to do with the flesh, with being human. They even concluded that the true God did not create the world since He would have had nothing to do with the material, only the spiritual, so a demi-god must have created the world, which created grave problems since John says God created the world through Jesus.

These unbiblical ideas meant that the false teachers proclaimed that Jesus did not come in the flesh, was not the Son of God in any physical way. John starts out this epistle with 1:1 proclaiming that the fact that he personally saw Him and touched Him testifies to this! He was/is human, He had a body, real flesh!  John keeps debunking the lies of the false teachers regarding Jesus and also how to live, since if the flesh is of no consequence, you can live like you like, including not having love for others. So at its very core, it is a very selfish “all about me” teaching. I myself want to experience this mystical knowledge, understanding and heightened “spirituality”, and what “sins” I do with my body, how I treat others, is of no consequence. That teaching is, of course, the opposite to what God and Jesus has revealed to us.


Inside the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where it is thought Jesus was born

Another related false teaching at that time was that God/Christ came upon Jesus at baptism and left right before He was crucified. John debunks all these false teachings, proclaiming that in all aspects, Jesus had a human body from birth on. For if He was only God or the Christ from baptism until right before His death, then He was not Emanuel, God with us, at birth, He was not God’s Son a birth, the Word become flesh at birth. Birth is where the idea of “water” comes in and testifies to Him being God in the flesh. Plus if this false teaching were true, then He was not Emanuel, God’s Son, the Word as flesh when He bled and died, for the blood testified that He was God in the flesh, human, when He died. These false teachers rejected the mind-blowing concept of God dying on the cross!

These false teachings had their roots in not understanding who Jesus really is and thus denying his humanness. John’s argument against that lie came to a climax in chapter 4. 4:2-3 says: 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Here again we see the testimony of the Holy Spirit involved in verifying the truth that Jesus did truly come in the flesh. Those who have the Spirit of God believe this and proclaim it. Those who do not believe it are of the antichrist, are not from God and do not have the Spirit of God. Harsh, but true words. John is very concerned that the believers do not fall for this lie.

One of the principle evidences John uses to show that Jesus is human is that He was born human, of a woman. And the image he uses for that is water. The 1 John 5 passage is not the only place John uses “water” when referring to birth and seeing it as a testimony that Jesus is both man and God, and accompanying that by emphasizing that the Spirit also gives this testimony. John 3:5-6: “5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

The water Jesus is referring to here is birth, the “natural” person, being born like everyone else, being human. And by contrast, to be born again, we also need to be born “of the Spirit.” There is absolutely no context here to think He is talking about baptism as many have posited. John is using a contrast here. He uses contrasts continually to get his point across. Just in chapter 3 there are these pairs of contrasts:

Vs. 5 Born of water (naturally) vs. born of the Spirit (supernaturally)

Vs. 6 flesh (natural) vs. Spirit (supernatural)

Vs. 8 wind vs. Spirit

Vs. 12 earthly things vs. heavenly things

Vs. 16 perish vs. eternal life

Vs. 17 condemn vs. save

Vs. 19 light vs. darkness

Vs. 31 above vs. below/earth

Vs. 36 believe vs. reject, eternal life vs. wrath

It should be noted for fans of the King James Bible that parts of vs. 7 and 8 are missing in the verses at the beginning of this discussion. 7-8 says in the KJV: 7For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

The part in bold is not in most translations (most put it in a footnote) because it is not in a single Greek manuscript that has ever been found. It is only found written in Latin in the margins in copies of some more recent manuscripts. Erasmus, who in 1517 complied the first official Greek New Testament based on the best manuscripts they had at the time did not include it in the first and second editions. But because of pressure from the church and the Emperor (and who knows what other threats), he finally added it to his third edition. Actually its addition strays from John’s point of trying to show that Jesus is fully human, that He came in the flesh and had a human body. The Trinity in heaven has little to do with the fact that Jesus was born and died a human, and that the testimony of the Spirit confirms this truth.

In regards to the testimony of the Spirit, other testimonies of the Spirit include Him declaring Jesus as God’s Son when Jesus was baptized. Mark 1:10-11: 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Also at the transfiguration it is declared that He is God’s Son. Mark 9:7: 7Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Later on, the writer of the Hebrews started out his book, and spends the whole first chapter talking about Jesus’ Sonship. Hebrews 1:1-3: 1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Of course all the Gospels, Paul and Peter also proclaim that Jesus is God’s son. It is also a major theme of John too (1:3, 1:7, 2:22, 2:23, 2:24, 3:8, 3:23, 4:9, 4:10, 4:14, 4:15 and in chapter 5:9,10,11,12,13, 20).

Jesus is 100% God. He is 100% human. John starts out his Gospel in 1:1-3 proclaiming that very fact: “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Among many other verses, 14:9 is a clear one: 9Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” All the other writers of the New Testament make this clear as well, with maybe the most clear explanation given by Paul in Philippians 2:6-7: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

To combat the lies of Gnosticism and other similar false teachings, John focuses in on the humanity of Jesus in his teaching in 1 John. Jesus was not a ghost. Luke 24:36-43 deals with this issue during a resurrection appearance: 36While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

John was also there and gives similar testimony, especially, as mentioned in the very first couple verses where he saw and touched Jesus. Jesus is/was flesh, had a human body. He was born naturally of a woman (water) and He died as a human (blood, even water and blood flowing out of Him showed he was really dead, not just unconscious.)  The Spirit bears witness of His birth and His death (as well, of course, of His bodily resurrection.) His birth, His death and resurrection, plus the Spirit all give testimony that He is God’s Son, fully human and thus able to die for our sins. Besides that, those who are born of God, who abide in Him, despite being human and weak, can, by the fact that they are “born of Him”, obey His commands, not conform to the world, and love one another. Click here for a short video presentation of this article.

The following is a chart from the book of 1 John. Right at 50% of all verses in 1 John have the idea of if/then, as can be seen from this chart, and that solidifies the idea that in his short epistle, John is confronting a lot of false teaching and wrong belief in his letter, and gives guidance and how to know if something is from God or not.

1 Jn. If (105-50) But Then Other benefits/problems
1:6 we claim to have fellowship with Him walk in the darkness we lie and do not live by the truth
1:7 we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.
1:8 we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1:9 we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness
1:10 we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.
2:3 if we obey His commands. *We know that we have come to know Him
2:4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.
2:5 But if anyone obeys His word, Godʼs love is truly made complete in him
2:6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.
2:9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
2:10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble
2:11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
2:15b If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
2:19 For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
2:22 If someone denies that Jesus is the Christ he is a liar and antichrist for he denies the Father and the Son.
2:23 If you deny the Son you do not have the Father
2:23 If you acknowledge the Son you have the Father
2:24 If what you have heard from the beginning remains in you you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.

Other verses we could add to the chart: 3:6, 3:7-10 3:14-16, 3:17, 3:19-21, 3:24, 4:2-3, 4:6, 4:7-8, 4:11-12, 4:13, 4:15-16: 4:20-21, 5:1-5, 5:9-10, 5:12, 5:14-16a, 5:18

How Cain killed Abel, and why

I had never thought too much about how Cain killed his brother Abel in Genesis 4. Some movies and images depict him picking up a rock or a large bone and hitting him over the head. But I learned something recently that makes it a bit more graphic and gives more insight into what Cain was thinking.

Verses 3 to 6 tell how Cain was mad because God did not accept his sacrifice of “some” of what he had harvested, while accepting the sacrifice that his brother Abel made of his “best” lambs. So Cain invited Abel to go out to the field with him soon after this.cain able

4:8 says “And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” He probably took the sharp object used to sacrifice animals, slashed Abel’s throat (jugular), just like Abel did to sacrifice his lambs, and spilled all his blood out on the ground. Jealousy and revenge, possibly thinking, “Now there is a better sacrifice!”

4:10 talks about how much blood was on the ground: “The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”  The word used for “murder” in 1 John 3:12 recounting what happened is a word signifying killing a lamb for the slaughter.

