Friday, February 26, 2010

Losing your faith

Last Update: 4/1/10 - Added discussion on Hebrews 6:4-6 and on Free Will.
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A key doctrine to the Christian faith is "once saved, always saved," which basically means that you don't earn your salvation. You accept it.

Luke 8:13 and Hebrews 6:4-6 are used by some to "prove" that you can lose your salvation. These verses are the most common ones that are used by the opposing point of view, that you can lose your salvation.


LUKE 8

Luke 8:13 (New American Standard Bible)
13 "Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.

However, Luke 8:13 means that the person believed intellectually. They had no root, which means they had no salvational faith. Those who believe that you can lose your faith, latch onto "believe" but ignore "root." You don't lose your faith like you lose keys (oops, I dropped them). You lose your faith like you lose the lottery (you think you'll win, but you don't). Except faith is easier than the lottery, cuz you're just accepting a gift that changes your life. =^)

Luke 8:13 is very difficult to interpret out of context, so the person who uses it to teach that you can lose your faith... has chosen an interpretation that makes sense to him. Then he might "back it up" with a bunch of verses that say absolutely nothing about the subject. But there is one other that we should evaluate...


HEBREWS 6

Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV)“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”

So why isn't this one talking about Christians who fall from their faith?

Well, for starters, I think there are so many people claiming to be Christians but don't have true faith... that I divide Christians into buckets of "Saved Christians" and "Unsaved Christians." (Basically this is the same as "True Christians" and "Fake Christians," but I think fake Christians are so much the majority and the "norm" that they are becoming the "true Christians" because that is what Christianity has become... a lack of saving faith. So right off the bat I would say that most Christians don't have faith... only Saved Christians (the minority) do. (Yes, this is very pessimistic, but I've had the fortune of watching so many of my students prove that they aren't saved that it has turned me into an "intense Bible thumper who has a ton of fun, but as soon as we open the Bibles, I become as serious as a heart attack" - what's in quotes comes from my former students.) - Why even mention all this? Because I use the term from now on to differentiate between the two types.

Next up, we need to take a look at the words being used. They actually help prove that this isn't a Saved Christian. First, the word "enlightened" never means "saved." It only means "aware of." So the use of this word purposefully implies by the author that this is not a Saved Christian. Also, it is important to note that this person believes that God exists. However, even the demons believe in the existence of Christ (and tremble before Him, as we all will).

Second, the word "tasted" also implies someone who has tasted from the cup without drinking. This is someone who has seen the proof of Jesus Christ through the love, teaching, and miracles to be found in the church today (and if you haven't seen these three things in your church, you might want to find a church with more Saved Christians who are on fire for Jesus). Now, once you drink, you believe. But if you taste, you are dipping your feet in the water without jumping in. Faith is very clear. You must jump in or you are not a Saved Christian.

For further proof of the second point, Hebrews 2:9 (the same book as this one) says that Jesus tasted death. So if these Christians ever tasted the heavenly gift of life, then they never obtained it (and never became Saved Christians). Similarly, Jesus iS not dead. He merely tasted death. The author is using these terms consistently. So either this person described in Hebrews 6:4-6 is an Unsaved Christian or Jesus is still dead today. We must pick one.


COUNTER VERSES

Luke 8:13 and Hebrews 6:4-6 are the two passages that could be interpreted that way (but shouldn't be). Even if they are interpreted to mean that you lose your salvation, it should be contrasted with the dozens of verses that say you can't lose your salvation. The following verses are examples that explain that you can't lose your salvation.

