The stairway to hell

Romans 1 is a graphic depiction of human depravity, which is not a steep vertical fall, but a descending spiral of ungodliness that begins with rejection of God’s revelation and ends with a fateful last step into outer darkness.

It’s a story we should tell more often because it cuts to the chase. Paul doesn’t promise happiness, wealth, or comfort to the sinner who receives Jesus as Savior. Rather, he warns those who persist in rebellion against God of the peril they face when the divine hand of grace finally lets them go.

First, Paul makes it clear that no person stands before God with a valid defense for unbelief. God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways: creation and conscience.

In creation, He has shown the wicked His eternal power and divine nature, “being understood through what he has made” (v. 20). A simple gaze into the heavens on a starry night reveals the vastness, beauty, and intricacy of the universe, so that any reasonable person must conclude a divine Designer is behind it all.

Further, God has placed in every heart a knowledge of His holy standards. Regardless of geography, religion, culture, or historic era, everyone knows intuitively that certain deeds are always wrong for all people at all times, and certain deeds are always right (Rom. 2:14-16).

This universal moral compass points inextricably to a divine Law Giver.

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Principles of Biblical Interpretation

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the middle portion of Chapter 8: Principles of Biblical Interpretation.

Previously: Kept With Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert

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In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

As we wrestle with the identity of Jude’s angels, it may help to consider some basic principles for interpreting Scripture. Biblical hermeneutics is “the science and art of understanding, translating, and explaining the meaning of the Scripture text,” according to Wayne McDill, author of 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul commands Timothy to engage in hermeneutics: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.”

McDill offers seven principles for “rightly dividing” (KJV) the Word of God:

(1) Identify the kind of literature your text is for insight into its meaning.

Bible scholars call this the genre of the text. Is the text law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, epistles, prophecy, apocalyptic, or something else? All genres are not created equal when it comes to conveying divine revelation. Carefully discerning the genre of a passage, or an entire book, is key to understanding. The genre of Jude is that of an epistle – a letter written to a general or specific audience conveying greetings and instruction.

(2) Consider the context of the passage for a better understanding of its meaning. What is the historical setting of the passage? Who is the intended audience? What are the social, political, and religious situations that the Holy Spirit and the human author seek to address? Jude likely is written in the mid 60s A.D., when Israel is about to experience God’s wrath at the hands of the Romans, and when the early church is on the cusp of great dangers from false teachers.

(3) Read the text for its plain and obvious meaning. “A common and persistent myth about the Bible is that its real meaning is hidden behind the surface message,” writes McDill. “Even though the Bible uses symbolic or figurative language, most of it is clear to the reader. Even when you do not know about the people, places, and events in question, you can grasp the point of the text.” While Jude alludes to apocryphal books and employs graphic images to describe the lifestyles of false teachers, his message is plain to the reader: Now is the time to take a stand for the Christian faith.

(4) Try to discern the writer’s intentions when he wrote the text. Luke, for example, tells us he has “carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4). In the case of Jude, the author makes it clear that he intends to warn his readers about false teachers who have infiltrated the church, and to spur them to earnestly contend for the faith.

(5) Look carefully at the language of the text for what it reveals about its meaning. The words of the text are all we have of the writer’s thoughts, says McDill. If he hadn’t written it down, we wouldn’t know what he was thinking. So we should carefully examine the author’s words and phrases, and how he constructs his message. Jude uses strong language to characterize false teachers. It may help if we study these terms in the original language using lexicons and word-study books. In addition, Jude often organizes his thoughts in groups of three. For example, in calling his readers to remember how God judges the wicked, he lists three lessons from history: unbelieving Israelites, fallen angels, and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

(6) Notice the various theological themes in the text. Though a text generally has one intended meaning, it can have a number of significant theological themes – and a variety of applications. When Jude writes about false teachers denying their only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4), we might draw from this the urgency of knowing sound doctrine concerning the person and work of the Messiah.