Another reason to think this may be true: At that time, Adam’s family never killed anything other than the lambs for the sacrifice. Many years later, after the flood, Genesis 9: 2-3 says: “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Many people think, that for the most part, people only ate what grew wild or what they had planted up until the flood, as implied by these verses. So it is very possible that the only “killing” they had experienced were sacrificing the lambs on the altar, slashing the throat. So could it be that Cain killed Abel in the same way? With no experience in killing, would he think to grab a rock or something like that to kill him? It makes more sense, especially based on the way he was thinking, that he killed him in a way he knew would be effective.

After Cain was mad after God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not his, (“but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”) God warns Cain to “guard his heart” saying: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (4:6-7)

Cain did not “master” sin. He killed his brother, sacrificed him, upset that God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not his, and in his warped thinking blamed Abel. John uses this as an extreme example of how not to love your brother! But Jesus said if we start and keep resentment and bitterness in our hearts against others, it can lead to us acting in some pretty bad ways.

El Cuaderno

(This is the Spanish translation of the post: The Notebook)

 Un hombre mixteco traduce la Palabra de Dios a su propia lengua

Una historia verídica de impacto

Escrito en inglés por Johnny L. Williams

Traducido al español por Allan Lee. El español fue revisado en 2011.


Lo que usted va a leer en este libro es una historia verídica. Es una historia de inspiración y de impacto que narra cómo Dios obró en la vida de un hombre para que la gente de su pueblo pudiera escuchar la Palabra de Dios en su propia lengua.  No fue nada fácil. Dejó de ir a la escuela para cuidar los chivos de su papá cuando estaba en el segundo año de primaria. Antes de conocer a Dios este hombre tomaba mucho y no sabía nada de la Palabra de Dios. Entregó su vida a Jesucristo teniendo casi sesenta años.

Él vio que su esposa y muchos otros no entendían bien los estudios bíblicos en español. Así que compró un cuaderno, inventó su propio alfabeto ya que la variante de su lengua no tenía forma escrita y empezó a traducir.

Esta historia nos enseña que Dios quiere que la gente tenga su palabra en su propia lengua, y por eso usó a este hombre de esta manera. Hoy en día la gente de su región ya tiene todo el Nuevo Testamento publicado y grabado en lengua mixteca. Este nos hace recordar el pasaje de Hechos 2:6-8 y 11b que dice: “Al oír este estruendo, se juntó la multitud; y estaban confusos, porque cada uno los oía hablar en su propia lengua. Estaban atónitos y admirados, diciendo: Mirad, ¿no son galileos todos estos que hablan? ¿Cómo, pues, los oímos nosotros hablar cada uno en nuestra lengua en la que hemos nacido? (.) Los oímos hablar en nuestras lenguas las maravillas de Dios.”

Dios hizo este milagro para que esta multitud de tal vez un millón de personas pudiera escuchar el mensaje de Jesús en su propia lengua. Así también pasó en este pueblo, Dios usó a este hombre para que la gente pudiera escuchar Su palabra en su propia lengua.

Todavía hay muchos otros pueblos en México y en todo el mundo donde la gente aún no tiene la Palabra de Dios en la lengua de su corazón. ¿Está usted dispuesto si Dios quiere usarle para ayudar a cumplir esta misión tan importante?

 El Cuaderno

La maestra de educación pública no sabía en qué se metía. Había sido asignada a este pequeño pueblo por las autoridades educativas. No fue su primera elección; tardaba tres horas viajando en la parte trasera de un camión de carga para llegar desde la “civilización”. Estaba a diez horas de la ciudad donde ella radicaba. Era un pueblo de tan solo ocho cientos habitantes, pocos de ellos dominaban bien el español. Hablaban una variante del mixteco, uno de los casi setenta lenguas originarias de México. Eran demasiado pobres, campesinos que apenas subsistían con lo que sembraban en sus tierras rocosas, escasamente suficiente para alimentar a sus familias.

DSCN3666Trabajando en sus tierras rocosas

Sus casas tenían piso de tierra y un solo foco para iluminarse. Cocinaban sobre un fogón y elaboraban sus propias tortillas. Ellos le prestaron un pequeño cuarto a la maestra, a un lado de la escuela, también con piso de tierra.

A pesar de su pobreza la gente era generosa. Compartían con ella de lo poco que tenían, felices porque ella había venido para enseñar a sus hijos, muchos de los cuales llegaban a la escuela sin saber hablar español o tal vez sólo un poquito. La maestra dedicaba tanto tiempo a enseñarles español como a todas las otras materias juntas.

schoolLa primera escuela

Todo lo relacionado con la vida en ese pueblo fue duro. Ella nunca había visto pulgas tan grandes. Pero no era de aquellas personas que fácilmente se dan por vencidas. Cuando apenas había recibido la noticia que había sido asignada a enseñar en ese lugar lejano se resistió. Pero después de orar al respecto sintió que Dios la estaba llamando a ir. Así que a pesar de las dificultades, sabía bien que estaba precisamente donde Dios quería que estuviera. Esta convicción fue confirmada al darse cuenta que las personas de ese pueblo, aunque eran católicas devotas, casi no entendían nada de la Biblia. El sacerdote llegaba una vez al mes para oficiar la misa y otras ceremonias pero no les explicaba la Biblia.

Previa a la llegada de la maestra, llegó un cristiano de afuera que predicaba el evangelio mientras vendía zapatos. Ella empezó a enseñarles coritos cristianos a los alumnos y realizaba estudios bíblicos para los adultos. Mucha gente empezó a asistir. Estaban hambrientos de escuchar la Palabra de Dios, conscientes de que era algo bueno. Sin embargo, pocas personas entendían bien de lo que ella enseñaba ya que solo podía explicar la Biblia en español. Había un hombre que había viajado más y había aprendido más español que los demás. Él llegó a ser el primer creyente en el pueblo. La maestra lo puso a traducir al mixteco lo que ella decía.

Esto fue difícil para él, pues ignoraba cómo decir en mixteco tantos conceptos bíblicos que ella enseñaba. A veces él tenía que usar una mezcla de palabras de español y mixteco, y por eso este mensaje tan importante todavía no llegaba a lo profundo de sus corazones.

Poco después el padre de aquel hombre, ya anciano, empezó a asistir a los estudios y aceptó el mensaje de salvación. Durante su vida se había emborrachado al punto de perder la razón tantas veces que perdió la cuenta. Él y sus compañeros eran músicos que tocaban en las fiestas. A pesar de su nueva confesión de fe, no pudo resistir la tentación de tocar su violín y emborracharse con los demás en esas fiestas. Un día, estando crudo, su hijo lo confrontó diciendo que si de verdad iba a seguir a Jesús tendría que romper con el pasado y vender sus instrumentos. Fue doloroso vender sus amados instrumentos, pero sabía que eran la fuente de sus problemas, y jamás volvió a tomar alcohol.

Al transcurrir el tiempo y al crecer su fe, sintió lástima por su esposa y por otros que no entendían el español. Vez tras vez leyó su Biblia para poder dominar la lectura en español. Pero ardía su corazón con el deseo de ayudar a otros. Sintió que ellos necesitaban la Biblia en mixteco, no sólo una traducción espontánea como la que hacía su hijo.

¿Pero qué podía hacer? ¡Ni siquieren existía un alfabeto para el mixteco que él hablaba!

La vida de aquel anciano era muy dura. Madrugaba y se desvelaba. Tejía sombreros y canastas de palma para ganar dinero extra para sus gastos. Trabajaba arduamente arando sus campos pedregosos con una yunta y un arado que él mismo había fabricado. Participaba en la faena comunitaria, como para construir la primera escuela del pueblo o reparando las calles. En varias ocasiones sirvió en cargos de liderazgo en el pueblo. Había estado trabajando desde que era pequeño, ya que tuvo que abandonar la escuela para hacerse cargo de los chivos de la familia desde que tenía siete años. Tenía cinco hijos vivos. Otros cinco habían muerto en su infancia. Su alimentación consistía de tortillas, frijoles y hierbas. Raramente tenía la oportunidad de saborear carne.

palmsebEl señor tejiendo sombreros

Ahora llenaba sus noches asistiendo a los estudios o leyendo su Biblia vez tras vez. Descubría cosas maravillosas en ella, de las cuales no podían disfrutar su esposa y otros. Oraba a Dios sobre lo qué pudiera hacer para ayudarles.