Look up Matthew 13:3-23 (many Christians will receive the gospel and think they are saved, but they aren't), John 10:28-29 (no one can snatch people of Christ's hands; you can't even snatch yourself out of His hands),  John 5:24 (the choice is made once for your entire life), Ephesians 2:8 (the gift implies that you receive it before the works, and not after), 2 Corinthians 5:17 (when you have faith, you are no longer the same person), Romans 8:33 (God chose us), Romans 8:35 (once we are chosen, nothing can separate us), Romans 8:38-39 (not even life, demons, or anything in creation can separate us from Christ; you are part of creation), 1 Peter 1:4-5 (faith shields you until salvation... even from yourself), Philippians 1:6 (when God begins working on your faith, He will continue all the way to Heaven), Romans 2:29 (faith is like circumcision; once for life), Romans 8:14-16 (faith and receiving the Spirit are adoption; done for life), Romans 15:16 (the Holy Spirit sanctifies us through faith as a sacrifice/offering to God; a sacrifice is permanent), and John 3:16 (if you believe, then you don't perish; believing and then perishing contradicts this verse that is the cornerstone of the Gospel).


FREE WILL

One more thing to discuss... Free Will. This is a huge monster, so I won't give it the detail it deserves here, but it is a good point. If Free Will exists, then we should be able to choose not to be saved anymore. Makes sense. Right?

Well, the flaw is in the setup. Yes, and an all loving God can't send people to hell. However, the flaw is in the setup. God is loving, but He is more just than loving, and hell is just. If you commit murder, you pay by going to jail. That's justice. Likewise, if you sin, you deserve destruction. That's justice. You pay for your crimes.

Now back to Free Will. It doesn't exist. How can it? How can God choose us if free will exists? And likewise, all these passages about salvation above are also nullified if we can choose to walk away from God at any one time. And the Bible is then a hodgepodge of inconsistencies.

The Bible never mentions anything remotely similar to Free Will. We just created that doctrine out of our own desires for Free Will to exist. The closest the Bible ever says to that doctrine is when it implies that we are able to make our own choices. The Bible doesn't even directly say that we are able to make our own choices. It merely implies that, so even that doctrine (that we can make our own choices) isn't all that important (but it does exist in Scripture, nonetheless).

But don't we get to make our own choices? Yes, otherwise we'd be robots and useless to God. God wants us to be His servants, friends, and adopted children... not robots. Otherwise, why does faith exist?

So here is what the Bible shows... God allows us to make choices. So we don't have Free Will. We have Decision Permission. God gives us His almightly permission to make most of our own decisions. However, sometimes He makes decisions for us.

That makes sense, doesn't it? When an earthquake occurred, people died. Not one of them chose that death. They lived there, but they would have moved had they known. God allowed that to happen. And He caused it to happen when He formed the earth we corrupted when we fell. I think about how the economy crashed, I got laid off, my basement flooded, and my rental house dropped so low in value that it was cannibalizing our finances (and all that happened back to back). Totally not my decision. He gave me the strength to survive.

God can (and has) at any time made up our minds for us. He can do this by changing our hearts and minds (He did this with Pharaoh, for example), and He can also be very persuasive in forcing us to do His will if He wants to (Jonah was eaten, Job was attacked by Satan, Paul was blinded, Moses complained when God first told him what to do, etc.). And, knowing God is perfect, I'd want Him to do that as much as possible. I trust Him. Although I do hope that He doesn't allow Satan to crush my children. That would be no-good-tastic.


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In conclusion, you can't lose your faith. However, you can (1) Never have faith and think you do and (2) Have faith and still choose a horrible sin.


Christian Ed

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Book of Matthew - Introduction

Last Update: 4/21/2010 - I finally finished this introduction after 2 years! (But I stopped doing my Bible studies on a computer for much of that time.) If you find any confusing parts or have any questions or new challenges, please leave them in the comments. Thanks!
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I'm using the blog as more of a website than an actual blog. What that means is that each chapter will have a really long post that I'll add to, and that each chapter will get its own link on the left.

Each book also has an introduction page (which is what this is).

Christian Ed

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Introduction


TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Intertestamental Period

Introduction to the Gospels

Introduction to Matthew

Intertestamental Period

The last prophecy of the Old Testament was in about 424 BC. Although there were no prophecies from God in 400 years (to about 26 BC), the history of these years precisely followed the prophecies of Daniel (see Daniel 2:24, 2:45, 7:1-28, 8:1-27, 11:1-35). God's voice was silent, but His hand was directing the Israelites and the course of events during these "four hundred silent years."