(7) Always take a God-centered perspective for interpreting your text. The “theological interpretation” arises from the assumption that the Bible is really God’s means of making Himself known to us, notes McGill. What it says about Him always is central to every text. “The Bible was not given by God to tell us about ancient religious people and how we should all try to be like them,” he writes. “It was given to tell us about the faithful God whom they either served or denied. Their response is not the central message; God’s will and his involvement with his creation are. Even texts that give instructions as to how we should behave reveal something about God.” Jude’s epistle, while warning of false teachers and calling believers to contend for the faith, ultimately points to a sovereign God who is holy, loving, faithful, and just.

Next: Eternal chains in darkness

 

Kept With Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the first half of Chapter 8: Kept With Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert.

Previously: What Is the Sin of Sodom?

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and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. (Jude 6)

 In a scene from the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof, a Jewish peasant named Tevye, living in prerevolutionary Russia, mulls over the prospect of his daughter, Tzeitel, marrying an impoverished tailor, Motel. He watches the starry-eyed young couple from a distance, alternately scratches his neck and strokes his beard, and says to himself:

“He is beginning to talk like a man. On the other hand, what kind of a match would that be, with a poor tailor? On the other hand, he’s an honest, hard worker. But on the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for him; they could only be better.”

“On the other hand” is Tevye’s way of expressing his uncertainty about the outcome of his daughter’s romance. Verbally, he weighs the evidence for and against his beloved Tzeitel’s happiness.

As we explore Jude 6, we may need a little of Tevye’s humble uncertainty about what lies before us, because the author’s reference to a particular class of angels has left biblical scholars scratching their necks (or more likely their heads) and stroking their beards for centuries. At the same time, Jude’s story of fallen angels offers an opportunity to hone our apologist’s skills in dealing with difficult passages of Scripture.
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Answering objections to Scripture

Christians often find it difficult to have meaningful conversations with people struggling with same-sex attraction. To a great extent, that’s our own fault for delivering biblical truth with a sledge hammer rather than with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Even so, it’s hard to carry on a civil discourse when you’re accused of being a homophobe engaging in hate speech. What’s more, some LGBT supporters express such hostility toward Christians that they won’t listen to a biblical approach to the issue, no matter how faithfully and lovingly delivered.

So, what should we do? Donald T. Williams suggests the Socratic method. Socrates is an ancient philosopher who taught by asking questions. Jesus proved to be the consummate practitioner of this method, plying His questions with divine love and remarkable insight.

In a recent Christian Research Journal article, Williams writes, “Well-designed Socratic questions can help to defuse tense encounters and also give nonbelievers the opportunity to encounter a different view without rejecting it outright before they even hear it.”
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What is the sin of Sodom?

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the last portion of Chapter 7: The Lessons of History: Remembering the Past to Defend the Faith.

Previously: Part 1 of Chapter 7

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In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as they did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

In this, the third lesson from history in verses 5-7, Jude completes the illustration of the progressive nature of sin: unbelief leads to rebellion, which ultimately gives way to depravity. Perhaps no place in history is more readily identified with debauched behavior than Sodom (not to neglect its nasty neighbor, Gomorrah, or the surrounding communities). From the red-light district of De Wallen in Amsterdam to the Strip in Las Vegas, no modern-day place on earth holds a candle to the ancient flesh pot on the plains of Canaan.

Before the destruction of these cities, Moses favorably describes the area as fertile – a good place to raise crops and animals (Gen. 13:10). But God’s wrath against the sinful inhabitants is so severe that the cities are reduced to ashes. In fact, God’s judgment is so complete that the ruins remain undiscovered, and the cities’ precise location is yet in doubt. It’s possible, but not proven, that the ruins lie beneath what is now the mineral-dense water in the southern portion of the Dead Sea.

The Lord’s judgment not only buries the bodies of the wicked beneath the ashes; it plunges their souls into everlasting punishment – in part, as a dire warning to future generations that unrepentant depravity leads to an unmitigated divine response. Jude wishes to remind his readers that the false teachers who have infiltrated the church possess the same depraved nature as the Sodomites and will share the same fate – everlasting punishment in hell.

But what, exactly, is the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Jude seems quite clear that they engage in sexual immorality and practice perversions – particularly homosexuality. Yet some recent commentators argue that the Sodomites, though a salty bunch, are falsely accused and badly misunderstood.
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