Un día fue a la tienda y compró un pequeño cuaderno. Utilizando las letras del español, empezó a traducir al mixteco Lucas 24, la historia de la resurrección de Jesús. ¡Qué noticia tan buena! Pero era muy difícil hacerlo. El mixteco cuenta con tantos sonidos que no existen en español y había tantos conceptos bíblicos que no sabía expresar en mixteco. ¿Cómo podría hacerlo un hombre que sólo estudió dos años de primaria?

El anciano ahora sostenía en sus manos un cuaderno con varios capítulos de la Biblia traducidos al mixteco. Sintió que había sido el trabajo más duro que jamás había hecho en su vida. Más duro que cultivar sus campos que eran de casi pura piedra. Más duro que cargar leña por veredas desde la montaña hasta el pueblo. Más duro que tejer sombreros y canastas de palma por diez o doce horas. Pero Dios le había ayudado. Había ideado una manera de escribirlo, por lo menos una manera que él podía leer.

Aún así no se sentía el indicado. ¿Quién era él para estar traduciendo la Santa Palabra de Dios? ¿Qué tal si hubiera malentendido algunos versículos y los estaba explicando de manera equivocada? Leyó en el libro de Apocalipsis que los que añaden o quitan de la Palabra de Dios son maldecidos. Así aunque siempre llevaba su cuaderno al estudio, no lo leía en voz alta.

Pero una noche fue diferente, sintió un mover en su corazón y un fuego en su alma. Ya no podía quedarse sentado. La gente se estaba durmiendo, sus pensamientos vagaban, varias personas conversaban en voz baja y algunos ya ni llegaban a los estudios. ¿Para qué ir si entendían tan poquito? Así que se atrevió a ponerse de pie y dijo que tenía algo que quería compartir. Con las manos temblorosas abrió su cuaderno y se puso bajo el único foco en el cuarto.

Respiró profundamente y comenzó a leer, al principio lentamente y sin fluidez. Escuchó a la gente suspirar cuando se dio cuenta de que él estaba hablando, o más bien, leyendo en mixteco, la lengua de su corazón.

Continuó leyendo, cobrando fuerza y confianza conforme avanzaba. Al alzar la vista pudo ver que algunas de las señoras estaban llorando. Ya nadie estaba dormido ni cabeceando, ya nadie conversaba y ya nadie se levantaba para cambiarse de lugar. Todos estaban enfocados en él y en lo que decía. Él continuó. La luz de la comprensión brilló en los ojos de la gente. Continuó leyendo durante un largo rato. Estas personas jamás serían iguales, ni él tampoco.

La maestra no estaba allá para disfrutar este gran fruto de su servicio para Dios, porque después de un poco más de dos años las autoridades educativas habían tomado la decisión de transferirla a otro lugar. Había partido con una carga en el corazón pero contenta por el hecho de que había plantado semillas, pero no pudo imaginar las cosas tan maravillosas que Dios haría por medio de estas semillas.

preachEl traductor enseñando a la gente

Pasó el tiempo y el cuaderno del señor se llenaba. A pesar del gran sacrifico personal que representaba, él continuó traduciendo más capítulos. Su producción de sombreros y canastas bajó bastante. Tenía menos dinero que nunca. Pero no se detenía, la Palabra de Dios era más importante. Dios siempre proveyó lo suficiente para sus necesidades.

El estaba leyendo en casi todos de los cinco cultos que tenían semanalmente. Algunas mujeres, además, llegaban a su casa cada semana para oírlo leer. La gran barrera del español se estaba derrumbando, y Dios ya no era un extranjero o un forastero, ahora Él hablaba mixteco. Su Palabra llegaba directamente a los corazones, en vez de entrar por un oído y salir por el otro.

Conforme más traducía el anciano, más difícil resultaba. ¡Había tantos conceptos difíciles, eran tantas cosas que sinceramente no entendía muy bien! Le costaba mucho escribir ciertas palabras que no parecían tener ninguna letra en común con el alfabeto del español. Pero ninguna de estas barreras lo frenaba porque Dios lo estaba ayudando. Era un hombre con una misión que cumplir.

La maestra había ayudado a la gente a construir un templo con el apoyo de la iglesia de donde ella venía. Luego esta iglesia decidió tomar la iglesia como una misión a su cargo. Se enviaron ministros a la iglesia para predicar, sin saber que sus mensajes en español serían poco entendibles. No todos los que llegaban aceptaban al anciano con su cuaderno, así que pasaban semanas en que él no tenía la oportunidad de leer durante un culto. Pero esto no afectaba a las cuatro o cinco señoras mayores que regularmente llegaban a su casa para escucharlo leer. La mayoría de los ministros no duraba mucho tiempo en el pueblo. La barrera lingüística y las difíciles condiciones de vida en el pueblo provocaban que muchos regresaran a casa desilusionados.

Un día un lingüista cristiano de los Estados Unidos empezó a visitar el pueblo con la meta de ayudar a la gente a producir libros y traducir la Biblia a su variante del mixteco. En su primera noche en el pueblo se encontró con el anciano y rebosó de emoción al enterarse del contenido de su cuaderno. Inmediatamente el anciano comenzó a ayudar al joven lingüista a aprender su idioma. También empezó a dictarle sus             traducciones. Empezaron a dialogar sobre los conceptos con los que luchaba el anciano para traducir y otros que estaba malentendiendo.

seb-johnTrabajando con el lingüista

Al paso de los años el anciano y el lingüista colaboraron en la traducción de las Escrituras. El Evangelio de San Marcos llegó a ser el primer libro de las Escrituras publicado en aquel lugar. Trece años después de la llegada del lingüista el anciano sostuvo en sus manos un borrador del Nuevo Testamento completo. El anciano pasaba horas leyendo el naciente Nuevo Testamento y corregía los errores en mixteco que el lingüista había introducido al texto.

Pero la vida había sido muy dura con él, y el licor de su pasado cobró un alto precio. Un día empezó a escupir sangre y el lingüista lo llevó al hospital a más de una hora de camino. Los doctores intentaron extirparle la vesícula sin éxito. Sus hijos, quienes ya vivían en la ciudad donde se encontraba el hospital intentaron que se quedara allí. Pero esa idea no le interesó para nada. Amaba a su pueblo y le encantaba leer de su cuaderno a la gente. Así que regresó a su pueblo, pero un día colapsó repentinamente en un campo cerca de su casa. Aparentemente había sufrido un infarto cerebral. Perdió el conocimiento, su hígado dejó de funcionar y pasó a la gloria. El lingüista, quien tuvo la oportunidad de compartir unas palabras en su funeral, explicó que, aunque tal vez la gente no se había dado cuenta, había vivido entre ellos un héroe.

Su sueño había sido que su gente tuviera la Biblia en su idioma. El sueño ha continuado. El Nuevo Testamento completo ha sido revisado, grabado y publicado, y ahora está disponible para la gente.

La maestra, quien todavía realiza visitas al pueblo, está contenta al reflexionar sobre la semilla sembrada en el corazón del anciano durante sus estudios bíblicos. Esta semilla creció a pasos agigantados, de que él comenzara a escribir y leer de su cuaderno maltratado al punto de tener el Nuevo Testamento en mixteco. Ella sufrió mucho durante esos primeros años, al igual que el viejito. Pero ya con este fruto se ve que todo valió la pena. Ella da gracias a Dios, el único que pudiera lograr algo como esto.

Para leer y escuchar el Nuevo Testamento, Busca el app en Google Play: Mixteco de Tezoatlán

Para escuchar cantos en mxteco en youtube, vaya al: Youtube

Para ver el video de la celebaración del Nuevo Testamento, vayan aquí.