The first prediction of Daniel (Daniel 2:39, 2:40, 7:5-7) was that control of the land of Israel would pass from the Medo-Persian Empire to Greece and then to Rome. Here we see that Babylon (the current empire) would pass on to the Medo-Persians and then to Greece...

Daniel 2:39 (New American Standard Bible)
39 "After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.

And then Rome...

Daniel 2:40 (New American Standard Bible)
40 "Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.

And here they are again, illustrated as animals...

Daniel 7:5-7 (New American Standard Bible)
5 "And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, 'Arise, devour much meat!'
6 "After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.
7 "After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

Atheists sometimes say to me that Christianity is for fools who can't think for themselves. Really? Because I'm just beginning this study, and I've already found supernatural proof that God exists - He predicted the coming of three nations and accurately described them. I'm going to slow down a bit to flesh out these verses.

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Babylon

Daniel 2:31-33 (New American Standard Bible)
31 "You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome.
32"The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze,
33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.

Babylon was the head of gold.

Now we're jumping ahead to chapter 7...

Daniel 7:4 (New American Standard Bible)
4 "The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it.

Winged lions lined the gates of the royal palaces of Babylon. The lion was the Babylonian's national animal, so to speak. Also, Nebuchadnezzar himself (who Daniel is talking to) was given the heart of a beast in Daniel chapter 3.

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Persia

Daniel 2:39 (New American Standard Bible)
39 "After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.

Although the Medo-Persian Empire was more powerful than Babylon (it conquered Babylon), the empire lacked the glory and riches of Babylon (which is why it is made of silver instead of gold). Also, the word for "inferior" is actually "earthward," so, while it implied "less important," it was more specifically referring to the fact that it was lower on the body and below the head. Also, while gold is more valuable, silver is stronger than gold.

It's also fitting that Persia is the upper body of this statue. Persia was very powerful, and their armies were very strong. Back to chapter 7...

Daniel 7:5 (New American Standard Bible)
5 "And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, 'Arise, devour much meat!'

Persia was actually stronger than the Medes. So when the bear is raised up to one side, it means that the empire has a greater side, Persia. The three ribs in its mouth were the three combined armies that they conquered: Babylon, Egypt, and Lydia (now Turkey). The movie 300 depicts a super stylized version of some of their conquests.

For 200 years (about 539-332 BC) the Persian Empire ruled and allowed the Jews to return and build the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chr. 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1-4). For about 100 years after the book of Malachi, Judea was a Persian territory. Back to chapter 2...

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Greece

Daniel 2:39 (New American Standard Bible)
39 "After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.

After the silver upper-body, came the bronze legs, Greece. Likewise, bronze is less valuable than silver, but it is stronger than silver. This imagery seems similar to our Olympic medals today: gold, silver, and bronze. Their value is the same now as it was thousands of years ago.

Greece did rule over all the earth. Alexander the Great became the first (or closest to being the first) ruler of the world, including Israel. Their empire expanded from Europe to Egypt to India. While we know this isn't the whole world, it is far more of the world than any of our current nations ever claimed, and it was every great nation they knew about.

Daniel 7:6 (New American Standard Bible)
6 "After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.

The leopard was chosen to represent Greece because of its fleetness in how quickly Alexander the Great (born in 356 BC) conquered the known world. He ruled Europe, Africa, and India. The four heads/wings represented his four generals who divided the kingdom after Alexander's death at age 33 in 323 BC. They then ruled Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt.

Daniel 8:5-7 (New American Standard Bible)
5 While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.
6 He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath.
7 I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.

The goat was Alexander. "Without touching the ground" explains how much faster the Greek army conquered nations. The goat (Greece) took out the ram (Persia).

Between 334 BC and 331 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king, Darius III, in 3 battles that gave him control of the lands of the Persian Empire (the movie Alexander the Great shows some of this; the over fictionalized movie 300 takes place right before this). The land of Israel passed into Greek control in 332 BC.

Daniel 8:8 (New American Standard Bible)
8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

The male goat here was the Greek empire. There was one great horn (Alexander). However four horns came up and broke that horn. This is talking about the four generals of Greece that divided the known world. So this is the third prophecy about the then-future Greek empire (the statue, the beasts, and now the ram/goat).

Either God exists or the Bible got lucky... consistently... hundreds of years before the prophecies were fulfilled... when multiple writers wrote the prophecies... and they were all right. If God truly existed and created the world, He would know our future, as He proves to us here.

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Rome

Daniel 2:40 (New American Standard Bible)
40 "Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.

Iron fittingly represents Rome. While iron is less valuable than bronze, it is the strongest of all these metals. The Roman Empire was characterized by iron. They had armies in iron armor, which were known as the Iron Legions of Rome, and it was characterized by strength and invincibility.

Daniel 7:7 (New American Standard Bible)
7 "After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

This is a fictional animal, a beast. This beast was devastating in its conquest, including destroying the Jerusalem temple (which has not been rebuilt; the rebuilding of this temple is prophesied in Revelation). (So, here's your chance. You would prove the Bible wrong if you went out to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple; good luck.) =^)

Anyway... there's that word again, "iron." So, this beast also represents how Rome became what is called the "Gentile Nations" (present day), and leads to the future (the horns). We won't get into the specifics of the future (that's actually pointless), but we will get into some of the overall process of how it is coming and how our current world and future world relate to the Roman Empire.

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Divided Kingdoms

Daniel 2:41-45 (New International Version)
41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. 42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
44 "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
"The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy."

The 10 toes represent the same ten kings that the ten horns represent in chapter 7 (we'll look at those again). This is the kingdom that comes out of the Roman Empire: Europe and separated nations ruling rather than one empire. This is the world that leads up to the second coming of Christ.

So why is this time period so long if it's only his feet???

One thing you should understand is that time isn't really an issue when looking at these different parts of the body. For example, the lower legs belong to the Roman Empire, which actually lasted from 510 BC (as the Roman Republic) and more specifically into an empire status beginning with the First Triumvirate in 60 BC (featuring Julius Caesar, Marcus Crassus, and Pompeius Magnus) to 1453 AD when the Ottoman Empire (which later became the Republic of Turkey) conquered it. There you go; that was a detailed history lesson in one run-on sentence! =^)

So if 1,500 years is represented by the legs, then let me ask you this... what year is it? It's only 2008. The Roman Empire ended in 1453 after being around for 2,000 years, has our current world structure of separated nations been around as long as the Roman Empire?

Nope. 500 years is less than 2,000 years. So if our time period of the divided kingdoms (the feet of clay and iron) lasted another 1,500 years, then that would be consistent with some of the other body parts.

The clay represents that the union/federation of the 10 kings/nations will have fatal flaws of human weakness, so that it is inherently vulnerable. Which is where we come in today.

Daniel 2:44-45 (New International Version)
44 "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
"The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy."

Christ and His eternal kingdom will come up like a rock and crush the statue of the iron, bronze, silver, and gold.

This passage also is more in support of the belief that heaven doesn't exist yet. It paints heaven as a nation on Earth that comes up and crushes the other nations (rather than a nebulous in the clouds that already exists). This Scripture is consistent with other passages in this heaven theology (which we'll eventually get to).

So, in conclusion, this is the period we are currently in, the last period of the world, and Jesus Christ will end it when it's time.

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Introduction to the Gospels


The Jews and Israel

That brings us to needing an understanding about what was happening with the Jews before Christ came (during the Roman period). We know the Jews were dispersed throughout the land. Israel was exiled into Assyria (2 Kings 17:23) in 722 BC.

And then Judah was exiled into Babylon (2 Kings 25:23). When was Judah exiled?

In 607 B.C.E. the kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon, and leading Judeans were deported to Babylon and its environs in several stages. Some 70 years later, Cyrus the Great of Persia, who had recently conquered Babylon, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E. and rebuild the Temple.

The majority of the Israelites did not return to Judea after the Exile and became colonists in the Persian Empire. The Israelites continued to move and spread out in the Greek and Roman empires. By the first century AD, Jews were found throughout the Mediterranean basin and Mesopotamia.