Portada del Nuevo Testamento publicado en el mixteco que hablaba el señor de esta historia, entregado por primera vez a la gente durante una celebración el día 15 de marzo de 2008.  La portada dice en mixteco: “Este libro es la Palabra de Dios, y da testimonio de Jesús”.

Samaritan Lives Matter

Some people object to the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” and prefer saying, “All Lives Matter.” I am perfectly okay with saying, “Black Lives Matter”, especially now as a way to put a spotlight on prejudices, and recognizing that this issue, and seeking how we can all be better, means a lot to our Black brothers and sisters who have faced discrimination. (I cannot support the actual BLM organization since I cannot support any candidate, leader or group when they are pro-abortion.) We also need to realize that when we do say, “All Lives Matter”, we are including terrorists, pedophiles, rapists, serial killers, etc., though The Creator, who made us all in His image, desires that they, like each one of us, repent and follow Jesus.

Jesus did not shy away from focusing on some of the significant prejudices of the time when He walked on this earth. One of issues He confronted was the awful way the minority Samaritan people were treated. There was a long history of bitterness between the Jews and the Samaritans. For the Jews, the Samaritans were the lowest of the low. I will not go into the history of why this was so, other than to say that the Samaritans accepted pagan customs (idolaters), intermarried with pagans (half-breeds), built their own temple instead of recognizing the one in Jerusalem (unclean), sided with those fighting the Jews in the intertestamental period (blood enemies), tried to get the Jews in trouble with the Romans (spies/traitors), and rejected many of the teachings and writings of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem (heretics).

By the time Jesus appeared on earth, this animosity was at a peak. As a result, Jesus, and eventually those filled with His Spirit, revealed the sinfulness of this hatred. This ungodly attitude is very clear in John 8:47-48: “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”  There was not a worse insult of someone than to call them a Samaritan, which for the Jews was as bad as being demon possessed. (It should be noted that God warned the Israelites not to associate closely with Gentiles so as to not fall into their pagan ways, but the Old Testament also has many verses which talk of His love for non-Jews and how the Jews were to be a light to them. The Jews at Jesus’ time went way overboard with the avoidance, and did many things the opposite of being a light to them.)

The most well-known example of Jesus putting a spotlight on this issue, making sure they knew that Samaritan lives matter to God, is the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. Two of the most significant classes of people in the culture, a priest and a Levite (temple assistant), refused to help the injured man on the side of the road. The hero of this parable was the “hated” Samaritan, who was the only one to show love and compassion, the only good neighbor. It is hard for us to realize how radical this parable was at that time, making the Samaritan the wonderful example and shaming the priest and the Levite.

Screenshot_2020-06-22 NT118 Good Samaritan

Another example is the woman at the well. Here Jesus breaks two significant cultural taboos. He speaks not only to a Samaritan, but to a woman. John 4:27 says: Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” In 4:9 the woman herself expresses this: The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) This passage also reveals the issue about the two temples, in John 4:20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”  Later on the woman returns to her Samaritan village and tells them all about Jesus. Vs. 40-41 report: “When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe.” Jesus staying with them for two days is another cultural bomb since “good” Jews would not have any associations with a Samaritan, let alone stay in their village (and eat with them) for two days!

Luke 17 recounts yet another scene where a Samaritan person is praised. Ten lepers come to Jesus, stand far off, and ask Him to heal them. He tells them to go and show themselves to a priest, and as they are going, they are all healed. But only one comes back to thank him. Both Jesus and Luke makes sure everyone knows that the only one to show gratitude is a Samaritan! 17:16-19: He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Before they received the Holy Spirit, the disciples, even after seeing these things, still held deep seated animosity toward the Samaritans, and were ready to burn them all up when they refused to welcome them when they sought a place to stay one night. Luke 9:52-55: He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. This scene also reveals that the Samaritans themselves were upset that Jesus was going to the temple in Jerusalem, and not to their temple.

Finally, after His death and resurrection, Jesus sends His disciples out to proclaim to all the world about Him and what He has done and the salvation He offers. Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He specifically mentions Samaria. So preach to the people you know (Jerusalem), to the people “like you” within your local area (Judea), across racial and prejudicial boundaries (Samaria, as I have taught and shown you), and then you will be ready to serve and love any type of people in all the world.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples and other followers begin preaching Jesus, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, and after they dillydallied too much, persecution sent them out toward Samaria and the rest of the known world. Acts 8 highlights Philip’s journey to preach in Samaria, how many came to believe, and then how Peter and John came, helped the new believers receive the Holy Spirit and rejoiced with them.

Though not a Samaritan, Acts 10 and the first part of 11 highlight that even after receiving the Holy Spirit, breaking through their prejudices was a process. God wanted a Gentile Roman general to hear His word, and God had to show Peter an earth-shattering vision to get him to go to the house of an “unclean” Gentile. Finally after this out-of-body experience, Peter went and preached to this man and his family, and Peter’s worldview was blown apart again when these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. But afterwards, he got roundly criticized, in 11:2-3: But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.  Peter recounted all that God had showed him, and in 11:17-18 he says: “And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”  When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Prejudices are hard to break, and God had to do some significant work in the hearts of the believers to show them His love for all types of people.

Later on, at a big meeting to talk about this issue, Peter speaks with great power and eloquence about this new worldview all the Jewish believers needed to have. Acts 15:7-11: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

It is also worth stating that slavery can never be justified by anything in the Bible. I will focus a moment on the New Testament teaching since most of us are Gentiles and so it speaks directly to us as Gentiles. In the case of the Romans, specifically the upper class, it was very common for them to have slaves. Some of the lower class people sold themselves into slavery as a way to support themselves and their families. People with full Roman citizenship were usually not forced into slavery. However non-citizens and those brought back as captives from other nations had little to no rights, and so could freely be made slaves, no matter what their station in life was before the Romans defeated their people. So some super rich, high ranking people of other nations became lowly slaves for the Romans. While some were treated fairly well, many others were treated very badly, including being raped by their masters, with man on boy being one of the most common immoral acts. Please note that race did not have anything to do with who was a Roman slave, If you did not have official Roman citizenship, you could be forced to be a slave.

Theoretically, Paul could have proclaimed, “Release all your slaves!”, but who would have listened? Most of the places he went, he was thrown in jail for preaching about this “other” king, Jesus, which was insurrection to those who recognized Cesar as the only ruler. What Paul was able to do was give to godly advice to those who were slaves. Paul spent a lot of time in prison, and he was able to find the positive in that, stating from prison in Philippians 1:12-13 “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” He also proclaimed in 1 Cor. 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” So this is what he teaches to those who are slaves. Remember that Jesus is your true Master, but as long as you live as slaves, do the best as you can to work hard for this earthly master so as to be a witness to them and your fellow slaves.  He also states that if you can become free, do it. 1 Cor 7:21-23:  “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”

He also commands those who are masters to treat those who serve them with respect and kindness. When that was the case, most slaves would have preferred to stay since it was a good way to provide for them and their families. Paul’s advise to Philemon is very applicable to this. A slave ran away from Philemon, who seems to be a friend of Paul. This slave, through the ministry of Paul, became a Jesus follower, and decided to go back to Philemon. In the book of Philemon Paul tells how Onesimus has become a believer and desires to go back to Philemon’s house. Paul urges Philemon to receive him back, and to treat him like family, like a fellow believer in Jesus. In this case Onesimus wants to keep living with Philemon, and Paul wants to make sure he will be treated equally.

In conclusion, let me say that not only the Bible speaks of these things, but also the Declaration of Independence declares that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our country has too many times fallen far short of these wonderful words. The Bible states clearly that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all equal in the sight of God, created in His image, and may He help us as we rid ourselves of biases, prejudices and whatever wrong things we have thought and/or been taught, and have our worldview rocked, if it needs to be rocked, so that we see all people through His eyes.

Note: Part of the inspiration to study the “Samaritan” issue more in depth came from Pastor Eric Young, who included Jesus’ teachings regarding discrimination against the Samaritans in a sermon at Discovery Church Tucson.