The Jews began to believe the Exile had come as a result of a lack of knowledge and obedience to the Torah, which is true, because the covenant said that the Israelites must remain faithful to God to receive His protection. If they left Him, then He would have other nations conquer them, but if they remained faithful, then they would prosper as a nation. So the scribes became experts in interpreting Scripture before Jesus came. After the temple was destroyed in 586 BC, the synagogues were used as the place of education and worship. Even when Zerubbabel reconstructed the temple in 516 BC, the Jews continued to use the synagogues for Biblical education and worship (which is where our churches come from today).

Due to the expanding Greek empire, the dispersed Jews became predominately Greek speakers from 330 BC and on. The Jews say that Ptolemy Philadelphus brought together 72 scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek in 72 days (this was in about 250 BC when it started). That is why the Latin word for 70, Septuagint, was the name of the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint was probably translated between 250 BC and 125 BC in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Pharisees was the first religious party (sort of a version of corrupt republicans of the New Testament). They were the "holy ones" and sought to rid the land of the Hellenistic elements. The Sadducees filled the role of corrupt democrats of the New Testament. They came from the Jews who upheld the temple policy and practices. They rejected the Old Testament as Scripture, except for the Torah. So they didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23 and Acts 23:6-8) because it isn't made obvious in the Septuagint (the first 5 books of the Bible, which came from Moses' group). However, Jesus showed them later that even the Septuagint still refers to eternal life.

And that brings us through the intertestamental period to the times of the gospel.

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"Gospel" - Word Origin

So where did the word "gospel" come from?

The English word "gospel" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "godspell," which means either "a story about God" or "a good story." The Greek word for "gospel" is "euangellion," which means "good news." A euangellion was a good report about an important event. So all these definitions work in unison to tell the story of Jesus Christ, which is (1) a story about God, (2) a good story, and (3) good news. What news could be greater than the news of Jesus Christ? What story could be better than that of our Savior and Creator?


Synoptic Gospels

The word "synoptic" comes from the Greek language and means "to see together" or "to share a common point of view." The synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke, because they all focus on Christ's Galilean ministry, so they all have different perspectives and aspects that they tell about that. They also contain numerous parables in each book. John focuses on the last two weeks of Christ's terrestrial life (from John 12 through 20), and it focuses on Christ's ministry in Judea. John does not include parables. Prior to Passion Week, all four gospels only contain two common events... Jesus walking on the water and the feeding of the 5,000. All the differences between the gospels are complimentary and not contradictory (meaning that they help fill in the gaps of each other and tell more perspectives and details when you read them all).

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Perspectives of the Gospels

Matthew wrote primarily to Jews, presenting Jesus as the Messiah and King. His genealogy focuses on Jesus' royal descent from King David (Matthew 1:1-17). Matthew quotes the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfills those messianic prophecies. Matthew's gospel exists to strengthen the faith of Jewish Christians and to act as an apologetic tool for Jewish evangelism.

Mark targeted Gentiles, especially those in Rome. Mark focuses on Jesus' actions and how Jesus is the servant (Mark 10:45), who came to sacrifice and suffer for the sins of many. Mark's fast-paced and action-oriented approach appealed to the fast-paced Romans.

Mark 10:45 (NASB)
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Luke addressed the more general and broader gentile audience. Luke was an educated Greek, and he wrote using the most sophisticated Greek language of all the New Testament writers. Because he was an educated doctor, he carefully researched everything (Luke 1:1-4), and he was an accurate historian. Rather than speaking with Old Testament terminology, he refers to Jesus as the Son of Man (26 times) to address the internal need and hope within the human race (the God shaped hole). For example, Luke 9:56 and Luke 19:10.

John, the non-synoptic gospel, was the last gospel written. John was written to strengthen the faith of believers and to appeal to unbelievers to come to faith in Christ (John 20:31). He emphasized the deity of Jesus Christ (John 5:18, 8:58, 10:30-33, 14:9). Unlike the synoptic gospels, which focus on Jesus' ministry in Galilee, John focuses on Judea and the last two weeks of Christ's earthly life (John chapter 12 through 20).

John 5:18 (New American Standard Bible)
18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

John 10:30-33 (New American Standard Bible)
30 "I and the Father are one."
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.
32 Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?"
33 The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God."

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Introduction to Matthew

Author and Date

Matthew means "gift of the Lord." I think that Jesus might have named Matthew. His original name is Levi. Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 use his former name, Levi. This is probably done to show the conversion in Matthew. In Matthew 9:9, Matthew refers to himself as Matthew, even though he was called Levi then. This is believed that he did this in order to humbly acknowledge that this "lowlife" tax collector is him. Levi's name was changed to Matthew in Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15. So I think it makes sense that Jesus likely renamed Matthew, or perhaps Matthew chose a new name to differentiate his old life from his new life. Although it is more likely that Christ would be the one to rename him "gift of the Lord," there is a small chance that he might consider his new life to be the gift.

The following is how the book of Matthew fits into our canon today (how it got into the official list of books in the Bible; the canon is a closed list of books that cannot be added to or subtracted from). All evidence points to Peter's established church using this gospel (along with the other three) as God-given Scripture. Also, Matthew was one of the 12 disciples and a key leader in founding the Christian church. In Ecclesiastical History 6:25, Eusebius (AD 265-339) quotes Origen (AD 185-254), who said that the four Gospels are indisputable, that the first one was written by Matthew who was a publican and then an apostle of Jesus Christ, and that the book was prepared by Matthew for the converts from Judaism to Christianity (which would make sense, because the 12 disciples saw a lot of Jewish converts join their church).

The book of Matthew was written before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Many scholars believe the book was written a little after AD 50.

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Audience

Here are a few reasons why we believe that Matthew's audience is Jewish. First, Matthew begins with a genealogy that traces back to Abraham, instead of going back to Adam like Luke does (Luke 3:23-38). Matthew's genealogy focuses on proving that Christ is the King and Messiah of Israel.

Also, Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophetic passages more than 60 times, emphasizing that Christ fulfilled all those promises. Matthew quotes the Old Testament so prolifically, that he uses incidental details from the Old Testament prophecies as proofs of Jesus; Messianic claims. In other words, I call these not so much "prophecies" as they are "parallelisms" or "foreshadowing." That means that the details of Jesus' life parallels prophecies of the Old Testament (in addition to the direct prophecies) to further prove that Christ maps to the prophecies and to show how truly clever and amazing the Bible is (that in addition to direct prophecies, the Old Testament regularly foreshadows the life, death, and resurrection of Christ). For example, here are some of the parallelisms that Matthew uses: Matthew 2:17-18; 4:13-15; 13:35; 27:9-10.

Matthew refers to Jewish customs without explaining them (the other gospels explain the Jewish customs, such as Mark 7:3 and John 19:40). Matthew consistently refers to Christ as "the Son of David" (in Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9,15; 22:42,45) to show that Christ is the rightful heir to the covenant; He's the Messiah.

Matthew also guards Jewish sensibilities regarding the name of God, referring to the "kingdom of heaven" instead of the "kingdom of God," which is what the other Gospels use. In addition, all the book's major themes are rooted in the Old Testament and explained in the perspective of Israel's Messianic expectations.

Matthew's use of Greek suggests that he wrote as a Palestinian Jew to Hellenistic Jews; he wrote as an eyewitness of many of the events he described and gave his firsthand testimony.

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Historical and Theological Themes

1. Jesus is the Messiah

The book of Matthew is very interested in the Old Testament kingdom promises and Messianic prophecies. Matthew uses "the kingdom of heaven" 32 times to point to these promises (and that phrase is used nowhere else in the Bible). The introductory genealogy documents Christ's credentials as Israel's king, and the rest of the book continues this theme. Matthew demonstrates how Jesus is the fulfillment of dozens of Old Testament messianic prophecies and completes dozens of scriptural parallelisms (where Scripture originally had a main purpose, but it also foreshadowed what Christ was to do in the future; in other words, Christ's life parallels key Scripture in addition to the dedicated prophecies). Matthew offers evidence after evidence to establish Christ's kingly prerogative.