Job and his relationship with God

Synopsis: We usually focus on suffering when thinking of Job, but it is the apparent break in relationship with God that hurts him the most. Where is God’s love, His care? Though I am in unspeakable emotional and physical pain, I can live without my children (oh, so much pain and sorrow!), my health, my money. But I cannot live without God. He is my Everything.

John Job video picMany of the thoughts I share here I first heard in a devotional at the 2012 Mexico Branch of SIL conference held in Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico. I would like to thank Pastor Ismael Cruz Solórzano for his beautiful insights into the book of Job. During the height of the COVID-19 quarantine Eric Young, the pastor of Discovery Church Tucson, the church I attend in Arizona, suggested I make a series of videos based on articles I had written on this blog giving a Biblical perspective on suffering. The one on Job was the ninth in this video series, and in it I combined the things I learned from Pastor Ismael’s devotional together with the theme I was focusing on during that difficult time.

Usually when we think about Job, the number one thing that comes to our mind is suffering. And it is true that Job suffered immensely. But the main theme of the book is actually not pain and suffering.

To begin, let us look at the setting, how all the events of the book got set into action. Job 1:6-12: One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”  Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 1“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”  The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

As we think about this passage, we know that God knows what satan is going to ask Him. In fact, it is God who brings Job into the conversation, telling satan that Job is blameless, upright, a man of integrity who shuns evil. In response, satan accuses God, saying that is only the case because God “coddles” him, has blessed him, put a hedge of protection around him. Then satan assures God that if He were to take this away, Job would curse Him to his face. So the dynamic here is that satan is casting doubt on God’s honor. God implies that Job loves him because of Who He is, but satan claims that Job will curse God if he loses his things. We might compare it with a man who married the light of his life, a woman he was deeply in love with, only to later find out that she only married him for his money. The man had thought that she married him for who he is, for his character, because they had that “connection”, had such good times together, maybe he thought he was quite the romantic, or felt that God was leading in all this. But to think that from her perspective she was seeing him more like an ATM machine, that would really hurt. That is basically the dynamic going on here, what satan is saying to God: “Job just loves you for your “money”, because you bless him and provide for him, but take that all away and he will curse You.” This is attacking God’s honor. So God wants it to be clear that Job loves Him because of Who He is and not just because God gives him things.

In a previous article I wrote about the issue of blaming God. So in this case, what or who actually caused Job’s suffering? God? satan? Chance? Is God the one who sent these calamities onto Job? As we read the book, the Bible makes it clear that satan is the one who actually did the deeds.  But someone might posit, “Well, God let the devil do all these things.” So are we now blaming God for all the tragedies the devil causes, thinking that it is God’s fault because He allowed it? If you have read my previous articles on “Blaming God”, “The Kingdom of God” and “Suffering and God attributes”, you will know that the devil has a lot of authority in this word because of sin, he has a foothold in the lives of many people, and the just right to cause all kinds of problems.

The Bible clearly states that God never leaves nor forsakes His people. Here also, God never left nor abandoned Job. And Job, though complaining, lamenting, and wondering what in the world is going on, stayed faithful to God and did not curse Him. He could not understand why God, whom he loved, would let all these things happen to him. In 13:15 he says: “Though He slay me, yet will I put my hope in Him.” Job could not think of anything, any sin he committed, to cause this drastic change and cause all this, despite his friends continual insistence that he must have done something really bad. But in the end, God reveals Himself to Job, shows that He loves him and never stopped loving him, and in the end, restores all that he had.

We know that before satan acted, life was going very good for Job. Then this drastic change. Let us look for a moment at some of the things Job lost in a very short period of time, and as much as Job can figure, for no good reason.  1) He lost all his oxen and donkeys and all but one servant who was taking care of them. 2) Then another servant comes and says “The fire of God came down and burnt up all your sheep and your servants. Only I escaped.” (Interesting here that the servant seems to blame God when we know that satan is the one who caused this.) 3) Then another servant says the Chaldeans came, killed all his servants and took all his camels. 4) Then the worst of these tragedies, another servant comes in and says all his children were together, a windstorm came down onto the house they were partying in, and killed them all.

So how did Job react to this awful mess, this complete disaster?  Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. This was a sign of deep mourning at that time, and showing what was in his heart. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,  and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (1:20-22)  Wow, his main response to this tragedy is to worship and magnify the name of the Lord. He also did not curse the name of the Lord as satan had predicted.

In chapter two, satan comes back, and still does not believe that Job has a strong faith, and so proposes that God do something else in 2:5-7: “But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.

Again satan predicts that if he loses his health, he will curse God, will turn his back on God, and show his true colors by losing faith in God. So God lets him do as “he” pleases, and satan strikes him with boils. It is not God who is afflicting him. Satan’s main goal is, again, that Job curse God. So from here the book takes on the theme, no so much of suffering, but what will be the result of all this suffering. The focus in on the relationship between God and Job. Will Job actually curse God and turn his back on Him? This chapter also says that, besides satan, Job’s wife was encouraging him to curse God, to which he responds in 2:10: “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. Job is despairing he is hurting, he does not know all that is going on in the background, of this interaction between God and satan. But He does know that God is God and did not sin by cursing Him.

When thinking about all that happened to Job throughout these 42 chapters, we do not know how long all this lasted. Weeks? Months? Years? We do know that three friends came to visit him and sat with him in silence for a week. And thinking about what they said once they started talking, it would have been more helpful to Job if they had just been there with him and supported him in silence rather than spouting out a lot of clichés and warped armchair theology!

The interactions with his friends begin in chapter three when Job breaks the silence and instead of cursing God, as satan and his wife were trying to get him to do, he cursed the day of his birth! 3:1-4: At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said: “Let the day of my birth be erased, and the night I was conceived. Let that day be turned to darkness. Let it be lost even to God on high, and let no light shine on it.”

Job goes on, but suffice to say that he is despairing, he is suffering, he is having a really hard time. He doesn’t understand why this is happening to him. He lost his children and everything he owned, his wife gave him bad counsel, he has lost his health. Even those who have a strong faith may respond to pain and hard times by despairing, lamenting, crying, by even doubting, saying “What is going on? I do not understand. Why is this happening to me? Where is God in all this?” This does not necessarily show a lack of faith. Jeremiah also cursed the day of his birth. Some will say these types of reactions show weak faith. “You have to put on a good face! Just keep on going. God is in control! Don’t let your emotions affect you at all!” While inside our emotions are just going crazy. We are in desperation.

Some might even say to Job that he is being a bad example! “Potential new believers might think the Christian life is hard!” Well, it is! Trying to just hide our feelings and put on a “spiritual” face doesn’t really help things very much. So we could actually say, “Thank you Job. I can identify with you. You are expressing things I feel when I am suffering or going through hard times. I am encouraged that a man of strong faith can have these feelings. Too many times we try to put on a “Christian” face and hide and bury our emotions, not being sure how others, especially Christians, will react to our lamenting, despair and doubt.

In Job we see that we can be, and need to be honest with our feelings. God is the rock, not us. Our faith and trust in Him needs to be a rock, our firm foundation, but it is okay to pour out our emotions. David, Job, Jeremiah, even Paul poured out their emotions to God. He is big enough to take it! He knows our heart! He is the rock and we need to cling to Him and His truth. There is no faithful person in the Bible who did not suffer and experience hard times. There is a misguided teaching that makes false promises and says: “Come to God and you will no longer have any problems! You will always be blessed! You will always be healthy. Your children will always obey you! Your mother-in-law will love you!” But the reality is the Bible does not teach this. We live in a world of sin and suffering, this is not heaven. Revelation says that one day God will wipe away all tears and remove all suffering in heaven. But while we are here on earth, we will experience difficult things. What we will NOT experience is God abandoning us, forsaking us or not loving us.