2. The Five Discourses

Matthew records five major discourses, and the book is organized by these discourses (the goal is to present the five discourses and to use them to show that Christ is the Messiah). (1) The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). (2) The commissioning of the apostles (chapter 10). (3) The parables about the kingdom (chapter 13). (4) A discourse about the childlikeness of the believer (chapter 18). (5) The discourse on Christ's Second Coming (chapters 24 and 25).

And then Matthew is bookmarked with a lengthy introduction (chapters 1-4) and a short conclusion (Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission). Each discourse ends with a phrase similar to "when Jesus had ended these words..." See Matthew 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, and 26:1. Each of these five sections begins with a narrative and then concludes with the discourse. Some scholars have illustrated a parallel between the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and the five discourses of Matthew.

3. Christ and the Church Leaders

The conflict between Christ and Pharisaism is another common theme in the book of Matthew. Matthew concentrates on the efforts of the Pharisees in order to benefit his Jewish audience who basically must choose between the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Jesus Christ.

Matthew also mentions the Sadducees more than any of the other Gospels. It holds up both the Pharisees and Sadducees as warning beacons of a futile and sinful life. According to Matthew, their doctrine is a leaven that must be avoided (Matthew 16:11-12). The two groups were at odds against each other (similar to the democratic and republican parties), but they were united in their hatred of Jesus Christ. To Matthew, they epitomized Israel's rejection of Christ as the King of the Jews.

4. The Rejection of Christ as the Messiah

Matthew concentrates on the attacks against Jesus more than the other Gospels. From the flight into Egypt to the scene at the cross, Matthew shows the rejection of Christ more vividly. For example, Matthew's account of the Crucifixion doesn't mention the thief repenting, and it doesn't mention the friends and loved ones who were at the foot of the cross. Matthew even mentions how Christ is forsaken by God in Matthew 27:46. The shadow of His rejection is a common theme.

However, the theme culminates in Jesus' victory as the King who will return...

Matthew 24:30
"...on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

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Challenges Against the Gospels

So many people (literally millions) want the Bible to not be true, and so it comes as no surprise that several challenges have been made against the authorship of Matthew and the Gospels: people try to prove that it's a sham (they call it the Synoptic Problem). Let's take a look at this futile attempt to disprove the Bible...

Many argue that Matthew and Luke were written after Mark and therefore stole a lot of the material from Mark, thus explaining why Matthew and Luke both contain material that lines up perfectly with Mark. Matthew and Luke also share language consistencies with Mark that they don't share with each other. Since the people who follow this theory already believe that the content of the Gospels is made up, this is how they justify their belief.

However, this is not a well-thought-out attack. First, the history of the church unanimously points to Matthew being written first. Second, Matthew is a first-hand witness and Mark is not. Why would Matthew copy something (that the creators of this false theory think is made up) if he saw it with his own eyes? Third, there are actually more than enough differences that show the different perspectives and audiences of the writers to argue that they were all written separately.

Fourth, the idea is that they all record actual events, and so of course they will all be written in sequence and, if the events are true (which they are), then they will be consistent in that order through all the books. Fifth, Luke omits an important section of Mark's Gospel (Mark 6:45-8:26), which suggests that he wasn't copying Mark and hadn't read it. Sixth, there is no evidence of another source that the books could have been written from (many theories depend on an additional source, referred to as Quelle).

The Gospels were all written independently from each other, and the only reason why they are all consistent is because... wait for it... they're factual historic documents.

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Challenges Against Matthew

Since the Bible and Christianity lives or dies by the validity of the Word of God, every book is scrutinized and challenged (as it should be), and the book of Matthew is no different. Here are the primary challenges against Matthew.

1. Chronology

A comparison of the Bible challenges that Matthew places his chronology out of order. I hope to do more study about this and give more specifics, but the short answer is that this is likely true, and that Matthew's primary intentions were to group his book by the themes of the five discourses and concentrate on his end goal presenting Christ as the prophesied Messiah rather than following Christ through a chronological timeline.

Because Matthew is divided so precisely by a system of a narrative, a discourse, and a transition, and that pattern is repeated five times, it is reasonable that the book of Matthew concentrates on that system and less on the timeline. Given that the culture of historical documentation at that time allowed for thematically grouped information, this is not all that shocking or controversial.

2. Current or Future Generation

Christ's Olivet Discourse is from Matthew 24:1 - 25:46. The question to Christians is whether or not Jesus was using this discourse (or part of it) to talk about the destruction of Jerusalem rather than His second coming. Check this out...

Matthew 24:34 (New American Standard Bible)
34 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Based on that verse alone, you could argue that not all of those things Jesus talked about have taken place, even though the generation Jesus was talking to passed away. This is the atheist's attack against this passage/discourse. They argue that these future things didn't happen in that generation, and so they say the Bible is inaccurate. The short answer is that "this generation" was talking about a future generation that will exist in which all those things will occur in that one generation. First let's answer what these things are... The future signs Jesus listed.

Jesus did talk about the destruction of Jerusalem...

Matthew 24:1-2
1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
2 And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."

But as you see in verse 3, this was earlier. Later Jesus sat on the Mount Olives and talked about the future. This is significant because Jesus accurately prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. This is yet another proof that He is God. Why does a prophesy mean He's God? (Seems like a jump.) Simple. He claimed to be God. And anyone who claims to be God should be tested. "Oh, you think you're God? Well, prove it!" Boom, he just told the future (about the temple being destroyed; see verses 1 and 2 above). (Plus Jesus performed other miracles aplenty.) So His divinity is proven by his miracles, which include this prophecy. (To contrast this, Mohammad and Joseph Smith are proven false prophets; they've made prophecies that never came true and can't come true.)

And Jesus talked about false prophets coming after the Bible times (we've had many false Messiahs, some exist today, and I suspect we'll get more in the future)...

Matthew 24:5
5 "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.

Fear of wars were prevalent then, became even worse hundreds of years later in Europe, then hundreds of years later when establishing America, than with Germany, the cold war, and now with terrorism and the Middle East nations...

Matthew 24:5
6 "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.

Note that fear of wars isn't much of a prophecy. It has always existed. However, it's still true. (I just wouldn't point to this as a prophecy that proves Christ's divinity; I'd point to other verses instead.)

So Jesus talks about events (earthquakes, natural disasters, false prophets, and wars) that are in our present. And then He goes on to talk about events that are clearly in our future. For example...

Matthew 24:15-16
15 "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.

That was talking about the antichrist and our future tribulation. Then Jesus talked about His second coming...

Matthew 24:30
30 "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

So Jesus was obviously talking about the future (of that time, in the New Testament), because everything he's saying is about the future. So then your response might be, "Well, then He messed up by saying the then-current generation of the New Testament when talking about the future, proving that He isn't God and the Bible isn't true."

Ah, but He's not talking about the current generation of the Bible times. He said "this generation," but our word "this" isn't what the Greek meant by "this" (they had several versions). While we would say "that future generation" to be clear, it was very clear at that point in time that "this" meant "the generation I'm talking about." The Greek word hautey (a form of outos), translated as “this” in Matthew 24:34, is a demonstrative adjective that answers the question, “Which generation?” to single out the generation Jesus was talking about from all other possible generations. And that specification is about the context.

In other words, the Greek word relies on the context for you to find the answer of "which generation." So when Jesus says "this generation," the intention of the Greek word is a reference to the context, which is obviously talking about the future: Jesus already stopped talking about Rome destroying the temple in Jerusalem, time passed, and then in a new location and conversation, He started talking about events that were all future oriented.

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Note: This introduction is officially finished. If you find any issues, confusing parts, or have any questions or additional arguments, please leave them in the comments.

SOURCES: This information is pulled from various sources, including John MacArthur commentaries. A lot of this commentary also is just from Ed's personal studies and research.