A lot of the book of Job comes down to identifying the root of our despair. Over a lifetime there will be many things that can cause us to despair and complain to God, be it something that happens to us personally, or to a loved one, or someone close to us passes away. In 3:25 Job talks about his greatest fear: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” Now what is this thing that has happened that he dreaded so much? Earlier we looked at the list of all that Job lost in the first two chapters, he lost almost all his servants, all his livestock, his crops, his children, his health, his wife turned on him, but in the following 39 chapters, none of these things are mentioned again. Job’s greatest fear is: “What has happened with my relationship with God? I thought that he loved me. He is my only source of hope and protection. Why is this happening to me?” His focus is on his relationship with God. To him It seems that, and he feels that God is no longer with him, that He has abandoned him. All the logic that he knows, that God’s love and presence expresses itself by His blessing and protection, seems to indicate that His love is gone, and he has no idea why. God feels very far away. This is so hard for him because it is such a drastic change from the way things were just a little while ago. What has changed? He is not focusing on the “things” he lost, but on apparently losing his relationship with God, even though losing his children was unbearable. “Where is God? If He is not with me, I do not even want to live.  I do not want to continue if He is not with me.”

Basic to the book of Job is worship, his dependency on God. As we saw in chapter one, after all those awful things happened to him, he bowed down and worshiped God. Even though it is incredibly hard and painful, Job can live without his children (oh, so much pain and sorrow!), his riches, his health, “but I cannot live without God. He is my everything.”

So where is our heart when it comes to this basic question? Some people can live without God, but they cannot live without their children, their parents, their health, their financial security. These are super hard things to try and live without, to lose, to see those close to us suffering or even dying. Too many have even committed suicide when they lost their children, their parents, their health, their money. Or if they go on, they turn their backs on God and blame (curse) Him, because they were living for these things, and God was not the most important thing in their life. The most important thing for us not to lose is our trust in God. Other things pale in comparison. The worst thing we can say is that we can live without God.

The big advantage we have over Job is that we have the whole counsel of God, we have so much more revelation than he ever had. We have the Bible and know about how God has shown His love to us through Jesus dying for us and rising again, the greatest example of love ever! We know about the cross and how Jesus left His place of glory and power in heaven, and gave Himself to suffer and die for us and make us right with God. We know John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Job did not know about this unbelievable love of God through Jesus. And of course Job did not know about the interactions between God and satan. But despite all that, he still held onto God in the middle of it all and eventually God restored all that he had lost.

It is wonderful when God delivers, and it would have been great if God had healed Job in an instant as soon as satan inflicted him with boils from his head to his feet. Or if God had miraculously protected his children, his servants, his livestock, his land. And if He had done so, we could have thanked Him with a grateful heart, and given Him the glory, which He always deserves no matter what happens. Yet it is even more impactful when you have someone who, for example, has suffered for many years with really bad health, say that they love their Lord as much as when they first believed. That faithful faith, that trusting in God and clinging to Him no matter the circumstances, as Paul says: “I am content whatever the circumstances.”

Only God can give us inner peace, inner joy, hope, encouragement, comfort. When we are praying for something or someone else and it does not happen or does not happen as we wanted, let us do as Job prayed after he lost everything, and say wholeheartedly, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Or if we are praying and we see the answer we sought, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”  No matter how our prayers are answered, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!” The Lord is always worthy of thanks, praise and glory.  Job also told his wife: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” 

So when we face hard times and suffering, let us think of Job, and know that it is okay to despair, to complain, to doubt, to wonder why, to lament, to cry. But at our core, we need to hold onto a trust and faith in God that is unshakeable, that no matter the circumstances. In the end say, “Though He slay me, yet I will love Him.” Let that be our prayer. However we express our emotions, at the core let us have an unmovable faith that He is there, that He is with us, and hold on to that sure hope that we will one day be with Him forever and ever, in that place of worship where there will be no more sorrow, suffering nor tears.  Click here to see the video version of this devotional on YouTube

Did Jesus and His disciples not wash their hands?

Currently in mid-March, 2020, hand washing is very much in the news because of the COVID-19 virus. As a result,  I would like to make a few comments about a particular passage of Scripture that talks about washing hands, but which is easily misunderstood. It is found in Mark 7:1-3, from the New Revised Standard Version.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

A cursory reading of this portion makes it sound as if Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating. One may even think that Jesus Himself did not wash His hands. The last part of this verse gives us a clue that is not the case, for it says the tradition is to “thoroughly wash their hands.” The word “thoroughly” is a literal translation of what some more modern versions translate as “a ceremonial washing” or “Jewish ritual of hand washing”.

Looking at Jewish culture and customs of the time, one finds out that it is most probable that Jesus and all his disciples did wash their hands before eating, but that they did not rigidly follow the normal Jewish custom on how to do it. That would involve pouring water over each hand in a very specific way while chanting the blessing. As a result, for the religious Pharisees and scribes, not washing the traditional ritual way is like not washing at all. As a result, these religious leaders believed that Jesus and His disciples’  hands were still “defiled”, unclean in the sight of God. For them it was a sin, disobedience to God.  Here is a video clip that shows how some modern Orthodox Jews perform ritual hand washing, which is probably in many ways the same as Jesus’ time.

As a translation consultant, I help translation teams from different languages in Mexico as they strive to translate the Scriptures into their heart languages in the most accurate and natural way possible. After a portion of Scripture is translated, for example into their Mixec language, it is then revised and checked in the community. The translation team then finds someone who speaks some Spanish and hopefully did not work on the original translation, and that person reads the translation and writes down what it says in Spanish (without looking at a Spanish Bible). This is called a backtranslation.

As I read over this backtranslation, I make consultant comments. For this particular passage, I help make sure the team understands that Jesus and his disciples did wash their hands, but that they did not do it “ritually” or “ceremonially” as the tradition of that time dictated.  I then try and help them find a way to add either a word or a short phrase (as many modern translation do) to give the reader, who may have little or no exposure to any Bible teaching, a clue that they did wash their hands, they just did not do it exactly according to the ritual. For to imply that they did not wash their hands at all is wrong information.

There are many other parts of this particular passage that makes it difficult to translate, but hopefully this one aspect regarding hand washing gives an idea of some of the challenges of not only translating it, but also how we understand our English translations. We have easy access to many different translations, commentaries, internet searches, etc., to find out what a particular passage means, but in many parts of the world, the only thing many people will have will be this one translation the team is working on. By Gods grace, may it be as clear, natural and accurate as possible.

The Top Ten things to consider when translating John 3:16 (updated version)

This updated version of “The Top Ten things to consider when translating John 3:16 was prepared for the 2019 Bible Translation conference in Dallas Texas (Oct 11-15, 2019). The main intended audience are Bible translators, consultants and others involved in this vitally important task. (But these 10 points can also be used in small groups, Bible studies etc., to both better understand the verse and/or better understand the challenges of translation.) There are so many things that could be said about this amazing verse, which Lange says: “contains the whole gospel in a nutshell, or ‘the Bible in miniature,’ and is worth more than all the wisdom of the world.” (Lange, John Peter – Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Vol 6.) Conference presentations are 25 minutes long and so I have tried to focus the discussion on areas which will hopefully help translators as they work through the translation challenges.



John 3:16 is the most well known verse in the Bible. “No verse in Scripture has been more widely quoted. In briefest compass it tells us of the character of God, his redemptive act in behalf of the human race, and the role of faith that leads to the gift of eternal life. Beasley-Murray, 51, calls this passage “a confessional summary of the Gospel.”” (Mounce, R. H., 2007)

Translation preparation

For some teams, this is one of the first verses they translate or are asked to translate to quickly provide the people with an introduction to the Gospel. Or if it is translated later on, it will probably be one of the verses which will be scrutinized and quoted the most. If this verse is translated too early in the program, and partners begin using it in their materials, and the people begin memorizing it, and later on it is discovered that the verse should be significantly revised, then there could be some push-back on changing it, as well as other potential problems.

As a result, and just like all other verses to be translated, it is vitally important to:

  1. translate the verse in context
  2. be aware of the exegetical issues involved
  3. make a detailed study of the keyterms that are part of this verse and its context. The more work that has gone into revising that list will contribute to this verse communicating accurately and naturally and having the maximum impact.
  4. do extensive research into all the things SIL has historically emphasized, such as linguistic, discourse, translation and cultural studies.


Keyterms: heaven, Son of Man, believes, God, (only) Son, love, eternal life, world, perish, condemn, save, through Him, in the name of:

13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God (so loved the world that He) did not send (give) his (one and only) Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him (whosoever believes in Him). 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

There are also the issues in vs. 14: Who is this Moses, in what form did he lift up a (live?) snake in some desert and for what reason? A lot of implied and background information. Jesus being lifted up is most likely also an illusion to Abraham lifting up Isaac onto the altar. Genesis 22:2: “Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

An interlinear of John 3:16

Οὕτως  γὰρ ἠγάπησεν θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν
  2 thus   1 for   loved   –   God   the   world,   that   the   Son,
τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν
  the   unique [one],   he gave,   that   every   one   believing   in   him
μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
  2 not   1 may 3 perish   but   have   life   eternal.

(Several Mexico Branch members not directly involved in translation have used the ten following points as they share with Sunday school classes, Bible studies, etc. It should also be noted that the author is a translation consultant and has been a part of two Mixtec (Mexico) translation projects and examples from those translations of John 3:16 will be referred to.)

      1. Does Jesus stop talking at verse 15 or verse 21?

Commentators do not agree where Jesus stopped talking and the writer John began his commentary. (Many commentators included in Logos Bible Software think John said it.) Different versions of the Bible punctuate this section differently, depending whether they think Jesus said what is written in vs. 16-21, or whether they think John wrote it about Him.

Major English versions which stop the quote at verse 15 include the RSV, NIV and NET. But the NRSV and other versions of the NIV (i.e. 84) go to vs. 21.

Use of γὰρ (for)

Some commentators propose that γὰρ (the second Greek word of vs. 16) is a way John uses to introduce the fact that Jesus has stopped speaking, and John is now explaining Jesus’ meaning.  However, Hendrickson (NCC) says γὰρ establishes a relationship with vs. 15. “Jesus tells Nicodemus (in vs. 14-15) that the Son of Man must be lifted up for the purpose indicated. This δεῖ is elucidated in vs. 16, hence γὰρ, which so often offers no proof but only further explanation.” (Lenski)

Another clue as to who is talking is “gave” in the aorist. “Gave” could encompass John looking at Jesus’ whole life (birth, crucifixion and resurrection), or Jesus talking about His coming (He gave Me and here I am), though He could also be referring to His upcoming death and resurrection since that is His reason for His coming (gave Me so I could die and rise again).

Some commentators also refer to various words used in 16-21 that are used by the Gospel writer in other parts of the book but are never attributed to Jesus. (“only” Son, etc.) as an indication that John is writing this, and not Jesus saying it to Nicodemus. Or did John learn some of these words from Jesus?

Depending on how the team/language marks quotations, how they deal with this issue can significantly affect how the text looks, especially if the language requires an ending quote word/phase (said he/Jesus). Mixtec must start and end every quotation: Then Jesus said to Nicodemus…said he. So if the team felt that Jesus stopped talking at the end of vs. 15, then they would have had to put the proper quotation marks, and add, “said he.” By not doing that, the reader/listener assumes that Jesus keeps talking until “said he” appears, which is at the end of vs. 21. When recording this section, especially when using separate speakers for the Narrator and Jesus, the translation team must decide where Jesus stops talking and the Narrator starts up again.

     2. For Thusly (Οὕτωςγὰρ)

The actual first word of verse 16 is “Thusly” (Οὕτως). Thusly can refer (1) to the degree to which God loved the world, that is, to such an extent or so much that he gave his own Son (or (2) simply to the manner in which God loved the world, i.e., by sending his own son (as in vs. 14).

“It is likely that John is emphasizing both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which He chose to express that love.” (2006, The NET Bible First Edition Notes)

So the two options are: “For God so loved the world.” So much incredible love, or in the following way He expressed His love by giving….  Οὕτως  could also tie vs. 16 to vs. 14-15, making a beautiful couplet in the Hebrew style of restatement. This could also be true of the section from vs. 13 through vs. 18, which communicates the same thing in slightly different ways.

How vs. 14 helps us understand vs. 16

Look closely at the context of vs. 14-16: 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so (=Οὕτως) the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16For God so(=Οὕτως) loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This pair of Οὕτως (combined with γὰρ) closely ties the lifting up of the serpent by Moses, the lifting up of the Son of Man and the giving of the Only Son. And if “lifting up” is also a reference to Abraham lifting Isaac up His son onto the altar as a sacrifice….

The Son of Man “must” be lifted up (purpose). God loved the world, therefore (in a similar way) gave His only Son (to be lifted up) so that…..

3. God (θεὸς)

Many languages do not have a good understanding of God, or a belief that there is only “one” God. Investigation is needed to see if there is an acceptable word for God in the language, and what that word implies to the speakers of the language. Sometimes it may be possible to say, “The Creator of all things.” How this and other keyterms have been translated in related languages, if there are any, can also be considered.

Some people in the two Mixtec areas also call the saints gods, and in Mixtec words are not marked for singular and plural. Which God and how many of them love the world? In another Mixtec variety, a calendar had “Xuva” for God, which is “John” in some Mixtec variants, and the town saint for that village is Saint John.

4. Loved (ἠγάπησεν)

Translating love in the past tense/completive aspect could imply in some languages that God does not love us any more (He “used” to love the world).  In the Mixtec, the team decided to express this in continuative aspect: “God loves people of the world very much.” These particular Mixtec variants have at least three different words/phrases that can be used to express love, compassion, empathy, desire, etc.

Greek has three words for love, “agape”, here, plus “philos” and “eros”, so each translation team needs to consider what are different words for love in the language.  John has at least 89 instances of love in His Gospel, God loving the Son, the Son loving the Father, Jesus loving the disciples, the need to love one another. But nowhere else in the NT does it say that God loves the world.

No human mind could have thought it, could have conceived it – God had to reveal it, the Son had to attest it. We may call this the aorist constative; it reaches back into eternity and culminates in Bethlehem.  (Lenski)

5. the World (κόσμον)

Translating the word “world” (kosmos) literally may imply that God’s love for the land, trees, etc. and somehow that led Him to send His only Son. In Mixtec it was adjusted to say that “God loves the people of the world.”

Some commentators find this statement (of God loving the world) strange. “World” is used to refer to either creation, or commonly in John, in a negative light, that we should not love the world, should not be of the world (the evil system). The implication is that the Son left His glory in heaven and was given to come to this evil, sinful world (Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 5:8, 8:32, etc.), which is under the power of Satan (Luke 4:6, etc.), to undermine Satan and give new, eternal life to all those who put their trust in Him. (Rom 8:19-21)

In these verses the idea is God’s love for all the people of the world, whosoever. This, of course, would be news to Nicodemus, since Jews saw God as loving the Jewish people and not loving everyone else. No Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world, only Israel.

6. He Gave (ἔδωκεν) (in Greek appears after the Son, the only one)

This is also a more profound idea than it seems at first glance since it can sound strange to say that God gave His son, i.e. He gave Him away. With a transitive verb like give, many languages require an indirect object, to clarify to whom He gave Him. It is an incomplete idea in many languages to simply say “gave”.  In one of the Mixtec variants, after experimenting with using the idea that God “sent” Him (as in vs. 17), the team decided to keep the word give, plus add an arrival verb, so it comes out as: “God gave him and he has arrived to this world.”

ἔδωκεν (gave) means “to assign a person to a task as a particular benefit to others.” (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A., 1996)

Vs. 17 uses the word “send” instead of “gave” to express a similar idea: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world….” Isaiah seems to use “being given” and “being born” as a couplet: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  (Is. 9:6)

 Mixtec language requirements

As mentioned, one of the Mixtec teams, to conserve the verb “give” translated this part as: “God gave him and he has arrived to this world.” But using “arrived” with “gave” also required the translation team to make a decision as to who is speaking in this verse because of the implications of the motion and arrival verbs.

If Jesus is still speaking to Nicodemus, He would say, “God gave Him and He has arrived to this world (and is still here)” Or, “God gave Me and I have arrived to this world (and I am still here)”.  Arrival verbs in this context imply the speaker is still present. (The other Mixtec variant says “He sent Me, His only son, to this world)

If it is John narrating, he would say, “He sent/gave Him and He came (and left).”  “Come” in the completive aspect implies the person being spoken about came and went. This would imply that John wrote the verse sometime after Jesus ascended to heaven.

It is very possible that the implied information is that He gave His only Son “to die for the sins of people”, or “so that God might forgive the sins of people” or something along those lines. Deibler, E. W., Jr., (1999) says the implied information could be: “sent him to earth to die as an offering for sin.”

“The gift was actually made, the aorist marks the past fact. God’s own son sat before Nicodemus at that very moment.” (Lenski)

7. His Only Son (τὸνυἱὸντὸν μονογενῆ)

Translating “Son” in some cultures creates certain problems because of all the implications when stating that God has children. Translators, especially in Muslim areas, have faced this issue, since it sounds very much like God has a wife, had sex, etc., and people may reject the translation. This is not an issue in most Latin American areas. In Mixtec this is translated as, “His only son.”

The use of the third person

Another issue is, if Jesus is talking, can a person talk about himself in third person in the language? Will people think that, if Jesus is talking, then He is talking about some other son, His brother, or even implying that He Himself is not the son of God? Yet another issue is, should it say, “He sent ME, His only son”? If Jesus is still talking, this is an option. Jesus talking about Himself in the third person occurs throughout the Gospels, especially in the book of John

Almost all commentators believe Jesus is speaking in third person in verses 13, 14 and 15: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  In vs. 13-15 He refers to Himself as: Son of Man. In vs. 16-18 He is referred to (or refers to Himself) as: Son, Only Son. And in vs. 19-21 He is referred to (or refers to Himself) as: Light has come into the world

Verses when Jesus is talking in the third person and people know He is referring to Himself

Matt. 16:13: Jesus asks the disciples who do men think that the Son of Man is, and they answer Him.

Matt. 17:22-23: Jesus says the Son of Man will be killed, and the disciples were filled with grief.

Matt. 26:64-65: Jesus says the Son of Man will be seated at God’s right hand, and the chief priest ripped his robe.

Mark 8:31-32: Jesus says the Son of Man will suffer and die, and Peter rebukes Him.

Luke 22:22-23: Jesus says the Son of Man will be betrayed by one at the table, and the disciples ask who could it be.

Acts 7:56: Stephen calls Jesus the Son of Man.

 Verses when people say they do not know who He is talking about:

John 9:35-37: “Who is this Son of Man? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” “He is speaking to you.” (from the time Jesus healed a man’s son)

John 12:34: “Who is this Son of Man?” (when the crowd does not understand when Jesus teaches that the Son of Man will be lifted up)

8. Whoever Believes in Him (ἵναπᾶς πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν)

Translation teams need to carefully consider what word to use for believe. In many languages, you can believe in facts, but you cannot “believe” in people. You can trust them or have confidence in them, which works well here. In Mixtec it says “so that whoever trusts in him.”

“The Greek expression pisteuō eis (“to believe into”) carries the sense of placing one’s trust into or completely on someone. Paul’s teaching of believers as being “in Christ” is a theological reflection on the same expression.”  (Mounce, R. H., 2007)

Lenski points the correlation and parallelism between verses 14-15 and 16: “14,15Lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. 16gave so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.

9. Shall Not Perish (μὴἀπόληται)

Perish in what sense? Will it communicate, like some groups teach, that those who don’t go to heaven simply cease to exist? What are the people’s beliefs about the afterlife? What happens when a person dies? The Mixtec says: ”they will never die.”

“being lost (perishing) is more than just physical death. It is, as the next verse will show, eternal condemnation and separation from God.” (Michaels, J. R., 2010) “Divine condemnation, complete and everlasting, banished from the presence of God.” (NCC, Hendrickson)

The concept of “shall not perish” and vs. 17, 18, “condemned” is the same idea/theme. The rich man was condemned/perished, Lazarus was saved/had eternal life. Vs. 3:15 and 16 focus on life, 3:17 and 18 on not condemned but saved.  17For God did not send his (one and only) Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (whosoever believes in Him)

10. But Have Eternal Life (ἀλλ’ ἔχῃζωὴναἰώνιον)

Does this term mean they will never experience death on this earth? Does the language have a word for eternal? If so, what does it imply? Will what is translated imply life without end only in heaven, or a new type of life that starts in this world? In Mixtec it says: “they will be able to live forever.” John talks a lot about life, that Jesus is the source of life, the giver of life, and life is “in” Him.

What a revelation for this old Pharisee Nicodemus, who all his life-long had relied on his own works. (Lenski)


 How it came out in Mixtec

A word for word translation with these adjustments in the Mixtec of Tezoatlán:  “For since God loves very much the people of this world, therefore he gave his only son to arrive in this world, and whoever trusts in him, they will never die. Instead they will be able to live forever.”

In the Mixtec of Ayutla: “Because since God loves so much the people of this world, therefore he sent me, his only son to this world. So whoever trusts in me, they will never die before God, instead they will receive life that never ends.”

Note about who is speaking

If the Mixec translation team thought that Jesus had finished speaking at the end of verse 15, then the language would have required them to end vs. 15 with “–kaá na̱”, “he said”, since all discourse must end with this phrase, it is like quotation marks in Mixtec. Since the team did not put “he said” at the end of 15, the assumption is that the discourse continues on, and stops at the end of vs. 21, where “he said” appears.

Another thing the Mixtec team had to consider in relation to this issue was the audio recording, since over 90% of those who will be exposed to this verse will hear it via the Mixtec audio recording on the Scripture app or a Megavoice audio player.  When the team recorded this section, using the multi-voice approach, with a separate voice for the narrator and Jesus, Jesus continued talking until the end of vs. 21.  So each translation team who does a multi-voice audio recording will have to decide whether to change the voice at vs. 15 or verse 21.

Back translations from other languages:

 Like this God loves all people in the world, with the result that he gave his Only Child, so that whoever believes in that his Child, they will not receive punishment /condemnation, but they will receive good life forever. (Uma, Indonesia)

Since God’s love for people in this world is great, he sent his only Child so that whoever believes in him, he would not be separated from God to be punished, but rather there would be in him life that has no end. (Kankanaey, Philippines)

God very much loves the people who live here on earth. Therefore he sent his only son to be killed in order that every one who believes in him will not be lost, rather he will have the new life forever. (Otomi, México)

Dios amó tanto a la gente de este mundo, que me entregó a mí, que soy su único Hijo, para que todo el que crea en mí no muera, sino que tenga vida eterna.  (TLA)

[God very much loved the people of this world, that he sent me, who is his only son, so that all who believe in me will not die, but have eternal life.] (Actual language Translation)

For God really values very much all people here under the heavens. Therefore he gave his one-and-only Son, so that as for whoever will believe-in/obey and trust-in/rely-on him, he won’t get to go there to suffering/hardship, but on the contrary he will be given life without ending. (Tagbanwa, Philippines)

All mankind is very big in the breath of God and because of this, even his only son he did not hold back, but rather he sent him here so that all who believe in him, their souls will not be punished, but rather they will be given life without end. (Western Bukidnon Manobo, Philippines)

Because God greatly loves people of the world, because of it, God sent his only son to earth so that all men who believe in God’s son, those men will not be lost to the evil thing. On the contrary, they will have life forever. (Zapotec of Miahuatlan, Mexico)


 Deibler, E. W., Jr. (1999). An Index of Implicit Information in the New Testament.

 Hendrickson, William, (1962). New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Lenski. R.C.H. (1942). The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 482). New York: United Bible Societies.

Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 399). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

(2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Jn 3:15). Biblical Studies Press.

Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John.  Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.